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Tender Succulents

Tender succulents come from dry regions all over the world. These plants are not cold hardy enough to survive outside in our climate, but still are very worthy of garden and home space. Some tender succulents have similar appearance to some of the hardy succulents (which do not do well in the house).

For example: Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum) are hardy succulents from the mountainous areas of Europe. They do well outside but make a horrible houseplant! (We have tried!) However, there are plants of similar look that do well in the house, given adequate sunlight. Aeoniums look like hens and chicks on top of stout trunks. These weirdoes originate from the volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. There are many colors and forms, but the most striking is Aeonium 'Swartzkopf', a nearly black plant. That one always gets people's attention here. It is easy to grow as long as you don't overwater it. (If you think it needs water, wait a day or two!)

Another hen and chick look-alike is the Echiveria family, a group of plants from the desert region of Mexico. The Echiverias we grow always get confused with hens and chicks, they are that similar. This is a huge group of plants and, boy, are they interesting! Some are fuzzy, some are not. Some are quite colorful, others just "plain green". Some have frilly edges, some smooth. Most are quite happy outside for the summer in sun or part sun and inside for the winter in a sunny window.

Most of the Sedums we grow are completely winter hardy (and spend the winter outside in the ground), but there are a few that are too tender to risk leaving outside for the winter. Sedum 'Ogon', a bright yellow ground hugger has proven itself to be quite tender. Grow this one as an annual or bring in some starts to carry over for the winter. There are a few other tiny-leaved types (green, gold, and variegated) that we do not consider hardy. The above mentioned sedums are very garden worthy and are excellent as filler in dish gardens, wreaths, or fairy gardens.

Jelly Beans and its pink version, Ghost Beans, are coarse-leaved, tender sedums. The leaves look like green (or pink) jelly beans (go figure!) spiraled up the stems. "Beans" that fall off will make new plants if allowed to sit on top of moist potting soil. The green version will turn reddish in a cold, sunny location. Easy to grow!

Jades are another group of tender succulents. Most people are familiar with these plants that grow like small trees with succulent green leaves. While they can make a great "tree" for a fairy garden, given a big enough pot and enough time, jade plants can get about 3' tall, weighing a lot!

Another tree forming succulent is the Desert Rose (Adenium obesum), native to northeast Africa. All the plants will eventually from a caudex, or bulbous trunk. Very interesting! We started our first (three) desert roses thirty-two years ago from seed. We still have one of those plants! The "original" type has white flowers with a cherry-red edge to each of its five petals. For the longest time this was all we could find. Then we found Adenium swazicum, a pink one, but couldn't get it to set seed (or get it to root without rotting). Now Adeniums are quite the rage and many grafted, unique varieties are available - white, red, purplish, yellow-ish, pink, as well as some bi- and tri-colors; some are single flowered, some double. All beautiful! In the summer you keep them somewhat moist. In the winter they need to be kept much drier. Often the desert roses will be leafless in the winter. (These plants are very toxic so don't even think of tasting them and keep them away from children!)

Agaves or Century Plants are also desert plants from Mexico. Agave leaves can be green or blue green; some are striped with either yellow or white. All look great in a pot! Many agaves have thorns that can be very annoying to work around or try to weed around (so, keep the weeds out!)

Similar to the Agaves are the Mangaves. These look like the agaves (one of their parents), except they do not have thorns (yay!) and have lots of red spots and splotches on the leaves (a trait from the other parent, Manfredias). These have proven themselves to be fast growers; they should be easy to grow and endure well in our indoor environs.

Kalanchoes are another large, diverse group of tender succulents, originating from tropical Africa and Madagascar. Many varieties are available and most work easily as houseplants. We grow a handful of the different types out there. Some are fuzzy and very succulent. Others look like they are made of green leather! Some have rows of baby plants along the edges of the leaves, just ready to jump off and start another colony!

General Tender Succulent Care:

Most of these plants are used to growing in less than perfect places in their natural environment, so,in the Ozarks, they do just fine being left in a pot until they are quite root bound. Succulents tend to play well together so they are excellent in mixed "dish gardens". Use as well-draining potting soil (add grit if you wish), in a pot with holes for drainage!

Allow the soil to dry between thorough soakings. Keeping the plants too moist is the kiss of death, yet they do need to be watered. Keeping them too dry or never soaking them is not good either.

Try to give these plants as much light as possible in the house since their natural environment is typically high light. For the warm months, most of these can go out in full sun. (As for all plants, when your plant goes from inside to summer quarters, first shade the plant for a few days, then put in part sun, then finally put into full sun. This will keep the plants from getting sunburned.)

A tip for keeping your succulents for the winter: While they will not withstand frost at all, many tender succulents will fare well with cool temperatures around 55 degrees. Cooler temperatures are a good way to compensate for lower light levels. Warmer temperatures require higher light levels. Note! Desert roses do not like being cold. Keep them above 60 degrees for best results!

Variety Spotlight #17, 11/26/2018 © Hilltop Farm

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