Cactus · Succulent · Uncategorized

Getting Started in Succulents

Welcome to The Succulent Whisper blog!  I am so glad you are here!  This blog is meant as a companion to my YouTube channel, so check that out if you are so inclined.  For our second excursion together, I am going to write about how to get started in succulent keeping.  What you need to do, what you need to have, and where to get the stuff you will need.  You will notice that I am not too particular, except when I am.  I have a large collection so I have more stuff than you will need to get started, but I will try to reign in my enthusiasm and help you get going with succulents to love!

A few things will seem obvious.  You need succulents, for example.  You can get succulents in many places.  This is meant to be just a guide for getting started.  Specifics about what to look for in a succulent, and more importantly, what to avoid will be the next topic I will tackle.  For now, this is just a well explained list.  There are many places to buy succulents, floral and nursery shops, online stores and nurseries, big box stores, and farmer’s markets.  I have purchased succulents in all these places.  So go find some succulents!

Chances are, upon finding some succulents to love, you will need to re-pot them.  You may want to leave them in the little plastic pots or squares from the nursery, but those tend to be fairly ugly and very messy.  So, the next thing you will need is something to plant the succulent or succulents in.  There are myriad vessels in which to do succulent planting!  I have mugs, votive candle holders, gravy boats, cow shaped creamers, martini glasses, and many other containers with succulents in them.  So think outside the pot!  Find a container you love and plant a succulent in it!  I do not use pots with drainage, but you may choose to use only pots with drainage.  Using pots with drainage will not keep you from killing your succulents if you over water them.  Using pots with no drainage will allow you to kill your succulents very quickly if you overwater them.  The take home message is, find a pot you like, and do not overwater!  And now you have a succulent or two and a pot or two to go with them.

Now, onto the good stuff (just kidding, the succulents are the good stuff, this is the part about the dirt).  The soil.  You will find at any garden store, premade commercial succulent and cactus soil.  This is sufficient and will let you grow succulents, or at least keep them alive and loved.  If you want to really get into this whole succulent thing, you can mix your own soil.  I use a 1 to 1 ratio of MiracleGro Succulent and Cactus soil and sand.  Use clean (sand is often referred to as “sharp,”  I am not sure why, I will google it and find out) sand.  You really do not need to sterilize your sand by baking it.  These are plants, not babies.  (To be fair, for my most beloved succulents I do sterilize my sand, but not my soil, so it is just an odd thing I do.)  You can use clean sand and soil.  If you want to really investigate all the kinds of soil succulent people use, you can.  Everyone has a mix they like.  You can figure out what you like.  I use half sand and half soil because I do not use drainage in my pots.  I use a pebble system for drainage, and I want loose quickly draining soil.  If you want to use a pebble system like I do, then you need pebbles or gravel in addition to your soil and sand.

So you have your succulent, your pot, your soil, your sand, and your pebbles!  You are ready to re-pot your succulents!  Yay! Start by putting a good layer of pebbles in the bottom of your pot, so about a third of the way up.  Then in a large bowl mix one part sand into one part soil (by weight, not volume.  So guesstimate a pile of dirt and then a pile of sand that weighs the same as the dirt.  Less sand than dirt, cause it’s heavier.)  Then add a layer of dirt on top of the pebbles.  Now unpot your plant.  Be gentle and carefully turn your pot upside down and gently pull your plant out of its little nursery pot.  Then very gently loosen the dirt and root ball.  When sufficiently loosened, place the succulent into your new, prepared pot.  Add the soil/sand mix around the root ball, try to have the succulent  be level and centered.  Top fill soil/sand onto the root ball, and the plant should stand up on its own.  There! You have done it!  You re-potted your succulents!!  Good job!  Yay you!  Now water your succulent carefully, and place it somewhere bright.  You have successfully decorated with succulents!

Congratulations on your newly decorated living space!  Welcome to the wonderful world of succulents!  Now let’s back up a bit and talk about the actual succulent.  What makes a good succulent?  What is a good beginner succulent?  I think you should start with what ever kind of succulent your heart desires.  But, a good choice for a person of blackest thumb would be a nice aloe, or sansevieria, or a nice cactus.  These are hard to kill, tolerate overwatering a bit better than most, and can survive in lower light situations.  Cacti are very easy to grow, as a general rule.  Less is more when it comes to water.  If you are planting a cactus with spines, be very careful!  It is very hard to get the tinny barbs out of your fingers and palms!  Wear good heavy weight gloves, mine are leather, but still use care.  When picking out a succulent or cactus in the store, look for a plant that has plump leaves or body.  There should be no black spots or discoloration of the leaves or stem.  The leaves should be firmly attached, so you can gently touch one and it stays on the plant.  Pull the plant up very slightly and carefully.   It should be firmly attached to it’s roots, and it should have roots.  If it is not well attached, or is lacking roots entirely, don’t buy it.  I like to buy plants who are not seriously scarred or damaged, but sometimes lopsided plants are adorable and if it is otherwise healthy, there is no reason not to buy it if you want it.  The nice thing about small succulents and cacti are they are relatively inexpensive, so if you kill the poor little thing, you are not out a lot of money.  Save the pot.  When you are ready to try again, put new sand/soil into your pot and start over.  I reuse gravel, but I do not reuse soil.  If your plant died of a disease, then throw away  everything in the pot and run the pot through the dishwasher or hand wash in hot soapy water.  Dry it off and you are ready to go!

In review:  You need a succulent, a pot, some soil, some pebbles, gloves (if you want a cactus), water and a bright(ish) spot.  If you plan on long-term relationships with your succulents, you may want to invest in some cactus and succulent plant food.  I feed my succulents 3 times a year with 1/4 strength plant food in water.  A quick word about the water.  You might notice that people have some funky beliefs when it comes to what water to use for succulent watering.  If you google it you will learn that some people only use rain water, or distilled water, or unicorn tears, but I use tap water.  From the tap.  As a general rule, if you can drink the water, you can water your succulents with it. Do not drink the water if you have added plant food! (My husband did that once, he survived and I still laugh about it!)

When I bring home new succulents, I keep them isolated from my other plants for a week or so.  This way, if they have bugs or diseases, you will not infect your collection.  Please remember these are plants, and sometimes plants die.  So, even if you have killed houseplants in the past, there is no reason not to try again!  I have several hundred plants, and have been collecting for a couple of years, and sometimes I have plants that die.  I will write a future blog about propagation of succulents, and there will be a video up on my YouTube channel soon.  There will also be a video of re-potting, which is nice if you learn by watching.  I will see you next time!  Thanks for reading and please leave a comment if you have any questions or comments!  Thanks for visiting The Succulent Whisperer!



Cactus · Succulent

Watering and Rotating Succulents

Welcome to the pilot blog of The Succulent Whisperer!  I am so excited you are here!    I love all things cactus and succulent, and have a YouTube channel to go with this blog.  If you want, go take a look!  Now let’s get to know each other a little bit.

I got started in succulents a couple of years ago after a trip to Phoenix, Arizona.  We visited the Botanical Gardens and saw the most beautiful plants in creation!  Wonderful colors, amazing flowers, and humming birds!  Really, there were humming birds, and lizards! So, I asked one of the horticulturists how they got the succulents to do all the gorgeous things they do, as most of the desert has brownish green succulents.  The nice man told me how they do it!  “Water, he said, water.”  That was it, water!  He also described how he potted the succulents in containers and in his own collection.  Drainage, as it turns out, is not the answer, but potting is a topic for another blog, so more on that later!  Anyway, I came back to my Midwest home and decided I wanted to get me some succulents!  We had an art day and painted mugs to repurpose into planters.  Planters for Succulents!!  Yay!  Succulents!  Then, we had a visiting the nursery day and bought 10 succulents to go into our mug planters.  Those planters were destined for a set of windows in my living room.  Of those original 10 plants, 9 are still living.  One turned out to be an annual (which I did not know were a thing in succulents) and it lived the first year.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I now have more than 200 succulents in my personal collection.  They are gorgeous!  I love them!  I also name them! And I talk to them.  (They like it.)

I am going to make a few assumptions about you.  I will assume that you are here because you like succulents and would maybe like to grow one or more.   I admit that I fail to understand why a person would not love succulents (for real, even my husband thinks I am a little weird, but, more on that later)!    I will assume that you are hoping to learn information on how to grow succulents or at the very least, keep them alive long enough to be respectable.  I can help you do that!!  I also have a few warnings, and things you should know.  I do not grow and use succulents like the bulk of the people on Pinterest and in floral shops.  If you have a truly “black” thumb, most succulents are not for you.  But, I will help you find a plant that is extremely hard to kill.  Also, you should know there is a point at which a succulent cannot be saved, but I might be able to help you save a sick succulent.  I have been extremely successful (for the most part) at growing succulent and cacti.  I have even grown some from seed. (I really would not recommend this, it is very, very slow.)  Many of my succulents have flowered, which is stunning and very exciting!  We can learn about succulents together!

Arguably, the single most important thing about a succulent is water (think back to the botanical gardens), so that is the topic today.  Watering succulents is a very debated topic.  How to, when to, and what to water are open to discussion.  If you were to search Pinterest for how to water your succulents, you will find a few options.  The first is to use a spray bottle to lightly mist your precious plants every couple of days.  In order to prepare to use a spray bottle, gently remove the plant from its pot, and throw the plant in the garbage.  This early and merciful end will save you from watching your plant die a slow and disturbing death due to both rot and dehydration.  Never use a spray bottle to water your succulents, ever!  Never!  Except propagating babies, otherwise never!  There is no mist in the desert!

Others will tell you that you don’t need to water your succulents because they absorb water from the air.  That is utter nonsense!  There is no humidity in the desert either!  Air plants actually (sort of) do this, but not really, so anyone that says they do is a liar!  You must water your succulents regularly!  But not too often!  But, often enough!

So, I will assume your succulent is planted in proper soil.  Like a dessert, it should be well draining, but able to hold water for a period of time.  The plant needs to soak up as much water as it needs, but not sit in wet soil.  I make my own succulent and cactus soil, and I will give you more information on that later.  I  water my plants with tap water.  If you want to collect rain, or purify urine or whatever, you can use that to water.  (ok, maybe not urine.)  But, water from the tap works well, and all you have to do is turn on the tap.  Anyway, the trick to watering succulents is to completely soak them (keep water off the actual plant, though, water stains are unattractive and standing water causes rot.)  And then wait for the soil to be completely dry before you water them again.  If your plant is sick, more water is almost never the answer. Watering every two weeks is a good jumping off point.  Then adjust based on the specific plant needs.  I water every 3 days to every 14 depending on the plant.  In general, cactus need less water, but not always.  Just be sure the soil has dried completely.  I use a moisture meter in some of my big pots, to be sure the soil dries completely, but you can just look at the soil and stick your finger in the soil to see if it is dry.  If it is not dry, don’t water!  If it is dry, then water.  Water thoroughly and well.  Soak it, and then put it back in its window, until the next time!  Waiting until your plant is showing signs of dehydration is not a great way to time water intervals.  Dehydration stresses these plants, and stress leads to slow growth, pests, and disease.  Disease!  So water when you should, not after or before!

One more thing.  It is often a good idea to rotate your succulents with respect to the brightest light.  Succulents will lean toward the sun, so rotate as least a quarter turn each time you water.  If you have a very fast growing sedum or other fast grower, rotate them once a week.  Then they will grow more straight and not so bendy.  Although, some of them are just bendy, and that is how they are supposed to be.

Thank you for reading!  I look forward to hearing from you with questions and comments!  See you next time!