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The Great Indoors--Succulents

The term “succulent” comes from the Latin succus, meaning “sap” or “juice”.  Thus, succulents are plants possessing organs (roots, stems, branches and shoots, leaves and leaf-stems, flowers and flowering stems) all or some of which contain a considerable quantity of sap and are, therefore, “fleshy”.
 
Tropical and subtropical succulents offer several advantages as houseplants.  Most species are from arid to semi-arid regions of the globe, and are, therefore, tolerant of dry, centrally-heated or air-conditioned indoor air.  They tend to require minimal care in terms of watering, misting, fertilizing, and pruning.  Most succulents are slower growing, and will not quickly outgrow the space for which they were acquired, nor do they require frequent repotting.
 
Almost all succulents are happy with direct morning sun.  Many can tolerate full sun, but most would prefer some shade in the afternoon.  However, it is important that the plants receive very bright light all day.  For most succulents, temperatures should be in the range of 65ºF to 90ºF, with winter temperatures a cooler 55ºF to 75ºF.  Most home and offices fall easily within this range.
 
We’re all familiar with the water-storing capacity of desert cacti, but there are many, many plants that fall into this “succulent” category.  (All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.)  The trickiest part of succulent care is the watering.  Because succulents are adapted to holding on to water, it is easy to over-water and rot them.  Always test for dryness before watering…finger in the soil, weight of the pot, etc.  Most succulents like to “almost” dry out, while arid desert cacti can go completely dry between waterings.  Water thoroughly so that water reaches all of the roots.  And it is critical that succulents have good drainage so that their roots never stand in water.
 
It is important to provide nutrients when plants are actively growing, usually March through September.  Apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer at ½ to ¼ strength about once a month for most succulents.  A formula of 1:2:1 or 1:1:1 works best, as a high nitrogen fertilizer (e.g., 10-5-5) can cause rapid, weak growth.
 
Succulents make great collectibles.  As a group, they offer a great variety of form, coloring, and oddity of habit.  There are trailing succulents, tree and bush forms, ground covers, epiphytes, climbing vines and more.  Many succulents are prized for their bizarre shapes, such as the pencil cactus or any of the many “crested” succulents.  Some common popular indoor succulents are the Jade Plant, the trailing Hoya, and the Aloe Vera or “Medicine Plant.”  The popular Pony Tail plant stores water in a swollen base called a caudex (caudiciform plants are often called “fat” plants.
 
Most people identify cacti with sharp spines, although there are many other succulents that also have protective spines.  True cacti can be distinguished from these other succulents by their areoles, small hairy pad-like buds on which the spines grow, while on non-cacti the spines grow directly out of the stem tissue.  These spines are formidable weapons when it comes to handling the plants.  When repotting or transporting a plant with spines, make a noose from rolled up newspaper, wrap it around the plant’s spiny stem, and use it to hold onto or steady the plant.  Remove the newspaper carefully when finished, so as to minimize damage to the spines.
 
The sap of many succulents can be poisonous if ingested, so keep them away from small children of chewing pets.  Also, avoid rubbing sap in your eyes.  This being said, I have two cats and have long maintained a nice collection of succulents.  I just set the spiny ones around the friendlier plants and this seems to discourage the cats from tasting.   
 
Posted: 8/14/2015 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
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