Here's looking at you, Succulents

Hey y’all,  It’s Shelby! I know what you’re thinking… not another post about succulents! What can you possibly say about them that isn’t already public knowledge?! Well, maybe a lot if you’re anything like me. Whenever I see something I want to try, a place I want to go, or inspiration hits, I have to act immediately. More often than not, this results in me not doing my research and plunging into something headfirst, headless of whether there are rocks at the bottom. So here is my contribution to the sea of succulent info floating about the blogosphere. May it be a life raft for you to cling to when you find your plants are stretching rather than expanding, shriveling or wrinkling (underwatering vs. overwatering ), or generally fairing poorly. Since I don’t claim to be an expert on succulent care, I will reference those who are and I would highly advise checking out what they have to say. I will also give you my top 10 indoor succulents for beginners, and share a bit about my own experience with these gorgeous plants, as well as the experiences of my friend (and pen-pal of 13 years) Becca.

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A freshly potted Jamie, Claire, Arwen, Hermione, Lizzy, and Katniss.

I purchased my first succulents in the summer of 2013 after graduating from Ouachita with my BA in Biology. I suppose my time spent studying Botany made me want to try my hand at gardening, but of course I wanted to start small…very small. I purchased three small succulents at my local farmer’s market in Siloam Springs and took them home and potted them. Although renowned for being hardy plants, I am here to tell you IT IS POSSIBLE to kill a succulent. I successfully murdered 2/3 of these beauties, much to my dismay. I later found out that I did just about everything wrong. In addition to not using the correct soil or type of pot, I basically drowned these poor babies to death. The sole survivor is the little yellow one, featured in the photograph below – middle center – which I now believe is a succulent of the genus Crassula; the popular “Jade Plant” is a species of this genus. The furry one on left hand side only recently bit the dust, while the lovely echeveria or sempervivum (not sure which!) on the right, is long since dead and gone.

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My first succulents!

Discouraged, but not ready to give up, I purchased a new bundle of succulents at the Dogwood Festival (Check out Bethany’s recent post for more on our hometown’s annual festival!) this year. I drilled the poor vendor at the succulent booth who did not seem daunted by my endless questions. She told me that many beginners make the mistake of overwatering their succulents and that the best way to water them is by spraying/misting them once the soil is dry, rather than using a typical watering can. After almost a year of succulent care, I can tell you that misting is really not the best thing for your plants. Instead, give them a good soak every time the soil gets completely dry. DO NOT OVERWATER, but realize that soaking is better than spritzing. Succulents are designed to absorb a large quantity of water in a short period of time (because they like well draining soil) and thus have shallow root systems, so you just want to water enough to get the soil damp; don’t drown them!

Another critical factor she informed me of that had contributed to the untimely end of my succulents was the soil I planted them in. If you scan the internet for info on planting succulents the main two things you will see are do not overwater, and use well draining soil. Some links I would definitely check out for more info on watering, soil, and general care can be found here:

http://www.succulentsandsunshine.com/how-to-water-succulent-plants/

http://www.succulentsandsunshine.com/well-draining-soil-for-succulent-container-gardens/

http://www.succulentsandsunshine.com/succulent-care/

So, after much discussion with the Dogwood Festival’s resident succulent “expert,” I lugged my new beauties home and began the process of re-potting. After buying adorable containers and perfectly arranging my succulents to my exacting aesthetic specifications, I found (after a bit of research) that glass containers really aren’t the best idea for these plants because of the whole drainage issue. I know what you’re thinking, why do I see so many beautiful pictures of succulents in teacups and other intriguing vessels? I am afraid I don’t have an answer for you. The experts at Succulents and Sunshine say it is possible if you are very careful with your watering habits so I am going to give it some time and see how they do. Don’t worry! I will keep you guys posted!

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Mid-repotting; from strange duck to cute glass cups!

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Freshly potted! Soaking up some sun.

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Jamie and Claire. Jamie is the sole survivor of the succulent massacre of 2013.

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Arwen. My Echeveria beauty.

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Hermione, Lizzy, and Katniss. The fearsome heroines.

When I asked Becca, who lives in Boston, if she had any helpful hints etc. regarding her own experience with succulents she had this to say:

“I definitely have noticed that when I use pots with drain holes and 3/4 of the pot filled with succulent soil and the top filled with sand it helps stabilize them and allows them to grow so much better. I have never lived in a place where I could keep them outdoors or where they get significant sun so I constantly have to “dehead” them and propagate them. It’s such a time consuming process though to propagate the little buds, but my little propagate leaves are finally working!”

What is she talking about propagating, you might ask? Well in short, when the succulents start to multiply (which they do, and frequently!) it is relatively easy to take a cutting and root the cuttings, AKA, propagation! For a really great how-to, try here!

Becca also said:

“So because of the lack of sun, I definitely prefer succulents that grow tall with leaves all along them as opposed to ones that theoretically grow wide because mine just grow tall seeking sun and don’t thrive.”

This is a perfect example of the whole stretching vs. expanding phenomenon I mentioned at the beginning of the post. In this case, propagating would be a good solution.

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Thriving…

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vs. Struggling

Becca is an AMAZING illustrator and just an all around interesting human. For more on Becca and her work, please visit http://beccacahan.com

So that leaves us with my top 10 indoor succulents for beginners! Now, nerd that I am, I am going to give you the genus names of which there are many species. I will also list the common names if I know them and some interesting facts! Here they are!

  1. Echeveria – referred to as “Hen & Chicks” by many, this is one of my favorite succulents
  2. Aloe – most common species is aloe vera, often used in herbal medicines
  3. Sansevieria – also known as “snake plant”
  4. Sedum – a favorite species is “burrows tail”, a cascading succulent
  5. Hawthoria – these are very hardy plants! Forgiving of low light levels and overwatering
  6. Agave – mezcal and tequila are made from this plant
  7. Crassula – includes the popular “Jade Plant”
  8. Sempervivum – also known as “Hen & Chicks”
  9. Cotyledon – native to South Africa
  10. Kalanchoe – ever-popular species is the Thyrsiflora, aka “Paddle Plant”

So there you have it; my ode to succulents. I may or may not have purchased two new babies at the farmers market last week… I foresee a problematic obsession in my future.

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I’m going to call this one Neytiri.

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And this one Lucy.

If you want more pictures of succulents from around the globe, try my Instagram, or search #shelbylovessucculents on instagram.

As always, live healthy and love hard!

– Shelby


 

*Update (3/7/16):


Those of you who keep up with my Instagram will recognize the photo on the left. About twenty weeks ago I tried my hand at propagating! Unfortunately, my beautiful Arwen started “stretching,” so I took the opportunity to experiment with propagation. Several of my cutting are FINALLY producing baby plants! I cannot figure out what took them so long and I’m honestly stunned that they are still alive after such a long time! Maybe winter?Many of them rooted but didn’t ever start growing. As you can see in the photo, this is a TINY baby plant and I really hope it survives because I absolutely love Echeveria and it would be really neat to see what it looks like a little bigger! If anyone has any hints or tips for me, I’d love to hear them!

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