Have you ever wondered why those succulents on the internet are so healthy and colourful while yours look leggy and boring? After killing so many succulent plants in the beginning, I decided to get things right, through reading and practising, I found out it’s not rocket science, but these 5 things I will remember by heart.
Sunlight is so important for succulents to be healthy, if your plants’ colour turns dull, it’s a sign that it doesn’t have enough sun, they become “leggy” because they stretch for more light. Before you buy more succulent plants, you need to study your garden and yard, how much sun is it getting? Morning sun or afternoon sun? If your garden position is not suitable for succulents, you need to choose other plants. Or, if you love succulents enough, change your house. (Succulent addicts, please laugh out loud!)
Most succulents are outdoor plants, while some are shade-loving species that can be planted indoors, they all need airy environments, from leaves to roots. I’m not a big fan of succulent arrangements, crowd them together just seem a bit artificial for me, like watching animals perform in circuses, succulent plants need room to breathe, overcrowding just encourages fungus, bugs and leads to root rot.
I can write an essay about the succulent potting mix, but I will leave it to later. To make it simple, you just need to remember there are 2 kinds of soil mix: to make it grow, or, to let it perform. Nurseries might use different soil mix from what’s in our succulent pots. Nurseries want them to grow fast so their soil has a lot of fertiliser like Nitrogen, but we don’t want them to overgrow, we like them to keep their beautiful shape in our pot and change colour in winter, so I made our own potting mix. I usually mix 50% of Bunnings Succulent potting mix (not the best one but no better choice at the moment), with 50% grits, like small river sand pebbles. This is the cheapest and an effective version for beginners. This chunky element in the soil make a well drain and breathable environment for your succulent plants, they are just happier than in normal potting mix.
The biggest mistake a beginner would make is to kill succulents by overwatering them. These guys originally live in deserts or rocky mountains, they know how to handle drought. The very reason I love succulents is that I don’t need to water them, I let the weather do the job for me! If it doesn’t rain for more than a month, I will give them a good soak, otherwise, they pretty much look after themselves.
To grow healthy succulents, you need a bit of knowledge of where your plants originally came from, for example, Aeonium, these plants come from the Canary Islands in Spain, it’s very common you don’t see a single raindrop in their warmer months, so summer is the time Aeoniums go dormant, if you water them in the summer, the roots can’t take any water and more likely rot. Winter is their growing season, you can water as much as you like.
Do you know why succulents change colour and become so beautiful in winter? When the temperature drops, succulents will release an element called “anthocyanidins” to absorb heat and protect them from the cold. Don’t worry I can’t pronounce this word either, I just know they are pigments which make the plants so colourful. If the night temperature drops and blue-sky next day, I will get up before the sun, as I know it’s showtime for my succulents.
If the temperature goes back up in warmer season, anthocyanidins level is low, your succulents will go back to its normal green again.
We have plenty of sunshine and backyard space, yet we are short of freshwater, but succulents don’t need much water, is it another reason to make Australia a lucky country?