High Desert Succulents with Plant Doctor Angela Turner
Definitely not as scary as Lions and Tigers and Bears (oh my!); Succulents, Sedums, and Cacti are a fantastic addition to any home or landscape! We met with Plant Doctor (and succulent enthusiast), Angela Turner, who shared her basic tips for growing succulents in the High Desert.
What is a Succulent?
A succulent is any plant that stores water in its leaves, stem, or roots to weather periodic droughts. The succulent class is a broad family that ranges from cacti to orchids. In addition to storing water, succulents utilize a special type of photosynthesis called CAM, where the plant only absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) at night when temperatures are at their coolest. This is because plants use “stomata” to absorb CO2 and stomata are like windows, they open and close. If they are open during the day (when temperatures are at their highest) water can be lost to evaporation. Succulents are special because they only open their stomata during the night to absorb CO2 and then store that CO2 to use for photosynthesis during the day while keeping their stomata closed during the day to save their water. That’s truly an “Oh My!” (source: NPS.gov)
What Succulents to Plant in Northern Nevada
Most succulents come from drier climates so one would think Northern Nevada would be perfect BUT we have one major problem…winter. Our colder temperatures aren’t suited for most succulents but there are a few who can weather the outdoors here. Our two favorites are Sempervivum (Hens & Chicks), and Sedums. Sempervivum spreads easily and is a great ‘Water-wise’ or drought-tolerant ground cover for any garden. Sedums are a broad class that ranges from low-growing ground covers to upright, hedge-like covers. Sedums flower beautifully and are wonderful pollinator attractors.
Choosing indoor succulents can be more difficult simply because of all of the options! There are so many wonderful indoor succulents and cacti that can be grown here in Northern Nevada. Some of Angela’s favorite succulent types are jades, trailing succulents, and any cacti!
Succulents do not like to be wet! For a happy succulent make sure it is planted with well-draining soil so that its roots do not stay wet. We suggest using G&B Organics Palm, Cactus & Citrus Planting Mix. This can be used for both container and in-ground planting.
Succulents love a good party! They do very well being planted together in one pot; make sure to choose a shallow, well-draining pot. A mini-succulent garden can be a great living centerpiece or decoration for any part of the home!
How to Care for Succulents
We can’t repeat enough, succulents don’t like to be wet! The #1 reason for succulents and cacti dying is over-watering. Angela’s secret tip for telling when to water is to squeeze the lower leaves, if they are softer that’s their version of wilting and they need to be watered.
Succulents do not need to be fertilized often but if you’d like to encourage them to bloom you can feed them once a year in the spring. Spring is when succulents are in their growing period and will use the nutrients to grow and bloom! Make sure to use a more mild fertilizer, this means anything with Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium numbers under 5 (to learn more about reading fertilizers, check out our Fertilizer Basics article here). We suggest using FoxFarm Big Bloom Pint Organic fertilizer.