Succulents are having their moment in the sun right now. The low-maintenance plants, loved for their modern aesthetic and unusual shapes and colors, are popular in bridal arrangements as well as terrariums and other containers. In the Midwest, they can be enjoyed year-round in displays you buy from a garden nursery or create yourself.
Succulents come in many shapes, sizes and colors, often with unusually thick leaves and stems that can store water. Two types you’re probably familiar with are aloe and cacti. Native to arid climates, succulent plants can survive with minimal water.
Starting a succulent dish garden
Choose a pot with excellent drainage and fill it with a succulent potting mix, or soil mixed with sand. The pot or dish can be shallow because it doesn’t have to accommodate the large root systems other plants have. For variety, try to use at least three different succulent types per pot. Think about mixing thrillers (tall succulents), fillers (rounder rosette-shaped plants) and spillers (varieties that delicately drape over the edges of the pot as they grow).
Caring for succulents
Succulents are known for being easy-care, so it surprises many gardeners if the plants don’t thrive. If you’re dealing with a case of the succulent blues (or rather, browns), look first at your watering habits. Novice succulent gardeners often over-water the plants. The key is to let the soil thoroughly dry out between waterings. Depending on the humidity where you live, this probably means watering every eight to 14 days. Yellowing leaves may be a sign of overwatering, while brown and shriveling leaves suggest underwatering. A fertilizer formulated for succulents from your local garden store can help the plants thrive, too. As a reward for your care, most varieties will even bloom in yellow, red or pink flowers every season.
Although a succulent dish with many types together looks great, a single plant is less costly and takes up less room. A single potted plant is perfect for a windowsill or small space, or if you want to just try your hand at growing succulents before committing to a larger arrangement.
Days in the sun
As desert natives, succulent plants can endure bright, all-day sunlight. Display your water-saving plants in a sunny location if you can, but they can be successfully grown in shaded overhangs or indoor locations with bright, indirect sunlight. In the summer, you can enjoy your succulent garden in the yard or on the patio. Bring it inside well before danger of first frost and it will fill your house with a bit of desert warmth for many seasons to come.
More about succulents
Minnesota-based freelancer Abbie Burgess blogs at www.thepinkpaperdoll.com.