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How to care for your succulent plants


By Washington County Master Gardener Eunice Witte

I just recently joined a great group of people who have earned the title of Master Gardener.

After finishing the course, I realized how little I knew about plant life. I was pretty sure that succulents were not for me, after losing several pretty plants. Then I heard a family member saying that she really loved her succulents, so I decided to learn more about them.

Succulents typically come from hot and arid environments, so it’s important to give them enough light when you move them indoors. Succulents are drought resistant, tolerant, low maintenance, fleshy plants. They can store water in their leaves or stems. Some are called geophytes.

They can also store food or other nutrients in underground organs. They prefer a special potting mix blend made for succulents and cacti. There may be too much organic matter in regular potting soil.

Pots are made from a variety of materials. A terra cotta pot will absorb water and allow for evaporation more easily than a plastic or metal pot. Whichever you choose, it should have a hole in the bottom, so excess water can leak out. If it’s not possible to have a hole in the bottom, layer the bottom with shells or similar porous material.

Plants will need less water during the winter or when it’s cloudy. If you are unsure how much water to use, place the pot in shallow water. The plant will use what it needs. Remove the pot in about 10 minutes. Do not water again for a week or two, or until the topsoil is dry.

Rainwater or distilled water would be better than chlorine laden tap water. Fertilize during the growing season, spring to fall. Succulents usually do well with a 50/50 mix of sunshine and shade

Check your plants regularly for aphids, spider mites, or mealy bugs. Avoid getting the leaves wet, as this would cause rotting. If your plant starts losing leaves, or if the leaves get mushy or turn yellow, it may have been over watered, causing the plant cells to swell and burst. But don’t give up. Take the plant out of the pot immediately and cut off any rotten leaves and stems with clean scissors. Squeeze the root ball and place it in a sunny spot to dry out.

Use 10% bleach water to sanitize and place plants in fresh soil. However, if the leaves get shriveled and droopy across the entire plant, the plant probably needs watering.

Given the vast number of succulent varieties, and the fact that they do not all belong to the same botanical family, it is understandable that it would be difficult to determine what kind you have. You could bring a photo to your favorite plant shop, or you could take a photo with your phone and use Google Lens and see what it reveals. If you would like more information about succulent plants, contact your local extension office in Washington County at 618-327-8881.

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