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The Garden Scoop

The Garden Scoop is a collection of reflections about the Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois, and Vermilion.
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Sensational Succulents

Posted by Trent Hawker -

When asked about their favorite things, some people may begin their lists with things like raindrops on roses, or maybe whiskers on kittens. The culinarily inclined may mention bright copper kettles, and knitters might include warm woolen mittens. While these are all nice things, I think that any list of favorites is never complete without a plant or two (or ten).

My list of horticultural favorites includes the unique, fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree, and tomatoes are probably my favorite garden fruit (or vegetable depending on who you talk to, but that is an issue for another time). Many houseplants are included on my list as well, but none are ranked higher by me than the succulents.

Succulents are plants that have fleshy leaves, stems, or roots to store water that is scarce in their environments. Many are native to hot, desert climates and they have adapted to survive on very little water, sometimes even fog or mist. Because they enjoy warm, dry growing conditions many succulents make great houseplants. Below are my top three reasons to include some succulents in your house plant collection.

  • They are low maintenance. In my experience, few plants thrive better on neglect than succulents. Simply place them on a sunny windowsill and allow the soil to dry completely between waterings. They can even be moved outside during the summer, just be sure to protect them from heavy rain and the hot midday sun.

  • They have so many textures and colors. Succulent colors can range from a light blue-green to bright reds and oranges in some cases. Extreme textures can vary from the smooth leaves and tree-like shape of Crassula ovata (jade), to the ridged edges of Haworthia attenuata (zebra plant), or the fuzzy leaves of Cotyledon tomentosa (bear's paw). These various colors and textures look great on their own, or they can be used to create some interesting combinations in container plantings.

  • They are easy to propagate. Many succulents root easily from cuttings, or sometimes even a single leaf that falls from the plant will root. In fact, Bryophyllum daigremontianum (mother of thousands) produces small baby plants at the edges of its leaves. These young plants fall from the mother plant and root extremely easily. You can use this rooting ability of succulents to your advantage and create interesting vertical plantings or unique living succulent wreaths.

While succulents are relatively easy to maintain, they are not completely indestructible. The number one mistake most people make is giving them too much water. If in doubt, always err on the side of too dry over too wet. To help with this, be sure to use containers that provide good drainage and use a potting mix designed for cacti and succulents that can be found at most garden centers. This allows the plants to dry out quickly and help prevent root rot and other water-related problems.

If, like me, you are counting down the days until you can begin starting seeds for your spring garden, give succulents a try. They are becoming increasingly popular, and can usually be found at any garden center. It might be just what you need to get through these last few months of winter.



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