By Marni Jameson
I had just set my travel bags down in my daughter’s new place in Houston, a second-floor duplex she’s renting while she goes to grad school, when I lit on the containers of succulents she had around the place.
“These are fabulous,” I said, feeling slightly marginalized, since, after all, I had come over the hill from Florida like the cavalry to help her decorate, and now was seeing that, perhaps, (Was it possible?) she didn’t need my help.
“I can’t keep anything alive,” Paige said, confirming we’re related.
I thought about the two fried flower pots flanking my back door, which I had just replanted for the third time this summer. I had burned through both the sun impatiens I planted in June, and the wild roses I planted a few weeks later. I had just put in some geraniums, which were already struggling and would surely be toast by the time I got back from my weekend away.
At that point, I was planning to turn the large planter pots into botanical burial grounds with little grave markers: Here lie the noble remains of Impatiens and Rose, which valiantly gave up their lives in the vain pursuit of beauty, RIP.
“Where did you get this idea?” I asked my daughter.
“I think succulents are really cool,” she said. “They’re all over Pinterest, and in all the millennial lifestyle blogs.”
“Tells you where I haven’t been,” I said, feeling now both marginalized and out of date.
“They don’t die, and they come in a bunch of colors. Plus, you always said, you should have something living in every room.”
“Well, I agree with myself.”
“Besides, I can’t afford some fancy blown-glass bowl for the coffee table, or fresh flowers every week.”
“Your daughter is right on target,” said Tim Obert, live goods merchant for Home Depot, whom I called to find out if this succulent fixation was truly a trend. He confirmed it.
“Succulents are popular, especially among millennials,” he said, adding that sales in that category have been trending up steadily for the past five years. “They’re cool and hip partly because they are perceived as not so traditional.”
“You mean where we moms might have put begonias, hydrangeas, azaleas, or roses, millennials are putting succulents?”
“Millennials lean toward less showy gardens,” said Obert. “They are more minimalistic.”
“Which makes my generation gluttonous, overdone heathens,” I said, feeling now marginalized, out of date, and excessive.
“We are even seeing them in wedding bouquets,” he said.
“I may be old fashioned, but that’s taking it too far.”
What also makes succulents hot sellers is that they are dummy proof, said Obert. “They work well indoors and out, look good year round, are low maintenance, require little water, can take the heat, thrive on neglect, and need no-to-low fertilizer. And, unlike fresh flowers, succulents can last for years, even decades.”
I am paying attention. I tell Obert about my frazzled flowerpots. Succulents are a perfect planter choice for hot patios, said Obert, adding that he has succulents outside his home in San Diego.
“That doesn’t count,” I said. “You can put a Popsicle stick in the ground in San Diego and it will grow.
“I have one blooming now,” he said.
I had to admit, Paige was onto something. Youth today. Sometimes they teach you stuff. Here’s what to know if you want some succulent savvy:
- Let the sun shine on. Succulents thrive in a wide range of climates, said Obert. The only weather they really don’t like is freezing. Indoors or out, these plants like a sunny spot.
- Don’t overwater. The most common mistake people make is watering them too much. Succulents are designed to get along without water. Give them a small sprinkle every two to three weeks.
- Keep roots dry. Plant succulents in soil that allows good drainage, so roots don’t stay wet, he said. Use cactus mix, not regular potting soil.
- Plant with like plants. Plant succulents alongside other xeriscape plants. Don’t mix them with annuals or traditional shrubs, because the soil and care levels differ.
- Go for high-low looks. When creating a succulent planter, use a mix of heights, textures and colors. A taller centerpiece plant, such as aloe, agave or jade, creates a good focal point. Around that add shorter specimens like echeveria or kalanchoe. Near the edge, add a trailing variety, like fishhook or string of pearls, which cascade.
- Mix color and texture. Though all succulents flower, if minimally, their appeal is not in their blooms, but in their varied color, texture and leaf shapes, Obert said. Put velvety grey next to crisp green and darker green or purple. Some varieties actually change color, and get darker depending on their sun exposure. Echeveria comes in lavender, firestick comes in orange and yellow. Choices are getting even better as breeders develop more varieties that better tolerate cold climates, and come in more colors and textures.
- Go for cover. Some succulents, including those in the sedum family, like dragon’s blood, make excellent, drought-tolerant groundcovers, and can be a more water wise alternative to grass.
- Divide and multiply. One of the characteristics of succulents is that they are easy to propagate, said Obert. Just break off a piece and stick it in the ground.
- Neglect them. The best way to care for your succulents is to leave them alone. Now, that’s my kind of plant.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).