What are Succulents?
Succulents are a wide-ranging group of distinctive plants noted for their thick, fleshy leaves and/or stems, which are designed to store water. These trendy, unusual botanicals are generally  slow growing, have interesting forms and can produce showy blooms.

How do Succulents Differ from Cacti?
Nearly all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Succulents are defined by their moisture-storing capabilities, which cacti have, but succulents do not grow spines, branches, hair or leaves, which cacti do. In addition, cacti are members of the cactus (Cactaceae) family while succulents belong to any of many other families (not including Cactaceae). Horticulturally, the term “succulent” generally excludes cacti, as it does for this article.

Decorative Life
With proper care and environmental conditions, succulents can live indoors for many years.

Succulents are available year-round.

Care and Propagation
Water Because of their ability to store water in their leaves and/or stems, succulents typically need less water than many other houseplants. Each type of succulent has a different moisture requirement, but, in general, the key to watering is restraint. From spring through fall, these plants prefer only lightly moist soil, so water only when the soil begins to dry out. During the winter, water even less frequently. When in doubt, remember that underwatering is less detrimental than overwatering. Succulents should be plump and filled with water. Withered, puckered or wrinkled leaves are signs these plants need water; however, try not to let them get that dry. Always remove any standing water following watering, and use only pots and potting medium that provide good drainage to avoid root rot. (See “Challenges.”)

Light Succulents require bright light and even some exposure to direct sunlight. A location in or near a south-facing window is ideal; however, during the summer, it may be necessary to protect these plants from too much direct sunlight.

Temperature Although succulents are native to arid semidesert and desert locales and can withstand outdoor temperatures as high as 125 F, indoors they tolerate average room temperatures from spring through fall, but they do like a marked difference between day and night temperatures, if possible. During the winter, lower temperatures—as low as 50 F to 55 F—are ideal.

Humidity These plants are accustomed to low humidity levels, so there is no need to mist them; however, they do like fresh circulating air, so open windows occasionally or whenever possible.

Fertilizer  Feed succulents every two or three weeks from spring through early fall with a cactus/succulent fertilizer or an all-purpose plant food. Do not feed these plants during the winter.

Repotting Repot succulents during the spring but only when necessary (e.g., if soil dries out rapidly). These plants typically have small root systems, so when repotting, use only slightly larger-diameter pots, and choose shallow pots rather than deep ones.

Progagation  Take stem cuttings, leaf cuttings or offsets in spring or summer, and allow them to dry for a few days before placing them into potting medium. You also can grow succulents from seed.

Pests Nematodes (microscopic worms) can attack the roots of these plants. Using a sterilized potting medium should prevent this problem or eliminate infestations.

Elongated and Misshapen Stems The cause is usually too much water in the winter or too little light, especially during the summer.

Brown Spots on Leaves If the spots are soft, the leaves have a disease. Water plants with a systemic fungicide, and improve ventilation in the room. If the spots are dry, underwatering is typically the cause.

Wilted and Discolored Leaves This is caused by overwatering, especially during the winter.

Sudden Leaf Loss Use of cold water when watering plants is the likely cause, but underwatering during the summer can also cause this problem.

Rot at the Base of the Plant Followed by Stem Collapse  Overwatering during the winter is probably the cause. Propagate plants using upper stem cuttings.

Reprinted with permission from
Super Floral October 2015.

Photo and design by
Jennie Love, Love ‘n Fresh Flowers