By Linda C. DOLAK
OSU Extension master gardener volunteer
What are succulents? Simply, they are plants with the ability to store water in specialized tissues.
Succulents appear “plump” compared to other common plants you might have in your garden or home.
Cacti are also included in the succulent category, and all are easy to cultivate and care for.
They can be found as both houseplants and outdoor plants here in the Mahoning Valley.
“Succulent” comes from the Latin term succos, which means juice or sap.
In nature, most succulents grow in the open in well-drained sandy soil. However, these conditions can be closely duplicated.
Indoors, succulents are well adapted and require little water or fertilizer. A south-facing window is best, if available, for at least a half-day of sunlight. Light can also be supplemented with white fluorescent light bulbs.
Just about any container can be used, but it is important that there are adequate drainage holes so the roots do not sit in water.
The soil mixture should be one part potting soil and one part coarse sand, increasing drainage. Succulent potting mixes are available in most stores that sell plants.
Succulents should be watered only once a week during summer. Allow soil to dry between waterings. During winter these plants will require less water because they are growing in low humidity and a warmer indoor environment.
Be sure to keep the plants from standing in water because this will cause root rot and decay, killing your plants.
Your succulents may flower indoors if you can duplicate their winter native conditions. This can be done with the proper light, dry soil and cool nights.
Succulents can benefit by spending the summer outdoors. When the weather warms, place them in a semi-shaded area and gradually move them to a sunny location.
Check plants often because they will require more water when they are outside.
Grouping several different succulents and cacti in a shallow dish will make an attractive display. However, the plants should be compatible, according to rate of growth.
Outdoor succulent gardens are also possible in warm, temperate and cold seasons.
These gardens start with plant choice. If you have not done this before, start with plants that are easy. Sedum and semipervium are very adaptable in bright sunny locations.
No matter which succulents you chose, they all need well-drained soil. They can survive in crevasses and sandy or gritty soils.
During the cool season, it is best to bring succulents planted in containers inside.
To plant perennial succulents outside, choose a sunny location. Check your soil conditions and drainage by digging a hole about a foot deep, and fill it with water. If the soil drains within half an hour, it is porous enough. If not, mix 3 inches of sand or other gritty material to increase texture and drainage.
For mulch, put a layer of pebbles or small rocks on top of your succulent garden area.
Hens and chicks (also called cats and kittens) are very popular succulents because they need little care. They can be put in just about any spot for a touch of green, red, or orange.
The prickly pear cactus is also very adaptable to varied weather conditions in our area. They are covered with spines and sometimes bloom with small flowers.
Other possibilities for our area include: peanut cactus (Chamaecereus sylvestri), eagle’s claw (Echinocactus sp.), barrel cactus (Ferocactus sp.), and bunny ears (Opuntia microdasys), to name a few of many.
Always water succulents from the bottom.
If you notice insects or pests, either pick them off or spray them with water to knock them off. A horticultural soap spray can also be used if deemed necessary.
Always remove dead stems from garden plants.
If your succulent has offsets (babies), remove them and plant in your potting mix until the roots are healthy. They can then be planted in a new spot in your garden.
Experiment, have fun and enjoy your succulents.
For more on perennial versus tropical succulents, visit http://go.osu.edu/succulents.
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