Succulents are so popular these days. There are so many varieties to collect that come in different shapes, colors and textures. They are so beautiful, and I would like to warn you now... Once you start collecting, you'll be inclined to get more. Who knows? You might have already started.
Whenever I see a new variety, I guess you can already imagine what I would do. I'd bring it home, of course! My heart beats fast because of excitement in finding a new treasure. They are all precious in my sight. Whatever I do not have, I consider them rare. I collected way too many in just a short time, which means, so many names for me to memorize as well. To make matters worse, a lot of local nurseries that I had visited do not label them. Same with the stores... they would just sometimes generally label them as "succulents". If there is anything I regret, it's not knowing their names the moment I got them. Now that I am more attached to them, I feel like they are all my friends, and not knowing some of their names is like not knowing the names of all my friends. I'm working on that though. Sometimes, it's a little bit difficult. What made identification difficult is the fact that their physical features change depending on their environmental factors. Some of them look alike, too! Yes, it drives me a little bit crazy at times.
What made succulents different from other plants is their capacity to store water in their leaves, roots and stems. This particular water storage capacity makes them considered as low maintenance plants and supposedly easy to grow. However, that is not the case for most people. To some, growing succulents is a challenge. In some places, these plants are expensive, and to have some casualties is really a sad experience. If you've experienced failure growing them in the past, don't give up. Why do I say this? I, too, failed several times, but instead of getting frustrated and stopping, I turned them into a learning experience, so that I will not make the same mistakes again. Not only that, I could share them to all of you, so that you will avoid wasting your time and money. They said "experience is the best teacher", but that does not mean that you need to experience them all. You can learn from other people's mistakes, too. That is why, I am so confident to guide you to grow your succulents because in every mistake I made, I always ask why and how --- why it happened and how can I prevent it...
Why would you learn with and from me? Am I a Horticulturist? No, I am not. I am a registered nurse by profession, and I turned to succulent hobby as a stress reliever. I grew up in the farm in the Philippines. I came from a family of farmers. My parents and even my great grandparents were farmers. They had already been growing organic plants long before the word "organic" has emerged and widely used. My parents would grow green beans, luffa, okra, bitter melons, and squash from seeds. In fact, they collected and prepared their own seeds for the next planting season. My parents sent me to school to tread a different path. However, since their blood runs through my veins, I have just naturally uncovered my passion for planting... well, not with vegetables but with succulents!
I might have gone overboard because I have already collected more or less 75 different varieties, and they continue growing. Do I consider myself a hoarder? Hmmm...not really. Hoarders are those with difficulty parting with their possessions, while I love sending my cuttings to those who can take care of them. Most of all, my happiness doubles when I know that somebody also finds happiness because of the succulents.
At first, I'd been showing the succulent arrangements I made in social media, not to show off my collections of colorful succulents, but to inspire people to be more creative in their own way! But when I saw in several succulent sites that a lot of people are asking to identify what is wrong with their plants, I realized that I need to share what I learned in order for others to keep their succulents alive.
These basic instructions can guide you successfully to keep your succulents alive and thrive. By following these simple tips, hopefully you can grow and increase your collection. These tips are pretty easy and explained in a simple way to benefit succulent enthusiasts, especially newbies. If I was able to grow and multiply my collections, you, too, can!
Do you know that the easiest way to kill your succulents is by overwatering? So, if you use containers without drainage holes, the top soil might look and feel dry but at the bottom, the soil is still wet. Therefore, if you add more water, your succulent will be sitting on a soggy soil for longer period.
Drainage hole is a must for your arrangements, No matter how pretty the container is, if a hole cannot be made, I would skip it. Is it possible to use containers without holes though? Yes, it is possible, but the risk to overwater is high. To avoid overwatering, try to use shallow containers, and tip off excess water from your container after you water.
When you see pretty containers and they do not have holes, you can create holes by using electric drills wherein you can swap the bits depending on what materials you are going to use. There are flat bits for wood and diamond carbide tip for harder ones like porcelains. This is the job that I have not mastered or shall I say, I refuse to learn. I always ask my husband Eryl to do it for me. He always does it, and I am always grateful for his support.
Succulents are versatile. You can arrange them in different ways. You do not limit yourself to containers only. You can use wreath, old fountains, bird baths, bird cages, old frames for vertical arrangements, tea cups, pots, and a lot more. What's good about it is that you do not even need new containers for them. The more old or rustic the container, the more beautiful and unique it becomes.
Succulents come from an environment that does not have a lot of nutrients and water. Thus, we need to recreate that environment when we make our potting mix. The formula that I have been using is a combination of 1/2 potting soil, 1/4 Perlite and 1/4 coarse sand. Perlite will improve the drainage and will help the soil from becoming compact to make sure that the soil will not hold too much water. The coarse sand will also improve the drainage of the soil and prevent it from becoming compact. It will also mimic the kind of sandy and rocky soil where the succulents originally grow. The potting soil will provide the essential nutrients that they need in order to grow well.
Always make sure that your soil is completely dry before watering again. If you are not sure, feel the soil with your finger. If the soil is still soft or a little bit moist, wait for few more days before you water again. This should not be an issue if you are using the mixture that I mentioned previously.
But you know what? There's more to that than just checking the soil. Yes, it is important that you check the soil, but the most effective way to assess their water needs is actually to check the plants! They are the ones that are important here, right? Just like for example, in the hospital. When the heart monitor beeps, you go and check the patient first and not the machine. You need to be able to visually identify if the succulents need water or not. Once you master that, growing succulents would be a breeze.
Succulents love a good soak rather than just sips of water. To ensure that they receive adequate amount of water, wait for the soil to absorb the water and then repeat watering several times until you can see that the water is coming out from the hole at the bottom of the container.
If you are using a well draining soil, the moment you pour the water, most of it will come out of the hole. You might need to repeat the watering several times or even let the container sit in on that water for a couple of days, especially if your plants really need a good drink.
Avoid watering the leaves, mostly late in the morning or early afternoon, because water droplets can settle on top of your succulents that can act as magnifier that will intensify the heat received from the sun and can cause some sunburn. Wet leaves will not get sunburn. You will notice some circled black spot only in the area where water droplets settled.
Your location plays an important role in determining how much or how often to water. If you live in areas with dry climate, you might need to water every two to three days. If you are in areas with higher humidity, you might need to water less frequently.
These plants need at least six to eight hours of sunlight everyday. Colorful succulent arrangements can slowly revert back to green the moment you place them indoors without adequate lighting. If you bring them indoors, place them near the window where it can receive bright light. You need to be cautious when positioning because putting them too close to the glass window can also cause some sun damage. The plant might stretch-out searching for more sun. To prevent distortion, rotate the container every other day.
In order to avoid problems with growing succulents successfully, you need to start with a good soil mixture. You can follow all the instructions essential to growing succulents like planting them in containers with holes, watering when the soil is completely dry, and so on... but the moment your soil mixture has gone wrong, it would be hard to avoid other major problems, especially when it comes to over watering and root rot. Remember that a good soil mixture must also meet the basic needs of the plants, good drainage, adequate air circulation, and nutrients.
I would like to share the formula I am using. This has worked for me in my location here in Anaheim, California. These materials are readily available for purchase in Home Depot or Lowes which are near my location. This might not be available for those who reside outside United States, but you can always use some alternatives and find out which one would best work for you.
Recently, I planted succulents in our newly built ledge. Instead of adding the same soil mixture that I am sharing with you now, I used the soil that went with the plant container. I watered the ledge with the same amount of water like the rest. I noticed that the ledge with different soil mixture remained wet for three days. It has worried me because the leaves of the succulents started to spread more openly, and their leaves seemed so full and tight. I was worried that I just overwatered. I closely monitored them for any signs of problems. I did have some casualties. Some string of pearls started to turn brownish yellow and soggy. I’m glad I was able to rescue some parts. I will definitely redo this ledge to avoid further problems.
So, if you do not want to make the same mistake that I did, you can follow this formula for a well-draining soil. I hope it would work for you as it has for me.
Here's my soil mixture:
*1/2 Potting mix
Potting soil or potting mix . This can provide the essential nutrients that your succulents need in order for them to grow healthy. Its common ingredients are peat, composted bark, sand, perlite, and recycled mushroom compost. Some brands may contain small amount of fertilizers and slow- release nutrients. This kind of soil is sterilized, therefore is free of weeds and plant-borne diseases.
Perlite is used as a soil amendment. It has high permeability/ low water retention and helps prevent soil compaction. These are white, volcanic rocks that look like tiny Styrofoam balls. These are non-toxic, sterile and odorless. Perlite provides great drainage and aeration, very light weight and holds more air. This can be a bit expensive, but the advantages may outweigh the additional cost. These have the tendency to float on top of the soil when watered. The use of pebbles, decorative rocks or sand when making arrangements can help contain them.
If these products are not available in your location, rice hulls share similar properties with Perlite. Styrofoam is an inexpensive substitute for Perlite and can help with aeration and serve as space fillers, but unlike Perlite, Styrofoam can compact overtime.
Sand will mimic the sandy and rocky soil where the succulents originally grow. Try to use coarse construction sand. This will improve the soil's drainage and aeration as well.
There are a lot of different mixtures that others vouch to be effective as well. In my case, this has worked well for me. I never had any issues with root rot and overwatering with this formula. The only downside of this, is that the soil dries up quickly. That is why, during summer, I have to water the succulents more often. What is important for me is that the soil is fast-draining, and my plants are healthy and happy!