Succulents and Tropicals:
What's the difference?

 

SUCCULENTS AND TROPICALS: CHOICES, CHOICES

MANY PLANTS CAN SURVIVE AND THRIVE INDOORS. TO ANSWER THE QUESTION OF WHICH PLANTS TO SELECT FOR YOUR INDOOR SPACES, IT HELPS TO KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING.

SUCCULENTS AND CACTI

Succulents are booming in popularity for two simple reasons: they are beautiful and nearly indestructible under the right conditions. 

Technically, a succulent is any plant with thick, fleshy (succulent) water storage organs. Succulents store water in their leaves, their stems or their roots. These plants have adapted to survive arid conditions throughout the world, from Africa to the deserts of North America. This adaptive mechanism has resulted in an incredible variety of interesting leaf forms and plant shapes, including paddle leaves, tight rosettes, and bushy or trailing columns of teardrop leaves.

As a group, succulents include some of the most well-known plants, such as the aloe and many almost unknown plants. Cacti are a unique subset of the succulent group.


GENERAL RULES FOR GROWING SUCCULENTS

LIGHT:

Succulents prefer bright light. Indoors, succulents need to be in a bright, sunny location. Outdoors, they will scorch in direct sunlight so place then in a spot that receives indirect sunlight or is shaded. Watch the leaves for indications that the light level is correct. Succulents show their needs for more light by stretching and elongating their shape. Prune them and place in a sunnier location for a quick fix.

TEMPERATURE:        

Succulents are much more cold-tolerant than many people assume. As in the desert, where there is often a marked contrast between night and day, succulents thrive in colder nights, down to even 40ºF.

WATER:

Succulents should be watered generously in the summer but the potting mix should be allowed to dry out between watering. During the winter, when succulents go dormant, cut back watering to once a month to every six weeks. Overwatering and ensuing plant rot is the single most common cause of plant failure. A succulent should never be allowed to sit in water. The best type of planter for a succulent is one with a hole in the bottom for drainage.

The following are signs of under- or overwatering:

Overwatering - Overwatered succulents are soft and discolored. The leaves may be yellow or white and lose their color. A plant in this condition may be beyond repair, but you can still remove it from its pot and inspect the roots. If they are brown and rotted, cut away dead roots and repot into drier potting media, or take a cutting and propagate the parent plant.

Under-watering - Succulents prefer generous water during the growing season (spring and summer). An under-watered plant will first stop growing and then begin to shed leaves. The plant may also develop brown spots on the leaves. 

POTTING SOILS:

Succulents should be potted in a fast-draining mixture that's designed for cacti and succulents. If you don't have access to a specialized mix, consider modifying a normal potting mix with an inorganic agent like perlite to increase aeration and drainage. These plants generally have shallow roots that form a dense mat just under the soil surface.


TROPICAL PLANTS

Most of the typical houseplants sold in garden centers and grocery stores are actually tropical plants. Often they have originated in tropical or sub-tropical climates with many coming from tropical rain forests where they live under the shade of large trees. Many don’t need a high degree of sunlight and are usually easily adaptable to living inside a home. Many tropical plants do well outside during summer but run a risk of  freezing if temperatures go below 40 degrees.

Even if you have a dry home in winter (or summer), no sunroom or bay window, and days are often cloudy, you can grow tropical plants in your home -- without pain for you or the plant. The trick is to know what conditions you can provide and what your particular type of plant needs.

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Houseplants come in all sizes, colors, leaf shapes, etc. The needs for maintenance range from low to high and everything in between. Do you always forget to water? There’s a plant for you. Are you a fussy plant owner? There’s one for you. Whatever restrictions you have in your home or your life, there is a plant for you to care for and enjoy for many years.

 
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