Hardly any plant group reveals so many varied, sometimes bizarre, types of plant structure, leaves, and flowers as the succulents.
Most succulents are at home in the dry regions of Africa and the Americas where the sun is strong - that is, in regions where it rains only a few weeks in the year. To withstand the dry periods as well as possible, the plants have developed several adaptations. They usually have a branched, flat, root system that grows just below the surface of the earth so that every small drop of water is accessible. To reduce evaporation, the leaves are either thickly covered with fine hairs or a web of thin fibers, wrapped in a protective layer, or closely packed together so as to minimise the unprotected surface area. The skin of the leaves is often leathery and thick. As well, these plants can store a great deal of water in their tissues. The potting mix must, above all, be extremely porous and at least one-third sand. Plastic pots and bowls have proved to be very good.
Full sunlight, high temperatures, and dry air create an ideal environment for these plants. Between heavy watering, the soil should become fairly dry. Use specialized fertilizer.
Light: Place in a bright, indirectly lit south, east or west window.
Water: Water thoroughly when the soil ½ inch below the surface is dry. Discar drainage.
Humidity: Dry air generally does no harm.
Temperatures: 50° F to 55° F at night, 65° F to 70° F during the day.
Fertilization: Fertilize lightly with a low-nitrogen fertilizer in spring and summer. Continue fertilizing, though even more lightly, through fall and winter for succulents that grow actively the year around.
Propagation: Stem cuttings and offsets root easily. Dry the offset or cutting for a few days until a callus forms, then plant in a well-drained potting mix and keep barely moist. Many succulents can also be reproduced from leaf cuttings.
Grooming: Cut off flower stalks as the blooms age.
Repotting: Repot only every 3 or 4 years, when essential. Use a shallow pot and a very porous soil.
Problems: Root rot can result from soggy soil caused by poor drainage or excessive watering. Stem and leaf rot may be caused by cool, damp air. Leaves wilt and discolor from too much water, especially in winter. Brown dry spots are caused by underwatering.