Saturday, October 3, 2009

Succulent offerings

Rainy day at last in parched old Sydney, and so there's not a lot more for gardeners to do other than watch the gentle rain fall and greedily wish for a bit more rain (please, pretty please, Huey, open up those heavens). Even my succulents are enjoying the rain, and so I thought a quick (for me) five-photo lap of my succulent patch is a nice way to end this quiet afternoon, much of which has been spent in the kitchen, my favourite place of refuge on rainy days.

Without a doubt the star of the potted succulent collection is this person, Crassula 'Campfire'. Yes, I've featured it recently on my blog, and that's because every time I go out into my garden I can't help but popping over to visit it and say hello. And as I often have my camera with me, it's like a much photographed favourite child. Can't take too many snaps! The red tips are the seasonal colour. By mid summer it's just a pleasant lime green.

This is the new kid on the block. I suspect it's also a Crassula but I'm still trying to find out what it is. I bought it at our local Marrickville Street Fair recently, for $3, and it's still in its boring little black plastic pot, but I'll repot it in the next day or so. I prefer terracotta pots for succulents. As terracotta is a natural substance it 'breathes', just like a cotton shirt does, and so it's less sweaty inside than plastic pots, which are just like icky sticky nylon shirts. And I don't think succulents want their roots drenched in humidity. Well, that's my theory at least! I'm a terracotta pot boy at all times, even if the pots do dry out more rapidly.

This chap is thriving at the moment. It's a Faucaria, and I suspect its species name is tuberculosum, but I can't quite find any photos that are exactly like mine. However, the pix I've Googled of tuberculosum come closest, so I'm sticking with that for the meantime. Interestingly, I long ago christened this plant Jaws, and it turns out that the name Faucaria is a latinised version of the word for jaws, and the common name for this plant is Tiger Jaws. So Jaws it is. At first glance it looks like a carnivorous plant, but it's not. It's as ferocious as a kitten.

Finally, here's a little story of different foliage colours in the same plant. Both the plant pictured above and the one below are Senecio jacobensii. In fact one plant has been grown from cuttings taken from the other. But that was a few years ago and now I'm not sure which is the parent and which is the child. The one above has pale pinky-purple tips and light green leaves...

And the other one has much darker pinky-purple tips and seems a bit healthier all-round. The one I'll call 'pale guy' gets more sun, while 'darker guy' gets a bit less sun. Both are in same pots, same potting mix. Maybe the difference in the sunshine explains it all, but I have a sneaking suspicion pale guy isn't well. I'm keeping an eye on this pair...

Once the rain lifts enough for me to get outside I'll repot the new guy and maybe treat all of Succulent City to a light feed. Spring is a time when they put on a bit of growth and store up energy for surviving the summer. Their other growth spurt seems to be autumn, after summer is over. And that's one thing I think I've learned about succulents.

While they're famous for their hardiness in hot, dry weather, they don't seem to do their growing then. They're just in survival mode in summer, living off their stored-up reserves of moisture and energy. Many of them come from climate zones with dry summers and wet winters, and so they use winter and spring to get back in shape, then they survive summer's heat without trying anything fancy, then bounce back with a bit of growth in autumn, once the rains arrive. Or at least that's how I understand it.

So, if I feed them lightly now, with a specialised succulent liquid food which is low in nitrogen, that's about all the care and attention they'll need from me until next autumn, when I'll feed them again. Our fairly plentiful natural summer rainfall here is more than enough for their needs, and in fact sometimes it's too much and a few don't make it through the humidity of our summers. But right now they're enjoying themselves, and I'm enjoying watching them do so.


Urban Green said...

Great collection of succulents and a very informative post.

Julie said...

OMG! What a colorful group! I have two that change color for me...Sedum Rubrotinctum, and one called Mexican Love Plant....turns pink in the sun. They are so neat...but yours are spectacular!!!

Someone on one of the blogs I follow bought the same plant as in your first pic...seems they live in Portland (if I remember correctly)... they got an ID on it...I will have to search around and see if I can locate it for you...

robble said...

I have to agree that I love terracotta, but am already battling with the water loss factor. Have been spraying my terracotta pots with Potseal which seems to be working well. Love the pix!

Jamie said...


Those pot-sealer things seem to work well as moisture-retainers, from what I hear, but I don't use them, because they seem to defeat the point of using terracotta. Terracotta is meant to leak and breathe water through its pores, and so you're meant to water plants in terracotta pots more often. Yes, they're more work and they're not all that waterwise, but they are ultimately better for plant health because they're a more natural substance. And yes, I think it looks much better, especially when it has a couple of years of ageing to add a bit of character.

For plants from dry-summer climates, such as succulents and many Mediterranean-climate plants, I use terracotta to help them survive our worst month of the year - February. The combination of its fungus-inducing humidity and drenching rain can be deadly at that time of year.

So, I happily take on the workload of a bit of extra watering during the rest of the year, just because terracotta is a life-saver when you need it.