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When raising succulents, need for sun varies, but drainage key for water-storing plants

Philadelphia Inquirer

Sedeveria “Vera Higgins” is an example of a succulent.
Philadelphia Inquirer Sedeveria “Vera Higgins” is an example of a succulent.

Succulents. Those fleshy denizens of Pinterest.

There are so many varieties of succulents and sources for them, and the plastic tag sticking out of the pot stating “succulent” is no help.

It is not a scientific term and doesn’t reflect a type of plant. Rather, it refers to a group of plants with fleshy parts that store moisture for when it is scarce.

It is easy to say they all have low water and low light needs, but they do have preferred native ecosystems, and their care varies.

Succulents are found from the highlands of South America to the deserts of the Southwest United States, from jungles of Central America to the grasslands of the pampas. They are related to cactuses, a cousin that likes arid regions, but also to the orchids of the jungles where high humidity reigns.

So, what does that mean for my little plant, you might say?

For general care purposes, we will lump these plants into one type of care as houseplants. It is not the amount of water that is crucial to succulent care, but the drainage. Drainage holes should be large and numerous, and most of the water given should run right through. Adorable pots with no drainage holes should be decorative only. Use inner pots with adequate drainage holes serving as the pot for the plant. Let the plant drain completely after watering before you pop it back into that cute little ceramic cup.

No pebbles for drainage are needed in the pot, and the soil mix should extend to the base of the pot. Soil should be amended with half potting sand. Low levels of light are best if your plant shows signs of paleness.

Direct sun tends to bleach out most succulent plants and leave them looking pale and kind of pink. Some varieties do well in sun and actually will form long reaching stalks that seek light. If your plant is putting out these seekers, move it to a sunnier locale.

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Cactuses are a different category altogether from succulents but their care is similar. Once a week, drench them if they are dry. A plant left to dry out too long, whether a succulent or other variety, will weaken and can succumb to pathogens or pests. A healthy, strong succulent or cactus has adequate light, gets weekly watering with room temperature water that has not been through a water softener, a 50-50 mix of potting peat-based soil and clean-rinsed potting sand.

If you follow this formula, your fleshy leafed plants will thrive and grow.

l For gardening questions call the Linn County Extension Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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