Successful succulents… and other laid-back, low-maintenance houseplants
Ali Rochford's gives her pick of the best
Indoor gardening is now more popular than ever and of all the plants you can grow indoors, succulents are undoubtedly some of the most favoured. Their attraction is obvious - they don't take up a lot of space, they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and they can withstand the sort of fitful attention from their busy owners that other plants simply could not tolerate.
Adding a few plants is an inexpensive way to make where we live more homely, while satisfying our need to be nurturing and close to nature.
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The term 'succulent' encompasses a large range of plants of varying forms. Prickly cacti, tall snake plants and trailing plants such as String-of-Pearls all come under the banner.
Succulents need good light and careful watering. During the growing season they need quite a bit of water to plump up their leaves, but during winter most of them prefer to be fairly dry.
Creating and tending succulent gardens has become a pastime for many indoor gardeners. Grouping together different succulents in one container is a fun and rewarding way to exercise your green fingers. Cacti are slower-growing than other succulents and prefer less water so it is best to stick to one or the other when making an arrangement.
Most garden centres and plant shops will have a range of succulents in small pots. Look for contrasting foliage colour, shape and size of leaf. Ideally, the container should have a drainage hole but if it does not, put a layer of crocks, stones or gravel in at the base so that if you overwater, the roots will not sit in wet compost and rot.
You can buy a special cacti and succulent compost or you can make your own by adding grit to potting compost at a ratio of 1:3. The grit means that water will drain through quickly. Once you have planted up your selection, you can cover the compost with grit or decorative stones. Watering should be done only when the compost dries out.
Depending on your location, you may get away with having some succulents outside all year long. Sempervivums (houseleeks) and the low-growing sedums or stonecrops are fairly hardy. Sempervivum arachnoideum looks like it has been covered in cobwebs. Agaves, Aloe arborescens and aeoniums can make a big impression in the garden but are best grown in containers that can be moved under cover in winter. You can plant succulents out into the garden during the summer but they will need to be brought in at the end of the season. They should be gently introduced to direct sun or they may go crispy.
For more information, see irelandcactus.com
Top 10 indoor succulents
1 Donkey Tail — Sedum morganianum: Easy to grow and propagate, bean-like leaves clustered around the stems.
2 Mother-in-Law’s Tongue or snake plants — Sansevieria laurentii: Easy to look after. Tolerates direct sun and likes to be snug in its pot.
3 Christmas cactus — Schlumbergera: Exotic-looking flowers in winter that come in a range of colours on a mature plant.
4 Money plant — Crassula ovata: Like a mini tree with round, fleshy leaves. Needs good light. Drought-tolerant. Water well in growing season.
5 Paddle plant — Kalanchoe thyrsiflora: Large, flat, fleshy leaves that will colour nicely outside in summer.
6 Crown-of-Thorns — Euphorbia milii: Will grow on a windowsill and is rarely out of flower; beware of the thorns and milky sap.
7 Echeveria ‘Purple Pearl’: Comes in different colours from green to blue to pinky purple. Some have ruffled leaves with red tips.
8 String-of-Pearls — Senecio rowleyanus: Translucent green beads on long hanging lengths. If a piece breaks off, stick it back into the pot and it will root.
9 Haworthia: Tapered green fleshy leaves with white markings.
10 Aloes: Blue-green gel-filled leaves, some with white or red markings, and some with a scaly texture.