Don’t worry, this isn’t the birds and the bees, but we are gettin’ down and dirty — in the soil, that is.  Succulents and cactus are the hottest group of plants to hit this decade.  In the last five years, Google searches for succulents have increased by 5,000%.  That’s a lot of percents!

As their popularity has grown, so has the selection and availability in a garden center near you.  At Tonkadale Greenhouse, we source our succulents from a local grower who propagates these pups out in the woods and brings them to us fresh from the grower.

Here is your succulent primer

Succulents and cacti have special tissues that hold and store water, so they survive in environments that are too dry for other plants. They also survive for busy or forgetful gardeners who don’t always remember to water. And they are ultra cool!

Light

Succulents prefer bright light indoors and full sun outdoors. Watch the leaves for indications that the light level is correct. Some species will scorch if suddenly exposed to direct sunlight. The leaves will turn brown or white as the plant bleaches out and the soft tissues are destroyed. Alternatively, a succulent receiving too little light will begin to stretch, creating an elongated stem and widely spaced leaves.

I shouldn’t tell you this, but I have had good luck with some varieties of succulents in pretty low light both indoors and out.  I am not going to tell you which ones as I can not be responsible for the demise of the more picky (or should we say prickly) individuals.  In general, slower-growing varieties with darker leaves will tolerate less light, I think!

Temperature

Succulents are much more cold-tolerant than many people assume. In the desert, where there is often a marked contrast between night and day, succulents thrive in colder nights, down to even 40ºF. Ideally, succulents prefer daytime temperatures between 70ºF and about 85ºF and nighttime temperatures between 50ºF and 55ºF.  I like to stretch the minimum temperature on succulents, especially in the fall, as they are allowed to be acclimated slowly to cooler temperatures and look pretty nifty mixed in with kale, grasses and gourds.

Water

Easy on the water! Potting mix should be allowed to dry between waterings, but do not under water. An under-watered plant will stop growing and then begin to shed leaves.  I water my succulents indoors about once per month.  I would recommend that you are at least checking them every other week.  In the winter, when succulents go dormant, cut back on watering.

Potting soil

Succulents should be planted in a high-porosity, well-drained potting mix that is designed for cacti and succulents.  We recommend Espoma Organic Potting Mix.

Fertilizer

During the summer growing season, fertilize as you would other houseplants. Stop fertilizing during the winter, or do so sparingly.

Succulent ABCs

And now, your succulent ABCs!

Succulents can be grouped into what we like to call families.  By knowing the general names of the succulent families, you will be able to identify some key characteristics that are mostly common among other members of the same family, at least most of the time.  Some of the families are quite diverse, so they will throw a hinky in the mix some of the time, but that’s why we call it gardening.  It’s an action verb that is performed over time and space in which there is always something new to learn and experience.

The following list is by no means to be totally comprehensive.  It’s just a start, but a good place to start because we add to this list forever and ever amen!  At 9:25 p.m. it is good to know your limits.  Here we go!

Aeonium

Aeonium Black Giant

Aeonium Black Giant

  • A genus of about 35 species of succulents.
  • Looks like Echiveria, but leaves are thinner and flatte4.
  • Have a tendency to stretch and lose lower leaves.
  • Colors range from greens to reds to burgundies.
  • Black Giant is probably the most popular variety at Tonkadale

Agave

Agave sp.

Agave sp.

  •  Agave are monocots, just like grasses and corn (great dinner party conversation).
  • Agave nectar, also called syrup, is used as a sweetener.
  • Agave tequilana is responsible for tequila.
  • Wide diversity of plant shapes and colors exist.
  • Leaves are usually abbreviated with a sharp spine.
  • Agave flower only once in their lifetime.
  • Agave can be propgated by pups.

Aloe

Aloe Pink Blush
  •  The sunburn savior.
  • A genus containing 500 species of plants.  How much time do you have?
  • Aloe plant that live around us are usually slow-growing.
  • A variety of colors and leaf textures can be experienced with this plant.
  • Divide away.  These plants are the hit of the party because everyone can take one home.

Echiveria

Echiveria ruffled hybird

Echiveria ruffled hybird

Echeveria shaviana

Echeveria shaviana

  • Probably the most popular of all the succulent families.
  • Well-known because of their dahlia flower shaped leaf formation.
  • Often used in fresh flower arrangements and bridal bouquets.
  •  Tons of leaf colors to choose from — grey, silver, pink, purple, blue and all the greens.
  • Tons of leaf textures to choose from — ruffled, scalloped, bumpy, rounded, angular.
  • Will reward you with flowers if you are a good plant guardian.

Euphorbia

Euphorbia Fire Sticks

Euphorbia Fire Sticks

Euphorbia flanaganii

Euphorbia flanaganii

  • A very diverse plant species.
  • Poinsettias are even included in this family.
  • DO NOT get the sap of this plant in your eyes — CAUTION/DANGER/WARNING.
  • Wide color range.
  • Most uprightish in growth form.
  • Many look a bit like a cactus, with leaf shapes that mimic spines.

Gastria/Gatrolea

Gastrolea sp.

Gastrolea sp.

  • The more you know (You’re welcome Matt Lauer) Gastrolea are a cross between Gastria, which is something you have never heard of, and aloe.
  • Slow-growing.
  • Stemless or nearly stemless (like my wine glass).
  • Unique variegation.
  •  Plays well with others.

Graptoveria

Graptoveria sp.

Graptoveria sp.

  • Commonly mistaken as an Echiveria.  I’ve done it before!.
  • They do have some Echiveria blood.
  • Leaves are generally chubbier and closer together, but that is totally anecdotal.

 Haworthia

Haworthia sp.

Haworthia sp.

  • Also known as zebra plant.
  • Low-growing and slow-growing.
  • Minds its own business.
  • Low, low low watering requirements.
  • Assort with gastrolea or agave for a really edgy look.

Kalanchoe

Kalanchoe Flap Jacks

Kalanchoe Flap Jacks

Kalanchoe pumila Silver Grey

Kalanchoe pumila Silver Grey

  • One of the sweetest succulents.
  • Fuzzy leaves.
  • Silver foliage.
  • Light and delicate flowers.
  • Flippy, floppy fronds or traily, tumbly stems; some are upright, too.
  • Can be pinched to keep its shape.
  • A relatively fast grower.

Optunia

Optunia Brown Bunny Ears

Optunia Brown Bunny Ears

  • Our one and only cactus for the day.
  • Do not pet these bunnies.
  • So darn cute
  • Very drought-tolerant.
  • Look great in groups.

Rhipsalis

Rhipsalis teres Mistletoe Cactus

Rhipsalis teres Mistletoe Cactus

  • An epiphytic type of cactus.
  • Require a very loose and barky soil mixture.
  • Can be grown in a hanging basket or a pot.
  • Hang in a macrame plant hanger if you must.
  • Fast grower.

 Sanseveria

Sanseveria hanii

Sanseveria hanii

  • A group of plants that can practically grow in the dark.
  • The hanii varieties are shorter, broader cousins of the well-known snake plant.
  • The leaves almost grow in a whorl.
  • Unique variegation.
  • Very low watering requirements.

Sedum

Sedum rubrotinctum Jelly Beans

Sedum rubrotinctum Jelly Beans

  •  A huge grouping of plants, but we are talking succulents — we mean business.
  • Some are trailing.
  • Mainly form multiple rosettes of leaves in a single pot.
  • Easy to propagate.
  • Many little leaves form around the stem.
  • Can be fragile when transplanted.
  • Low-growing or flat varieties can be easily divided.
  • Require a lot of light.
  • Some difficult to grow indoors.
  • This is where you get the brightest green leaf coloration.

Senecio

Senecio Fish Hooks

Senecio Fish Hooks

Senecio Ace

Senecio Ace

  • Long strands of closely positioned, alternating leaves.
  • Quick grower.
  • Mostly blue tones, but some purplish hues.
  • Trailing or tall.
  • Pinch to keep desired height and shape.
Free hugs!

Free hugs!

See you at Tonkadale — where there are different pokes for different folks!