By Ann Heeley
For Rural Life Today
SIDNEY — Ginny Shaw presented a wonderful program on succulent plants at the November meeting of the Rainbow Gardeners of Shelby County. Ginny took Best of Show at the Shelby County Fair Flower Show this past summer for a container filled with a variety of colorful succulents that wowed the judges. She has been growing, displaying, propagating, and sharing succulent plants for many years, but with new varieties coming on the market all the time, her enthusiasm for succulents has never waned.
There are 57 distinct families of succulents and over 8,000 different varieties, some tropical, some shade lovers, some hardy, and almost all easy care. They share one trait: thick leaves, roots, or stems used to store water, making them drought tolerant. To learn more about this vast plant group, Ginny recommended three of her favorite resources:
— “Birds and Blooms” magazine for its outstanding photography and helpful articles;
— DIY Succulents by Tawni Daigle for project ideas using succulents;
— Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin; an illustrated compendium of over 350 different varieties of succulents focusing on design, care, and versatility;
Ginny focused on eight of the most popular families of succulents which she uses in her garden. All of them are easily grown and can be found in most garden centers and online. Traits that members of each family have in common are listed below:
— sometimes called “Ghost Plant”
— most are tropical (not hardy in our Zone 6, but may be overwintered indoors)
— often develops long stem as bottom leaves die and fall off
— sunlight influences leaf color: more sun=pink; more shade=bluish-gray
— leaves at the bottom of the plant die naturally
— cut leaf may be planted in soil to start new plant
— many have variegated leaf color
— leaves are always in a rosette pattern
— vary in size from 1” to 20” across
— leaves change color according to temperature; many are hardy to Zone 4
— produce baby plants called “pups” which can be separate from the parent and replanted
— very shallow root system
— widely variable in height and width from tall plants with autumn blooms to ground covers
— widest range of zone hardiness = 3-9
— many have star-shaped flowers or tight clusters of star-shaped flowers
— most lose their leaves in winter
— strip off lower leaves and plant in moist soil to start new plants
— Burro’s Tail sedum is tropical
— commonly called “Hens and Chicks”
— often confused with Echeveria because of rosette leaf pattern
— after it produces a flower, the parent plant dies
— some are tropical; others are hardy
— pups are formed on a long stem and can be replanted
— very drought tolerant
— wide range of colors
— can be grown in light shade
— often called “Jade Plant”
— thick stems become woody with age
— leaves grow across from each other (opposite)
— may have red tips when grown in bright sunlight
— cooler nighttime temperatures are conducive to flowering, but flowers are not very attractive
— does not tolerate frost
— purple or burgundy if grown in the sun; green if grown in shade; a variety called “Zwartkop” is the deepest purple
— rosette shape leaf structure on top of a longer stem
— often used in the center of a container since it can grow quite tall
— flowers are pyramid shape, bright yellow, and very striking
— A few varieties are hardy in Zone 6 (the one pictured is hardy)
— spines and needles are the leaves of cacti; they serve to keep herbivores away
— pups can be replanted, but must be provided with shade
— pups develop at the base of the plant
— most cacti flower between May-July
— flowering generally will not take place until the plant is at least 3 years old
— also known as “Air Plant”
— receive air and moisture without soil; may attach to trees or rocks
— soak briefly or mist once a week
— prefer light shade or indirect sun
— over 500 varieties
— steam from bathroom shower is enough to keep them alive and growing
Notes on general care:
— Terra cotta pots are best for most succulents, especially those kept indoors, since it allows the roots to breathe.
— Most tropical succulents are happy to be outdoors during the summer as long as drainage in their containers is adequate.
— If planted in a pot with no drainage, succulents need to be repotted monthly.
— Wide, shallow pots are perfect for most succulents because of their shallow roots. Jade Plants need deeper pots.
— Use regular potting soil or cactus soil.
— Water sparingly once a week and use a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer for best growth.
— Succulents grown indoors do best with East sunlight.
— Most outdoor succulents do well in full sun.
— Don’t mix cacti or aloe vera with other succulents in the same pot. Cacti and aloe vera require more water.
— Watch out for mealy bugs, aphids, and spider mites toward the end of winter on succulents that are kept indoors.
— Touching the leaves of succulents may leave fingerprints that cause permanent color changes.
— If stems or leaves become mushy, that is a sign of overwatering or frost damage. Snip off the top and root in dry soil. Stop watering for 2 weeks until the plant shows signs of recovery.
— Succulents have shiny leaves. Dull leaves may mean lack of water. It will not harm a plant to give it a bath in tepid water, allowing the water to drain thoroughly afterwards.
— If a plant becomes leggy, it needs more light. Move it closer to a light source.
— Succulents crowded into a container will remain smaller.
— Mix a variety of succulents in one container for a more interesting and colorful display. Make sure that the light, water, and temperature needs for the plants are similar.
There are two schools of thought regarding propagation:
In DIY Succulents by Tawni Daigle on page 37 she says “Before you can place the leaves and rosettes in the soil to begin growing new plants you must let the ends dry out and callus over. If you don’t let the ends dry out, they will absorb too much moisture, which will cause them to rot and die.”
In Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin she says on page 232, “I confess that I often do not wait for cuttings to callus before planting them. I have observed even raw edges and jagged cutting take root and thrive.”
Ginny indicated that she does not have enough space or patience to let leaves dry out and callous. She has had good success by immediately planting leaf ends or stems dipped in rooting hormone in slightly moist soil. However, she cautioned that she is very careful not to over water.
At the end of her presentation, Ginny brought out hundreds of succulents and small pots so that members could each start their own succulent garden. Judging by the amazing variety, health, sizes, and colors of her give-aways, we can now vouch for Ginny’s expertise and generosity. Hopefully, we can spread the word — and the succulents — to make our indoor and outdoor gardens even more beautiful.