How To Grow Succulents

Lynn Coulter
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If you’re a gardener without much room, then succulents are the plants for you. These tough little survivors come from parts of the world with dry tropical or semi-tropical climates, like deserts and steppes, and are easy to grow in containers. Because they live where rainfall is scarce, succulents store water in their leaves, which often look fleshy, and in their stems and roots. (The word “succulent” comes from a Latin word that means “juice.”) Succulents are happy even in hot sun and poor soil, which makes them perfect for a sunny windowsill. Check out some ideas for planting them in an easy-to-make dish garden.

Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti have “spine cushions,” small areas on the plants from which the spines, roots, and flowers grow. Some succulents also have thorns or spines, but they don’t have cushions.

Plant your succulents in a shallow dish or saucer that’s at least four inches deep, using a potting mix for cacti and succulents. Use different colors and shapes to make the arrangement interesting and fun. You can find succulents in shades of green and gray, and some have tints of red, purple, and blue. Try picking one plant as a focal point, and choose a few more to set it off.

Tips for your region:

You can still grow succulents even if you garden in the Northwestern U.S., where the climate can be wet. An easy-to-grow choice for beginners is Sedum oreganum, which is often grown on rooftops. The plants form spreading mats and blossom with yellow flowers in spring. Also try Sempervivums like Hens and Chicks. Sedum dendriodes and S. palmeri grow into small shrubs that resemble jade plants.

Gardeners in the hot, arid West probably already know that succulents are ideal for their landscape. They can tolerate windy slopes, sun-baked rock gardens, and even stand up to gusty winds. Jade plant (‘Crassula ovata’) thrives in the West in containers, but must come inside when temperatures drop to freezing.

If you grow succulents indoors in the South or Northeast, where winter temperatures would kill them, give them a window with a southern or western exposure. Remember that they’ll go dormant in the winter, so reduce your watering until they start actively growing again. If your plants are close to a window in an unheated room, make sure the temperatures don’t drop below 35 degrees F.

You’ll only need to water when the soil is dry. To learn more about growing succulents, visit Make A Succulent Dish Garden, or see what’s trendy at Drought Tolerant Plants.

Hens And Chicks

Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum) are succulents that grow in mats. As they grow, the plants form rosettes. The parent rosette is the “hen,” while the small rosettes are the “chicks.” After they flower, the hens will die, but you can remove them from your dish garden and have plenty of chicks left to fill in. Like other succulents, Hens and Chicks are drought tolerant, sun-loving plants. Many sempervivums are hardy to zones 4 and 5.

Burro’s Tail

Also called Donkey’s Tail or Lamb’s Tail, this plant, Sedum morganianum, is a popular succulent with a trailing habit. The gray-green leaves are shaped like tear drops and grow on branches that can reach 2 feet long. Keep them cut back if you have a small dish garden.

Jade Plant

Many Crassula species are commonly called jade plants. Under the right conditions, your jade plant may bloom in the wintertime. Look for variegated varieties in shades of green and red, and give them full sun to keep their colors bright.

Echeveria

Echeveria succulents form rosettes as they mature. Most echeverias are fairly small, but there are varieties that grow into shrub-like plants, so check the tag on your plant if you want to plant it in a dish garden. Echeverias come in a range of colors, including powder blue, green, and silver, and many have attractive red edges or tips.

Agave

Agaves come in various shapes and colors, but you’ll often see these plants sold as symmetrical rosettes with spiny, stiff leaves. Other have soft leaves and lack spines. Even though it can become large, an agave can thrive in a small pot for many years, allowing you to manage its size.

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