by Anita Smelley
Summers are hot and dry in Alabama and keeping potted plants from wilting is always a challenge. Have you ever walked out onto your porch or patio to find your petunias drooping or your ferns turning brown? Succulents, on the other hand, love this climate!
Succulents have thick, fleshy leaves and stems that help them to retain water. Even in the hottest months of the year you can get away with less watering than most other plants. Even if you go on vacation for a week, when you return your succulents will still look great. Succulents have the ability to thrive on limited water sources such as mist and dew.
There are many different types of succulents. Some are spiky, chubby, flat leafed, rosette forming and some form “babies” on the edges of their leaves. Two of the spiky plants are Aloe and Agave. These two look a lot alike, but agave will form a spike on the end of each leaf.
Aloe Vera can be used to treat burns by breaking the leaf in two and spreading the gel-like substance inside on the affected area. It is very soothing and helps the burn heal. Agave is the plant from which tequila is made… enough said. It grows much larger than the Aloe and even comes in shades of blue.
The Jade plant is a deep emerald green and Purslane blooms in bright magenta, lemon yellow and creamy peach. These two are in the chubby category with thick, puffy leaves. Purslane is in the portulaca family and is even edible. The Christmas Cactus is a flat leafed succulent and blooms in late fall to early spring. It is a native of Brasil and prefers less sun and more humidity than other succulents.
Examples of the rosette forming plant are Echeveria and Sempervivum (commonly known as Hens and Chicks). The leaves look like the petals of a rose. Some are edged with red or purple. They multiply easily when smaller versions of the mature plant grow next to it. They also come in many colors and textures. They look great in groups too.
Some my favorites are the succulents with reproductive leaves. They actually have “babies” growing on the edges of the leaves and are one of the Kalanchoe species. I have one called Million Babies from Central America. From a single leaf I’ve planted babies and now have dozens to share. I pot them in small seed trays and up-pot as they grow. Before long, they too are producing little ones. I have found that they produce babies more when the plant is a little stressed, not over-watered and have plenty of direct sun.
Some succulents bloom and some do not, but all have interesting leaves and come in an array of colors. When planting them be sure to use a light-weight soil rich in nutrients like Happy Frog (available from the Plant Lady Nursery) that drains readily. Place in bright light facing east or south with twelve to fourteen hours of sunlight daily. Use tepid or luke-warm water and never let the pot sit in a saucer of water. Allow the plant to dry out almost completely between waterings. I have a birdbath that leaked, so I re-purposed it into a sedum bowl for my succulents. I like to plant several together in a round, shallow bowl and the old birdbath was perfect. Succulents are very happy living and growing in southern gardens.