What is a Succulent?
Succulents are plants that store water. One of the succulents with which people are most familiar is the cactus. However, many families of plants have succulents within them. These types of plants are typically found in hot climates with low levels of precipitation. Succulents have plump areas in their leaves. These parts retain water in dry climates, allowing the plant to access moisture even when there is a lack of rainfall. Succulents can thrive even on the slightest mist.
Growing succulents has become a fashionable hobby. People trade them and talk about them endlessly in online forums. You can plant them inside the home or in an outdoor garden. Some say that they thrive on neglect. You don’t even need to plant them in soil. While succulents can grow in a container or garden, they can also grow in cracks in stones and sand. Although they’re relatively easy to grow and care for, succulents don’t like extreme cold. They also may deteriorate in wet conditions. However, they can tolerate more sun and heat than other plants. They can also endure some cold and rain.
Although many people think that succulents are simply cacti, succulents are found in 60 different families of plants. Most of them belong to the following families:
- Aizoaceae: Most of the plants in this family are native to Africa. However, some are found in Australia and the Pacific. Some are referred to Stone Plants or Ice Plants. The leaves of Tetragonia tetragonioides are sometimes used as an alternative to spinach in salads.
- Asparagaceae: The Agave, Yucca fall into this category.
- Cactaceae: The cactus is a member of this plant family. Almost all cacti are native to the Americas. Most cacti have ribbed exteriors that let the plant expand during periods of heavier watering.
- Crassulaceae: This family may be the most frost-hardy variety. They add an exotic touch to any indoor or outdoor garden.
They come in a wide variety of shapes and colors. Some succulents have sharp spines on their leaves. However, others are soft and smooth or even faintly hairy.
Succulents may have color in their outer flesh. Some varieties grow flowers that bloom separately from the plump, juicy “leaves”. We’ll talk about those later in the article. Below, you can read about succulents that have colorful foliage.
- Red Pencil Plant (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Rosea’): This plant has long, finger-like branches and resembles undersea coral. It can look as though its appendages are on fire as they transform from green to magenta to yellow. The height of this plant creates interest in a container garden. It grows upward instead of branching out horizontally, which can look impressive in a tight space.
- Golden Toothed Aloe (Aloe nobilis): You might be familiar with the green Aloe plant. This fiery variety has dark green leaves with sharp white teeth on the edges. The leaves turn burnt orange and red under bright sunlight. In the summer, reddish-orange flowers extend on long stems. Hummingbirds love these vibrant blooms.
- Royanum Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum tectorum ‘Royanum’): This plant fills up as it grows offsets in the spring. It propagates itself and looks great in bunches. It forms a mat in your container or garden. The leaves are lime green, but the tips of this variety vary from dark burgundy to chocolate. This plant sends up star-shaped flowers. After it blooms, it dies. However, the offsets carry on the life cycle.
- Paddle Plant (Kalanchoe luciae) The nicknames for this succulent are as colorful as its leaves. It has been referred to as flipping flapjacks and desert cabbage. The leaves are huge, round and smooth. They grow red in the sun and become more vibrant as winter comes.
- Morning Light Echeveria (Echeveria ‘Morning Light’): This succulent looks like a lotus blossom. However, the leaves, not the flowers, make up the lovely pattern with their delicate pastels. The hue is subtle. It changes from light bluish-violet toward the core to pretty pink at the tips of the leaves. This one is easy to grow. It likes indirect light. Unlike some other succulents, this plant does require nutrient-rich soil.
Some succulents are better suited for the indoors. Some people prefer those with soft leaves for houseplants. Plants with spiny thorns can hurt if you brush against them. You may also want mini succulents for your indoor houseplants. Below are some of the most popular types of indoor succulents.
- Jade Plant (Crassula ovata): Chances are you’ve seen a Jade Plant before. Some say that this plant symbolizes wealth. The leaves are oval-shaped and extremely plump. They’re thick, glossy and attractive. The leaves usually stay green. However, they may turn slightly red. Finger Jade has thick, juicy stems, but the leaves don’t form ovals. Instead, they look like stubby fingers. This type of plant has been nicknamed “Hobbit Jade” or “ET’s Fingers.” Jade Plants don’t like a lot of water. They become top heavy and can fall over if they don’t get the right nutrients. Keep the soil dry, and prune them as necessary so that their stems don’t break under their own weight.
- Burro’s Tail (Sedum morganianum): This plant’s stems trail downward. Therefore, plant it in a tall container or hanging basket. The thick, round leaves have a neutral grayish-green color. The stems to which the leaves connect can grow up to two feet long. You’ll need plenty of space in which to grow this plant. The leaves can fall off if they’re disturbed. You’ll also need plenty of sunlight. However, if you choose to move it outdoors in warmer weather, make sure that it can handle the sun and the temperature before committing.
- Zebra Plant (Haworthia fasciata) The Zebra Plant is perfect for people who don’t have a lot of space or don’t have an ideal indoor spot for a houseplant. This succulent has a small footprint and grows upward with long, triangular leaves. Each leaf is ringed with several white bands that make it resemble a zebra. You can plant it in a shallow container. Keep it in indirect light. Too much sunlight will cause it to wither.
- Aloe Vera is a common houseplant that looks great and has health benefits for humans. This plant can take a long time to grow and mature. If you’re using it for the healing benefits of the gel that’s found inside the leaves, you might want to grow several plants at once. It does create offsets. You can re-pot the offsets to cultivate more plants.
Succulents may be most commonly grown in containers. However, they’re ideal for outdoor rock gardens and sculptural gardens. They can even serve as ground cover in rocky or sandy soils. If you don’t have garden space, grow succulents vertically outdoors. Living wall planters can be made from old pallets, picture frames, fence slats or shutters. Below are some of the most popular succulents for growing outdoors.
- Agave: Some people refer to Agave plants as “dinosaur plants”. They look like massive versions of the Aloe plant, except the Agave leaves are grayer. This standout succulent makes a fantastic focal point in any yard. Agave grows more quickly in the ground than in containers. It does best when you ignore it. It prefers rocky or sandy soil and isn’t picky about the soil’s pH. You don’t want to fertilize an Agave plant. If it gets too much nourishment, it will bloom. Although the flowers can be massive and beautiful, the plant dies after it blooms.
- Watch Chain Plant (Crassula muscosa): This plant is referred to as a “Watch Chain” or “Zipper Plant” because of the way it creates intricate braid-like patterns as it grows. The small, green leaves are crowded around a narrow stem. This succulent is easy to grow. In fact, it can take over your garden if that’s what you want. It’s perfect for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time tending to their gardens.
- Dasylirion: These stunning plants resemble a lion’s mane or palm tree. Many people are surprised to find out that the Dasylirion is a succulent. Dasylirion grows well in USDA plant hardiness zone 8 to 11. It develops into a bushy sphere up to 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter. The spiny leaves grow out of a trunk that grows into a thick cylinder. You can keep the plant from looking too unkempt by stripping the lower leaves around the trunk.
Don’t assume that you’re limited to growing succulents in traditional flower pots. Because they’re so flexible, they can be grown in just about any container. We’ve even seen succulents planted in a shoe. Below are some options for unique potted succulent ideas.
Hollow out some logs or stumps and fill them with soil. Plant the succulents inside for an inexpensive, natural look. An old birdbath or fountain makes a wonderful home for these plants. So do old watering cans. Because succulents don’t require ample amounts of water, you can plant them into furniture. Remove the center slat of a farmhouse table and replace it with a succulent garden. Grow succulents along the center of your coffee table. Smaller containers make your succulent garden portable. Use it as the centerpiece one night at dinner, then move it to your foyer to greet you with freshness when you enter the house.
Succulents with a trailing habit are best planted where they can hang vertically. If they’re placed on a flat surface, the leaves may become damaged when they come in contact with it. However, you’re not limited to planting them in hanging baskets. You can plant hanging succulents in window boxes, where they can create a cascading design along the exterior of your home. Hanging succulents grow well out of rock walls or hanging over arbors and trellises. You can even plant them in cracks in your landscape stones.
Even though petite, glass-enclosed gardens are fashionable, succulents don’t grow well in terrariums. Terrariums can become too humid for succulents. When these plants are exposed to too much moisture, they can become mushy and die. Below are some tips for making the most of a terrarium garden.
Choose a terrarium with ample circulation and plenty of drainage. Your plants won’t thrive if they’re soggy. Don’t overcrowd the area. Less is more when it comes to growing succulents in terrariums. The roots of the succulents should be completely covered by the soil. You won’t have to water the plants often. When you do, spray the dirt with a mister. Tiny versions of succulents look great next to miniature accessories. Kids love to plant, arrange and care for fairy gardens. You won’t have to worry about them damaging these sturdy plants. Make sure that choose soft plants that won’t pinch or poke the children.
Although succulents are easy to care for, if you really have a black thumb or don’t want to give your plants a second thought, you can purchase artificial succulents. Because the real thing often has a plastic feel to it, faux succulents look entirely convincing. They come in hundreds or even thousands of varieties. Artificial succulents can be used in DIY projects or arrangements that won’t be exposed to much sunlight. You’ll never have to water these.
Succulents generally bloom in colder weather. Therefore, they provide color when the rest of your garden has shed its hues. These are the most popular flowering succulents:
- Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia milii): The branches of this succulent plant look like thin, spindly cactus. At the ends of the branches are groupings of oval leaves. Red clusters of flowers form within these bunches. Crown of Thorns can bloom throughout the year if it has adequate sunlight. When it’s blooming, water this one more frequently than your other succulents. When there are no flowers visible, let the top layer of soil dry out in between watering. If it gets too dry, it will lose its leaves. However, they will grow back once the plant becomes hydrated again.
- Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi): Christmas Cactus can work well as a hanging plant. As it grows, the leaves and flowers trail downward. This plant tends to flower in temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius). If you keep it outside, it will begin to flower in the winter. The Christmas Cactus doesn’t like a lot of water. It prefers drier soil, especially in the winter.
Subscribe to Receive News and Updates from World of Succulents: