If your gardening thumb is a little more brown than green, succulents could be the answer. They’re extremely low maintenance, forgiving and gorgeous (the perfect companion, right?).
Succulents are named succulents because they are just that – succulent and juicy. Their stems or leaves are thick, fleshy and swollen, because of the water they store in them to survive arid environments. They also don’t need much soil, which means they will happily live in your garden, but also in outdoor or indoor pots. They will even survive in small containers, such as jars and glasses, so can help liven small spaces, such as window sills.
There are thousands of varieties of succulents, with a growing list of more than 400 succulents being discovered as native to Australia (you can learn more about them on Australian Native Plant Society’s (ANPSA) Australian Native Succulents page).
The most popular variety of succulents are: ;
Paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) – a popular modern choice, with paddle-like leaves that are tinged red and layered to form a rosette
Adenium – you’ll recognise this one by the red flowers on top
Aloe vera – good to look at, and for sun burn!
Donkey’s tail (Sedum morganianum) - perfect as hanging pot plants because the ‘tails’ spill over the sides of the pot
Echeveria – come in a rainbow of colours and look a little bit like an artichoke
Jade plant (Crassula ovata) – has a tree-like appearance and thick, shiny, red-tinged leaves.
Generally, succulents thrive best in bright, but indirect sunlight (though different species will favour different conditions). Most succulents will do well outdoors in the Australian climate. Some may not tolerate full, direct sunlight all Summer, so be conscious of this and ready to adapt if necessary.
If you’re thinking of keeping your succulents inside, try and find spaces with good, natural light. It’s not always possible, so Hasworthias, Gasterias and Sansevierias are great succulent varieties that don’t require much sunlight. Green coloured succulents tend to be happier indoors, while the more colourful succulents, like Sedum nussbaumerianum, require light to maintain their colour.
If your plants are not getting enough light they may start to stretch towards a natural light source. If this is the case, try shifting the pot.
While it is definitely true that succulents can go long periods without water, they will not ‘thrive’ if they are not watered semi-regularly. The best approach is to water the succulents when the soil is dry, as it is also possible to over-water and kill your succulent. It’s a good idea to water the soil, instead of the plant itself, as water that settles on the leaves or stems can cause rot, or leave stains.
Succulents dislike prolonged cold and wet conditions although they will tolerate a little frost if kept completely dry. Really plump succulents like Fred Ives (Graptoveria) and Aloe Brevifolia can go much longer without water, and cacti (which are also succulents!) are very tolerant of long periods of drought.
Soil and pots
While succulents aren’t very fussy, they love well-draining soil. If your soil isn’t draining well enough, your succulents could start to rot. If this happens, it may be a case of overwatering, or you may need to switch soils. If you are using a container without drainage holes (jars, glasses) layering the bottom of the container with pebbles or sand is a great idea to assist drainage.
For pots, terra cotta is a great choice, as it is porous and will allow air flow to the roots. However, because of this, it may dry out more quickly and require more watering. But ceramic pots work well too.