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Good Growing

Millennials & Succulents: What is all the hype behind these plump plants?


While attending Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, one of my favorite classes had nothing to do plants. It was Personal Finance 101. The professor, Dr. Ted Pilger, spent an entire semester giving out some of the best advice I've ever heard in a classroom. From selecting a retirement plan to how to buy a car. One of the most memorable quotes referred to his negotiating on car prices. He said, "When they stop calling me 'sir', I know I'm making progress."

To show our appreciation of his lectures, the horticulture students gave Dr. Pilger a pot of cactus and succulents. To which he immediately exclaimed, "Thank goodness something I don't have to water!"

If only we knew then, that succulents were going to take the garden center market by storm. This group of plants have been rising in popularity since 2007. According to a survey completed in 2017 by Garden Center Magazine, succulents accounted for 15% of garden center sales in the Midwest. That number has most certainly risen for 2019.

Succulents are everywhere! You can buy them at grocery stores, farmers' markets, and even clothing stores. These plants have become popular for multiple reasons, but primarily for the one stated by Dr. Pilger – you don't have to water succulents, at least not that often.

Succulents are a plant that has thick fleshy leaves or stems adapted to storing water. Therefore, succulent is a very broad term that can include many plants. Some of the common succulent plants you may be familiar with are hens and chicks, jade plants, aloe plants, holiday cacti, and many others.

According to Illinois Master Gardener Specialist Candice Hart, succulents thrive on neglect and dry soil. The easiest way to kill a succulent is to water it too much.

Turns out, succulents span generations. These plump and delightful outdoor or indoor plants are beloved by baby boomers and millennials alike! However, according to many industry folks, millennials are helping to drive the succulent market.

Perhaps the catalyst for succulent popularity was the Great Recession. This may seem like an odd market driver, but there is a hypothesis shared by some of those whose job is to think about the home garden market. Upon, entering or attempting to enter the job market during the recession, many millennials struggled to earn a living. They often had to move back in with their parents or with friends. Home décor can be expensive, but succulents are relatively cheap and the maintenance, as was mentioned, doesn't amount to much. Succulents were a great option for emerging young adults to turn a house, apartment, or basement room into a home.

As early adopters of social media, millennials began sharing pictures of their new houseplants online. Fortunately, succulents are very photogenic. Pinterest posts popped up on using succulents for home decorating. People started making Instagram pages solely for succulents. The succulent craze began to spread online to where it is now today with succulents in every store and home.

Good Growing Tip of the Week: If growing succulents indoors, a southern- or western-facing window is preferred. If the ideal lighting situation is not available, many succulents will grow under incandescent or fluorescent supplemental lighting.

Thank you for reading!

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Chris Enroth is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Henderson, McDonough, Knox, and Warren counties since 2012. Chris provides horticulture programming with an emphasis on the home gardener, landscape maintenance personnel, and commercial landscapers. Additional responsibilities include coordinating local county Master Gardener and Master Naturalist volunteers - providing their training, continuing education, advanced training, seasonal events, and organizing community outreach programs for horticulture and conservation assistance/education. In his spare time, Chris enjoys the outdoors, lounging in the garden among the flowers (weeds to most).