Succulent Success

Summer is a great time to begin propagating succulents as this is the time when many go through their most active phase of growth for the year.  Depending on your zone and whether they are growing indoors or outdoors, it is important not to treat all succulents in the same way.  As you can imagine there is a big difference in the environmental needs of say a Sedum planted on a living roof in Seattle and that of a potted Globe Cactus on a window sill in a New York City loft.  In either case,  when you see your beloved succulents putting off smaller “pups” it is a great time to assist in their continued growth by relieving them of the need to feed their offshoots and to allow for more space and ability to create more pups in the future.  Something to always consider is that while succulents are beloved for their drought tolerance, depending on the region of the world that they hail from, many demand a good amount of moisture at certain times so as to “plump up” and expand their cellular walls.

One of the great eases of growing succulents is that most have evolved so that the branches that break off the main stalk will eventually root on their own.  To expedite this natural process of asexual propagation, utilize a rooting hormone and growth media that is appropriate for that variety.  For instance, with cultivars such as an Echeveria or Aeonium once you have a pup with a stem of at least 2 inches, cut the stem and dip it up to three quarters of the way in #3 Hormex powder and then place it in a potted medium of perlite or vermiculite.

There is an old saying, “all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti.”  However, this does not mean that they should all be treated in the same way .  In fact, just as all succulents come from many different environments so do members of the Cactaceae family as well.  For some perspective except for Rhipsalis baccifera or mistletoe cactus, which can be found in the tropics of Africa and Sri Lanka, all cacti are indigenous to the Americas ranging from Patagonia to western Canada while all succulents can be found on essentially all but one of the seven* continents.  A hint, succulents are not one of the two flowerings plants found on Antarctica.

But just like any succulent, it is important to use a well-draining medium like a perlite with cacti.  I find when planting an Opuntia paddlesuch as Opuntia ficus-indica, the rooting process can be accelerated by cutting the paddle in half, allowing it to callus and then planting the uncut end two to three inches into a cactus-specific soil mix which is good for retaining just the right amount of moisture along with a mix of perlite and sand at three parts soil to 1 part perlite and one part sand.  For this application it is best to use liquid Hormex at 25-30 ml per gallon during the first few waterings so as to promote initial root growth.

Now when dealing with those aberrant epiphytic Epiphyllum like the Orchid cacti, unless you’re attaching them to a tree within a rainforest or perhaps a humid greenhouse, they too can be propagated and grown in a container (typically hanging) filled with a mix of good potting soil or coco coir including pumice or perlite at three parts to 1.  After making sure that the cutting has callused, plant the uncut end directly into the soil at least one to two inches deep.  Again, the same feeding schedule is used as for the Opuntia mentioned above though the trick here is to not water too much but not allow the roots to dry out.

In the coming months, please, keep a lookout for the results of our succulent trials taking place in the western-most and driest region of the Sonoran desert.  We are testing various strengths of Hormex powder on several species of succulents and measuring their increased rooting time compared to a control group of samples containing zero inputs.

* Most Europeans are taught that the world has 6 continents with North America and South America being one contiguous continent of America.

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