The Joy and Fun of Growing Succulents
Lots of Stuff You might not Know
By: J. Marlando
There is simply something exciting for young and older people alike to grow things. Lots of people these days, however, live in places where there’s just no place to plant. Well with the exception of a few containers on their patios or inside where potted houseplants can be grown. There is another challenge for many people—the demand for two income families can keep people too busy to “fool” with growing plants even though they would like to. Even though most plants around the house are easy to grow, even orchids are not that difficult once you get a routine-of-care, feeding and watering down but for a great many people the best of intentions pave the way to plant neglect.
In Colorado where I was raised, my grandmother had the most beautiful cactus and other succulents growing in her rock garden and with that memory in mind I have loved succulents all my life. Did I say Colorado—but succulents are desert plants aren’t they?
While I suppose it’s true that some succulents and cacti can’t stand freezing cold weather, what I remember most is that when the last of the hot weather days arrived, she would always stop watering those plants. She said that her succulents were just like bears in that they had to hibernate during the winter and if they drank a lot when the cold weather set in, they would surely freeze to death.
Anyway, succulents and cacti (cacti are succulents too) are both beautiful and easy to grow. Right now I have a gigantic jade plant (succulent) growing in a lot of shade in my yard and *where the ground is truly terrible with no nutrients. I call it “dead dirt” but my Jade is over three feet tall now, growing and healthy as can be. The truth is that succulents are, in most instances, very hardy and healthy. There common danger is not nature but people who grow them giving them too much water. Indeed, Nature has made them extremely hardy!
For example, if you are fortunate enough to have a yard, you will not do well with succulents that are in the way of automatic watering. You have to plant your succulent garden where you will be in charge of when to water and how much to water. In the ground and in pots nearly all succulents like to dry out completely before they drink again. Remember, succulents store water in their leaves, their stems as well as their roots. So when the ground goes dry or the soil in the pot goes dry usually does not mean your plant is dry. You don’t have to be an expert either to tell if your plant is thirsty or not. If your succulent is standing straight, looks perky and feels solid, you’re okay. You of course don’t want to wait until your succulent starts looking sick and droopy before watering. My rule of thumb is to leave a dry pot a couple days before watering again and that has worked for me. In fact, when you plant succulents in a container always build a good drainage system. We put rocks in the bottom of our pots before adding dirt, sand and a touch of fertilizer or supplemented soil. After all, if you don’t have ample space to grow in the ground, you will grow your cacti and other succulents in containers so just remember drainage is the key to growing successful succulents.
A word about Prickly pear cacti that is popular for a lot of folks. Prickly pear cactus is an extremely handsome plant in the yard as well as in planters but, surprisingly for at least some people, they are doggone good to eat too. You can buy them with the thorns removed especially in **Mexican stores (nearly everyone eats cactus in Mexico) and they are truly excellent with morning breakfast eggs. If you end up peeling the cactus yourself do so wearing gloves—getting stuck with thorns hurt! Anyway, take a small kitchen knife or even a veggie peeler to remove the outer skin. The real fruit is inside anyway. Afterwards, rinse the prickly pear in water and remove the remaining thorns then cut off both ends of the cacti. Slice the fruit into vertical pieces if you wish to boil or fry whole. Just make sure that all the outer skin has been removed. This can take some practice but once you have it down, it becomes easy. After that, well…it’s a yummy treat!
Most people prefer boiled cactus. All you do once you’ve removed the spines and nubs is to chop the cactus leaf up into bite sized pieces or strips. Toss the cactus in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil and then lower the heat and let simmer for fifteen minutes. And here’s a secret that every cactus-eating-loving person knows. Cactus, even after cooking can be slimy. You can remove most of that slime (called babas) by putting some baking soda in the water you boil the cactus in.
Most succulents, handsome as they are, you can’t eat of course so don’t experiment, stay with prickly pear and enjoy!
At bottom line, you and your children (if you have children) can have endless fun creating succulent gardens inside or outside, in pots, container or in the ground. They take very little time, are very beautiful and really exciting to watch grow. Those that bloom flowers will give you unexpected explosion of bright and lovely colors.
You can order succulents on line and most nurseries have them for sale. You can also take clippings from your friends who grow them. All you have to do with most succulents is cut off a shoot or cluster of leaves and stick them in some well-drained soil and let Mother Nature do the rest. You need only plant them deep enough for the stem to hold up the plant!
Succulents, for me, are artful and fun to grow. And you know, growing succulents feels like healthy therapy at the same time. It’s just a nice thing to do for the entire family!
*Succulents grow in poor soil and are “happy” in it. They are, after all, most basically a desert plant.
**My wife and I lived in Mexico for seven years and that is where I first learn to enjoy cactus especially for breakfast.