In our busy lives often the care of our plants is the last thing on our minds. For condo or apartment dwellers the desire is to have some plants that are multifunctional. In other words, a plant that will look great indoors but can be moved to the balcony or deck to make a bold statement in the spring and summer. Your intrepid and ever faithful gardening reporter is pleased to tell you that such plants do exist. They are called succulents and they are equally at home indoors and out.
Just what is a succulent? These are plant species that have adapted to the arid climates of deserts and semi-deserts. Many of these habitats are associated with high day-time temperatures and special mechanisms have evolved to collect and conserve the limited moisture that is available, sometimes only from dews, mists and fogs. They get their name from their ability to store nourishing materials - particularly water - in their leaves, stems or roots. The specially formed spongy cells are made to retain water. It is these cells that give the plants their characteristic 'fleshy' appearance.
This ability to undergo times of drought stress make them the ideal candidate for the gardener who sometimes forgets to give their plants a drink. Overwatering is one of the easiest ways to kill a succulent. During the growing season it is best to let the soil dry out between waterings. During the winter months it is best to water infrequently, if at all. The beauty of these plants is that if they are getting stressed over a lack of water they will let you know by drooping and wrinkling their leaves. Give them a drink and they bounce right back up.
Another desirable feature of these plants is their inability to tolerate humidity. On the prairies, where indoor air in the winter is often very dry, these plants love it. Their preference is for as much light as possible such as in a south-facing window and for the area to be well ventilated. Many of these plants do require a period of winter dormancy so place them in a cool spot (15 C) during the winter months. Succulents prefer a well-drained soil mix. If you are mixing your own coarse sand, perlite and organic materials make good additions to a soil mix for succulents. Plant succulents in a mixture of two parts coarse sand or perlite, one part organic material and one part garden soil.
In the spring and summer months once all danger of frost has passed you can move these plants in their pots outdoors and leave them there for the whole summer. They can create areas of interest on their own or when grouped with other plants. An advantage of using succulents ion your outdoor landscaping plans is that they grow well in very little soil. This means they will not add a great deal of weight to the balcony or deck. This is often a concern for condo or apartment residents.
Succulents actually do better in smaller pots because it is easier to control moisture levels in a smaller container. The nice thing about this is that you can make some very interesting groupings because of the small pot size and you can easily fit the plants into any scheme.
Succulents come in a variety of colours, shapes and textures. The colours range from frosty greens and whites to pearly pink and purple. Some have spots, stripes, fuzz or spikes. These wonderful colours make them a natural for grouping together.
Varieties to Try
Sedum morganium - Burro's tail. Gray-green leaves spiralling down from 90-120 cm long stems. Excellent for hanging baskets.
Kalanchoe tomentosa - Panda plant or plush plant - Fat, furry leaves all crowded along a fairly upright stem. The furry leaves are silvery with a red-brown edge. Easily grown and propagated, it will grow about 30 cm tall and occasionally blooms in late summer or fall.
Haworthia fasciata - Zebra haworthia. Growing in a tight little cluster similar to aloe, this variety of Haworthia is called a zebra plant because of the stripes that grow on the outside of the leaves. They stay small, seldom outgrowing a 15 cm pot and can tolerate lower light levels than most succulents. There are several variations offering different leaf markings.
Echeveria 'Doris Taylor' - Doris Taylor Wooly Rose - Hen and chicks variety of which there are many to choose from. They form rosettes with their leaves. This one is covered with fine white hairs.
Echeveria gibbiflora x Potosina - Another hen and chick type that has a pink opalescent colour.
Graptoveria 'Debbi' - Spiky leaves with frosted, purple leaves.
Aloe descoingsii Reynolds - smallest of the Aloes. It measurtes only 5 cm across.
Lithops sp. - Living stones. These succulents truly look like stones.
Find a space in your home for these marvelous little plants that require very little in the way of care but deliver so much punch to the interior or exterior landscape.