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You Can Grow It: Growing succulents

Succulents are unique and interesting plants. Have you ever wanted to grow a garden full of them?

Many of you grow flowers and vegetables, but if you want to grow something really different, try planting succulents.

Jim Duthie shows us how easy it is to grow a succulent container garden, adding a unique twist to the common house and patio plants we usually see.

If you’re looking for something unique and interesting, something to add a little pizzazz to your home garden, succulents may be the way to go. They’re easy to grow and easy to maintain.

Brent Seamons is from Boise School District Community Education.

“Yeah, this is something I love doing. And I love the variety that succulents have to offer,” said Seamons.

Succulent plants are fleshy plants that store water in their tissues. That allows the plants to thrive in dry, drought conditions for long periods of time.

“Well, a succulent and a cactus are almost the same thing,” said Seamons. “A cactus has a spike, a succulent doesn’t. But a succulent, like the name says, is succulent, it’s fleshy, it’s full of water. So if you feel those leaves, it’s just really full of water, same with the stems.”

“All cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus,” he said.

Obviously, there aren’t any thorns on some of these, but what amazes me about what you’ve got here is the assortment, different varieties.

“Yes, there is a huge variety,” replied Seamons. “You even look at this… this is a Madagascar palm. It’s not a true palm. It’s an actual succulent, even though it has the spines. And then you’ve got the agave which also has the spines. But then you go down to the cactus, where you do have all kinds of spines. And then the jades that have a nice round leaf. There are all kinds of just different colors that they come in.”

Succulents are ideal for container gardening, whether indoors or outdoors. But most of them won’t survive an Idaho winter outside.

“But that’s why they’re perfect for container gardening, because they’re easy to move and you can bring them inside when it gets too cold out,” said Seamons.

Not only are succulents easy to grow and care for, but they are easy to propagate, too.

“They are. That’s the greatest thing about succulents,” said Seamons. “They’re very easy to propagate. This is a piece of a propeller plant. That’s what it’s called because it looks like a propeller. And you see some roots growing at the bottom. This actually fell off the top of the plant, and it’s growing roots and a whole new plant. This is a leaf that fell off the plant. A whole new plant is growing right from the base of that.”

Right out of the leaf?

“Right out of the leaf,” Seamons replied. “So my recommendation to anybody working with succulents is, anytime the leaf falls, hang on to the leaf just like I have here, set them off to the side and make a little tray, put it on some dirt, you don’t even have to put it down into the dirt, let them go, and they’ll start rooting on their own. Once they start rooting, you can water and you’ve got a whole new plant.”

There are about 60 different types of succulent varieties, but some are more popular than others for container gardens.

“Some of the most popular ones you’re going to find are going to be your jades,” said Seamons. “These are the most popular. The ones that you’re really going to see are the ones that have the broad leaf. You’re going to have a little bit of a smaller leaf, or a really popular one has a little bit of a round leaf. You can kind of see it curls over, almost like when you curl your tongue.”

Hens and chicks is another popular succulent that grows well outside, even in cold weather.

“The great thing about the hen and chicks is, yes, they do survive our winters,” said Seamons. “They make beautiful rock gardens, and they just spread like wildfire.

Once you’ve selected the container and the plants, all you need is the right type of soil.

“If you notice here, my soil looks a little different than the soil you’re going to pull out of a bag,” said Seamons. “It’s very rocky and there’s a reason for that. Succulents require a very loose, well-drained soil. One, you don’t want your roots sitting in water. And two, you need to have air that is able to flow through this. So good draining soil.”

Brent makes his own soil mix, a combination of potting soil and oil-dri, similar to cat litter, which you can buy in automotive stores.

“I use about a 50-50 mix and that gives me all the drainage that I need for that,” he said.

And chop sticks make handy tools for planting and picking up the small plants.

“And you can hold them and you can actually put your plant wherever you want it, dig you’re little hole, and you can move the dirt around right to where you need it and get it in place,” said Seamons. “Again, I can take the plant and I can put it right down where I want it, and I can use the chop sticks to kind of get it nudged in there, and I can take those chop sticks and push around the dirt so that it fills around that root ball.”

Once you have the plant where you want it, add some extra soil, a little at a time.

“And then you’re going to take your chop sticks and again you’re going to push that around right to where you want it,” said Seamons. “You’re anchoring your plant, but the soil has its own aesthetic to it as well.

Be creative in your choice of containers and the plants you put in them. And remember, most succulents like full sun, and don’t need a lot of water.

Boise Schools Community Education program is offering a class on succulent gardening Thursday night, but you must register online at www.boiselearns.org. You can also check out all of the other classes that are available on many different subjects.