Succulents are popular houseplants that are fun for the whole family to grow. Succulents are a class of plant that has adapted to dry conditions by developing hairy or waxy surfaces to reduce water loss, developing the ability to store water in stems and leaves, and opening pores during the night rather than during the day to conserve water. These adaptations make succulents ideal plants for growers with varying levels of experience because they are forgiving if you forget an occasional watering.
Succulents have few insect or disease problems; tolerate heat, drought and poor soil, as well as grow in a wide variety of temperature and humidity levels. Succulents come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Common types of succulents are jade, sedum, kalanchoe, sempervivums, and aloe. In addition, succulents are easy to propagate; either producing an offset or repotting fallen leaves to grow new succulents.
Making succulent containers out of recycled matters can be a fun family activity while being environmentally friendly. Aluminum cans, plastic containers for yogurt or cottage cheese, square plastic tea containers with a side cut open, baby food jars, and plastic cups all are potential containers. If a plastic pop bottle is used, cut to the desired height. After emptying the containers, thoroughly wash them before repurposing as “pots”. Decorating the containers is a great opportunity to let creativity take over. Spray-painting the outsides of the containers provides a great canvas for artwork or dipping them red, green, or white for the holidays. One key thing to remember is to punch drainage holes into the bottom of your container with a hammer and screwdriver for metal cans or scissors or a drill for plastics. Succulents do not like having “wet feet” meaning they do not like living in standing water.
When filling the inside of the container use a layered approach. Fill the bottom 1/3 with pea gravel or rock to provide stability and weight. Fill the remaining space with potting soil and then plant your succulents into the top of the soil. Finish off your succulent container with a ribbon or care instructions and a gift tag attached with string.
Place succulents in a western or southern window or under a grow light for maximum light exposure. Water succulents weekly or every weeks depending on the season. During the winter, succulents go dormant because of the lower light levels, requiring less frequent watering and no fertilizer until late spring.
Brighten someone’s holidays with the gift of succulents in a homemade unique container.
Bruce J. Black is a University of Illinois Extension educator, horticulture.