No Water, No Problem: GC Tips on Caring For Succulents
Are you a busy 9-to-5er with limited time for horticultural hobbies? Do you have trouble remembering to water your plants? Looking for something cute, green, thriving, and low-maintenance? Look no further than succulents: drought-resistant, desert-based plants with fleshy, water-retentive leaves.
There are so many varieties to choose from: there’s the soothing aloe, the sleek jade, the soft, artichoke-resemblent Hens-and-Chicks, the prickly pincushion cactus…and so much more. Succulents embody a wide range of colors, textures, and sizes, with one overarching characteristic: they’re damn hard to kill. An evolutionary response to the harsh sun and infrequent rain of their native climes, succulents store most of their water internally, enabling them to go weeks without watering. They are the ultimate desert plant, which also makes them perfect indoor specimens – so if most of your apartment gardening efforts end with shriveled stalks and dead leaves, caring for succulents might be your perfect solution.
When it comes to apartment-suitable succulents, gardeners are glutted with options. Here are some of GC’s favorites:
Thousands of needly spines make Mammillaria one of the least-cuddly succulents available, but after a few years, it makes up for it with a crown of striking, star-shaped flowers. The rounded, prickled orb (frequently called a “pincushion”) happens to be the most popular type of cactus in America.
Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum)
So named for its resemblance to a donkey’s tail, this chalky, gray-green plant offers fleshy cascades that are soft and springy to the touch.
Medicine Plant (Aloe Vera)
Chefs owe it to themselves to have an aloe plant in the kitchen in case of burns: the plant’s milky-white sap has been cultivated for thousands of years as a soothing balm. More than the sum of its sap, the Medicine Plant’s assertive, speckled fronds form a cheerful, grass-like silhouette.
Jade Plant (Crassula Ovata)
Endemic to South Africa and Mozambique, the tree-resembling jade plant (alternately referred to as “the friendship tree”, “the money tree”, or “the lucky plant”) thrives indoors (even in low-light spaces). The plant’s evergreen leaves offer a bit of biological communication with their owner: if it’s getting excess sunlight, its leaves may take on a red hue.
These odd succulents resemble “living stones”, and bear a beautiful surprise after their second or third birthday: gorgeous white blooms that unfurl in the fall.
Tips For Care
Whether you’re potting them alone or making a living mosaic of various specimens, succulents tend to favor fast-draining soil, or even potting pebbles. Don’t just scoop up dirt from your garden: more likely than not, it’ll be too acidic; look for high peat blends. Only water once a week – every 3 weeks in the winter, when the succulents are dormant – or when the soil is visibly dry (exceptions to this rule include Orchid and Christmas cacti, which are tropical plants and need more water).
Succulents are susceptible to mold, and many well-intentioned gardeners have found out the hard way that too much TLC is a leading cause of cactus funerals: so after the soil is soaked all the way through, pour out the excess liquid to ensure spores don’t form. All plants need fertilizer, so make sure to fertilize sparingly in the spring or summer with a balanced fertilizer, and re-pot the plants once a year.
As desert plants, succulents expect several hours’ exposure to sunlight every day, more than your average houseplant. In you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, a south-facing windowsill is your best bet (north-facing if you’re below the equator) for maximum exposure. For homes without plentiful natural light, a fluorescent bulb will do just fine, and make your plant just as leggy (just keep the temperature in the room around 40-50 degrees F).
Don’t neglect your charges, though – while it may sound implausible, too much hot sun can burn and blister a succulent’s sensitive tissues, reducing their chance of survival. If you begin to notice wrinkles or tan spots, move them out of the direct rays until the wounds subside.
With thousands of varieties circulating in gardening circles (and with even more rad cultivars continually being discovered and disseminated), it’s safe to say that succulents won’t be going out of style any time soon. The best part? You can jump in on the fun at any point, be it December or June.