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University of Illinois Extension

Succulents make great houseplants

November 7, 2012

URBANA -- Succulents make great houseplants, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"They are drought-tolerant, so going on vacation is easy," Nancy Pollard said. "They do well in pottery planters. They are readily available in greenhouses and, for the budget-conscious, they are easy to start and share from cuttings. The advantage of succulents over cacti is that they do not have thorns."

Succulents need at least six hours of bright light a day. Their leaves and stems are thickened and fleshy, storing water to survive in dry conditions such as those found in homes in winter. Sedum, jade, crassula, and kalanchoe are some common succulents.

Containers should have drainage. Use a cactus potting mix formulated for succulents; it drains better than regular potting mix. If the container does not have drainage, use horticultural charcoal for the bottom inch to prevent the plant roots from sitting in water.

For houseplants, choose succulents that do not go dormant or drop their leaves in winter. Some can be grown both outdoors and indoors, depending on the climate.

"Variegated Japanese Stonecrop, or Sedum makinoi 'variegata,' can make the transition from indoors to outdoors," Pollard said. "It is a low creeper, 3 to 4 inches tall, that will trail nicely over the edge of a container. It has lovely bright white-edged green leaves and will survive extremely well in containers, even those without drainage. Just be sure to turn the container on its side to remove any excess moisture after watering."

Sedum lineare 'variegatum' is another favorite. This plant from east Asia is also drought- and heat-tolerant. It is upright, about 4 to 6 inches tall, and the narrow leaves have a contrasting white edge.

There are many other succulents available. They come in shades of blue, orange, red, and green, providing lovely color contrasts, and some are variegated. They are easy to take care of indoors.

"The greenhouse in winter is always a welcome site," Pollard said. "Whether you choose one of these, or something else catches your fancy, succulents are great. Then, when summer comes, they readily move to the patio."

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