Have you seen them? They're everywhere lately… flaunting their plump, fuzzy, pokey twisty or flat-leaved stuff…in shades of blues and greens, sometimes blushing with red, orange or purple. Cacti and their other succulent counterparts, showing off in simple to artsy containers, are truly a hot gardening trend. They can be found in the floral section of most superstores, next to flats of annuals at the neighborhood greenhouse and displayed amongst haute couture garden décor at trendy boutiques. They look ready to give their best, indoors or out. Should you adopt some of these tough yet juicy looking plant combos and surge beyond holiday cactus and jade trees?
Succulents appeal to our appreciation of nature's diversity and adaptability, but also to the time-crunched schedules and space limitations. Succulents, which include cacti, are able to store moisture in fleshy tissue in their stems, roots or leaves. Most also have features that help reduce water loss in the hostile habitats they originate from. The need for very minimal care and low use of water are reasons enough to give them consideration. Their wide range of beauty is another.
The plethora of textures, shapes and colors, which can cohabitate in a single container, is inspiring. This variety allows for maximum visual impact in a very small amount of space. And that impact is long-lived, especially when contrasted with a pot full of annuals. When conditions are to the plant's liking, many succulents will also reward you, and ever important pollinators, with a flush of flowers at least once per growing season. And yes, the same container of succulents that graced your outdoor space all summer can be brought indoors to overwinter. Even during their dormant cycles these plants are still attractive.
Water, feed and soil requirements will vary among the basic groups (i.e.; mountain, jungle or desert species) and with the season. Grouping those that originate from similar habitats is certainly the wisest route to healthy plants. The most common care error cited by succulent experts is overwatering. Using a pencil or chopstick to poke several inches into the container, dipstick-style, will often show the planting mix is actually moist and needs no water, despite appearing dry at the surface. To create your own succulent container, seek out appropriate pots, potting media and food at any plant peddling shop that is offering the individual plants.
When deciding on which combination of succulents to go with, overall aesthetics will be just as important as care compatibility. Whether buying a pre-planted combo or creating your own, be sure the mood this mini-landscape will convey is suited to your desires. A mix of pudgy-leaved, subtly contrasting blue and green varieties could serve to bring a feeling of cooling and calm. Low growers, set off by a layer of sharp edged rocks might transport you to a cool, yet more invigorating mountain setting. A bowl full of varieties with fuzzy, pancake, wavy and twisted leaf forms would lend a sense of whimsy. And a mix of spiny classics in round, vertical and multi-limbed forms, perhaps accented with red-tinged rocks, can stir an appreciation for the beauty and the challenges of arid deserts.
The small amount of work (more like fun) up front to select the right succulents and learn their care needs will bring rewards for many years. Succulents seem to bear testament to the notion that sometimes you really do get more than you give.
Find succulent plants, basic care information and wonderful lists of reference books at:
An excellent general reference on succulent selection, planting and care is:
The Complete Book of Cacti & Succulents by Terry Hewitt