Succulents, not always a cinch

The first year I grew succulents, I purchased a smattering of different colored small four-inch pots, planted them in loose soil, placing them in bright sun on my backyard patio. They grew like weeds, happy and abundantly; they changed colors through the season.

I was in love. They were easy, drought tolerant, water-flushed leaved plants that seemed to love me back.

I brought them inside over the winter. They continued to thrive, to almost look as though they were on steroids. I grew them in west light, with a temperate indoor climate and watered only once a month.

Then came spring and everything changed. I took them outside April 21, and it rained, rained and rained. Then came the cooler days and evenings that visited Oklahoma in early spring, hanging around until almost mid-May and they turned into sad little plants. Gone were their stretching lengths of new-growth arms. They were overwatered and then, sun scorched. Refusing defeat, I finally sought help, taking earnest measures to revive these year-old relations of mine.

So, succulents I now know after a lesson in growing them, are not effortless. While touted as low maintenance and lovers of Oklahoma heat, it can get a touch tricky. Because they are drought tolerant, novice gardeners and old school alike, can think of them as hard to kill. Not so, they are fussy, but don’t want to be babied. It’s a paradox for sure.

Because succulents store their water in their leaves, their roots are used primarily to just hold them to the dirt. People often try and water them like a normal potted plant and that can cause root rot in a hurry, especially in the wintertime when the plants are mostly dormant in their needs. It’s true they’re great in heat, but they do not like to live in the west sun outdoors in Oklahoma unless they have been slowly hardened off to the direct sun after being inside all winter.

As it turns out, my happy succulents of the previous summer had been gathered up into one pot for wintering which did not have a hole drilled in its bottom. That was fine for once a month watering, indoors. But moving them outdoors that winter pot turned into a soggy mess in the spring rain. I repotted in a sandy pea gravel/cactus type soil with a hole in the bottom and they dried out and returned to life.

It’s been a good education and one I’d probably have saved myself much time with if I’d not let them get drenched and also had acclimatized them to the outdoor sun by slowly getting them moved from shade to direct sun.

Succulents offer vast variety of color, both bright and muted shades and all kinds of unusual shapes. They are pretty hard to do wrong by, as long as you remember a few simple rules:

Don’t overwater, once a week in the summertime if they are not root bound, once a month in the winter. Make sure they are in a pot that drains well with a well-drained potting soil.

Outdoors, grow them in a spot they will get six to eight hours of sunlight a day, but don’t put them in the west sun, outdoors unless you have totally hardened them off.