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How to Grow Succulents and Cacti
Caring for a succulent is almost the same as caring for a cactus except that succulents will tolerate more water. Be careful not to overwater, though, because rot is the most common reason that succulents do not survive.
Aloes are succulents and members of the lily family. They are easy to raise and grow surprisingly quickly. A very handy plant to have around the house, the juice from the inside of the stems is an excellent remedy for burns. Just cut off a branch and squeeze the gel directly onto the burn. Aloes can grow up to 10 feet in height. They like bright light, cooler air at night, and should not be overwatered – use the “drench & dry” watering method and make sure they have good drainage. Propagate by offsets.
There are a large number of cacti available, both blooming and nonblooming, with a wide variety of spines, some of which can be quite painful when encountered. Place them out of reach of children and pets.
A cactus' spines help slow down water evaporation. Cacti generally require more watering during the long hot days of summer, but REMEMBER – they go dormant during the shorter days in winter so require less water. Water ONLY when the soil is thoroughly dry and keep the humidity low, and be sure they have very good drainage.
Cacti also require almost no fertilization – if in doubt, don’t fertilize. When potting them, avoid overlarge pots and leave them in the same pot for as long as possible. However, blooming cacti should be kept in tight pots to encourage blooms. Cacti are susceptible to infestations of mealy-bugs.
Also called snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (no doubt because it’s sharp). This is a hardy, slow growing succulent that will grow to about 18” and is ideal for those people who have no time for plants, since it’s quite tolerant of neglect and almost impossible to kill. However, if it’s well treated it will sometimes bloom if it’s kept in direct sun.
Sanseveria like almost any light situation except for very dark areas, and will thrive in almost any temperature. When watering, use the “drench and dry” approach, i.e. water it heavily and allow it to dry out between waterings. Water less in the winter. Wash the leaves with water only, NO soap. Propagate by division or cutting 2” leaf sections and planting them in moist sand.
Be careful with this plant, especially around children. The edges are quite sharp and will literally grab onto your skin if you brush against it, which can be quite painful.
You may not know this, but the poinsettia is a succulent. And despite the persistence of the old urban legend, it’s not poisonous (unlike other holiday plants like mistletoe, which is toxic). To encourage flowering, keep the plant out of drafts, ensure it has full sun and good humidity and water it well. After the blooms have dropped off, cut back on the water drastically. It can summer out of doors as long as it’s sheltered from the wind. Keep it cut back to avoid stringiness.
To ensure that it flowers again the next winter, keep pinching back the new growth until fall. It may seem odd, but poinsettias need to get a good night’s sleep – do not keep them in a room that is lighted during the night or they will not bloom. Propagate by cuttings.
Jade plants require a dry environment. They grow slowly but can reach a height of 4-5 feet, and will occasionally bloom. They prefer bright full sun, good circulation and a cool night temperature. Water by drenching and drying in between. Overwatering can stunt their growth. If stems start to shrivel, pinch them off. Mix your potting soil half and half with sand for best results. Fertilize infrequently, but use a cactus fertilizer. Propagate by cuttings.
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