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Northwest Illinois Horticulture Corner

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Why succulents are ideal plants


This blog post is written by Extension Educator Candice Hart,mille116@illinois.edu

Succulents have long been a favorite group of plants for gardeners, for one great reason: They don't need to be watered often! For a gardener who feels watering is a chore, succulents are a dream.

By definition, a succulent is a plant that has thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water. Therefore, succulent is a very broad term that can include many, many plants. Some of the common succulent plants you may be familiar with are hens and chicks, jade plants, aloe plants, or holiday cacti, just to name a few.

"First of all, succulents need minimal watering. For a gardener that works or travels a lot, succulents are a great choice. They thrive on neglect and dry soil. In fact, the easiest way to kill a succulent plant is by watering too much," says Candice Hart, a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension.

Hart points out a few more benefits of growing succulents. For example, she says they rarely suffer from diseases and pests. Besides the occasional mealybug, there are usually very few problems that pop up on succulents. "Succulents also have really interesting flowers and plant forms. The variety of colors, shapes, and patterns that are available in succulent plants is like nothing else."

Even though succulents are fairly low-maintenance plants, Hart says there are a few tips and tricks that can keep them healthy and happy.

Lighting

If growing succulents indoors, a southern- or western-facing window would have the most ideal lighting for these sun-loving plants. Many succulents will thrive under incandescent or fluorescent supplemental lighting if the ideal lighting situation is not available.

Succulent container gardens can be taken outdoors for the summer and kept as houseplants for the winter. "Fill a sunny deck with succulent container pots for the summer and then, before the temperatures dip below freezing, bring those pots in and keep them as houseplants for the winter," Hart says.

Temperature

Most cacti and succulent plants can adapt to wide fluctuations of temperature because that is what occurs in their native desert habitats. It is naturally very warm in the day and cold at night in the desert.

Exposure to temperatures between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods is not harmful to succulent plants. In fact, many desert plants will initiate flower buds when grown in a cool, dry, well-lit location. Nighttime temperatures of 45 to 50 degrees are suitable to stimulate flower bud formation.

Watering

The amount of water needed for a container garden really depends on the time of year, the size of the plant, the type of potting soil, and the size of the pot. As a result, these plants can't be watered on a set schedule because of those varying factors. "In other words, you can't set an alarm to water your succulent containers every Monday," Hart says. "Watering without taking the conditions into account can easily lead to overwatering the container."

Overwatering is by far the easiest way to kill a succulent or cacti plant, so prior to watering, check the soil with your finger to judge the amount of moisture still left. If the soil still feels moist, don't water yet. Wait until the soil completely dries out before watering again.

If these basic care instructions are followed, you'll be a succulent-growing pro!

 



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