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Container Gardening: Succulents


These hardy and attractive plants will be at home in a container with minimal care

Succulents are reasonably easy to care for and can even survive a little neglect. That's because their leaves are water storage tanks. Many of them produce bright blooms, but their main beauty is in the shades of green among the many varieties.

The practicality of growing succulents is less time for maintenance for those with busy schedules. Even the smallest varieties can become a beautiful grouping. Many of them can grow well - and prefer - living away from harsh sunlight and extreme conditions. If you choose to take an extended vacation, no need to worry about watering.

In fact, succulents are finicky only in a couple of areas: they should never be overwatered and must be placed in a container with above-average drainage. Succulents need special attention when they are in a growth spurt - this is seasonal and will depend on species. During slow growth (usually fall and winter), the soil should become very dry before adding water.

Some succulents love sunlight during spring and summer and will appreciate a south-facing window. Others will want morning sun only.

They are usually adaptable to any soil as long as it is at least half peat or leaf matter with added perlite or builder's sand (not the finer play sand).

The type of container you use is also critical to good succulent health. Shallow, porous stone or terracotta pots are best to allow moister to escape. Plastic can be used but with caution and an eye to water retention in the bottom, which can cause quick root rot.

Repotting is needed when roots begin to show through drainage holes. Set up a new container when the offshoots become too much of a crowd.

You may be most familiar with such names as aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis - the medicinal plant), hen and chicks (Echeveria imbricata is the most common), jade (Crassula argentea), and Sansevieria (several varieties).

But there are plenty of other showy, elegant succulents that will be right at home in indoor containers. Agave attenuata is one of the largest and most striking. The leaves are nearly 3 feet in length and spiking blooms can reach 14 feet. This is an excellent plant where there is plenty of room indoors. It does require a rich soil and water, however.

Members of the sedum family also produce some interesting growth. The burro tail (Sedum morganianum) is a slow grower, but features a trailing "braid" of leaves that is suited for a hanging pot. The "burrito" is smaller. Sedum rubrotinctum, commonly called "pork and beans," has red jelly-bean shaped leaves.

Most garden centers will carry at least a handful of succulent varieties. If you're planting several types in one container, be sure they're environmentally compatible.

Succulents are so easy to set up and maintain, you'll find it tempting to keep adding to the family.

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