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Tending to succulents can yield valuable lessons for both experienced and beginning gardeners

Tending to succulents can yield valuable lessons for both experienced and beginning gardeners

Succulents may teach us something about relationships.

The resilient desert plants are fortified to withstand harsh conditions. They flourish in arrangements but also need a little personal space. Succulents are forgiving of unintended hurt or neglect, but they also can be loved to death.

“As long as you give [a succulent] the light it needs near a windowsill, it will last year-in, year-out,” said Sara Rutherford, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Emporia.

While she has more than a decade of expertise in floral and landscape design, Rutherford said those without a green thumb can easily arrange their own succulent displays at home in practically any container. She added that the trendy plants are aesthetically diverse and relatively inexpensive.

As she demonstrated a succulent arrangement, Rutherford layered a half-inch of pea gravel on the bottom of containers, and piled cactus soil mix on top of the pebbles for drainage.

“I’ve used rocks from my driveway,” Rutherford said. “And any cactus-type potting mix of your choosing.”

Rutherford coaxed the succulents from their individual containers.

“I’m going to break this guy up into a couple of smaller pieces,” she said, gently untangling the roots of a Crassula muscosa, or watch chain succulent. “A lot of these plants are very forgiving. Push them down firmly, making sure their fibrous roots have good contact with the soil.”

Rutherford gently tucked creeping golden moss at the edge of the bowl, as if draping a sentimental locket around a sweetheart’s neck.

“It’s nice to put the cascading plants toward the edge of the pot,” she said. “And I’m trying to think about the colors. With design, you want to repeat colors so the eye flows. You can fill the container, but it’s good to leave some space for the plants to grow. Space to breathe is beneficial.”

Rutherford advised saving the waxy leaves if they break off, as succulents grow through vegetative propagation instead of from seeds.

“He’s going to sprout a root if you put him down in the soil,” she said, holding the broken leaf of a sedum. “They’ll get tall and gangly. You can cut them down and start a new pot, just like you would divide a perennial out in the garden to keep it going. Spread the love.”

Rutherford dribbled tap water on the soil of the finished succulent arrangements—enough to moisten the soil without drowning the roots. Yellowed, wilted leaves are a symptom of both underwatering and overwatering.

“Succulents are good for somebody who might forget to water their plants all week,” Rutherford said. “But with indoor plants, people often kill them with kindness. They water them too much or keep them too warm, which can sometimes do the opposite of what you intend.”

Rutherford said Virginians may contact a local Extension office for additional gardening tips.