We kill many plants from drowning but there are also a number just the opposite. That is we forget to water them. There are some plants that require special attention such as special fertilizer, special light requirements, and special soil types. This list however, will be the hardier ones that survive in spite of the way they are treated.

          The first group that comes to mind are the cacti or succulents.  The CACTI that grow very slowly can usually be left without water for ages.  They do require a soil that drains immediately and a place with lots of light. Little gardens can be constructed, using a potting soil especially for them or by mixing half and half course sand with potting soil while making sure there are sufficient drain holes in the pot. Living in my garage during the winter are a number of “dish gardens” that do not receive any water from September until March.  During this time with no fertilizer, and not a great deal of light, many of them produce their blooms for early spring.  Their native habitat of the desert can get cold but not freezing, and the rainy season can be about April or March.  Their sap is highly concentrated and stores water so they rest until it rains. Most of their pots look like shallow, large bowls.  For a year or so you can plant them very close together.  Some will not seem to grow at all while others will need to be moved to a garden of their own.  CACTI are very easy to move as their root systems come up easily from the sandy mix. Fold a newspaper length wise only several inches wide. Wrap it around the trunk in the spring after no water and they come up easily. My gardens come out of the garage and have their own field on the south side of the house to suck up heat and sun all summer.  Don’t move them directly from dark to sun but harden them off as you do your other plants.  Some of them I put on the north side of the house for a week or two after a good watering and addition of a weak fertilizer. 

          SUCCULENTS are another group that can stand about the same neglect, same soil type, and sunshine, but these you must check to see what you are getting.  Many of them like shade or partial shade.  Part of the definition of a succulent is a plant that can take in water when it is available and store it for later use. Some of them have a caudex or large water storing base.  I have several ADENIUMS OBESUM, called desert ROSE but they are very slow growing.  They have white flowers with red edges and to correspond with the dry seasons of Africa, they drop their leaves to save moisture.  Water too much and rot will ruin their roots.  I have some small pink ones that haven’t bloomed yet but they are getting the weird form of a storage base of various shapes and slender limbs that go in various directions.  Now seems to be rainy season and flowers develop a little ahead of the thick leaves.  You could probably go away for some time and find them in good shape, just waiting for rain.  They live on the south side of the house in summer. As close to a desert summer as I can get.  I use slow release fertilizer and not very much when they come back to life.

          The CRASSULA group of which our common JADE PLANT (Crassula ovata) belongs is another plant to neglect.  In its native territory, the tropics, it can grow 12 feet high.  The thick, water storing leaves often have a red edge.  As it grow up there are white, star like flowers on thick stems.  The branches themselves are thick and water storing. It needs a good heavy clay pot to keep it from falling over, especially when it is full of water.  JADE needs fertilizer only when you happen to remember.  There are many members of the CRASSULA. In most of them if a limb breaks off it can be stuck in soil and it will develop a new plant.  One I have (Covata Gollum) has leaves that roll at the top and look tubular with red tips in good light.  It can grow very large but often is used in bonsai arrangements to tower over animals or temples or Buddha. Mine spends the winter in the garage without water or fertilizer but shouldn’t get below 35 degrees F.

          SEDUMS of any variety do well with little attention as they store water.  Their stomata or pores are only on the underside of the leaf which prevents water loss as they come from very dry windy areas. Many of them were used for medicine and some were eaten.  Now we use them to fill in spaces in our “dry gardens”. Have you ever had a “donkey tail”? The tails may hang down 4 to 5 feet with fat, short leaves on every side of the stem.  These leaves break off easily and fall down to where each one can start roots and a new long chain.  This fall I cut the chains back to about 2 to 3 feet-stripped the leaves off the cut portions and dropped them in another hanging pot. Both pots live winters in the garage and when the older one gets too heavy, I can just start a new one. After they get used to more light they will hang from a pole on the patio in full sun.  They need good drainage as their roots are not used to much water. Some years I have had pink blooms on the older one.  They can get very, very heavy.  My neighbor caries mine in and out for me.  It would be easier if it had less “tails”.

          Sansevieria species also called MOTHER-IN-LAWS TONGUE, LUCKY PLANT, and DEVILS TONGUE, will grow almost anywhere and there a number of varieties-tall, short, twisted, and striped.  The leaves all come directly from the ground without a stem forming a cluster.  They send out runners that grow until they hit something and then send up a new plant that can be broken off and just stuck in a pot.  In the north window in winter, and on the east side of the house during summer, and a neglectful care taker, they will do fine for many years in the same pot.  Use a clay pot as the tall plants get top heavy.

          If you have a difficult time remembering when to water, when to fertilize, and when to do what, these are some of the plants for you.

Copyright 2007