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January 3, 2006
Posted online January 7, 2006

Stop fighting dry indoor air and grow succulents


Jade plantMaintaining attractive houseplants during winter months can be a challenge. Homes are often too dry and too warm to provide the tropical atmosphere which most of our favorite plants require.

Stop fighting the site and consider growing succulents. Succulent is a descriptive term, not a botanical classification, given to plants with thick, juicy stems and/or leaves.

"Succulents make great houseplants because they do not require much care and grow well under the dry conditions experienced in homes during the winter," explains David Robson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. "All cactus plants are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. The succulents contain many genera and species; some are tropical. and some grow under desert conditions. Even the lily and bromeliad groups have some succulents." The aloe group is one of the most popular succulent groups. Aloe vera is the most popular and has been grown for centuries as both a decorative and medicinal plant. There are many other forms available.

The milk-striped euphorbia is another succulent often selected as a houseplant. This euphorbia grows erect like a tree and has a spiny, three-sided trunk with small leaves that tend to drop off soon after they are formed. The haworthia from South Africa is a succulent belonging to the lily family. It is grown primarily as a foliage plant. The Crassulaceae family is another well-liked succulent group. A prize member is the jade plant, Crassula argentea.

Robson says that several of the sedums make good potted plants. The burro's tail, jellybean plant and showy stonecrop are great as hanging baskets. The sempervivum group also makes attractive potted plants.

The culture -- care, soil, temperature and watering -- of all succulents is similar. Generally, they need a porous soil mix that is well drained and has some organic matter and soil in it. Succulents perform best in a reasonably rich soil mix. The more tropical succulents prefer soil on the acid side, while the desert-type succulents prefer sunlight. A few grow under low-light conditions but will have different colors than when grown in full sunlight.

All succulents need good air circulation. The succulents require less water than many other houseplants. They can go for longer periods between waterings and can get on the dry side with less damage than many other plants. During the longer days of the growing season when the plants receive more light, they need more water. During the shorter days of winter, they need less.

Succulents should be fertilized when the plants are growing actively (usually the longer days of spring and summer). Never use more than one-fourth to one-third of the amount recommended on any of the houseplant fertilizer packages. Discontinue feeding when the plants show no further growth.

Source: David J. Robson, Extension Educator, Horticulture,

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