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Solar Gardens

Succulent Care

Olive Oils

Caring For

Succulents

To help you along with your succulent endeavours we thought you might like to have a glimpse of what we've learned throughout our 30 years of 'succulent' growth.

Soil

We've found that the best 'soil' for succulents is not a soil at all. It's a soilless mix!

We use Pro Mix, or Sunshine mix number 4 or 8. To this we add perlite for enhanced drainage.

Pro Mix is available in a 3.8-foot vacuum-sealed bag weighing about 55 lbs, which retails for about $55. If you buy one we will add the perlite and mix it for you in our mixing machine. Mixing it by hand is quite a chore.

For convenience to our customers, Solar Gardens also sells a bag for $3 that is enough to pot up about 2 ten inch bowls. If you require a larger bag, please don't hesitate to ask as we have other sizes available.

Terracotta Bowl

Any inexpensive terracotta pot will work for potting up succulents.

When choosing a pot for growing succulents, make sure there is a hole in the bottom. If there is not, you will need to put one in. Use a Dremel with a bit used to put holes in ceramic tile. The bit is available at Home Depot for about $20.00

Terracotta draws a lot of water away from the roots of the plants when over-watered. It also retains a lot of heat collected from the sun during the day, keeping the roots warm in the nighttime low temperatures. Remember that cold, wet roots kill cacti and succulents!

Water and Fertilizer

At the beginning of March, we use a mixture of one rounded teaspoon of 20-20-20 fertilizer to a 2 gallon watering can. Never use chlorinated water or water from a water softener as the salt and chlorine may harm your plants.

  • From March to October, use fertilizer every time you water.
  • From October to March, do not use fertilizer when you water (which will be infrequently).
  • From March to October, water succulents as needed when the soil throughout the bowl becomes dry.
  • Remember that these plants are used to dry conditions, and thrive on neglect.
  • It is actually better to underwater these plants than to overwater.
  • For example, when your pot becomes very dry, your plants may become a bit soft to the touch and wrinkly. This is a good sign that the plant needs a drink.
  • When succulents are over-watered (and we see this especially in winter (November through March when the days are considerably shorter and cooler), they may die or their leaves turn yellow and fall off (usually beginning with leaves closer to the bottom).

Too Much or Too Little Water?

  • In March and April we definitely err on the side of watering less, sometimes only watering once or twice monthly.
  • In the months of October to December, do not fertilize.
  • During winter months, succulents need only enough water to keep the roots alive. In reality, this amount of water is very little. With light levels low and our days being so short, water sparingly during these months (ie. infrequently and with only a small quantity of water).
  • If the leaves start to turn soft, wrinkle or drop (in that order)then your succulents need water desperately.
  • If your leaves drop without first having turned soft then wrinkly, that is a sign of overwatering.
  • Many people's succulents begin to stretch in January as the days start to get longer. This is a telltale sign of overwatering in December or January.
  • If you want your plants in your bowl or arrangement to remain more compact and not grow as much, do not water as much at any time of the year.
  • However, if and when your plants do stretch, use a sharp pair of scissors or shears to cut the plant back near the bowl. Always leave a few leaves on the stem to ensure a few pups of growth.

Fertilizer:

When purchasing fertilizer, one should not buy the largest container or quantity available. Buy smaller quantities at a time. When fertilizer sits on your shelf too long, it will turn hard and become difficult to accurately measure. We sell 20-20-20 in a 500 gm container. This size is not available at most garden centres, but this is the only way that we like to sell it in order to limit your waste and unnecessary cost.

Overwintering:

Many, many people do not want to overwinter their succulents and that is just fine. No need to feel guilty. However, many avid gardeners do want to overwinter their succulents and that is great too. Today, succulents are more affordable, less scarce, and prices are more reasonable than in the past. Understand that every living plant (like us...unfortunately) will die at some point. However, succulents will last a lot longer than 2 dozen cut roses (at a cost of about $75 (plus taxes) that will last a week if you're fortunate and if you're changing their water everyday).

Succulents can out live annuals and many perennials simply by understanding their seasonal growth habits. Solar Gardens' succulent class bowls cost $49.50 plus tax( but contain approximately $125 value if all plants are purchased individually) are a 10" diameter terra cotta bowl and contain 13 to 20 different varieties of succulent plants. These plants should surely last the spring, summer and fall (6 or 7 or 8 months) with little to no care outside in your garden or on your balcony. Keeping that in mind, if you would like to try to overwinter your succulents as some avid gardeners do (and again..don't feel guilty if you don't), here are a few tips:

Since winter days are so short, the plants really prefer to stay dormant (alive, but not growing) and they still need as much light as possible to stay alive. So putting them in a garage or basement or closet with no light will kill them. During this time they require vastly decreased amounts of water since they are not actively growing. That, plus the fact that they are desert plants and require little water to begin with even when they are actively growing.

We have found that most people kill their succulents during the winter with too much water (and not enough light). On the other hand, they are still plants that are alive. So if you give them NO water, they are going to die - they still need "a bit" of water. How much is "a bit of water"? Well, that is a very hard question to answer since the amount of water they need depends on many variables, such as - how warm or cold the room is, how much (or little) light they are receiving, how many plants are in the pot, how big (or small) the pot is, what the pot is made of (ceramic, terra cotta, glass or plastic), how big (or small) the plants are, and how much drainage each individual pot allows (if it has drainage at all). For example, we recommend for our 10" diameter class terra cotta bowl that you water 1/4 cup every 2 to 3 weeks during the winter months. If the plants start to lose their bottom leaves and continue to drop leaves, water a little more frequently but still using the 1/4 cup measure. But, of course rules are meant to be broken. You may find that you have to adjust this "general rule" based on your own circumstances and the conditions in which you are keeping your succulents. You should also watch for signs of too little water, such as dropping leaves or leaves that are starting to wrinkle and dry up.

So in a nutshell, most succulents die during the winter dormant period from COLD and WET roots. The key is to water infrequently with a small amount of water, just enough to keep the roots alive during dormancy. When overwintering, succulents prefer a sunny window (south is best), hardly any water, and a temperature above freezing.

Lastly, don't be too upset if you haven't overwintered your succulents successfully. Like most things in life, it takes trial, error, time and patience. Not everything works successfully all the time....unfortunately!

Overwintering Living Walls

In our living wall class, you may have planted your wall with either all hen and chicks (sempervivum), all other succulents that can't freeze or a combination of both. If your wall has nothing but hen and chicks in it skip to the next paragraph. If planted with all succulents that can't freeze (all succulents other than hen and chicks that are non-hardy in our climate) you can either overwinter the entire wall indoors or pull out the plants and plant them in pots either individually or like we do in the succulent bowl class - group together in a lovely arrangement using as many bowls as you need. If your wall has a combo of both types then you must separate the hen and chicks from the non-hardy succulents. For overwintering the non-hardy varieties be sure to read the section 'OVERWINTERING" above

 

The ABSOLUTE best way to overwinter the hen and chicks in your living wall is to lift them and plant them in your garden in the fall. Make sure they have thick snow cover all winter (it's good to have a place to pile all that driveway snow). Then in the spring you can lift them and plant them back into your living wall (It's so much fun to replant them into the wall in the spring and make up a new design). This is a little more work than just setting your planted living wall outside and hoping it will survive. Having said that, many of our living wall clients have very successfully overwintered their living walls right in their frames. If trying this be sure they have a good snow cover as well.

 

Bugs

If you can see bugs on your succulents (aphids or cotton ball-like "downy mealy bugs"), use End All. End All is a green product made with pyrethrum (from the citronella plant).

Before you take your plant indoors in the fall, give it a good spray with End All. Spray from the edge of the bowl inwards, up and around, under the leaves. Wear a pair of rubber gloves and a respirator when spraying your plant in order to take proper safety precautions.

We always have End All in stock year round.

If you see small cottonballs on your plants you have mealy bugs. Before spraying with End All it will definitely help if you first remove any cottonballs that you see with a Qtip,

Unfortunately bugs are a fact of life and can occur on your plants anytime of year. Of course bugs can attack your plants when outside and can be transferred into your house if you are overwintering your plants. Also, bugs and bug eggs can be brought into your house at any time of year. Small bugs and their tiny (usually invisible) eggs can be brought into your house by hitching rides on fruits, vegetables and grains that you buy at the grocery store. The key is to be vigilant all year round. Inspect your plants every week (even in the winter). It is much easier to deal with a few insects than a whole swarm of them.


End All is an oily substance that will stay on the plant surface for a couple of months and will actually enhance the colour of your plant! Solar Gardens carries it year round in our retail centre. As succulent specialists, we can say that End All in our experience is safe on succulents. However, if you are considering using it on non-succulent plants, we cannot guarantee that End All will be safe on all plants. You would need to research that, as all plants are different.

Solar Gardens uses a systemic commercial product in late February and early March, which is drenched into the soil for the new active roots to absorb the chemical and insure no bugs will exist. The chemical we use lasts for 8-9 months, and a one-time application per year is all that is needed. This doesn't mean that bugs cannot exist on the plants. But it does mean that for 8-9 months after our drenching, any bugs that bite into this plant will ingest the chemical and die.

Mealy-bug infestations can also be managed using a commercial product. Only commercial growers have access to it. It's expensive and requires additional precautions. As a result, it is not available to the general public. If you wish to ask Roger about it, contact him at info@solargardens.ca.

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