Caring for succulents and cacti
With the new trend of succulents going around the world thanks to sites like Pinterest and Instagram with their beautiful posts of some breath-taking displays of succulents and cacti. I thought it fitting to share my experience of caring for succulents and cacti planted in gardens, pots, bags and inside the house . PS: Please note the bold italic font for later
There is a believe that succulents are easy to care for while this is kinda true you can also, sometimes cause more harm to them while trying to help them!
While having a nursery and having to deal with succulents and cacti for a few years, I have learnt some valuable lessons along the way. I also must admit that I have personally been responsible for the untimely death of many beautiful succulents, this while on my quest to discover what really caused the symptoms they so desperately displayed…
I thought it best to first give a bit of an explanation of these wonderful plants and then show some illustrations by using a few photos I took around the garden.
First thing we need to clarify is “What is a succulent?”
Now, the google definition of Succulent is one of two:
1. Food : tender, juicy, and tasty.
2. Botany : having thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water.
I am sure we will opt for the second, this is a simple but accurate explanation to classify a plant as a succulent even though some succulents store their water in their roots and they may or may not have “thick fleshy leaves or stems” as in the case of schizobasis intricata (Baker Succulent).
The main property here is the fact that these plants store water for the dry seasons in one of the three main organs, their leaves, stems and or roots. There are therefore more than 10 000 species of plant that qualify as succulents.
This classification already gives us some idea of how to look after these guys, we have to think of the climate that most succulents come from, now that is very diverse but mostly they have this one thing in common, storing water for when it gets “DRY”. Meaning the climates they grow in come with some varying length of dry periods, this is important to understand as now we know that they can go without water for extended periods without any real damage.
This leads me to the reason why some succulent owners end up with unhealthy or dying plants.
- Over watering
- Little or No natural sunlight
These two factors I will say contribute the most to unhealthy plants, the biggest reason it that the signs the plants displays when being submitted to these conditions can fool a succulent owner to actually give it more water or even less sunlight, leading to the ultimate death of the poor succulent.
Now lets get started with some picture of this scenario:
When you see these signs do not add more water, also check the soil or container as this can be the problem. Succulents need well drain soil. Sometimes the soil keeps too much water or the roots start plugging the container’s water outlet which result in the succulent roots always sitting in water-soaked soil.
Do not add more water!
The photo below shows the leaf of an over watered succulent, see how the leave becomes transparent and clear, it also become very soft and soggy. Leaf will start falling off.
The photo below also shows the leaves of an over watered succulent, see how the leaves start rotting and falling off. This is caused by too much water sitting in the crown of the succulent.
Another photo of water in the crown of the succulent, you can see the small black spots of mould starting to form on the leaves, again caused by water always sitting in the crown.
Little or no natural sunlight:
Succulent need natural sunlight, remember the earlier reference to the bold and italic fond use for “inside the house .” Now this is one big problem succulent are not indoor plants or so is most of them. All succulent needs a degree of natural sunlight throughout the day. Therefore, if you wish to keep them indoors you must place them at a spot that will provide them with some sunlight. Be careful of direct sunlight through a window in very hot regions as this could also cook your plant!
The photo below shows plants that start stretching to get some sunlight this is an early sign when they can’t get to the light, they will start dropping off some of their earlier leaves and they will become long, leafless and ugly. Another sign is that they will become very green at first as they do not get enough sunlight and eventually, they will start going yellow.
When you see these signs add more water or check that the plant is not exposed to too much sunlight in a very hot region cause exercise heat on the leaves or container also check the kind of container being used, I will deal with the containers at the end.
The photo below shows the signs of succulent that is under- watered. See how the leaves start shrinking and showing wrinkles. This is because the plant has started to use the stored water inside its leaves. Now this is the best problem to have all you need to do is give it some water and it will restore to its former glory. The two first photos shows a before and after of a plant that was under-watered and then recovered after a few days of good watering.
Some more under-watered plants: