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Succulents: Beauty in Small Packages

By Patty Brockmeyer

You know that I love designing beautiful landscapes with perennials, trees, shrubs and boulders, and building patios and walkways for our customers. But what you may not know is that one of my private passions is on a much smaller scale: succulents. 

I have grown fond of succulents over the past three years, playing with them in the summer. I would talk to vendors at outdoor markets, asking them lots of questions and trying new kinds. I also have a "succulent mentor," my friend Caitlin in Hillsboro. She has taught me so much as I buy many of mine from her and she is kind and shares her love of them. 

Playing with succulents, I've found has been a great way to get through a long winter and their beauty has helped endure the Covid-19 pandemic. Succulents bring a boring winter season to life in the house to see and enjoy.   

Here's some information to help you fall in love with succulents.

 

Succulents bring a boring winter season to life in the house to see and enjoy. --Patty

A Starter's Guide to Succulents 

Are succulents indoor or outdoor plants? 

In central Illinois, succulents are indoor in the winter and outdoor in summer. They really grow in the summer and you should just maintain their health in the winter while indoors.

Is it better to grow succulents in full sun or partial shade?

Succulents will do best close to a window or under artificial plant lights indoors.

How do you keep succulents alive?

Don’t overwater! The key to success with succulents is to allow the soil to completely dry out between waterings and to avoid watering the leaves of the plants. I place pots with drainage holes into a bowl/pan of purified water and allow the plant to soak up the water from the bottom until the soil surface is moist. I usually water every 3-4 weeks over the winter. However, the furnace can cause them to dry out quicker (especially if they are potted in clay pots).

Are all succulents cacti or are all cacti succulents? 

Cacti (Cactaceae) are a subcategory of “succulents”. They're the same as Aloe, Echevervia, Sempervivium, etc. They are all succulents, defined by their ability to store water. Cacti have areoles (where spikes come out of) that distinguish them from other succulents. Right now, cacti seem to be one of the most popular succulent plants we are potting and selling. They are easy to grow and pretty to look at.

What kind of soil do I use to grow succulents?

When choosing soil for potting and growing succulents, you could take a basic potting soil and add perlite soil in it. Perlite increases drainage and adds aeration, and some course sand. It should have larger, porous materials. Perlite is available at most hardware and home stores.

How do you create succulent arrangements? 

First, select your pot/container. They range from 2 inches deep to 4-6 inches deep. Whatever you like. If they have a drainage hole, that is best. But if not, be sure to put some small gravel in the bottom of the pot before you add the potting mix.

It is nice to have a minimum of 3 plants up to whatever will fit. If you put too many in, over time you will need to do some repotting.  I like to have a focal point plant that is the main interest in the pot then add some other smaller ones and depending on your pot maybe even a tailing plant – like a String of Dolphins to cascade over the pot.

Push the soil in good around the plants.  I like to add polished rocks or some gravel to the top – it helps keep soil in when you water, plus it is pretty.

 

What is your favorite succulent?

One of my favorites is Mother of Thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana). It's the large leafy plant in the picture to the left. It is an easy-to-grow succulent, looks good, and has “babies” on the fringes of the leaves that you can give to friends! 

Where can I buy succulents?

If you're ready to own a succulent now, we recommend purchasing our collection of succulents from our friends at The Rooted Home in Farmersville. This spring, we will be selling individual succulents at our nursery in Farmersville for you to pot yourself. 

Have fun with succulents!