Recently, I purchased about 400 little succulent starters from New Zealand – and I’ve been waiting patiently for them to come in the mail.
From the time that I was a little girl, I was impressed with dessert plants and flowers – my grandmother used to grow them very intentionally – bringing them back to the midwest after her honeymoon in Las Vegas – and her trip to Mexico.
When a friend asked if I would be willing to plant 70 as party favors – I was honored. I made a special trip to my grandma’s house just to have her teach me well.
“So they don’t like – need a lot of water, right?” I asked.
“What makes you think they don’t need water?” She asked back.
“They need it just as much as any other plant. It’s what makes them grow.”
I went to the store to buy the right soil to put in the cute little terra-cotta pots my friend and I had picked up on a fun little shopping trip after taking a cooking class together.
Since then, I’ve kept succulents – moving from place to place it’s been hard to keep as many flowers as I’d like – but the succulents have stuck with me in these dessert seasons, always cheery, always reaching. I dropped one of my favorite prayer bracelets in with the jade and the little green and purple leaves grew around the strings and the saints, and they keep the jewelry suspended, waiting for me to pick it up and wear it again.
(The bracelet was a bracelet that had broken that I loved to wear as spiritual protection when I travelled. Sad that it had broken I set it aside but woke up one morning and saw my little son had set to fixing it – re-weaving the strands carefully with his fingers – re-tying the knots.)
When I first planted the succulents, I wasn’t quite sure how to go about this, as they all had very short roots, and it was even difficult to get them to stand up straight in the dryer sandy soil.
Here’s a short video of my first planting experience:
I learned a few tips that can help over the years:
- Keep them in the sunlight. They just like it.
2. Water them only when they are completely dry. Otherwise they begin to rot.
3. Sometimes it’s better just to water them from the bottom. In nature, the succulents suck the moisture out of the dessert air that condensates from the temperature drop from the evening to the morning. However, if the air is not dry during the day they can’t absorb the right level of air.
4. Dirt isn’t just dirt – there is a certain level of nutrition that brings out the best version of your little succulent and coaxes the flowers out of those cacti. Orange peels are great – if you get a citrus-y soil. Fresh orange peels can rot your succulent because they are susceptible to the mold that grows from the orange – it’s like dowsing the plant with penicillin.
5. The succulents grow according to the water and light that you give them. You can ‘train’ your little plants like vines – if you encourage them to reach for a light source they will become long and skinny – if you place a light source right above them, they will become juicy and plump – remaining flat on the ground like a sunbather.
6. Environment and conditions matter. It isn’t easy to tell someone how to care for a succulent until you know how and where they intend to keep them. If they want to keep them in a window, it still matters – is it a dry window or a bathroom window? Yet, the key to keeping them well-hydrated is simply to water them two days after the pot shows no watermark once it’s been lifted. They do best when they get that dry – and then water them just enough to cover the bottom of the plant.
7. Succulents can go for a long time without water – but if you leave them for too long they shrivel, and once that happens, even as thirsty as they look – it isn’t easy to re-hydrate them – and many times it isn’t possible. By the time they show signs of distress, there isn’t a lot you can do to save them – so don’t let them get that far. Be a friend and keep them well. Water them on good days, and be a bit spontaneous. If it’s sunnier, they need more water. If it is cold, they need more sunshine, etc. etc.
8. There are tons of fun projects that can be done with succulents that I’d like to share with you soon. I’ve debated about letting them be a project for the children in the village – but I fear that because of the hunger there children might try to eat anything that looks like food, and it might not be good for them. Yet, they could still be used as fundraisers and IGP’s and thank you’s in developed nations that experience less hunger.
Do you like succulents? Which are your favorites? Click here to read a dream and another version of my Grandmother’s conversation.