Gardening: Succulents are popular house plants

Succulents are easy to distinguish form other plants as they have thick, fleshy, juicy foliage that comes in a multitude of colours, shapes and sizes. Flowers may or may not be showy depending on the plant variety which makes them eye catching even when they are not blooming.

Succulents have been gaining popularity as house plants as they are easy to grow. They thrive on neglect. Insects usually ignore succulents but occasionally mealybugs or aphids become a problem. The most important thing to remember when growing succulents is that they become dormant in October and break it in m March. During this time they still need sunlight but water and fertilizer should be given sparingly as the moisture can accumulate in the soil, rotting the roots.

Water and fertilize once in March as the plants begin to break dormancy. Once the plants begin to put on new growth, which is usually in April or May, water and fertilize every second week. When the plants are actively growing in June, July water and fertilize weekly. Continue watering once a week in August but do not fertilize as the plants need to slow their growth heading into dormancy.

The plants can be left inside for the summer or moved into a warm, sunny spot on the balcony, deck or garden for June to August. Plants being set outside should be acclimatized slowly. Start by taking the plants outside for a few hours each day. Slowly increase the length of time the plants are outside until the plants become accustomed to the new climate. Plants that are not acclimatized burn, resulting in large ugly brown patches that will be present until the part of the plant is removed.

Plants that are kept inside for the summer should be placed in a sunny location. Take all indoor succulents inside when the night time temperatures are dropping to 5 C. Succulents are full of liquid and will freeze very easily. Shorter days signal the plants and they start to go dormant which means they need less water; once in September and every six weeks between October and March.

As with everything there are exceptions. Water and fertilize plants such as Christmas Cacti when they begin to form buds.

While specialized, succulent or cacti potting soil is available, it is not necessary. Use any potting soil with good drainage. When watered, the water should flow through the soil leaving behind a damp but not soggy growing medium.

Specialized fertilizer is also available but most succulents will thrive on 20- 20- 20 fertilizer if it is diluted to half strength.

When first transplanted, succulents such as cacti should be placed in a pot where they take up one-third of the room. With good growth the plants will need repotted in approximately every two years; when the pot grows crowded. Clay or ceramic pots are recommended for larger plants as they tend to get top heavy and tip over.

Propagating succulents is easy. Break off a stem or in some cases leaves. Allow wounds to callus over then place them in moist soil. The cutting root faster in the spring and summer when the plants are actively growing

Succulents or one of the plants to grow as they do better when they are under watered as opposed to being overwatered.

Linda Tomlinson is a local horticulturalist that can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com.

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