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Succulents In Your Garden

Why are people obsessed with succulents? One reader recently posed on Quora.

There can be no better explanation for Succulent’s popularity among gardeners than this question.  Succulent lovers tend to go overboard with their love for this group of plants.  Before I even knew what succulents are, I had already come across Succulenta Society Of Kenya.  In virtually all media forums hundreds of groups exist dedicated to succulents alone.


What are succulents?

Succulents are plants characterized by thick, fleshy, leaves, stems or roots that store water. They occur in a range of habitats from deserts, semi deserts, cold alpine climates to semi temperate and subtropical climates to rainforests.

                      Echeheveria destetiana       Aloe arborescens                             Kalanchoe thysiflora         Cabrobotus acinaformis

Succulents are loosely grouped as stem succulents, leaf succulents or root succulents.

Stem succulents

This group consists mainly of cacti. They have swollen, moisture retaining stems that can be columnar, oval or spherical in shape. Some are pendent (hanging), climbing or tree like in habit.   

Cactii originate in North, Central or South America. They have areoles, their unique growing points which are shielded by spines. Most cacti lack foliage which limits water loss. An exception is pereskia which does have leaves. On the stems of cacti will be found longitudinally arranged ribs. These ribs expand and contract depending on water volume in the stems.  From the areoles, new growth, flowers and spines emerge. Modified cactus spines are actually leaves-reared as radials along the edge of the areoles or centrals-from the centre of the areoles.

They condense moisture which drops to the base of the plant’s roots.

Other cacti like Melacactus have a cephalium. This is a terminal head like woody structure.  The cephalium produces wooly spines and flowers-which stop any more vegetative growth.  Some cacti genera have a lateral cephalium which allows growth in height to continue. Such a cephalium is referred to as pseudocephalium.


Leaf Succulents

You can tell a leaf succulent just by looking. The leaves are fleshy,waxy or gloss in texture . They are also varied in shape although many of the leaves are small.

Leaf succulents have adapted to their environment in a number of ways.

  1. Leaves have a limited number of pores to lessen water loss through transpiration. They also remain closed during the day.
  2. Many species have opaque areas at the tip of the leaves. This helps to diffuse sun’s rays
  3. Leaves have water storage tissues which swell and shrink depending on their water content. During severe drought, the leaves will drop away.
  4. Many succulents have their leaves forming tight rossettes borne on short stems. This minimizes moisture loss from the soil beneath the plant and the plant itself.


Root Succulents

In harsh climates or areas of poor and thin soils root succulents will be found. With swollen roots hidden below the ground. Root succulents develop from a normal root system but some emerge from tubers. When good conditions prevail, many root succulents will have their stem or root emerge.

Caudiciform succulents

Certain species like adenium, euphorbia and pachypodium have a roots stock that may grow to a larger size emerging above ground to form rounded slightly flattened, bottle shaped or tree like growth. This is known as a caudex. The caudex is swollen base formed at the junction of root and stem above ground.


Succulents In Your Garden

In the garden succulents can be applied in a variety of ways. Locally succulents are popular as rock gardens and xeriscape gardens. They provide unique forms and shapes that make rock gardens a prized garden feature in urban landscape.

Succulents also make spectacular indoor displays. Planted in containers and grouped artistically, succulents’ flowers, foliage and unusual form, make for eye-catching display on patios, terraces and balconies.


Cultivation requirements for succulents

Outdoors observe minimum temperatures of 10c. In containers use potting soil consisting of 2 parts composts, 2 parts grit/pumice and  slow release fertilizer, in full sun.  Humidity should be at the lowest although rain forest epiphytes require high humidity. You don’t need to water your succulents but apply slow-release fertilizer.


How to propagate succents

Succulents are easily propagated through division, seed, root attached to it, stem cutting and leaf cutting.

Divide the root stock into section ensuring that each section does have a root attached to it. This should be done on clump forming species as soon as new growth emerges. This will have each divided part with new healthy shoot, roots or bud

The leaf cutting involves cutting off a leaf like or columnar cacti into a length of 5-10 cm each with a potting mixture of peat and sand and placed in indirect light above 21C .

Seeds sowed should be sown in standard seed compost. Cover with twice their depth and kept moist in indirect sunlight. Once they germinate introduce lighter and air. Dumping off can be a problem so it is advisable to apply fungicides. Pick out large seedlings and transplant.


Stem Cuttings

Simply cut stems into sections 5-10 cm long Insert them into a potting mix.


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