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GardenSMART :: Sensational Succulents

Sensational Succulents

By Karen Weir-Jimerson, Costa Farms
Photograph courtesy of Costa Farms

Succulents are the stars of the plant world. You see their textural shapes and cool colors everywhere: in magazines, books, and in all the trending social media platforms. Succulents are hot, and it's easy to see why: They come in a wide range of shapes, colors, and textures. They look amazing alone in a pot or planted as a group in a low bowl. In warm areas, you can plant them in your landscape. They flower, but it's their foliage that's the main event.

Succulents have thick fleshy parts that store water. The name succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, which means to juice or sap. If you snap a succulent leaf in half, you can see where this term comes from.

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Popular Succulents

The fleshy leaves of succulents have water-storing abilities, which is why they need so little water. They are the ultimate low-maintenance plant. Succulents are sold in many shapes, textures, and colors. Here are some beautiful options:

  • Agave: The agave family offers plants that can grow indoors and out. Outdoors, agaves offer strong deliberate shapes to landscapes in warm climates. They come in green, blue, or variegated forms. Indoors, try Butterfly Agave (Agave potatorum) or Twin Flower Agave (Agave geminiflora).
  • Aloe: Although Aloe vera is the most common type, other varieties abound (including variegated types). Aloe produces tall stems of brightly colored flowers if they get enough light.
  • Crassula: There are more than a thousand different crassulas. The most famous is jade plant. The name crassula comes from Latin meaning "thick." Take one look at this plant's leaves and you'll see why. The fleshy leaves of this plant come in many shapes and colors.
  • Echeveria: This rose-shaped succulent makes it a favorite. Varieties come with light green to light blue leaves.
  • Euphorbia: Some succulents grow like little trees and this describes the euphorbia family. These columnar plants are also called stem succulents. Euphorbias are a diverse family: garden spurge and poinsettia are both in the family.
  • Gasteria: Gasteria have thick, tongue-like leaves and are natives of South Africa. They get their name from the Latin word for stomach, "gaster" because their flowers are stomach-shaped.
  • Haworthia: Related to aloe and gasteria, haworthia form small rosettes and can grow singly or in clumps. Haworthia are often called zebra cactus because of their striped leaves.
  • Kalanchoe: This plant has a lot of different looks. Kalanchoe thyrsiflora has thin, round, flat leaves and goes by the name flapjack. Kalanchoe blossfeldiana bears green succulent leaves and bright flowers. Kalanchoe tomentosa has soft, fuzzy leaves.
  • Portulacaria: This shrubby succulent bears small leaves that grow on long stems, which grow up to 2 feet long. Use them in mixed succulent containers along the pot's side, where they can cascade. 
  • Senecio: The finger-like leaves of senecio come in soft colors: gray-green and powder blue. Narrow foliage and shrubby growth makes this succulent a good mixer with other succulents.

Succulent Care: They Like Bright Light

Succulents need a sunny spot inside your home, so a southern exposure is best. Most succulents are somewhat forgiving and can grow in artificial light, such as an office.

Succulent Care: They Prefer Little Water

Most succulents are natives of dry areas so they don't need a lot of water. Water plants once every two or three weeks. Watering too little is better than overwatering; succulents will rot if their soil is too moist.

Plant in Bowls and Containers

The sculptural shapes of succulents make beautiful combination containers. Tall plants, such as euphorbias, make ideal horizontal or "thriller" elements. Mounding or mid-height succulents, such as echeverias, fill in. And trailing succulents, such as portulacaria, spill over the sides of the pot. Learn more!


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