Succulents are perfect plants for dry gardens and are easy to root and grow. Once you learn how easy it is to propagate succulent plants, it's a great way to expand your plant collection - and it's free! You can use this planting technique with succulent plants from the Crassula family like Jade (C. ovata), Spoon Jade or Gollum Fingers (C. Portulacea, Rosary Plant (C. Rupestris), and Crassula tetragona. This propagation technique also works on other cactus and succulent plants like Aloe Vera, Echeveria, Aeonium and Baby Jade (Portulacaria afra).
Planting Succulent Cuttings: Start with a cutting about 4 - 6 inches long. Bury about half the stalk in soil. This will give you deep roots and helps the plant withstand drought better. Trim off the last few leaves to make a bare stalk if you need to. The leaves can be planted too; bury about half the leaf, cut side down. Most succulent plants and shrubs will form roots on the joints in their stalks.
Watering Succulent Plant Cuttings: Water every 2-3 days so the soil is moist (like a squeezed sponge). After a month, cut back to monthly watering. The leaves will probably shrivel a bit as the plant forms roots. The plant is living off the stored energy in its leaves. This is normal. You may also lose a few leaves, which is also normal. Do not use this as an excuse to over water!
Save all your broken parts and leaves. When I am repotting, I always save all my bits and pieces. Tuck them into the soil and leave a little green sticking out. Most parts will take root and grow into an extra plant.
How to Grow Succulent Plants: Succulent plants want heat and light. Outdoors most succulents take full sun to light shade. Some succulents will change colors in the sun and with the seasons. If you see brown, scabby spots, plants are getting too much sun. Aloe plants will turn orange in full sun.
Most succulents and cacti make excellent houseplants. They are already accustomed to a warm, dry environment, but they do need bright light. Indoors, most succulent plants can take sun near a window, or bright light. As a general rule of thumb, if there is enough sunlight for you to read, there is probably enough sun to make your plant happy. Outdoors, Aloe and Haworthia like bright light, but take less sunlight than most succulents. One or two hours of direct sun is usually their limit. They will turn orange if they are getting too much sun. Moving them to more shade will change them back to green.
A very light frost is usually no problem for succulent plants. A hard freeze, however, will freeze them solid. Outdoors, they can survive a frost if they have overhead protection. In freezing winter areas, bring you plants inside and put them in an area with lots of light.
How to Water Succulent Plants and Cacti: Succulents are native to places like South Africa, South America and the arid Southwest. Try to keep that in mind when you are picking a spot for your plants. Succulents and cacti are equipped to store water in their leafs and stalks so that they can survive long periods of drought. Indoors, drench the pot and then allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Outdoors, water them a few times during the hottest days of summer (if they look shriveled), otherwise, leave them alone. The fastest way to kill succulents is to over water them.
Soil Requirements for Succulents and Cacti: Succulent plants in a pot: The preferred soil for succulents is light and fast draining. Some retailers carry a special cactus potting soil, which is ideal. However, regular potting soil can also be used. Just remember that regular potting soil is formulated to retain water, so be sure to let it dry between watering (after your plants are established.) Do not use the potting soil with added fertilizer as it can be too 'rich' for succulents. If available, add a scoop of sharp sand or fine gravel to assist with drainage.
Succulent Plant Cuttings Outdoors: Generally you can put your succulent plant cutting directly in the soil in the exact spot where you want the plant to grow. Just break up the soil, (add a little potting soil if you must), and plant your cutting. If the area is in full sun, your plant cutting will have an easier time rooting and getting established if you give it a little shade for a couple weeks or so. You can use a shade cloth, a piece of cardboard or anything else that keeps the sun off your cutting for a few hours during the day.
If you are rooting a succulent cutting in a pot but plan on planting it in your garden, I recommend using mainly soil from your own garden in the pot. You can add a scoop of potting soil if you wish, but the best thing is to get your cutting used to your native soil off the bat. Your plant will have a better transition from pot to garden soil when you plant it. Please www.theGardenPages.com to see photos of succulents that are easily propagated with cuttings.
Laura Zinkan tends a gardening website at www.theGardenPages.com you can read growing tips and lore about succulents and native plants. Drop by to smell the flowers, see lots of photos and even download garden wallpapers. She also has a site called http://www.AngelCityArt.com where you can share her vision of Los Angeles and California with photos and essays.
Copyright © 2005 by Laura Zinkan. All rights reserved under U.S. and international law.