Why are succulents so hard to keep alive?
Succulents become hard to keep alive when their ideal environmental condition isn’t maintained. For example, succulents are used to live in arid areas, i.e., areas with little or no water. Having the potting soil logged with water would surely kill the plant, since it isn’t used to such. We’ll discuss a lot of other factors in this outline. But first, let’s establish what succulents are.
What are succulents?
Succulents are plants that are adapted to life in dry areas. That is why you’d find them with fleshy and thickened extensions.
Within these extensions (leaves and stems) are minerals and water molecules that will help succulents survive moments or conditions where there is no water at all.
The mixture of the minerals and water molecules form a jelly mix called the cell sap. This jelly mix should be something you are familiar with if you’ve ever cut through the leaves of an Aloe Vera plant.
Adaptive features of succulent
Asides from the sap contained within their cell structure, they also have other means by which they adapt to dry conditions. These adaptive features include the following;
- They have a reduced number of stomata.
Stomata are openings present at the surface of leaves. They are responsible for the breathing of plants. It is also through these openings that the process of transpiration occurs.
(Transpiration is the upward movement of water out of the leaves of plants). With very few stomata, loss of water from the plant is highly controlled.
- The stems are the major sites of photosynthesis.
Photosynthesis is a process that describes how plants make their food. From the above point, the stomata contained in the leaves of plants were mentioned.
Within these openings called stomata are cells known as the guard cells. They function to trap light from the sun.
Since they are reduced on the leaves, it is only vital that the plant compensates for what it needs by directing its food production to the stem, without having to bother about water loss.
- They have few leaves with cylindrical to spherical shapes.
The reason for this is also tied to the issue of water loss from the plants. If you touch the surfaces of these leaves, you’d also notice a leathery or waxy feel.
The reason for this is to prevent the moving air from increasing the rate of water loss.
- When these plants are bruised or cut off at some point, they heal up in no time.
That way, they don’t have to lose much water as a result. This healing involves the extension of the waxy cuticle to the cut off part of the plant.
On considering all of these adaptations, you’d realize that succulents are really not suited for life in areas saturated with water.
They also cannot survive in areas that contradict the factors that guide arid areas like deserts, etc.
So, planting them in your homes or office spaces means that you create an environment that is closely similar to what they are used to. Check out the following guidelines below.
How to keep succulents alive
- You Have to Develop an Effective Watering Routine
This tip is very important for the survival of your succulents. First, they have very weak roots that will easily rot when exposed to waterlogged areas for a long period of time.
Other plants have their roots securely protected with cuticles, but because succulents lack the adaptive features for excess water, they’d die.
That is why it is recommended that you water your succulents sparingly. Target times that the soil has become crumbly and bone-dry.
You’d also need to target the seasons when your preferred succulent is most active. It is during this time that they grow out new leaves, flowers and stems.
To support their growth, you may need to increase your watering frequency. If you were watering them once a week before, you could increase the cycle to twice a week.
You should also know when your succulent becomes dormant. i.e., doesn’t grow or bring forth new shoots. At this point, they do not need much water.
- Integrate a Proper Draining System
The drainage factor is only important when you plant your succulents in potting vessels. That way, you have to construct a pathway through which excess water drains through.
That way, the roots of the succulents do not have to be in continuous exposure to the added water. An effective drainage system can be constructed in two ways.
One way is to make holes at the bottom of the potting vessel. Water, if added in excess can easily drain out without posing issue to the plants.
The other way can only be done during the formation of the soil mix that would be placed within the potting vessel. The soil mix used for planting succulents is not the regular one you plant other plants in.
This one contains components like perlite, gravel, granite, shredded coconut husks, sand, etc., that help improve the soil’s aeration and structure.
Once the soil structure is improved, the water added can drain easily without any obstruction. The roots of the succulents also have some breathing space around them.
Most of the components listed above are breathable and will drain easily when water is added to them. You can make this mix yourself or get a ready-mixed one in stores near you.
- The Kind of Soil You Use
The soil that you use is also related to the drainage system discussed above. You have to ensure that you work with soil types that drain easily—sand and loam.
In most cases though, a mix of the two soil types is preferred, with sand being in the excess. Mixes like that have low water retention power.
So, you don’t have to worry about the roots and stems of your succulents rotting. Once that is settled, ensure that you set the soil mix in breathable potting vessels.
For example, a potting vessel made out of clay is more breathable than a potting vessel made out of ceramics.
- The Degree of Exposure of the Plant to Sunlight
This factor should also be hugely considered when planting succulents. It is necessary to know how much sunlight the succulent needs.
Some succulents like Aloe Vera or Christmas Cacti cannot survive when they are continually exposed to the sun. They fair well under filtered lights.
Some other succulents like Sedum require that they are exposed to sunlight for long hours. They require the sun for the budding of their flowers and other factors that contribute to the strength of their stems.
So, you need to determine the degree or intensity of sunlight that the succulent needs for you to know where to position the potting vessel.
If the succulent needs plenty of sunlight, set in outside or somewhere in your home where it can get plenty of that.
For succulents that need only little light, you could set them in your offices or places with low lighting.