(Species: Assorted - Family: Many Different Families, Including Crassulaceae, Agavaceae and Portulacaceae)
Succulents and their origins
Many succulents hail from the dry areas of the tropics and subtropics, frequenting semi-desert and desert. They evolved over the centuries to survive in arid climates and soil conditions.
The high temperatures and low rainfall forced plants to collect and store water so they could survive long periods of drought. Water is stored in their stems, foliage and sometimes even in their roots, and it is this storage that often gives a succulent plant a fleshy, swollen appearance known as succulence.
However, this huge and fascinating group of plants, which includes cacti - succulents with spines - have many other ways of storing water.
Succulents are wonderfully varied in size, form and texture. Their sculptural shapes and glaucous foliage bring another dimension to the garden. They are popular as border plants in warm-weather gardens, and are widely used to make eye-catching container displays. A succulent also makes a fine houseplant and can add a striking element to an interior.
They are often grown indoors, or under glass as conservatory plants, because the large majority are not frost hardy.
There is a wide variety available, varying from magnificent, outsize agaves with huge, strappy, spine-tipped leaves to the small, rounded rosettes of soft blue-grey echeverias. Colours range from pale ice green, grey and grey-blue to coffee, dark brown and near-black, as in the popular Aeonium Zwartkop, which has full, glossy chocolate-black rosettes.
Specialist nurseries sell many different varieties but these plants can also be bought at garden centres, where they are often found under houseplants.
Most succulents are selected for their foliage. They can be in flower in the coldest months; Echeverias, for example, with their candy-pink stems topped with pink and yellow bellflowers, can bloom in winter as well as spring.
Houseleeks or sempervivums and the large family of fleshy sedums, are the hardy varieties of the group. Although they are less glamorous, their star-shaped rosettes are striking when grown in groups, in toning or contrasting shades that vary from pale green to rich red and tobacco brown. The tips of green sempervivums can be prettily tinted in carmine; there are even varieties covered with webbing. Sempervivums blooms are fleshy and tall, topped with pink-toned flowers.
How to plant Succulents
Succulents suit a low-maintenance gardener, they thrive on near-neglect and will actually die if regularly watered and fed.
Most will not survive frost or water-logged soil. Plant them directly outdoors and be prepared to lift them out before the first frosts, bringing them indoors or placing them under glass. Alternatively, plant them in containers where they can be moved around to suit.
Planting in containers can be done at any time of year whilst planting in the ground must be done when the soil is warm. What is vital is to provide succulents with sharp drainage, as they will not tolerate sitting in water.
Work plenty of gravel into the soil or plenty of grit into a container of compost, which should be soil-based with few nutrients, ideally specialised succulent compost. Water initially and add gravel or grit to the top.
Succulents need good light conditions and a little watering but note that more succulents die from over-watering than from anything else. For best results, allow the soil to become almost dry between watering.
They do not require regular feeding but will benefit from the occasional use of XXXX liquid fertiliser. Reduce feeding after the growing season and recommence at the start.
Mealy bugs are the biggest threat to succulents, especially those grown indoors. The small, white insects can damage and even destroy a plant if left unchecked. To treat, use XXXXX insecticidal soap.
Propogation of Succulents
Succulents have ingenious ways of reproducing, and will do so with a little intervention. Some succulents, such as Aloe Vera and Haworthias, produce offshoots around the main plant, and these can be gently prised out and potted up. Agaves produce offshoots but these can be tricky to separate, and might need severing from the root of the mother plant.
Others that have rosettes on stems, such as Aeoniums, can be cut at the head, with just the trunk remaining. After several days, once the area cut has healed, it can be repotted and will usually root.
Many succulents can be propagated from stem cuttings and some, like echeveria, can be propagated from just one leaf, by planting upright in a shallow tray filled with coarse potting soil.
Did you know?
Sempervivums or houseleeks were used in olden times to protect a roof from catching fire during a thunderstorm. In recent years, these succlents are, together with sedums, increasingly used as a tough and water-retentive material in eco-friendly roofs of houses and other garden buildings,.