The “Trouble” With Succulents

You may wonder why, in the middle of July, (the month I claim is the only “summer” that we have here in Connecticut), I am writing about what are mostly house plants for me and not about the glories of the garden.

Well, when you have as many house plants as I do, sometimes they need attention even in the summer. In fact, I find that they pretty much need attention year round. So this is the motto I have tried to adopt about gardening:

Do what has to be done,
When it has to be done,
The way it ought to be done,
Whether you feel like it or not.

Those last 2 lines have been a challenge the last few years because of the “unfortunate incidences,” but I still do what I can when I can.

Now, as for the succulents. I love them, particularly when they look like this.


The trouble is, after awhile, they always get leggy and scraggly and look like this.


This, of course, is the solution.


And these clippings, properly trimmed, can often be made into new plants. But that’s what had me messing with succulents on a mid-July day instead of weeding, or something else.

My Own Long-Lived House Plant

All winter long, readers of the Duluth News Tribune have been sharing stories, with photos , of their house plants and how long they had been in their families.  Some had been passed down from great-great grand parents and were almost 100 years old! Now that’s impressive!

In most cases, the longest lived house plants were exactly those that you would expect–the so-called Christmas cactuses. But some of the plants surprised me. One person had a smaller flowering amaryllis.

Several people had oxalis bulbs–what we often see being sold everywhere around St. Patrick’s Day as “shamrock” plants.

One person had a sedum One had a fern. And then there were miscellaneous others . There were a series of articles written.  You can Google it to see the articles with photos .


This is my longest lived plant. A neighbor gave it to my parents in the late 1970s and I took it shortly thereafter. It’s a rhizamatous begonia, x giganticum.


These are the flowers. It only flowers once a year for me, right about now, but it does have a long bloom time.

I have given away lots of divisions of this plant and even made myself a “spare” in case something should happen to one of them. I think they’re great–and of course they have a lot of history with them.

Crimes Against Plants


We’re all guilty of this sometime, aren’t we? By “this,” I mean neglecting a house plant a little bit too long when it really needs re-potting.

In my case, when I regularly speak and blog about house plants, I really should know better–particularly in the case of this “lucky bamboo,” (which, as we all know is really just a form of dracena, right?)

As you’ll notice by the pot to its right, and the mass of tangled roots/stones/water holding gel, this poor plant was long overdue.  I am not even sure that I transplanted it in time to save it. We shall see.


But this is the finished result. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


Use This, Not That


I get a lot of questions about watering house plants when I lecture and I have heard some heart breaking stories of wonderful pieces of furniture–& even a grand piano top–ruined by water from house plants. Yikes!

At my last lecture, someone told me that she has banned plants from the house just to avoid this sort of incident. That’s one approach,  of course,  but I do like to think that plants bring far more to the home than the watering accidents they cause.

So, what to do? Well, to the extent possible,  try to keep plants on glass.  You will save a lot of heartbreak and expensive refinishing that way. I have even had glass pieces made to cover some wood furniture so that I can use them as plant tables. It’s not perfect, but it helps a lot.

You see the saucer, above, that, I prefer.  It’s heavy plastic, with little “feet.” Why is that better? First,  the heavy plastic is less likely crack or leak.

Next, if you do water as you are supposed to,  so that water comes out the bottom of the pot, there are those indentations (the feet) that catch the water and drain it away so the plant’s roots aren’t sitting in water. That’s nice.

And because it’s less likely to crack like the older version, shown below, no water is going to spill out onto your table, windowsill or where ever.


I do still have some of these flimsy plastic ones. I use them under ceramic cache pots on rare occasion, but only on glass tables.

I use them on my sun porch on wire plant shelves. But I wouldn’t dream of using them on anything wood.

With any luck,  some of these ideas will help those of you who are worried about water damage in the house.  Because truly,  house plants,  with their air cleaning abilities,  do give back so much more than they might damage.


A Tale of Two Lavenders

Herbs are notoriously finicky in the house in the winter. It’s not their fault. There’s not enough light for them, and it’s either too dry (for some) or too wet (since many of us tend to over-water and therefore love our plants to death!)

Lavenders can take the dryness, being bred for exactly that sort of condition. Both their silvery leaves and the places they might normally grow “in the wild:” the Mediterranean with its sandy soils and salty air show that it is a tough plant that can take a lot of abuse.

So why then, does it struggle in conditions that gardeners usually give it? Good soil and abundant water? Well, that’s perhaps why–we are loving it to death–we are spoiling it too much, drowning it and probably over-feeding it too. Not good.

So what is that gardener to do? Well, short of neglecting the plant completely, because that isn’t necessarily a recipe for success either, the trick to succeeding with any plant is always the old saying “right plant, right place.” Most of us don’t live in climates anything like what lavender is used to–but we can help it along quite a bit with some easy tricks.


First of all, to get it through winter as a house plant, choose the right variety. I don’t know the names of either of these for sure, but I am guessing the one on the right is french  lavender (lavendula dentata). It’s not a hardy one for me.  I am guessing this based on the “leaf” shape.

It tends to say nice and compact in the pot indoors because it is a tropical lavender in my zone. But don’t attempt to plant it outdoors unless you are in a zone 8 climate.

The one on the left? No guesses. It was originally bought as a nice little “Christmas tree” shaped plant in December. You can see it’s very happy because it’s no longer shaped like anything but a mop. The instructions say to prune it hard to keep its shape but I do no pruning on plants in the winter. Once it gets a little more temperate–maybe mid-March–I may take the shears to it. Right now I call it “Cousin It.”

But what’s keeping both these lavenders healthy and mildew free in my house in the winter is just the bare minimum of watering and a south window. They’ll go outside for their “summer vacation,” of course, perhaps as early as April depending on what temperatures do here. After that, we’ll see how they fare–particularly “Cousin It.”

Succulent Crazy!


This is the main window where I have my cactus and succulent collection.  It faces south and is unobstructed,  winter and summer.

You can see, that like most of my windows, I try to get a lot of use out of the space. I haven’t,  as in some of the more creative posts I have seen online, put shelves on the walls of this little alcove yet. That may come next.


Another way to get creative with space is to put smaller pots in between large ones. The longer I have house plants,  the bigger they get ( naturally). But that leaves opportunities to place smaller pots in between the tallest ones. Where there’s a will….


Finally,  this is another little cactus and succulent spot, again in a south bay window this time. These plants are larger, or in mixed containers and are too big for my little alcove but still need the sunny south window. They share it with my large tropicals, with some smaller succulent plants tucked in between.