No group of plants has been hotter in the last three years than succulents. They’re on tables, in terrariums, and garnishing everything from delicate wrists to salad plates. If you never understood the idea that plants ‘trend,’ you did the day your boss came in to work with a tiny green rosette in a pot around her neck.
For those who have always loved, but whose pride now forbids them to run with the neophiles, the quandary is exquisite. On one hand, the marketplace has allowed them to easily indulge in hard-to-find species. On the other hand, do they want those species if they are no longer hard-to-find?
The answer of course, should be yes. If something is desirable, it is no less desirable because many desire it. I believe Tom Selleck proved this rule in 1987, 1997, 2007 and again in 2017. To eschew a plant or group of plants just because it is popular is no more than a trend itself – and perhaps a more contemptable one, for it is less about plant and more about possession.
My hope is, like me, you have vanquished the snob inside of you and filled troughs with the rare, the common and the downright mundane. I hope you have turned your share of rusted wheelbarrows into Pinterest poster children and experienced the joy of becoming a great close-up photographer simply because your subject is so damned beautiful.
If so – here we all are. Trend-hounds and succulent-lovers at the end of the summer season with a large collection of sun-bathing, fashion-setting plants on our hands – many of which are frost tender and expensive. What to do with them all?
We have three options: Throw them out, bring them in, or let them experience a Mid-Atlantic winter up close and personal.
Throw them out.
Obviously an option for the very rich, it is however one for the discriminating poor. Some tender succulents such as echeveria or kalanchoe can quickly outgrow their space and your patience. It’s best to take cuttings or off-sets (baby plants) and overwinter those instead of the parent plant inside.
Simply snap off a few large leaves or cut the off-set at its base, allowing the cutting to callus for a couple days. Or, in the case of mother-of-thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontriana), remove a tiny plantlet from a leaf margin. Then plant, callus down, in a tray or pot in a well-drained, gritty potting mix under strong light and increasing warmth as winter dwindles. By spring you should have a well-rooted baby plant that with heat and sun will grow quickly into another showpiece.
Bring them in
As noted above, baby succulents are less patience-taxing than their parents, but when you’ve got a beloved, slow-growing tender succulent that is revered for its form such as a jade plant (Crassula ovata), tree houseleek (Aeonium arboreum), desert rose (Adenium obesum), or many of the aloes or yuccas, you may wish to preserve that form. Do so with strong light and a light touch with water and heat over the winter, remembering that many of these succulents like to experience some type of winter temperature shift.
An average windowsill will rarely be enough to prevent etiolation, or ‘sun-stretching,’ but if your window is particularly sunny, just make sure to turn the plant weekly. A few can handle average light conditions. Crown of thorns (Euphorbia millii) is one such – blooming profusely throughout the winter in either pink, yellow or white and putting itself high on my list of desirable houseplants.
Let them cope
Thanks to genera such as sempervivum (hen and chicks) and sedum (stonecrop), the cool-climate succulent-lover can easily and cheaply fill his or her garden with a huge variety of interesting, hardy succulents that will not need any type of winter care besides good drainage in climates as cold as Zone 3.
My strategy over the last few years has been to add more and more of these to my garden and troughs, ‘garnishing’ with more tender varieties. The late fall and early spring color is outstanding, and maintenance needs are negligible.
For those with well-drained and sunny spots, Parry’s and whale’s tongue agave (A. parryi and A. ovatifolia) can take temperatures down to 0°F – a gamble in some years around these parts, but perhaps worth it as you gaze on increasingly larger and lovelier specimens. Ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) is yet another species with which to experiment in this regard. The Wheels of Wonder and Jewel of the Desert series hybrids are so dazzling during the growing season that I for one am willing to gamble every year.
As the trend fades (as all trends do), I hope that you will continue to play with succulents and enjoy the beauty, durability and unique qualities that they bring to your garden. Consumers may be influenced by trends, but good products stand the test of time. Just ask Tom Selleck. – MW
This article reprinted with the permission of The Frederick News Post