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The speed with which a succulent grows is a product of plant variety, soil quality, watering, nutrition availability, lighting, and root health.
Succulents grow faster in their growing season, whether winter or summer, depending on the plant variety’s dormancy season. Soil should provide limited moisture, nutrient availability, and aeration. Other factors affecting growth speed are adequate lighting and proper watering.
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Working With Nature
Succulents grown indoors don’t go into proper dormancy unless consciously catered for. Dormancy in nature is a product of fluctuations in light levels, water, and nutrient availability, and light levels.
For instance, succulents native to the Western Cape province in South Africa, such as the aloe and ceraria, get winter rain and are summer dormant when temperatures are high.
Dormancy is an organism’s life cycle period when growth, development, and (in animals) physical activity are temporarily stopped. This minimizes metabolic activity and therefore helps an organism to conserve energy.
Dormancy works as a circadian marker for future growth and reproduction. Allow plants to go dormant by reducing fertilizer and watering events, lowering light availability (winter dormancy), or increasing temperatures (summer dormancy).
The plant that emerges from dormancy has the strength and resilience for faster, healthier growth, much like you need an occasional holiday.
Succulents that are Naturally Summer Dormant
Below is a table of 36 succulent species that are summer dormant.
Our general expectation is that plants thrive in spring and summer and start going into dormancy in the fall. Knowing which succulents are summer dormant helps us not expect what’s unnatural for them – fast growth in summer.
Still, humans can dominate some of nature (at their peril), causing plants that are generally dormant in summer to grow by manipulating growth factors.
Some animals and insects have the advantage of mobility and migrate to avoid needing to cope with changing conditions. For instance, some birds, fish, and butterflies migrate each changing season, moving to better climates to breed and feed.
Your succulent doesn’t have the luxury of mobility, so it has adapted to cope with less-than-favorable conditions by slowing its metabolism and lowering its needs.
Elements that HelpSucculents Grow Quickly
As mentioned above, there are essentially five elements that can help succulents flourish:
- Healthy soil
- Healthy roots
- Adequate light
- Nutrient availability
- Required water
Though all five form part of an interdependent ecosystem, let’s check them out individually.
Healthy soil offers a favorable environment for the growth of plant roots. An excellent growing environment includes access to nutrients, air, moisture, and symbiotic connections with microbes.
The essential aspects of soil health include:
- Nutrient management – an ability to store and release crucial plant nutrients
- The most undervalued attribute – a hospitable environment for soil microorganisms
- Plant requirements for acidic or alkaline soil (pH requirements)
- Plant anchorage – ensuring the media isn’t so light that the plant cannot remain reasonably erect as it grows.
Provided water should move through the soil quickly and flow to the bottom of the pot, where it may build up before draining through drainage holes. The amount of water retained in the ground is the weight difference between the added and drained amounts.
Your succulent needs regular repotting, which should be at the start of its growing season: spring for summer growers and autumn for winter growers.
Succulents require soil that offers good drainage in pots that support that function. Proper drainage prevents root rotting as well as other bacterial and fungal problems. Root-bound succulents will become stunted or develop chlorosis. Repotting also refreshes nutrient availability.
Optimal Succulent Soil Mix
Potting soils should be a mix of organic matter of differing densities and inert materials. Organic matter boosts water retention and nutrient availability, while inorganic materials affect drainage rates and aeration.
Organic matter shouldn’t be more than half (50%) of the total succulent potting mix, depending on which organic materials you choose, I would tend to a 40/60 split with succulents.
Organic materials that provide aeration are hardwood compost and different barks. Nutrition retention can be boosted with vermicompost or cured compost.
The benefit of organic matter is its cation exchange capacity, an ability to attract positively charged ions, and this helps ensure nutrients and moisture are available for longer.
The disadvantage of organic matter is that it breaks down over time, causing the soil to compact as it decays. This is less of a problem in garden beds as microorganisms help create aggregates filled with micropores that enable manage water and nutrient availability without compaction.
Organic components of a healthy potting soil:
- Coconut Coir
- Hardwood compost
- Cured Compost
- Tree bark pieces
Materials such as perlite, pumice, vermiculite, expanded shale, or LECA should constitute at least half of your mix. These materials are stable for extended periods and ensure gaps that allow better drainage and aeration because they don’t collapse.
These materials also have water and air-holding capacities. Below is a table with different inert materials and their respective air and water-holding powers:
|Material||Saturated Porosity (SP) – Air||Field Capacity (FC) – Water|
|Calcine Clay (Turface or Haydite)||28%||40 – 60%|
Simplify Gardening Succulent Mix Recipe
The mix I most commonly use is:
- I start with a combination of coconut coir and vermicompost. This ensures adequate nutrition, good drainage, slow decomposition, and plant anchorage. This will form 40% of the final volume (not weight). That’s one part of the vermicompost to three parts of coconut coir. If you have difficulty getting vermicompost, kelp is a good alternative.
- The remaining 60% is a mixture of Turface, expanded shale, and pumice – in equal parts. You can mix and match these and others (pine bark included) to find what works best in your environment. The aim is to get air into the soil.
- I don’t use sand as it can compact when mixed with coconut coir of peat moss.
Root health is easily ensured:
- Don’t overwater
- Ensure your soil is aerated, i.e., offers a balance between organic matter and inorganic materials.
- Protect the soil from invading insects that spread diseases, like fungus gnats
That’s it. Get that right, and your succulent will have the needed basis to thrive. It all starts with your potting mix and some essential plant management.
Overwatering eliminates any available air regardless of the soil’s initial air-trapping capacity (saturation porosity). Thorough watering followed by complete draining is required for sustained saturation porosity.
Some water (field capacity) is left over after a watering and draining cycle. At the saturation point, the air is still available to the plant roots (saturation porosity).
It would be best if you allowed soils to dry before rewatering. The most significant cause of death for potted plants is overwatering.
Water should only be used when essential. Use the following methods to choose when to water:
- Touch the soil: The most accurate test for soil moisture is to feel how dry the potting soil feels. If the mixture is dry at your fingertip after inserting your finger up to the second digit, it needs water. Check at least to a depth of a third of the pot.
- Tap the pot: When potting mix in a clay pot starts to dry up, it shrinks away from the pot’s sides. Use a stick or your knuckles to tap the pot’s side. Water is required if the sound is hollow; if the sound is dull, the soil is moist.
- Estimate weight: It’s easy to see a weight reduction as potting mixtures dry up.
Water deeply when the soil is dry. Fill the pot, ensuring the entire contents are saturated before draining it completely. This process ensures that most of the roots in the bottom two-thirds of the pot receive enough water while removing accumulated salts.
Don’t let the pot sit in the accumulated water; empty the tray after a couple of minutes (not hours).
Succulents have a unique mechanism known as CAM (Crassulacean Acid Metabolism), which allows them to hold their breath during the heat of the day to avoid losing moisture. Direct sun is no threat to a plant so well adapted to it.
Indoor light is weak compared to outdoor light. In summer, we usually have an illuminance of around 100,000 lux, dropping to about 20,000 lux on overcast days.
In a home with a south-facing window with 10,000 lux of light on the windowsill, we only have about 2,000 lux directly behind the window in autumn and winter.
On such days, we only get about 500 lux if we’re a yard away from the window. At three yards, the light can drop to 100 lux.
Artificial lights are an option, and a wide variety offers the full spectrum of select light spectrums. Most are remotely adjustable, on a timer, and can give as much (or little) light as your succulent needs to thrive.
Succulents are native to mineral soils with a pH ranging between 5.6 to 9.0 and vary in nutritional content. Plant macronutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, calcium and magnesium, and ample availability of these nutrients will boost growth.
A diluted monthly feed of a balanced fertilizer should provide your plant with the following essential nutrients – most of which will be available in kelp or vermicompost.
|Nutrient Category||Element||Uptake As||Availability||Function|
|Primary||Carbon||CO2 and HCO3– (Carbon dioxide and bicarbonate)||Uptake from air and water||Plant Structure|
|Oxygen||H2O (Water)||Uptake from air and water||Energy production, plant structure, respiration|
|Hydrogen||H2O (Water)||Uptake from water||Synthesis of sugars, pH regulation|
|Nitrogen*||NO3– (gas) and NA4+ (ammonium – a product of ammonia and water)||Air and soil – deficiency related to low organic matter||Protein, chlorophyll, cell formation|
|Phosphorus||H2PO4-; HPO42-; PO43- (dihydrogen phosphate and phosphate)||Roots||Fat, carbohydrates, and protein metabolism, cell formation|
|Potassium||K+ (Potassium Ion)||Roots||Enzyme activity and water regulation|
|Secondary||Calcium||Ca2+ (Calcium Ion)||Roots||Enzyme activity, root permeability|
|Magnesium||Mg2+ (Magnesium Ion)||Roots||Motabolism, fat formation, chlorophyl|
|Sulfur||SO42- ( Sulfate Cation)||Roots||Protein, lipids, and vitamin formation|
|Micro; Trace||Iron||Fe2+ Fe3+ (Iron Ions)||Roots||Enzyme development & Activity|
|Zinc||Zn2+ (Zinc Ions)||Roots||Enzyme activity|
|Chlorine||Cl– (Chlorine Cations)||Roots||Enzyme activity, cell development, chlorophyll|
|Manganese||Mn2+ (Manganese Ion)||Roots||Enzyme activity and pigmentation|
|Boron||H3BO3; BO33-; B4O7 (Boric acid, borate cation, tetraborate)||Roots||Enzyme activity|
|Copper||Cu2+ (copper ion)||Roots||Enzyme activity|
|Molybdenum||HMoO4-; MoO42- (molybdenum cations)||Roots||Enzyme activity and N fixation in legumes|
For the most part, keeping your succulent happy is easy. Challenges are generally in root health and adequate lighting, but these can be addressed if you follow the advice given in this article.
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