SUCCULENTS: Most succulents come from hot and dry areas so they have special properties to protect themselves.  The roots flare out across the top of the soil to snatch any water if it rains.  The leaves may be covered with fine hairs with the skin thick with the leaves themselves thick to store water.  The soil needs to be porous as roots rot in a wet soil. One-third sand is a good idea. Full sun and high temperatures are necessary. Since they store water, they will freeze easily.  This group contains many odd shapes and forms to survive in their usual home. Aloe Vera is a good example. It is known as a burn plant and some people keep it so that they can cut a piece off to put on a burn to lower the pain and help healing. It is put in many salves and crèmes.  Mine gets too big outside some summers and I have to break off a baby for a new smaller plant. Jade Plant, Hen and Chicks, Euphorbia’s, Sedums, String of Beads, and Yucca are all members of this group.

          CACTUS: Cactus is popular here because they require so little care or attention and if you get a bloom it is gorgeous. Neglect is the word for them as they come from very dry areas and need to dry out between waterings as well as having fast draining soil.  My Cactus lives in the insulated garage during the winter as they can not survive freezing. In fact if their roots are damp and cool they will rot so I may water them only once from November to April.  They may shrivel a little but soon fill out after I take them outside when it warms and they get a rain.  Cactus, like Succulents, comes in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and textures.  They require very little fertilizer, usually diluted one-half or one-fourth, only during the growing season.  During fall and winter they need cool evenings and nights in order to bloom.  Cacti are a single family with special growing points called “Areoles”, seen as fuzzy, raised or sunken points on their stems where spines, flowers, or new growth appears. There are desert Cacti with stems to store water, usually no leaves or small ones that tend to fall off. The large ones we see in pictures usually do not bloom until they are over 20 years old. Small ones bloom at a young age, and are planted in very loose soil.  You can buy Cactus soil that mostly looks like dirty gravel.  Their pots are usually shallow.  Some very large Cacti would be very hard to find in Nebraska.

          Some 40 years ago I bought a little Golden Barrel Cactus that was about as big as a fist.  I place it outside in the summer in full sun so it gets more rain than its relatives but is now about 20 inches high and across and is armed with wicked spines all over. It is flat on top and bright yellow. If it ever blooms for me the flowers will be on the flat top.

          BROMELIADS: Bromeliads are tropicals or sub-tropicals with weak root systems so you see them in pots that look too small.  There are about 2,700 species available.  They bloom only once and then die but they produce “pups” along the sides.  I have a small saw to cut them loose and many of those babies will bloom the next year about the same time.  Their roots are not extensive and serve only to anchor them to the soil so their food and water come from the “tank” or cup in the center of the plant. 

          In their native area tiny frogs and insects live in the tank, thus supplying fertilizer. The “tanks” must be kept full of water.  I read that they do not like hard water so some of the time I use the water from the dehumidifier or use distilled water to dilute the minerals from Lincoln’s hard water.

          Part of the Bromeliads are Epiphytes, also called Epiphylics or air plants with scale covered leaves that absorb moisture from the air.  Some have been found growing on telephone wires. You can find them sometimes glued to onto a slab of wood. Thee need to be sprayed or rained on, or kept in a high humidity area.  My little greenhouse says its humidity is 100 % most of the time. Also you can soak your glued ones in water for a few minutes occasionally.

          Some of my favorite Bromeliads are the Earth Stars! Pineapples and Earth Stars are Bromeliads but have normal roots. They live on the forest floor in a small rosette of various colors. They must be damp at all times. Mine are pink or almost black and their roots don’t hunt for water so they must be kept damp at all times. Have you been in a greenhouse with long moss like “stuff” hanging from a branch? This is Tilliandsia, or sometimes call Spanish Moss, looking like a dense beard, and not a plant. Mist them with a diluted fertilizer for the long hairs to absorb.

          There are also Ferns, Palms, Orchids, and Forest Cactus to talk about for another time. Each of these grows up in a special area they like.

Copyright 2013


Next week I will have an article about Valentine Day Plants, the meaning of the plant colors, and the “Three Bag Theory” when taking plants home. George