Although they have been around for many years, succulents are becoming a big gardening trend. One thing that makes them popular is they grow well in hot, dry environments where other plants may not do so well.
David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist, said succulents are a great addition to any garden and landscape.
“We know successful gardening requires more than a green thumb. Gardeners work hard to keep their landscapes looking nice,” Hillock said. “However, typical Oklahoma summers can be hot and dry, and these conditions aren’t always conducive for a productive garden. However, succulents tend to thrive in these conditions, which makes them a great addition to a garden, especially for novice gardeners.”
While easy to grow, succulents do require care to survive and thrive. Knowing the basics of succulent care will help ensure you have healthy plants for years to come.
First, what exactly is a succulent and where do they come from? Oftentimes, people envision the tall, prickly cactus in the desert. However, succulent is the term used for any plant that has a swollen part that can hold excess water. The water can be stored in the leaves, stem or roots. Succulent really describes the characteristics of a plant, rather than a specific type of plant, which can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Hillock said succulents are a fun way to experiment with plants because they can grow in so many versatile places. You can put them right in your regular flower bed or raised bed. They also are great for creating a container garden. Not all succulents are cold hardy in Oklahoma so be sure to check for hardiness and bring tender plants indoors before freezing weather.
“Once you get started working with succulents, you’ll start to see all different ways in which these plants can be used,” he said. “If you have an old birdbath that no longer holds water, fill it with soil and plant a variety of succulents in it; however, make sure they have excellent drainage and add drainage holes if necessary. Get creative with the containers. Not only will the plants themselves add variety and texture to your landscape, your choice of containers will, as well.”
Although these plants all are called succulents, keep in mind the proper care of these plants is not necessarily one size fits all. If you shop for succulents at your local nursery or plant store, read the tags attached to the plants.
Hillock also suggests searching for plants that look healthy.
“This includes healthy looking leaves with no tears, spots or discoloration. Check for pests on the leaves and in the soil,” he said. “Carefully pull the plant out of the pot and inspect the soil and check for signs of pests or disease. In addition, look for tightly wound roots, which indicate the plant is root-bound.”
Once you get the succulents home, choose a spot in the landscape that receives a lot of sun. Remember, not all succulents are from the same family and may require more or less sun than other plants. Should you choose to plant in a container, add extra pumice, sharp sand, grit or perlite to the potting soil. This will help ensure good drainage.
Something else to keep in mind is that although these new additions to the garden are drought-tolerant, they still need a drink every now and then. While they can tolerate longer periods of drought, with regular watering and proper conditions, succulents can be low maintenance and last for years.
Watering cycles should include watering until the soil is damp, then allowing the soil to dry out before watering again. There’s a big difference between soil drying out and drying up. Feel the soil and if it is dry to the touch, it is time to water. If the soil has shrunk from the sides of the pot and become hard, you have waited too long. Simply rehydrate the soil by soaking the pot in a sink or tray with an inch or two of water for a few hours until the soil rehydrates.
“Succulents are beautiful, colorful and can add so much texture and visual interest to your landscape,” Hillock said. “Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned gardener, succulents are a great choice.”