Succulents, also known as water storage plants, originate from hot, dry climates so, as you can imagine, they are not fans of the British weather and will more than likely perish if left outside all year round. To keep them healthy and growing, I keep my succulent collection (yes, I seem to have a few) in an area of my home that’s neither inside nor outside. It has a clear roof so they get plenty of sunlight but the temperature doesn’t get drastically low in the winter and never gets direct sunlight on it so it’s keeps warm but not overly hot in the summer.
How to Grow Succulents Indoors
Succulents actually go dormant in the winter and need a period of cold in order to produce their stunning blooms during the summer months, so try placing them in a cooler part of the house through the winter, still allowing them access to a bit of light. Be careful not to give them sunburn if their window allows them to get too hot, an East facing window might be better than a South facing one if you can. If you see your plants growing too leggy, it means they don’t have enough light, you can always snip off the longer bits and make an entirely new plant but it’s entirely down to your preference, I quite like some of the triffid like stems that appear. This chap looks like he’s going for a prickly hug…
Watering succulents is a bit of an art. Don’t keep the soil moist, as a rule of thumb, soak the soil then let it dry out completely before watering again, this way you’re mimicking their natural habitat. During winter when they are not growing, they need less water so test the soil with your finger to check it’s dry before watering. If you have just repotted a succulent, use soil that has been acclimatised to the area your plant will live and do not water it for two weeks, more if there has been any root damage.
Like any plant, succulents will shed their leaves occasionally. If the lower leaves look shrivelled, there’s nothing to worry about but if the upper leaves look like they’re dying, you may have a problem. Check you’re not over or under watering them.
As succulents don’t thrive in constantly moist settings, terrariums and glass jars are not the ideal habitat but if you love a terrarium like I do, keep an eye on that soil. You probably won’t have to water it as much as your other succulents and you may see some condensation on the inside which can keep things moist. Free draining soil with a little gravel works well in both terrariums and pots but make sure your pots have a draining hole at the bottom to avoid the soil getting too moist.
Medicinal Properties of Succulents
As well as being fabulous plants for dramatic decor with their diverse range of shapes, sizes and colours, some succulents have special medicinal powers. Here are a few examples, some are well known, others perhaps less so.
- Aloe Vera
The good stuff, the Aloe Vera gel is found right under the skin of the leaf and is widely used because of it’s anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to help treat burns, cuts, bites and stings, acne and general skin healing being high in vitamins C and E. The juice has antibacterial, anti fungal and antiviral ingredients and can also be used in the treatment of stomach problems such as IBS.
The work ‘leek’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘leac’ which means ‘plant’, so this literally means ‘houseplant’. Way back this little plant was thought to be a love charm in Italy and was in regular use to try and woo the object of one’s affections. This has fallen out of fashion somewhat but who knows, with the current rising trend of succulents, perhaps its magical properties will be employed again! Much like Aloe Vera, its medicinal properties are anti-inflammatory in nature and has been used to treat burns and ulcers or even as a purgative if you have a hefty dose. Modern research has found it useful in the treatment of ringworm and impetigo.
3. Sea Asparagus
You might know this as Samphire or Sea Pickle, once known as ‘poor man’s asparagus’ it is enjoying a period in the limelight as a trendy vegetable in it’s own right in recent years. It’s been around a while, Shakespeare mentioned it in King Lear when describing the dangers of collecting it on the cliffs;
- ‘Half-way down Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!’ (Act IV, Scene VI)
As with all succulents it prefers a free draining soil and likes to be watered with a little saline solution, use one teaspoon of sea salt to a pint of water as a guide. Some medicinal uses for this little miracle plant include obesity, digestion, relieving flatulence, as a diuretic and is even thought to help kidney complaints.
4. Cobweb Houseleek
The cobweb houseleek is a low growing, evergreen native to the mountain of Europe and the Pyrenees. Juice extracted from the fresh leaves harvested during the summer can be applied to wounds and boils to stop bleeding, it is said that a toothache can be relieved by chewing on a leaf and a drop or two of warmed juice can help get rid of an ear infection. Leaves made into a pulp can make a cooling poultice for sunburned skin. Legend has it that this little wonder, when grown on your roof can protect against lightning strikes and witchcraft. All that is such a little plant!
If you would like to know more about growing succulents, pay a visit to the British Cactus and Succulent Society’s webpage where you can find a wealth of information but most of all, just enjoy these amazing little plants.