By Kathy Valentine
Succulents and cacti are fascinating. They tend to be compact and also very interesting in their geometry and form. Native to hot dry areas of the world, they catch our eye and lend themselves to collecting, as they are often sold as tiny plants in 2” or 3” diameter pots.
Bright natural light isn’t just desired, it is essential. These plants like to be dry quickly after a watering, as they are naturally efficient at storing water but quickly stressed when standing with water in the soil. They can get soft and limp if watering is neglected for weeks and months, and then will regain turgidity and weight when watered. Never plant in a pot without drainage. Use a specialty cactus soil for cacti and the same for succulents generally, though for euphorbias I recommend adding 1/3 potting soil to the mix for a bit more weight and water holding ability. When plants are small you can water by literally watering through, draining and returning the grow pot to a tray or decorative slip pot and discarding all excess water. When traveling, unless you will be gone three weeks or more, ask your plant sitter not to water these little treasures.
There are many genera of cacti and succulents. Ferocactus are the barrels, common in North American deserts. Carnegiea are the Saguaros found only in Arizona and can actually expand and contract their pleated exterior to facilitate water storage. There are several other groups of spiny uprights such as Opuntia, and even spiny trailers like Aporocactus or rat tail. The Euphorbias are upright and feature both thorns and leaves. Haworthia have a distinctive look , and Gasteria are fun. Crassulas are a huge family that includes the jade plants. Lithops, or living stones, are unique low growing gems for your collection.
I cannot stress enough that bright light is key. Place these plants right in the window, not a few feet away. Like with most plants, bright variegation or deep color means the plant requires especially intense light, meaning that huge plant window should be facing South for that selection to thrive. Better to collect a few and have them in great light, than to struggle to keep many plants going in poor conditions.
Kathy Valentine enjoys gardening and her family at her Watertown Township home. Her Michigan State University Horticulture degree was a beginning for a life of learning about and working with plants. Kathy is senior partner at The Plant Professionals located at 16886 Turner St, Lansing, MI 48906.
It is an interior and exterior landscape design , installation and service firm also offering green walls and plants and flowers for events. She may be reached at