There’s something incredibly relaxing and therapeutic about tending to plants; stepping back from oneself and focusing on setting them up to thrive. Almost refreshing, like a hot shower on a frosty weekend morning. It’s an activity that truly forces one to be present in-the-moment.
I recently moved, so things have been a bit hectic around the apartment until this weekend, and my plants hadn't gotten the tending they needed until today. I needed to plant some succulents I purchased at a farmer's market a few weeks ago, as well as some larger succulents I got earlier this week, and move some older plants into larger pots. My poor aloe had become root-bound, which caused it's leaves to sag.
Sadly, I ran out of soil so I didn't get to do as much rearranging as I would have liked for today, but I did take care of my babies that needed it most. The highlight of today's gardening session is my succulent arrangement, which I'm excited to have as a centerpiece in my living room.
I seem to know a lot of black-thumbs who love plants, so I wanted to document my simple process for creating an arrangement to help others get their best chance at a thriving plant. With succulents and cacti, soil drainage is crucial to overall health! Almost every problem I've faced with my leafy friends has been related to poor soil drainage, which can cause issues such as root rot, mold, or even algae growth. If your succs start becoming lighter in color or the leaves start to soften, it's likely you're over-watering or the soil is staying too moist due to poor drainage. They don't like keeping their feet wet, and would be better off under-watered more than over.
If you're using a vessel without a hole in the bottom, I find starting with a layer of pebbles to be absolutely necessary. I don't care how deep the pot is, eventually there will be moisture issues otherwise. Even if there is a hole in the pot, a layer of rocks can help with drainage.
The second component for proper drainage is using a soil formulated specifically for cacti and succulents. These formulas often have pumice added to more quickly absorb excess water in the dirt, keeping it from growing mold. Regular garden soil from the store is usable, but you multiply your chances of overwatering and in turn, root issues down the road. Regular dirt from your backyard will likely not sustain a succulent, and will likely result in an untimely death.
Lastly, if you want optimal drainage, use a terra cotta planter. It's not absolutely necessary, but if you have bad luck with plants, using terra cotta pots is a good starting place. Terra cotta is porous, so it absorbs excess water into its walls and will eventually evaporate. Non-porous containers, like glass, don't absorb water, so it takes more time for excess water to evaporate from the soil.
When I make arrangements, I like to only have one or two large succulents, with some smaller crawling succulent starts to compliment them. This way, I can create a piece with lots of room to grow. The large succulents are relatively consistent, while the crawling ones continue to reach, grow, and change. Just like a haircut, it's something you grow into, but is pleasing at all stages.
You want the base of your plants to be at, or slightly below, the rim of your pot. You can use the container it's currently in as a way to measure how much soil to start off with.
Squish the plastic container to make it easier for the plant to slide out. After you get the plant out, gently loosen the root ball. I tend to just lightly squish the clump like a stress ball, which will cause some soil to drop from the roots and the form will become less structured. This step allows for your plant to more easily adapt to the new environment.
Place the plant in your container, and begin to fill around the bottom roots. While filling, keep the relationship between the base of your plants and the rim of the pot in mind, you don't want them to be too low. Be sure to leave room for the other plants you'll be adding! Note: don't pack the dirt too tightly when freshly replanting, it interferes with water absorption.
For a finishing touch, I add a light layer of the same pebbles I used under the soil. Pretty pebble sandwich. This top layer also helps keep the plants dry, and helps the piece look less scarce until the cuttings start putting out pups. I'm excited to see what this turns into, as it has a variety of species, including some that flower (one should very soon!).