Succulent Gardening featured at the Master Gardener Plant Sale
It’s no secret that succulent plants are successful growers. Over 10,000 succulent varieties can be found around the world, in such difficult habitats as mountain tops, desert expanses, jungles, even on rocky coastlines. They are so widespread because they have adapted to survive by creatively conserving their most precious resource: water.
The ten main succulent groups don’t look much alike. Cactus plants are distinguished by their spikes that conserve water loss and protect them from predators – but these look very different from the fleshy lobes of jade plants, the tree-like crassulas or the strange convolutions of euphorbias. In spite of their different appearances, succulents have common needs for light, temperature, water application and planting media, and this makes them an easy choice for home gardeners.
As they have adapted to the availability of water, succulents have also evolved to react to light conditions. The home gardener should be careful to provide enough light without burning the leaves or causing growth to become spindly. A window with gentle eastern exposure is best; for south-facing windows with bright light, a sheer curtain can cut the amount of light to a tolerable range. Outdoor pots can be moved for maximum advantage and may need to be placed in light shade during hot sunny days. Plants in a greenhouse or cold frame will need a shade cloth.
All succulents need good drainage, whether in pots or planted in the ground, and should never sit in water. Adding rocks that provide shelter and gaps in the soil is a good choice outdoors. Amendments such as gravel, lava rock and pumice will also lighten heavy soils so that the plants can survive periods of high rainfall.
While most succulents thrive outdoors in dry, arid areas with hardiness zones of 10 – 12, Southside landscapes show off a few varieties such as agave, prickly pear and Sempervivums that make it through our winters once they become well established. Tender, fleshy succulents tolerate high temperatures (ideal daytime temps of 70-85° but up to 100° if provided a little shade), but they don’t do well with frost, ice and snow. The worst conditions are high rainfall with freezing temperatures, which can rupture the plant cells making them look like they “melted.” Cover outdoor plants with fabric tarps or frost cloth during cold snaps or bring pots indoors to sunny windowsills.
Indoor plants should be watered well during summer months and allowed to dry out between waterings. Signs of overwatering are yellowed or discolored leaves that become soft. It’s likely that the roots have rotted, so take a cutting and repot in a drier container. Plants that have been underwatered will stop growing, shed leaves and may have leaf spots. During winter months, indoor plants should be given a break and watered only once a month. Note that glazed pots retain moisture longer and unglazed pots allow for quicker evaporation.
Being the survivors they are, succulents don’t need a lot of extra nutrition. They can be fed a quarter-strength water-soluble fertilizer once a month during the spring/summer growing period. Don’t feed at all during the winter. Commercial cactus mixtures may be OK for true cacti but not so much for other succulents. An easy potting mixture is half potting soil and half sand or perlite. Small amounts of bone meal can be added.
Propagating succulents is also easy. Some will grow from leaf cuttings where the whole leaf detaches from the stem and starts a new plant. Others will shed stems that can be allowed to dry off and heal over or callous before being placed in the potting medium to put out new roots. Drying succulent cuttings before replanting prevents root rot. Clumps can be divided using sterilized tools and allowed to heal over before replanting. Succulents that produce “pups,” such as aloe, can simply be gently separated from the parent plant, allowed to dry off and given their own containers. Once replanted, put the new pots in indirect light and don’t water until roots have formed. For outdoor agaves, a large rock placed next to the plants can absorb heat during the day and give shelter from winds.
Come out and learn about succulents at the Southside Master Gardener Plant Sale on Saturday, May 2, 7:30 am to noon in the parking lot of the Halifax Library on Main Street, Halifax. Several varieties will be for sale. If you want to guarantee that you will succeed with succulents, pick up one of the painted “rock garden cactus” which require no care at all on a desk or bookshelf.
Caption for picture: This succulent collection will be among the plants featured at the Southside Master Gardener Association Plant Sale on May 2nd. Learn how to grow these easy plants.
Gardening Programs coming this spring
The Southside Master Gardener Association will hold two gardening programs and a shiitake mushroom workshop this spring. The events are open to the public but reservations are required. Call the Halifax Extension Office at 434-476-2147, option 0 or email www.ssmga.org.
As the seed catalogs starting piling up, what to grow in our vegetable gardens is on our minds. On Friday, March 6 Bill McCaleb, Master Gardener Coordinator, will discuss The Best of the Best Vegetables. Some varieties have more disease resistance than others but still have good taste. You’ll learn what varieties of different types of vegetables work best here in Southside. The class will be held at the South Boston Halifax County Museum at 11 a.m. The class is free and open to everyone with an interest in vegetables. Call the Halifax Extension Office at 434-476-2147, option 0 or email www.ssmga.org to make a reservation.
On Friday, March 20 Gale Washburn, retired from Department of Forestry, will discuss Native Edible Plants. These are plants that were here when the colonists arrived and currently grow here in Southside. These plants are useful in the kitchen but yet we don’t use them because we don’t know them. Gale will introduce you to these plants and show you how to grown them. Natives by their nature grow well generally not requiring much in the way of fertilizing or irrigating. The class will be held at the South Boston Halifax County Museum at 11 a.m. The class is free and open to everyone with an interest in vegetables. Call the Halifax Extension Office at 434-476-2147, option 0 or email www.ssmga.org to make a reservation.
The Southside Master Gardeners will hold a shiitake mushroom workshop at the Halifax Farmers Market at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 18, 209 S Main St, Halifax. The class will consist of a Powerpoint presentation about the health benefits of shiitake inside the market and then a hands on log inoculation outside. The cost is $20/log, not per person. So it is ok to bring a friend along to help out.
Earliest records of shiitake go back to 199 A.D. in Japan where Emperor Chuai praised the shiitake given to him by the Kyushu. Shiitakes are loaded with proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Since our climate is similar to Japan’s, shiitake produce well here in Southside. Come out and learn how to grow these delicious morsels.
Caption for picture: Join the Shiitake Mushroom Workshop on April 18th at the Halifax Farmers Market to learn to grow these nutritious and delicious mushrooms as shown by Master Gardener Joe Foster.
Wine Chimes Return to Master Gardener Plant Sale
Once again this year, wine chimes will be available. Some are clear glass and etched with garden themes – others sparkle in blue or green. All the chimes will add a cheery note hanging on your front porch or out in the garden. We hope to see you at the Plant Sale on Saturday, May 2nd, 7:30 to noon in the parking lot in front of the Halifax County Library on Main Street, Halifax. As always, we will have lots of great plants to get your spring gardening started. Any questions please contact Halifax Extension office at 434-476-2147, option 0 or visit www.ssmga.com. See you at the Plant Sale!
WINE CHIMES FOR SALE – If you have ever visited the annual Southside Master Gardener Plant Sale on the first Saturday in May, you may remember hearing the soft tinkle of wine bottle wind chimes.