Houseplants are funny. Sometimes they will thrive for years without the least bit of attention. Give them a little water now and then and they’re fine. Then, out of the blue, they start dying. How can they be so fussy? 

Rachel and I had a dedicated spot in our front yard where our neighbors could anonymously drop off any plant in need of care. We would nurse it back to health without questions or judgment. I referred to this as our intensive care unit. Once your plant was healthy, you could take it back home. Sometimes we wanted to keep them because we knew they would only wind up in trouble again. We enjoyed the challenge of saving whatever showed up on our front porch. It gave us the chance to learn about plants that we never thought about purchasing for ourselves.

Succulents are enjoying a renewed interest for indoor gardeners. Take a look on Pinterest and you’ll see what I mean. Succulents for sale can be found in nurseries, garden centers and grocery stores. Their trendiness is partly due to the fact that they’re so easy to grow.

What exactly is a succulent? Broadly speaking, succulents are plants that have the ability to store water in their fleshy leaves, stems or roots. More specifically, most cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. These plants are native to many different habitats from deserts, grasslands, jungles and mountains.  

Succulents have a few basic needs which must be met. Too much water is the main reason most succulents fail. The amount of water should coincide with their periods of natural growth. Most growth occurs from spring through fall. They usually won’t need watering more often than once a week. The water should run freely through drainage holes in the pot. A pot that doesn’t drain well will kill your plant.

What’s the right amount to water? If your plant looks wilted, but the soil is wet or the leaves are soft and mushy, then your succulent is overwatered. If normally shiny leaves appear dull or shriveled, your plant may need more water.

Fertilize your succulents only while they’re actively growing during the spring and summer. Once a month is plenty. Re-pot every year or two and they’ll be just fine. Use a commercial potting mix formulated specifically for succulents. 

Most succulents will need at least six hours of full sun to achieve their maximum potential. Anything less and they may survive, but they’ll never thrive. Most succulents won’t bloom without adequate sunlight. If you’ve ever seen a cactus or other succulent in full bloom, you’ll never forget how beautiful they can be.  

Of all the succulents, the aloe vera plant may be the easiest to grow. It has been traditionally grown for the wound healing and skin moisturizing properties of its leaf gel. Be patient. Aloe plants don’t bloom until they’re 4 years old.

The key to successfully growing succulents is to provide them with what they need. No green thumb required.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com