When you’re a not so green thumbed gardener
Although people often say that you don’t have to do anything to keep succulents alive and they’re perfect for people with a less than green thumb, I’ve learnt through trial and error that that’s not quite true. Over the last couple of years I’ve had dozens of succulent and cactus plants in our apartment (remember these cute little guys?) but have never been able to make them flourish. I recently decided to invest in a fresh batch and while I was at it I quizzed the nursery owner (a loud talking Mr Ho) and found out that complete neglect of your cacti and succulents is just as likely to kill them as too much love. I thought I would share a few of the tidbits I learnt but bear with me – Mr Ho doesn’t speak a stitch of English so I had a friend translate.
Although you would think that because succulents and cacti mainly originate in the desert they would be down with full high-beaming sun, I was told that for many species full midday sun can actually burn your plant. For many species brightly lit areas with lots of sunlight are perfect but not somewhere with full midday sun.
This is the bit I was most surprised about. During the warmer part of the year most succulents and cacti go through a ‘growing’ phase where they are most active and need water and nutrients. When it cools down during the year they go into a dormant phase and need much less water (this is the point where you can neglect your plants a little). During the warmer months in their growing phase succulents should be watered once a week but rather than pour a cup of water now and then into the pot , wait until the dirt is completely dry and then soak the plant in water for a few minutes.
Succulents are usually found in gritty or sandy soils, and you should make sure this is what you use in the event that you replant them.
As with all plants, make sure the pot you use for your plant has a drainage hole in the bottom. This is where I think I went wrong in the past – planting cacti in tea cups unfortunately doesn’t allow for the right drainage (= dead succulent). If you can, plant your succulent in a terracotta pot, as apparently this improves drainage.
Although an annoying process to go through, if you’re a nice and caring succulent owner there will be a point at which you have to re-pot. My succulent guy says to do this every year or when the plant starts to look uncomfortable in the pot. Fingers crossed you get to that point!
Mr Ho said that although his tips apply generally to most succulents and cacti, they are all different and the only way to make sure you are doing the right thing is to pay attention to how they are growing – apparently yellowing can mean too much sunlight (or overwatering) whilst leaning towards the light source can mean not enough.
That’s all I managed to wrangle out of Mr Ho, feel free to let me know if you have any other tips – I definitely need them! I was lucky enough to get to shoot a few pics of the plants I had to choose from at the markets – it was a tough decision believe me.
And for those who are interested these tips expand a bit on those I mentioned here.