Wednesday, August 5, 2009

July 22, 2009: Succulent Houseplants

Since back in Greek and Roman days, people have been growing plants in containers inside their homes. In the nineteenth century, only wealthy people could afford houseplants. It wasn't until the 1950's that houseplants became readily available and affordable for everyone.

An easy group to start growing are the succulents. Native of arid regions, they grow in poor soil, don't mind dry air, and don't need a lot of water. They do need sun, so put them near a window.

A succulent with practical uses is aloe. You can buy an aloe plant just about anywhere, and they grow with minimal attention. Best of all, if you cut or burn yourself, you can break off a stem and let the sap ooze onto the sore spot for instant relief.

An attractive succulent is jade plant, crassula argentea. These grow with a trunk and branches, and look like little trees. They may bloom with tiny white flowers if placed in bright sun. Picture jade plant growing in hot, dry Africa, and don't water it too much. If the leaves start to look soft, it's time to water.

Another fun succulent is commonly called "hen and chickens." The formal name is sempervivum. The original plant will send out shoots which cluster tightly around the "mother." Eventually the offshoots will themselves produce offspring, which will again cluster.

A commonly gifted succulent is kalanchoe, sold in grocery stores for holidays with big leaves and bright flowers. The flowers last for weeks and will come back again and again. The biggest leaves will eventually turn brown and fall off, but by then new green leaves will be ready to take their place.

If you want to take the trouble, kalanchoe will bloom on target for Christmas. Starting around Labor Day, move them into a closet in the evening and give them less water. When buds appear, go back to normal light and water. If this sounds like too much trouble, kalanchoe aren't very expensive, so you can always buy another one that's already blooming.

Filling your house with succulents is an easy way to green up your healthy life.

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