Jade Plant Close-Up

Gene Sumi, Homestead Gardens

Our own gardening guru Gene Sumi spoke to the Golden Spade Club this month about a topic you don't hear enough about in the East - the world of succulents and cacti.  He handed out a terrific guide to this plant group - Cactus and Succulent Care for Beginners by the C&S Society of San Jose (Calif), and some tips for growing them:

Tips on Growing Succulents and Cacti

  • The Jade plant, a nonhardy houseplant in Maryland, is the most popular succulent in our area.  Another great succulent houseplant is the Christmas Cactus (shown here with Gene) which can be grown much like an orchid - using regular potting soil and placed in less than full sun.  (That's because it's native to moist spots at high elevations.)
  • Most succulents and cacti require very lean soils.  That means they require (and prefer) very little supplemental feeding, and infrequently, at that. This is very important.
  • Cacti and succulents are very easy to grow. 
  • To handle cacti, Gene likes to grab them with several layers of newspaper to protect his hands.  Great tip!
  • To see these plants at their best outdoors, Gene recommends visiting the Huntington Gardens in Los Angeles.  I've visited the Huntington and second that recommendation!  Here are a couple of photos to illustrate, and click that link to see more.

Cacti at Huntington Gardens

Succulents at Huntington Gardens


Hardy Succulents for Outdoors

We can also grow some of these plants outdoors, and there are resources to help us learn how, like the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society.  These are the local experts, and they LOVE turning more people on to their favorite plant group.Hardy Succulents Book Recommendation

And I highly recommend the book Hardy Succulents by Gwen Moore Kelaidis, with photos by Saxon Holt. The book is filled with droolable photos of plants we really CAN grow outdoors.  The author has grown these babies in New York, Wisconsin and Colorado, so I believe her when she says they’ll survive the half-hearted winters of Maryland.

I LOVE this gorgeous, inspiring, info-packed book for gardening in the Age of Climate Change.  The practical advice even includes which plants are affordable in which situations and design ideas that take cost into consideration (thank you!).  It’s clear that the author actually grows these plants herself, including 200+ varieties of what she lovingly calls "semps". (The nickname alone makes me want some Sempervivums.)


Sedums - Love 'em, Got 'em

Sedums are the soil-and-exposure-tolerant species that’s already become commonplace, at least the taller ‘Autumn Joy’ and its cousins ‘Matrona’ and ‘Neon’.  Yep, got ‘em, and recommend them all the time as among the most sustainable perennials in the world for almost any situation.  I even have a big ole’ collection in pots on my deck, and they take total neglect quite happily.  But here’s what I just learned from Kelaidis – there are sedums that prefer shade.  Gotta check into that.


Ice Plants - Want 'em!

This book also explained for me why I don’t often see see ice plants grown here in the Mid-Atlantic – they balk at clay and need a rock garden-type medium to grow in, like sand and gravel.  And I found this interesting – that although they come from tropical South Africa, ice plants have retained their residual hardiness from back in the era before the continents drifted apart, when Africa was farther north.  See, I didn’t even know that South Africa is tropical, and continent-shifting always gets my attention.


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