Suc­cu­lents are good in­door win­ter house­plants

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Dean Fos­dick

If you’re shift­ing to house­plants as cold weather ap­proaches, con­sider gar­den­ing with suc­cu­lents. Suc­cu­lents are easy, dis­ease-re­sis­tant, and thrive de­spite the dry air com­mon in­doors in win­ter.

Think of them as the new African vi­o­lets.

“They re­quire so lit­tle care. They look good all the time and they do well in low hu­mid­ity,” said Gary Bach­man, a re­search pro­fes­sor with Mis­sis­sippi State Univer­sity Ex­ten­sion in Biloxi.

Their soft, juicy leaves and en­larged stems al­low the plants to store wa­ter un­der dry con­di­tions.

“The only thing the home­owner can do wrong is over­wa­ter,” Bach­man said. “They won’t like it in con­tain­ers that don’t drain well.”

Suc­cu­lents of­fer a wide va­ri­ety of eye-catch­ing fo­liage and flower colors. “Growth habits in­clude ev­ery­thing from ground-hug-

ging creep­ers to up­right grow­ers,” Bach­man said.

Prun­ing gen­er­ally is not re­quired be­cause the plants tend to be slow grow­ers, he said. “You don’t re­ally need to fer­til­ize very of­ten, but a lit­tle slow-re­lease fer­til­izer can pro­mote faster growth.”

Most suc­cu­lents are ten­der plants — na­tives of frost-free ar­eas — so plant­ing them in shal­low trays makes it sim­ple to carry them in­side be­fore the killer frosts ar­rive.

“Suc­cu­lents also are easy to plant in­doors,” Bach­man said. “They look great on win­dowsills and bright of­fice spa­ces.” Grow­ing them in or­na­men­tal con­tain­ers gives them a dec­o­ra­tive edge when grouped with other house­plants. Com­bin­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent kinds of suc­cu­lents cre­ates at­trac­tive dish gar­dens. Choose plants with sim­i­lar growth habits and care needs, though. That makes them eas­ier to care for.

Some suc­cu­lents are hardier than others but it’s best to look at them as a group, Bach­man said. “Most re­quire some care or pro­tec­tion in north­ern cli­mates, al­though here in Mis­sis­sippi and around the South, they gen­er­ally can stay out­doors 12 months,” he said.

Suc­cu­lents pre­fer bright light most of the day, the kind they would get from south-fac­ing win­dows, said Leonard Perry, Ex­ten­sion pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont.

“If your plant starts to ‘stretch,’ or grow tall and lanky with space be­tween leaves, it isn’t get­ting enough light,” Perry said. “Also, ro­tate plants weekly if they are bend­ing to­ward a light or win­dow.”

Suc­cu­lents rec­om­mended for grow­ing in­doors in­clude aloe, san­se­vieria, jade plant, echev­e­ria, mother-in-law’s tongue, Christ­mas cac­tus, sem­per­vivum, se­dum and spi­der­wort, among many others.

“Al­though aloe is grown in desert gar­dens in mild cli­mates, it can eas­ily be grown as a pot­ted plant in our (Ver­mont) cli­mate as well,” Perry said. “The aloe will pro­duce off­shoot plants, which can be re­moved and pot­ted.”

Suc­cu­lents crave heat, so keep them away from drafts or from rub­bing up against cold win­dows.

Well-drained, sandy soils are the best pot­ting mix­tures. Al­low them to dry com­pletely be­tween each wa­ter­ing.

“One rule of thumb is that the thicker the leaves, gen­er­ally the less wa­ter the plant needs,” Perry said.

This June 19, 2013 photo pro­vided by Dean Fos­dick shows a suc­cu­lent as­sort­ment in Fos­dick’s Lan­g­ley, Wash., green­house.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOS

This April 15, 2016 photo pro­vided by Dean Fos­dick, shows a suc­cu­lent mix in Fos­dick’s Lan­g­ley, Wash., green­house. Think of suc­cu­lents as the new African vi­o­lets.

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