Succulents have long been one of my favorite groups of plants, and for one great reason. They don’t need to be watered often. For a gardener who hates having to water often, succulents are a dream.
By definition, a succulent is a plant that has thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water. That means that succulent is a very broad term that can include many plants. Some of the succulent plants you may be familiar with are hens and chicks, jade plants, aloe plants or holiday cacti, just to name a few.
Why grow succulents?
Succulents need minimal watering. For a gardener that works or travels a lot, they are a great choice and they thrive on neglect and dry soil. In fact, the easiest way to kill a succulent is by watering too much.
They have few disease and pest problems. Besides the occasional mealybug problem, there are usually very few issues that pop up on succulents.
Succulent container gardens can be taken outdoors for the summer and kept as houseplants for the winter. My deck is full of succulent container pots in the summer and then before the temperatures dip below freezing, I bring those pots in and keep them as houseplants for the winter.
They also have really interesting flowers and plant forms. The variety of colors, shapes and patterns available is like nothing else.
Succulent container maintenance
Succulents are very low maintenance plants, but there are a few factors to consider:
If growing succulents indoors, a southern or western facing window would have the most ideal bright light for these plants that prefer a high light location. Many succulents will thrive under incandescent or fluorescent supplemental lighting if the ideal lighting situation is not available.
When temperatures are above freezing, these container gardens can be enjoyed outdoors in a full sun location.
Most cacti and succulent plants can adapt to wide fluctuations of temperature because that is what occurs in their native desert habitats. It is naturally very warm in the day and cold at night in the desert.
Exposure to temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees F for long periods is not harmful to succulents. In fact, many desert plants will initiate flower buds when grown in a cool, dry, well-lit location. Nighttime temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees F are suitable to stimulate flower bud formation.
The amount of water needed for a container garden really depends on the time of year, size of the plant, type of potting soil, and the size of pot. As a result, these plants can’t be watered on a set schedule because of those varying factors. In other words, you can’t set an alarm to water your succulent containers every Monday. Watering no matter what the conditions are can lead to easily overwatering the container.
Overwatering is by far the easiest way to kill a succulent or cacti plant, so prior to watering check the soil with your finger to judge the amount of moisture still left. If the soil still feels moist, don’t water yet. Wait until the soil completely dries out before watering again.
If these basic care instructions are followed, you’ll be a succulent growing pro!
Candice Hart is a Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension serving DeWitt, Macon and Piatt -counties. She is also a Certified Floral Designer, Illinois Certified Professional Florist and is an award winning floral designer.