Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2009
Regional Report

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My tidy succulent planter is at home indoors and out.

I'm Falling for Succulents

I've never been a lover of succulents, but I'm gradually coming around to see why friends have love affairs with cactus, aloe, haworthia, and kalanchoe. I planted two containers of small succulents for the patio tables this year and simply enjoyed the carefree greenery. They looked so great in September that I brought them indoors, pots and all, and put them in a sunny window.

In the dry heat provided by my furnaces, they are thriving. They are fresh green, plump with moisture, and absolutely carefree except for an occasional watering. I'm sold. I don't have any cactus because I have yet to be convinced on their prickly nature. But the other succulents are winning a place in my gardener's heart.

Aloe plants come in a variety of species, from the standard aloe vera or medicine plant to short and tall types. There are even tree-sized aloes in the tropics and a climbing aloe. They all have fleshy leaves with a sticky sap and many have white spots. The sap of the aloe vera plant is used for medicinal and cosmetic uses all over the world, and I always like to have a plant nearby for soothing burns and sunburn.

Sedum and Sempervivum
This group of plants is a hot new breeding area so there are lots of interesting plants becoming available. There are all manner of types of hen-and-chicks of different shapes and colors, many as small as a quarter with tiny little plantlets hanging from them. One of my favorites from this group is the burro's tail. This plant has fleshy ropes of silvery blue leaves that hang beautifully from a basket. The only issue is that the leaves break off easily when touched so I'm finding ever more creative ways to keep it out of reach of my new kitten.

Another beauty that I am trying to find for purchase is the Victoria-Regina agave. The triangular leaves are edged in white and stand up in perfect formation from a center rosette. It is a stunning plant and one I would like to have in spite of the spines on it.

Succulents perform best in clay or terra cotta pots which allow the soil to dry out easily. Most succulents need a loose, sandy potting mix that drains fast, and should be fertilized only every couple of years. They need to be showered off occasionally to remove dust and the only pruning necessary is to remove damaged leaves.

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