The definition of a succulent is: a plant adapted to arid conditions and characterized by fleshy water-storing tissues that act as water reservoirs. Succulents are plants with thick, fleshy leaves, as well as cacti.
Succulents are grown for their unique, interesting shapes, stunning flowers and resilience.
Give these plants a sunny window with direct sunlight, the appropriate amount of moisture, some fertilizer and they will grow.
The most important thing to remember when caring for cacti or succulents is that many varieties have a long dormancy period from October to March. During dormancy, it is sufficient to water every six to eight weeks. Watering more often will leave the soil wet, which can cause the plant to rot.
Come March, inside succulents begin to break their long dormancy and again require regular water and fertilizer. At this time of year, the plants are still growing slowly so one application of water and fertilizer once a month is usually sufficient.
Once new growth begins to appear April and May, increase the water and fertilizer applications to about once a week if the soil is dry.
The plants can be left inside in a warm sunny window or moved into a warm, sunny spot on the balcony, deck or garden from June to August.
If they are to go outside, the plants need to be acclimatized slowly. Start by taking the plants outside for a few hours each day. Increase the length of time outside until the plants is left outside for the summer months. Plants that are not acclimatized burn, resulting in large, ugly brown patches that will be present until that part of the plant is removed.
An actively growing cacti or succulent should be watered and fertilized weekly during June and July. Continue to water once a week in August but do not fertilize as the plants need to stop growing to prepare for dormancy.
Take all indoor succulents inside around the end of August or early September, before the first frost. By the first of October, most succulents will be dormant.
As with everything, there are exceptions. Christmas and Easter cacti are found in the tropics as opposed to in arid conditions. Their climatic requirements are similar to tropical plants. The best way to keep any plant healthy is to imitate the climate where they are found in the wild. Cacti thrive in warm areas and go for long periods of time without water. When water arrives, it is often a swift downpour. This is duplicated by letting the soil dry out and then watering heavily. Always soak the soil, allowing the water to flow through the soil and out the bottom of the pot. Dump excess water out of the saucer, ensuring the roots do not sit in water.
While specialized cacti potting soil is available, it is not necessary. Use any potting soil with good drainage.
Special cacti fertilizer is also available but most plants will thrive if they are watered with a water-soluble 20- 20- 20 fertilizer that is at half strength.
Transplant only when the pot is very crowded. The plant should only take up one-third of the room in the pot. With good growth, the plants will need repotted in approximately every two years. Clay or ceramic pots with drainage holes are recommended for larger plants as they tend to get top heavy and tip over. Occasionally, a mealy bug or an aphid will feed on a succulent but usually they are pest free.
Looking for a house plant that requires very little care? Try a succulent or two.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist who lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.