Correction: Due to a design error, we reversed the photos of Haworthia margaritifera and Sedum morganiunum during the layout process. We corrected the images below and apologize for the error.
As winter nights grow longer, we Atlantic Canadians need something to brighten our lives. A University of Washington study called Green Cities: Good Health suggests houseplants are the cure. Researchers found that “living plants improve mental health, attitude, productivity, and efficiency”, inside as well as outside. But when we already feel stressed and depressed, how can we add looking after plants to our to-do lists?
Once you buy them, succulents require little work. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, need only occasional watering, and even less fertilizing. Some require plenty of light, but many grow well in the light of the average home or office. And once winter is over you can put them outside.
General care for succulents during winter is minimal as it is their natural dormant period. Place your plant where it will receive the most light, but not direct afternoon sunlight; next to a window is ideal.
Water it thoroughly but only when it is almost dried out. Your pot must drain well, as more succulents die by too much water than neglect. Unglazed pots are ideal. Indoor succulents need more space to allow air to circulate and light to reach each leaf, so don’t group them too closely together.
Once frost season is over, you can move your succulent to a shady spot outside, and after a week or so moved to an area receiving morning sun. Succulents can sunburn if left in hot afternoon sun. Fertilize three times during the summer with a 10-10-10 cactus fertilizer for optimum growth. Don’t put a tray underneath the plant, and only water during a drought.
As with most things, a little planning can make a lot of difference. Here are seven succulents to bring into your home or office that will survive to brighten those much too short winter days.
Sempervivum tectorum or Echeveria elegans (Hens and Chicks—two similar plants with the same common name) This plant commonly grows outside, or in living wreaths, but also does well as a houseplant. The fleshy leaves form a pretty rosette, and reproduce by growing smaller imitations of themselves. The “chicks” can be planted in small pots of their own using well-draining cactus soil to increase your flock.
Haworthia margaritifera (Pearl plant—so called because of the white bumps on the narrow green leaves). This is a slow grower and will stay relatively small. The sharp pointed leaves are a good contrast to many of the rounder leaves of other succulents.
Sedum morganiunum (Burro’s tail) Each strand of blue-green leaves can grow 66 cm long and trail down, making it a good hanging basket plant. But those puffy leaves full of water can get heavy so make sure the pot is sturdy and the hook is secure.
Crassula ovate (Jade plant) This used to be a common succulent in homes, and for good reason. It is easy to maintain, lasts for years, and grows over a metre tall and wide. In some countries it is given as a wedding present and can still be around on the 50th anniversary. This plant doesn’t require frequent repotting, and fertilizing once a year in the summer is often enough. Jade plants thrive with a summer vacation in filtered shade in your backyard. But if you leave them sitting in water you will have a weeping Jade plant whose roots will rot. Toxic to pets.
Schlumbergera truncata and Schlumbergera buckleyi (Thanksgiving Cactus and Christmas Cactus, respectively) The beautiful blooms of these familiar plants make them welcome on gloomy days. Moving the plant to a new location can cause it to drop its buds, so choose its blooming spot right from the start. The secret to blooming is to move it outside to a shady spot during the summer. This allows new growth to harden up, which is required for flowering. The plant will usually bloom within two months of coming inside. Its flowers come in a variety of colours including white, cream, pink, fuchsia, orange, and red.
Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (sometimes called Flaming katy, Christmas kalanchoe, and florist kalanchoe) You will often find these plants in supermarkets in December as florists force them into bloom for the Christmas season. They make a lovely gift as they bloom for months and come in a whole range of colours. Kalanchoe are susceptible to cold so place them somewhere out of drafts, with temperatures above 15 C. They can be placed outside in the summer, but will revert to their regular spring blooming period when you bring them inside. Toxic to pets.
Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake plant) Named for its long, upright leaves that resemble snake skin, this plant will tolerate neglect. Many a gardener has a story about a forgotten, dead-looking snake plant that miraculously revived with a little watering. You can leave the plant in the same pot for many years and what started out as three or four leaves will multiply into a thick clump. Toxic to pets.
With your home or office alive with a variety of carefree succulents, winter might not seem so long or dark this year.