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Succulents are a great choice for home or office indoor spaces, as well as for outdoor gardens in at least moderately arid climates. They’re low maintenance and exotically beautiful—and there are literally thousands of different varieties to choose from. But how do you choose the succulent that’s best for you?
It’s good, of course, to choose a plant that simply “speaks to you”—to which you feel intuitively drawn. The shape, size, colour and overall vitality of a specific succulent may make it uniquely appealing. But there may be other factors to consider when making your choice.
For instance: Do you want a succulent that flowers? Or one that will do well in a shaded environment? Are you looking for a plant that can survive a cold winter? Or one that is child and pet-friendly? Here we’ll offer guidance that will help you choose a succulent that works well with your particular circumstances.
Succulents kept indoors can thrive in virtually any part of the world. Planting them outdoors requires a bit more attention to the climatic requirements of a particular species. That said, here are some succulents that tend to do well in Australian homes and gardens:
Though a majority of succulents are native to very sunny desert-like climates, there are some varieties that don’t require a lot of sunlight and can actually thrive in full or partial shade. Some examples of succulents that often do well in lower light or shaded environments include:
Helpful hint: Use a desk grow-light. If you’re wishing to keep a succulent at your home or office desk, in a space that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, there are two ways to make this work. The first is to choose a variety (as listed above) that doesn’t require a lot of sunlight. The second solution is to purchase a grow-light, which can provide the plant with enough ultraviolet light to thrive in even the darkest offices or cubicles.
If you’re buying a succulent as an indoor plant, then it doesn’t really matter how cold your winters are (assuming, of course, that you have indoor heating). But what if you’re creating an outdoor garden, and would like to include some succulents? Does this work only in warm desert environments?
Actually, there are a handful of succulents that can survive cold winter months. Some varieties of cacti have this trait: prickly pear, for instance, can weather snowfall. And Yucca plants also can tolerate temperate climates. Other succulents whose high-mountain origins and/or metabolic processes allow them to survive winters include: Sempervivum (hens and chickens), Jovibarba (rollers), Sedum (stonecrop), Orostachys and Rosularia.
It’s best, of course, to check in with your local garden centre expert about which available succulent varieties will be most hardy through the winter.
A majority of succulent varieties feature leaves and stems with uniquely beautiful shapes and colours. But what about flowers? Many succulents produce blooms—but typically not on a regular basis. While large numbers of plants and trees flower every spring or summer, the same is not true for succulents. Regular or frequent flowering is the exception rather than the rule.
And even when succulents do bloom, it’s sometimes only for a very short time. The Peruvian Apple Cactus, for instance, blooms (at most) once a year—but the flowers remain for only twenty-four hours. By the very next day, they’ve already wilted.
While blossoming succulents may be relatively rare, there are some that will wow you with their longer-lasting flowers:
Among succulents with medicinal qualities, it’s Aloe vera whose status is legendary. Aloe vera juice can be used to heal a variety of burns: sunburn, kitchen burns, etc. It’s also widely used to nourish the skin: a common ingredient in lotions and face creams. And Aloe vera latex—the sticky yellow substance between the leaf-skin and inner sap/juice—is used as a remedy for various digestive ailments.
Learn more: The Healing Benefits of the Aloe Vera Plant
For purifying the air, the Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) is a fantastic choice. This well-known and beautiful succulent is able to powerfully draw a wide range of toxic substances (e.g. formaldehyde, trichloroethylene) out of the air. It also emits oxygen into the air throughout nighttime as well as daytime hours—making it doubly beneficial.
Learn more: The Healing Qualities of Houseplants
While most succulents are not poisonous, many do have pointed leaves that can be quite sharp; and cacti have spikes or thorns. So it’s best to keep such plants out of the reach of young children or pets who could potentially be harmed by them.
Also, some people have allergies to plants. And succulents in the Euphorbia family in particular—e.g. the Pencil Plant—produce a latex-like sap that can cause irritation or an allergic reaction (typically a skin rash) in people who are sensitive to it. Avoiding such plants, or making sure to wear gloves when you handle them, is the common-sense approach in such a case.
As we’ve seen, there are succulent varieties perfect for pretty much any environment, indoors or out. There are varieties that produce beautiful flowers, varieties that do well in the cold or with minimal light. There are even some varieties that have proven health benefits. All that remains now is for you to tune into which varieties will harmonize best with your unique circumstances. Have fun!
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