Caring for your Succulents: The Basics

Written tutorial based on the DittoDabble Facebook LIVE from 02/13/2020

When someone asks me how to take care of their succulent(s), my response is always:

“It depends.”

Such a vague and unhelpful response, but also a very accurate one.  There are so many varieties of succulents that it is so difficult to provide any other response.  In order for your succulents to thrive, we have to look at a few key factors:

1.) Soil

2.) Pots

3.) Watering

Let’s start with soil

There are three variables that we have to consider when it comes to a well rounded growing medium for a succulent:

1.)  moisture retention

2.)  aeration 

3.)  nourishment

In terms of moisture retention, we want a medium that will have sufficient moisture (for a certain length of time) for nutrients to be dissolved and then absorbed by the roots. 86347450_2544476542498826_4228691763029606400_n  Then when it comes to aeration, the best kind of medium allows water to drain sufficiently so as to avoid root decay.  And for this reason, staying away from soil mixes that contain a high content of peat moss is ideal; peat moss is a very effective retainer of moisture, too effective for a succulent growing mediumDepending on the succulent species, a soil mix may or may not need to contain high levels of nutrients.  For instance, jungle species like the rhipsalis (pencil cactus) require richer soil when compared to desert, alpine, or shoreline species.

85175120_201226364579896_2572266569388261376_n
Pencil Cactus

When asked, “how often should I fertilize my succulent?”, I usually respond with “once every quarter,”  however, if you repot your succulent every six months or so, there is really no need to fertilize.  Succulents grow so slowly that most well-balanced soils provide adequate nutrients and do not require additional fertilizer.  

There are exceptions to almost everything, and in the case of fertilizing succulents, it is the Jungle varieties that thrive with a misting fertilizer once every two to three weeks during their growing period.  Please note that it is important to avoid fertilizing any succulent while they are in their dormant phase.  

Now with all of this information, you can choose to make your own potting soil, OR just buy a succulent/cacti potting soil and liquid fertilizer at you nearest garden centre.  I will do a DIY succulent soil/potting Facebook LIVE in the near future.

Types of Pots

The material that your pots are made of will also alter the caring practices for your plants.

The main types of pots include those made from:

  • Plastic: does not breath/absorb moisture
  • Glazed porcelain/ceramic: does not breath/absorb moisture
  • Concrete: somewhat breathable and absorbs moisture
  • Clay: breaths and absorbs moisture
  • Cork: breaths and absorbs moisture
  • Wood: breaths and absorbs moisture
47495106_2207333972855421_8783607947415519232_n
cement pot

When we have plants potted in breathable containers like clay, cork, wood and cement, you may have to water a bit more frequently.  That being said, if moisture is being leached from the soil too quickly, a good way to increase moisture retention would be to add a top dressing, like pebbles. Top dressings are also a great way to reduce soil pests as well.  

If you do have a top dressing, be cautious when it comes to over watering.  A good way to test your soil’s moisture level when there is a top dressing is to use a toothpick or a skewer, poke it into the soil, leave it for about one minute, and if it comes out damp or moist, avoid watering, if it comes out dry then it’s watering time.

Watering your succulents

  Now, how often should you water your succulents?  That’s the million dollar question!  And it comes with quite a loaded answer.  As always, when it comes to watering, it depends on the type of succulent.  

A good way to determine a watering schedule for your succulent is to look at your plant’s:

  • Stems
  • Leaves 
  • Roots  
86264387_218349625989044_2600259693049806848_n
Jade Bush

The texture and size of a succulent’s stems indicates its ability to store water.   If a stem is waxy and thick, it has a greater capacity to retain water. A mature Jade bush can retain large amounts of water within its thick, waxy stems, enabling it to survive long periods between feedings.

The characteristics of a plant’s petals are also indicative of watering frequency.   The more supple and waxy the petals, the greater the succulent’s ability is to store water and reduce transpiration.  Some fuzzy succulents, like the Kalanchoe Tomentosa, have tiny hairlike fibres that help to reduce transpiration, allowing it to go longer periods without water.

86349125_2747488668669189_5788360341448556544_n
Kalancloe Tomentosa

We can also look at a plant’s root system.  Large and supple roots, like Haworthia varieties, have a greater capacity to store water compared to their thin hairlike counterparts, as seen in the Kiwi Aeonium.  

With this information, we can look at our succulent species and determine that something like an Aeonium, which has thinner petals, stems and roots, would need more frequent watering when compared to something like a Haworthia, which has supple, waxy petals, thick roots and an ample stem.

86355393_755274968329170_2741407750213861376_n
Haworthia vs. Kiwi Aeonium Roots

It’s not only the physical attributions of succulents that determine watering schedules,
but also the seasons.  There is definitely a watering shift when we go from summer to winter in the Northern hemisphere.  

During the summer, the days are longer and the sun is hotter, this equates to an increase in transpiration (when water is evaporated from aerial parts of a plant – stems, leaves and flowers) and evaporation.  During the summer, your succulents may require more water and shorter intervals between watering.  As winter approaches, the days become colder and shorter and a succulent’s watering needs shift.  The colder weather causes a decrease in transpiration and evaporation, which means less water and longer intervals between watering.  Whatever the season, you can always use the toothpick test to determine whether or not your succulent needs watering.

There are many methods, when it comes to watering your succulents.  Your can spray, drip, pour or plunge.  

A spray bottle is great when it comes to succulents in planters with narrow openings.  

85179654_211973186607239_3065957752800018432_nDripping or slowly pouring water into your planter is also a good way to water succulents with narrow pot openings. It is ideal to use the tap with these two watering practices.  Also, be sure to allow any excess water to drain.  If your planter does not have drainage holes, be cautious when using this method.

Plunging is another watering technique that is popular with experienced succulent owners who are accustomed to caring for succulents.  When plunging, the pot is immersed in water until air bubbles stop rising to the surface. Be sure that your pot has drainage holes if you are practicing this method of watering and allow it to sit in the sink, on a wire rack, or on a rag until all excess water has drained from the soil.  If your pot is draining on a saucer, remove the water from the saucer when draining ceases.  Succulents do not like to sit in puddles. 

The general rule of thumb is: water your succulents thoroughly and let the soil dry out before watering again. 

Depending on the species of succulent and the season, a watering interval could range anywhere from two to four weeks if the soil is properly saturated during feeding.  

What kind of water should be used to water your plants?

Tap water is perhaps the most popular water used to feed house plants.  However, because tap water is chemically treated, those chemicals tend to become concentrated in the soil and can potentially burn the delicate feeder roots.  Chemical build up can be identified by the white ring that may line the top interior part of your planter.  Filtered water, well water, rain water, and spring water are all great options when it comes to feeding your plants.  

Please be cautious if you have a water softener.  Do not use tap water for your plants if you have a water softener installed; the salts in the softener will burn the root systems and weaken the plant as a whole.  The browning of the tips of your plant’s petals or leaves is a sign of salt burn. To remove the salt that may be concentrated in your plant’s soil, simply pour filtered or spring water through the soil two to three times – this will help to leach out and drain the salts, preventing further harm.  You can also repot your succulents in new soil to ensure the wellbeing of your plants. 80716171_2478832479038901_8591913536836337664_n

Not all of us are born with green thumbs, but when we learn and grow from our succulent adventures (or misadventures) we bring ourselves that much closer to nature!

Happy Growing!

Written by: Daniela De Francesca

 

KIDS Crater Experiment!

Written by: Daniela De Francesca

Kids just want to have fun!

35546614_10155340400702274_3924870840277008384_n    Teaching kids can be a challenge!  As a home schooling mommy, it’s hard to keep my kids engaged and inspired, especially when their learning needs and capacities are so divergent! The one thing that bridges the gap are hands-on experiments! Many, if not most, children are ‘hands-on’ learners and must experience first hand in order to effectively absorb any given information.  Integrating a wide range of experiments can transform a child’s ability to focus and enjoy a topic, which may otherwise be mundane.  Experimenting with children also encourages them to ask questions beyond the subject at hand, which, physiologically speaking, fires up a child’s brain and helps them to create more neural connections.  These neural connection lay the foundation for future abstract learning.

  Making a Crater

This kids crater experiment is easy peasy, lemon squeezy!  You will need:

1.) baking dish

2.) sifter

3.) measuring cup

4.) flour

5.) cocoa powder

6.) rocks or other small objects to act as the meteors

Prepare

This is a messy one, so you may want to place a newspaper or place mat under your baking dish!

1.) Add flour to your baking dish about 2-3cm deep.

2.) Shake the dish gently in order to even out the flour.

3.) Use your sifter to sift a thin layer of cocoa powder until the flour is covered.

4.) Hold your object about one meter over the dish and release.

Have fun making craters!

 

Got Allergies?!

Pollen is in the air and seasonal allergies are the talk of the town!

19092767_1911598229095665_153712255970778681_o.jpg
Written by : Nidhi Desai, CNP

What are allergies? Simply put, Allergies are an immune response to various environmental instigators. Pollen, ragweed and grass are a few summer allergens that trigger an immune system (IS) response .

When these foreign entities access the body, the IS identifies them as a threat and, in response, begins to produce antibodies and/or releases a chemical called histamine.

An allergic response may include the following symptoms: itchy/watery eyes, nasal congestion, sinus, sneezing, hives, flushed face, headaches, and itchy throat.

FIGHT BACK (naturally)!

Allergy sufferers are hypersensitive to foreign influences and express the aforementioned symptoms, this is a good indication that the body may not be detoxifying and properly eliminating toxins.

Although allergy symptoms can be reduced with natural antihistamine supplements and other natural alternatives, these options will not get to the root of the problem. By identifying and addressing the underlying causes of the allergic reactions, one can remedy the problem long term.

Things to consider for a permanent relief:

Address and rule out any food allergies or intolerance.

A food journal is a great tool that can help keep track of potential allergens. Some foods are “cross reactive,” and work synergistic with environmental factors that trigger allergy symptoms; for instance, bananas may leave the body more vulnerable to environmental allergens such as ragweed.

Address digestive issues.

Many food categories, like dairy, can negatively impact digestion.  Eliminating digestive culprits will help to strengthen the immune system.

Liver detoxification.

Before you start any detoxification make sure that your digestion is optimal.

Improving Gut Health.

Pre and probiotic rich foods can help gut bacteria work efficiently and effectively. Some prebiotic foods to consider: chili peppers, raw dandelion greens, raw garlic. Some probiotic foods to consider: various fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, apple cider vinegar.

Foods that support the immune system and lessen allergic responses:

19466250_1916969971891824_6459991803398142323_oLeafy herbs: supports adrenal fatigue (hormone secreting glands.)

Green leafy vegetables, broccoli, berries: source of quercetin, limits the occurrence of allergy symptoms

Garlic: anti-microbial, powerful antioxidant

Ginger: improves digestive health and has anti-inflammatory properties

Horseradish, cayenne, onion: helps with nasal congestion, helps removing allergens through sneezing and sweating20374266_1935065056748982_4744481693596898307_n

Turmeric: works as a decongestant to alleviate allergic reactions

Yellow and orange vegetables: source of beta-carotene – good for the protection of the mucus membrane.

Supplements to consider:

Vitamin C: fights free-radical damage, builds up immunity, reduces histamine release

Bioflavonoids like quercetin, optimize the benefits of vitamin C
Bromelain: an enzyme found in pineapple helps fight inflammation caused by allergies

Astragulus: strengthens and restores immunity. also, it nourishes the adrenal gland increases the ability to cope with stress

Chaga: strengthens immune system

Probiotics: improves digestive health
Magnesium: may ease heavy breathing and congestion
Pollen Plus: homeopathy remedy to relive seasonal allergy symptoms.