Growing Succulents and Cactus

‘Hi, if you could provide some information on how best to plant succulents. I’d be super grateful. We are planning on growing a succulent and cactus garden in pots, and out in the ground too in various parts of our garden. It is easy I hear to propagate new plants easily from cuttings with these plants. I am also thinking of cactus, from small tiny ones, to some that can grow tall. Do you have any basic tips on general care, I have a good idea of what it requires, but I just need to confirm that I’m on the right track. I am most interested in learning about the cuttings. Thanks in advance, Bruce.’

A succulent garden is versatile because it can fit on the windowsill, be done in pots or even out in the ground, and you may find that you rarely need to even water it – now that’s what I call a garden suitable for everyone!

Landscaping with succulents is a good idea in dry or sandy soil and is also good for those who forget to water regularly, or even as a means of saving water. Fortunately, most succulent gardens will happily live off the natural rainfall so it’s the best choice for a garden in dry to arid places, or locations with little rainfall.


Taking Cuttings

Take a cutting from a branch or fresh growing tip, and plant it in a pot, otherwise it can be left in a water filled vase until ready to plant, or otherwise left to develop roots – just remember to change out the water every few days. If you have healthy plants taking cuttings is a good way to propagate more plants. When taking plant cuttings, it is usual to remove foliage up to the last few sets of leaves close to the growing tip, but with succulents just cut and plant direct. Succulents have a high success rate from cuttings. The same goes for cactus – just cut a piece off and plant in the ground. With cacti you will need good gloves or an old towel if it has spines or needles. Handle with care, you’ve got to be careful about those pricks in the garden!

With any new cutting the main requirements are consistent moisture along with adequate drainage until new root growth develops, water every few days allowing the soil to dry out in-between. When new growth is detected, then you know that the plant has taken root and the cutting is thus a success!

Most types of succulents and cactus are drought tolerant once established, and many types of succulents can also grow from a leaf cutting as opposed to a stem type cutting, previously described. To take a leaf for propagation gently twist it off the stem with a clean pull, otherwise use sharp scissors or garden tools. Drop the succulent leaf ‘cutting’ in place on the ground or in the pot where it will grow, then cover lightly with soil. The next step is to forget about it and then in a few months when you have new succulent plants germinating out of the ground you will remember it.


Soil Types for Succulents

The benefit of growing succulents outdoors on a dry soil is that the garden will survive and thrive mostly on natural rainfall, and even in a drought. Succulents are the plant of choice for those who prefer their garden to look after itself. These plants have adapted water storage tissues that allow them to survive in environments that are far too dry or extreme for most common houseplants. The plumper, fatter or fleshier the foliage type of the succulent, then the more water it stores and thus the less it needs from you. This water conserving adaptation has given rise to a wide variety of geometric leaf and plant forms within the succulent world-enough to turn a mathematician to gardening.

Succulents and cactus will thrive in dry sandy soils or even gravel, which can be mixed together and used if potting. On land which is full of rocky sandy soil then a succulent garden is the perfect solution – the question being..what can we grow here?

The roots do well in shallow ground, so for shallow or rocky topsoil, succulents are an easy garden fix for something attractive, with minimal effort. If you are planting on heavier boggy soil then you may need to plant your succulents up on mounds, or in pots or to solve any drainage or water logging issues. Most problems with succulents and cacti occur in poor drainage or high humidity conditions. Try less water rather than too much, especially when it comes to cacti.

Cacti will do well in a sandy soil that would otherwise be unsuitable for growing many other types of flowering plants. You can find cacti of all shapes and sizes, some types produce exotic edible fruit, such as dragon fruit, prickly pear, apple cactus etc. Others only flower once a year for a few minutes in the middle of the night, while others can put on showy displays over days/weeks/months. The only thing that bothers them is high humidity. Any plants kept indoor or in pots though will need occasional watering, every week or two, and a potting mix with good drainage.


Easier types of succulents to grow in most conditions

Aloe Vera, echeveria, haworthia, jade plants (crassula), agave yucca, variegated sansevieria, mother-in-laws tongue, snake plant, frangipani, euphorbia crown of thorns, various types of cacti, hedgehog cactus, apple cactus, prickly pear etc. Larger types can be used as feature plants out in the garden, smaller varieties such as echeveria, haworthia, jade and euphorbia are good in pots or even on the windowsill. Use several plants to create borders and along walls.

Arrange succulents with variations of colour, texture, size and form to create contrast, repetition and focal points around the garden, along walkways, on balconies and even indoor too. Most will tolerate direct and filtered sun, with some shade – and less is always more when it comes to the water.


Dr. Kris

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