Growing succulents is one of the most popular trends in gardening right now – and it’s easy to see why. Not only do these unusual plants grow in a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors, they are almost completely fool proof! With just a few easy steps, you can grow beautiful succulents and cacti just about anywhere.
What is a Succulent Anyway?
A “succulent” is any plant that stores water in specially adapted stems or leaves. This special adaptation allows succulents to thrive in arid climates that would be inhospitable to other plants. In fact, succulents grow on every continent in the world except Antarctica. Cacti are related to succulents, but slightly different. Some gardeners classify the two differently, but when it comes to care they both have pretty similar needs.
Cacti and succulents are considered High Light houseplants. They generally need direct sun for a few hours each day or bright, indirect light for 6 or more hours.
Tropical cacti and succulents, the kind most often grown as houseplants, will thrive in temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees. There are some varieties that are very sensitive to cold and can be damaged by low temperatures. Ask one of us at the store for specifics if you’re not sure which kind you have.
Drainage is the key word when choosing a soil for your cacti and succulents. Look for a soil with some course aggregate like scoria or lava rock. We like to recommend Espoma’s Cactus and Succulent Mix. It’s a blend of sphagnum peat humus, peat moss, sand and perlite perfect for cacti, succulents and citrus.
Cacti and succulents need only infrequent feeding. We like to recommend once in the spring and once midsummer. A slow-release fertilizer with trace amounts of magnesium and calcium is usually your best bet. Espoma’s Citrus-Tone is a fantastic formula to use on succulents. Or, you can use your favorite houseplant food and add a bit of Age Old’s “Cal-Mag” a couple times a year.
Both cacti and succulents thrive in dry climates, and generally don’t need humidity levels higher than what is typical in the average Colorado home.
Probably the most asked question when it comes to succulents is “How much should I water?” Because they store water in their leaves and stems, succulents (and especially cacti) don’t need as much water as other houseplants. But that’s not to say they don’t need any water – they just need it on a different schedule.
It can help to think about the plant’s natural environment. In the desserts and arid regions in which the majority of succulents grow, there are no light showers. There are huge flash-flood inducing rains followed by long periods of hot, dry weather. That cycle of wet and dry is what you should try to emulate with your own succulents. Give them a long, thorough soaking then let the soil dry almost completely out before watering again.
The great thing about these types of plants is they have a kind of built-in moisture meter. Just give their leaves a squeeze. If the leaves feel hard and solid, it means they are full of water and don’t need any more. If the leaves feel spongy and soft, it means they need a drink, Just don’t squeeze your cactus. Ouch!