Alec gave me a leftover Halloween planter for Christmas. It’s not as awkward as it sounds. Alec believes that to know a plant you have to grow a plant and he also knows I’ve never been a big succulent fan. He gave me a paper mache pumpkin topped with sphagnum moss and planted with a mad mix of succulents. Gorgeous really, despite my aversion to the entire plant group known as succulents. And it looked great till after New Year’s, when the pumpkin base finally let go. Instagram and Pinterest show me that there is no limit to creativity where succulents are concerned—I’ve seen them used lavishly as “annuals” in containers, in wreaths, in beds and borders of course, and also as with that pumpkin: as floral arrangements.
I thought it would be interesting to interview Alec about the topic of succulents, mostly because I couldn’t believe I liked the one he gave me so much!.
Q So what’s the secret to succulent success?
A Most people have heard the words cacti and succulents used interchangeably. Technically, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are simply one of the many types of succulents. Another common misconception is that cacti are defined by their prickly needles. Many succulents have spikes similar to cacti, and not all cacti are prickly.
If you’re looking specifically for a cactus, the determining factor is called an areole. They are small, cotton-like lumps on a cactus where the spines grow out of. All cacti have areoles,
Q Geez, Thanks! That really clears it all up for me! I still have no idea how to keep one alive….
A Give your track record of benign neglect I think succulents are perfect for you. To be successful you need to understand that succulents are defined by their water retaining cells. Which is one of my favorite things about them because it’s what makes them so low maintenance and drought tolerant.
Q So you are saying I’m overwatering them?
A Yes, you are killing them with love! I have a simple rule for watering – not too much, but not too little.
While succulents and cacti are drought tolerant and can survive without water, that doesn’t mean they’ll thrive. They will do best when watered in moderation.
It’s safer to stay on the lighter side of watering rather than giving too much. If you notice the succulent starting to shrivel, it’s most likely because they are using up the water reserved in their cells. Add a small amount of water to the soil to help them replenish.
Too much water will cause your plant to become mushy and potentially develop root rot. Your succulent or cactus can fall apart right in front of your eyes!
Avoid these problems by using very little water and determining later whether they need more. Over-watering is just as common of a cause of plant death as under-watering. Use Espoma’s Organic Cactus Mix potting soil to keep roots healthy and to reduce drought-stress in between watering.
Q Where else have I gone wrong?
A I can’t help you with most of your family, but in terms of succulents I’ve got more info. Light
Cacti and succulents thrive in a spot by the window or outdoors in the garden. Too little sunlight will cause loss of color or strange growth patterns. Lack of sun can lead to root rot as the soil may stay moist for too long.
On the other hand, too much direct sunlight and heat can cause succulents and cacti to sunburn! These burns can change the color and texture of the plant. While most succulents can handle direct sunlight, it takes time for them to become accustomed to a new environment. Don’t move them from a windowsill to full sun in the garden without conditioning them. Gradually place your plant in brighter locations and allow it some time to adjust to its new surroundings.
Q How important is temperature
A Succulents and cacti are very flexible when it comes to temperatures. Just be sure to adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
When plants are in cool temps, soil won’t dry as fast. Remember root rot can occur if the soil is too wet for too long. If succulents or cacti are planted outdoors in the hot summer sun, you may need to water more often.
Now that you know the difference between succulents and cacti and the proper care, add some to your home and office today!
Feed them with Espoma’s Cactus! Succulent Plant Food for best results and let us know how your succulent garden turns out!
All our best,
Michelle, Alec and Team Lakeview