Getting to know (and love) succulents

Matt Fernandez/The Signal Jade, like this red-and-green variety, is a popular succulent that can grow to 4 feet tall.

Succulents can be just what indoor or outdoor gardens need. Even though succulents are becoming more popular, there are still some people who are unaware of their attributes. By learning more about succulents, people may become devotees of these unique plants.

“I get a lot of people in here who say they don’t like succulents and think of them as cactus-y and desert-y, but as soon as I show them some and they give the plants a try, these people become hooked,” said Debbie Brule, nurseryman at Green Thumb Nursery. “Succulents are really great, and I think they’re becoming more popular because they’re relatively low-maintenance plants that are great for people trying to be more water-conscious. As soon as you think you’ve seen them all, along comes another one you haven’t with a different color, texture or flower.”

The word “succulent” brings to mind juicy, savory foods. But succulents aren’t meant to be consumed. In fact, they get their mouth-watering name from their uncanny ability to store water in fleshy stems or leaves. That means they do not require frequent watering like other plants might. Succulents also may prove more durable in the face of drought and are a handy plant for forgetful gardeners or those who travel often and want something more hands-off in their gardens.

According to the succulents resource “Succulents and Sunshine,” most succulents prefer warm temperatures and are not very cold-tolerant. However, there are some varieties that can survive freezing temperatures. Still, for most succulents, it’s best if they are kept in warm, moderately sunny conditions. The DIY Network says succulents grow best in bright light, but not always in full, hot sun. Succulents thrive in coastal climates, but can also do well in the desert climes of Santa Clarita, as long as they are kept from too much direct light.

“You want to put succulents in well-draining soil like cactus soil and give them a deep watering to make sure that the root bulb is saturated,” Brule said. “Succulents like a couple hours of sunshine and a lot of afternoon shade. When it gets cold, they like dry conditions because (otherwise) the roots, and then the rest of the plant, will begin to rot.”

Brule said she finds part of the appeal of succulents is how hardy they are. If a succulent does begin to rot, often an easy solution is to just cut out the rotted plant matter, and the rest of the plant will still survive. Pieces of succulents, if broken off, can be replanted to grow whole new plants.

“That’s another reason why people like succulents, since you can buy one and get several out of them,” Brule said. “They are very flexible, forgiving plants that can do well either as outdoor plants and also as house plants; they’re very hard to kill.”

Matt Fernandez/The Signal
Calandrinia are popular succulents because of their bright purple flowers.

Succulents also may attract gardeners thanks to their diverse looks. “Better Homes & Gardens” says colors of succulents are quite varied and include green, yellow, burgundy, white, blue-green, pink, red, and variegated combinations. The aeonium is a low, bowl-shaped succulent that comes in 35 different varieties that offer several color options for gardeners. Their shapes can be just as diverse, with many having pointy, rounded, spiky, or ruffled leaves. While some succulents are small and hug the ground, others like jade can grow to reach 4 feet in height.

Succulents are floral and usually bloom in spring and summer, offering an even wider variety of colors for gardens and indoor spaces. Brule said calandrinia is popular among customers because of the bright purple flowers that grow out from long stalks.

People may be particularly familiar with one type of succulent: cacti. These traditional desert-dwellers are prized for their water-retention abilities, but some seem downright scary with their prickly exteriors. While all cacti are succulents, it’s important to note that not all succulents are cacti. Less needle-like succulents include aloe, jade, snake plant and agave. Hens and chicks (sempervivum) and wax plant (hoya) are other succulents to consider.  

Cacti are even hardier than other succulents and are able to tolerate a lot of strong, direct sunlight and can tolerate drought conditions longer. They do tend to be slow-growing plants, while other types of succulents grow very rapidly. As with other types of succulents, cacti do not do well with cold, damp weather.

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