Monday, March 9, 2015

I Suck at Succulents

Touted as the most easy-going, low-maintenance plants, cacti and succulents continually stymie my attempts to grow them. I think it's my watering habits—when I'm busy with gardening outdoors, I neglect my houseplants, and then when I'm bored and suffering from cabin fever in winter I overwater them. Wouldn't that generous watering help them after the neglect, you may wonder? No, because dried-out and damaged roots have greater problems with absorbing water, and cacti and succulents really shouldn't be watered much during dormancy (which coincides with wintertime here and my most egregious overwatering).
Aloes, refreshed

And yet I keep trying! I rescued my aloes from an ignominious end a few years ago, and they ended up back in the same situation this winter. I didn't take pictures of the crime scene this was a messy and labor-intensive salvage operation when I re-potted these a few days ago and I couldn't be bothered to snap photos until these "after" shots.

I replaced the depleted soil with fresh cacti/succulent mix, and I used a vinegar and water mix to clean the encrusted salt off the inside of the pots. Salt deposits from water can aggravate root dryness by messing with the solute level of the soil. I won't bore you with the details but salty soil can pull even more water out of a plants' roots. So I used my homemade floor cleaner remove them from the pots, followed by a good rinsing lest the vinegar should leach into the potting soil and affect the plants.
Glass vase fillers not really stopping the flopping here

A lot of these aloes (which multiplied prodigiously) are lacking even a few roots. Will they even survive in their new soil and pots? I don't know. I'm hopeful but not confident. I added glass beads to the top of the soil in a few of the pots to reduce the flopping these plants are so prone to doing.

And then there's this attempt at a clever container planting:

While shopping for the new potting soil I grabbed this variegated aeonium and planted it with a mightily struggling ghost plant (Graptopetalum).
Aeonium to the left, Graptopetalum on the right

At least I think it's a ghost plant. Debra Lee Baldwin has a nice post on Gardening Gone Wild about what survivors these plants are, and given the parlous condition of this plant over the last couple months, I have to agree with her. It basically had no roots, just a couple hairs straggling away from the stem. The leaves are shriveling and flopping, suggesting it needs to be watered but I was watering it regularly, so...

I decided to cut off the top section that looked the least unhealthy, but something made me pause and not throw the lower part of the stem in the compost. I stuck them both in here with the new aeonium; maybe just maybe this new pot and their new location will help.

Worst of all, look at this sad little moon cactus!

See how its pink globe is wrinkled and shriveling? Ugh, I did this! I left this cactus in a tiny pot where it became terribly root bound, marooned on a windowsill above my sink where it got knocked into the sink at least 15 times over the past year spilling dirt every time, so there was hardly any soil at all left clinging to the encircled roots. For shame!
The little "moons" around the main section should be bright yellow, not dusty brown

And so my struggles with succulents continue! For what it's worth, I actually read Baldwin's book Succulents Simplified a few weeks ago, and it didn't really help simplify anything for me. From a design perspective it was filled with beautiful container ideas. If you want to make a cool centerpiece or unusual container garden, I highly recommend it. But aside from explaining the basics that I already knew—don't water much during dormancy, don't let soil get waterlogged—there wasn't a lot of helpful tips for the grower of already-dying succulents. At least my Christmas cactus and Easter cactus are about to bloom (again!). But we'll get to that on Bloom Day!

1 comment:

Rose said...

I know that succulents are supposed to be easy to grow, but I'm just as bad, if not worse, at growing them as you are, Rose. I brought in some succulents last fall, but didn't think about how cold the garage would be--needless to say, they were toast by December. I'm hopeless--I've even killed a couple of air plants!

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