The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning juice or sap. By definition, succulents are plants with leaves, stems or roots that are thickened, fleshy, and engorged, usually to retain water in dry soil conditions. Water-storing… what a fantastic characteristic for plants in summer in the south! Minimal watering… Oh yeah! There are over 10,000 plants that fall into the succulent category, from many different plant species, and they provide some of the most diverse forms, colors, and blooms for inside and outside use. These unique plants provide an interesting, low-maintenance pop of plant life inside in a small space, like your desk or kitchen table, as well as outside areas like a patio or rock garden. Combine several in a decorative planter or be extra creative and plant in a terrarium or maybe even an old pair of shoes! Anything goes with these garden gems, just poke holes for drainage.
Light and temperature requirements are not “one size fits all” for succulents. While most are not cold weather hardy, there are some varieties of Agave, Sedum, Sempervivum, Cactus, and Yucca that can survive the winter in South Carolina. Others may be considered annuals or will need to be moved indoors when cold weather arrives. Indirect light is necessary for succulents inside your home or office, either naturally or from a grow light. Outside, morning sun with afternoon shade is best. Many succulents do well in full sun, however, more water may be required. Do your research on the succulents you choose and provide the environment necessary for them to thrive.
A few examples of succulents that might surprise you are Ponytail Palm, Crown of Thorns, or Wax Ivy, each one, a great, “stand alone” plant for your home or garden. Different plant structures and appearances put these in a different group, but still they qualify as succulents. More common varieties like Echeveria, Stonecrop, and Sempervivum, have more typical characteristics and make a delightful container garden when combined.
An extra advantage that succulents bring to the table is very scientific. During the process of photosynthesis, succulents release oxygen while absorbing our respiratory waste (carbon dioxide), keeping our air fresh, pure, and clean. Some succulents even produce oxygen at night, such as the snake plant a.k.a. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Aloe vera, and Christmas cactus. These succulents are ideal for the bedroom as they provide an extra boost of refreshed air during the night that ultimately leads to better sleep. Many succulents, such as Agave, Aloe, Stonecrop, Cacti and Yucca have healing properties and have been used throughout history to treat medical problems like cuts, burns, stomachaches and more.
Many succulents are easy to propagate… the bigger the leaves, the better your chances of success. The first step is to water the plant well a day or two before you take cuttings, to make sure it is full of water and will not dry out. Twist gently to remove the whole leaf making a clean cut at the joint between the leaf and the stem. Allow the leaf wound to callus over (takes about a week, don’t water or expose to direct sunlight). Place the succulent leaf flat on top of the soil in a shallow tray, small pot, or container with drainage holes. Do not bury the leaf, especially the part that was previously connected to the stem. Place the tray in a spot where it will receive indirect light and mist it daily. New baby plants will emerge from the original leaf very slowly; transplant when new babies are significant in size.
The possibilities are numerous, almost limitless when considering succulents. They are great for folks who love plants but have little time for maintaining them. Their forms and colors provide an artistic medium for the creative gardener who desires something striking and different. Lastly, for the naturalist and/or environmentalist, succulents deliver!
Sedum Donkey’s Tail
Sempervivum – Hens & Chicks
Cactus – Prickley Pear
Stonecrop – Angelina
Sanseveria – Snake Plant
There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!