THE BOTANICAL ISSUE

April 24, 2016

One of the most important elements of feeling good in the home you're in is finding ways for it to speak to your own personality. And a really great way to start considering aesthetics and the use of space is to consider your favorite plant. There is a reason we are all drawn to different kinds of flora, and giving genuine thought and consideration to the characteristics of the plant or flower that speaks to you can be a great indicator of the home design you're looking to create.  

I love fresh flowers and find them to be a wonderful pick me up for different areas of the home. What I enjoy the most about them is their ability to bring in color and complement the space they're in. In other words, they are happy and that's always something to consider when you look to create the space in which you live. Color is not just about the walls and the rugs and the wood stains and wood grains. Very often, when there are plants in the room they are the first thing a guest notices coming into your home, and they have the unique capability of flattering all of the other said elements you've spent so much time coordinating! The following will take a look at the two plants I love to consistently have in my own home, plants that add a wonderful element of calm as well as color.

 

 

 One of the most colorful and diverse of the plants that do well in and around the house, succulents come in many different forms and from different areas all over the world. What all have in common is an ability to hold onto their water sources in times of dry periods, thus requiring less water than many other of your plant options. Their lush and fleshy leaves are a large part of their appeal, as well as what we'll see is quite a hardy nature and will to survive, sometimes in the toughest of circumstances. Many people know cacti as succulents, but interesting to note is that while all cacti are technically succulents, not all succulents are considered cacti. And the methods of water retention vary sometimes drastically from breed to breed.

The multitude of shapes and colors evident in the different types of succulents makes them an ideal choice to take interest in as part of the design of your home. They have personalities that are wonderful representatives of your own taste and design and the combination of their striking aesthetic with their hardiness and adaptability allows you to create a space of calm and comfort in almost any area of the home. Above, different breeds including Agave and Echeveria contrast to the playful and standout Lithop below.

There are lots of choices to make when you go to the local nursery to find your new succulent. At first you may think this is succulent heaven. And you'd be right. But what can be tricky is that, as seen below, lots of times you walk into a room to find that all of the succulents are grouped together. This may seem intuitive (why would these be separated, they're all succulents?). However, what can be deceptive here is that not all succulents need the same lighting situations to be as healthy as they can, and not all succulents that come from the store are as healthy as they could be. So how can you tell what succulent is good for you and what to take home from the nursery? Below we'll take a look at some different kinds of succulents and things to look for when you go out to start your garden! 

The very first thing to look for when you are at the garden center is does this plant look healthy. If your answer is no, try to find another plant. Succulents are known for their big, fleshy leaves. If yours are crispy, wilted, or drooping, reconsider. While yes, succulents are hardy and as we'll see often able to make remarkable comebacks from tough situations, it's not ideal to start with a plant that's seen better days. Key things to also keep in mind are that often due to the very fact that they are hardy, succulents will not be treated quite as delicately as their nursery counterparts and often left in sun that can be too bright and fry their little leaves, or conversely light that is too dim to bring out their colors.

A healthy succulent has leaves that are perky and fleshed out. Pictured above with the Crassulaceae Echeveria Setosa (or Mexican Firecracker), succulents actually look happy when they are healthy. They will point to the sun with big, chubby leaves. But not all plants are the same or will do their best in the same environment. Some need partial sun, some full. Some will tolerate moderate dips in temperature while others are much more sensitive.

The variegated Agave above enjoys full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. The Agave's all have beautiful color ranges and on occasion, spiked ends that are bold additions to your home or perhaps your outdoor living area or porch. While beautiful, Agave's can grow to be quite large, so be aware of what size pot you've got available and how much space.

Of a completely different structure and wonderful for hanging baskets is the Ceropegai Woodii Variegata, also known as "String of Hearts." While also considered a succulent, this plant has a completely different structure than the above Agave and also, importantly, loves partial shade. So it's important to not only get a good look at the overall health of your plant but also understand that for example were these two plants in the same display room for a prolonged period of time, this would influence their overall health and therefore your perception of their health as well.

A great favorite of mine is the awesome Flap Jack, also known as the Paddle Plant but officially known as Kalanchoe Luciae. These beautiful, big plants are native to South Africa and can grow to be up to three feet with gorgeous red-tipped leaves. These will need a bit of room to grow and obviously don't work so well in a hanging basket. They can, however, provide a wonderful pop of color to whatever room they are in. Worth noting - some Flap Jacks may appear wilted when you find them with in artificial or dim light, with lower hanging leaves of total green. But these guys just need to get outside and see some sun. Their leaves will turn red again and lift right up when they are happy and getting enough Vitamin D!

Sometimes when you're first starting out it can be intimidating to repot a plant and make sure that you're doing the right thing and making sure the plant is happy in its new home. But don't be intimidated or worried. Succulents are very hardy, and while I joke that some use "SALAMANDER" tactics in terms of shooting leaves off when stressed, generally speaking they are all so happy to just get some fresh dirt and room to grow. Having said that, there are some things to remember to make sure that your new plant will be healthy and happy in its new home.

When removing the plant from its original container, simply give the sides some light squeezes to loosen the dirt up. For your own new pot, it's best to seek out soil designed for good drainage and cacti species. Gently grab the plant at its base, and lift it from its old pot. With your fingers, lightly comb amongst the roots and let them hang lose. This is a great way for them to relax and know that they're going to be going to a new home with new soil.

When you have chosen your plant's new home, dig a hole in the dirt and feed in the roots. Pull dirt up around the base and apply a little bit of pressure to ensure the plant is stable. I always like to give new plants a little drink of water to help wake the roots up and let them navigate the new soil. I love adding a nice layer of moss, available at any MICHAEL's craft store. It complements the succulent's colors nicely and doesn't block water absorption.

Succulents come from environments in which there is not a lot of rain, and they are therefore structurally designed to hold onto water. Because of this, if you're able to try to get a pot that has a hole in the bottom to allow for water drainage. While all plants need water, too much water sitting at the bottom of a plant's container can cause a situation known as ROOT ROT, and that can eventually kill the plant if left alone. Should you notice your plant's leaves are wilting and losing their color, it's possible that there is just too much water in that pot. Lift the plant out and let it dry out for a few days. You won't hurt anything and chances are you are saving your plant!

But speaking of watering, I get asked a lot "How much should I water this plant?" And my honest answer is this: Once a week. I totally understand that when you purchase a succulent from the garden center many people will tell you "Every few weeks" but I feel that particularly in the summer that just doesn't provide the ideal results. A succulent is still a plant and it still likes water. Just don't flood the pot. Once a week, a nice drink of water with proper drainage can really do wonders for your plant's color and structure.

Above, Burro's Tail (Sedum Morganianum) and Graptoveria share a hanging pot by the wonderful Lisa Knebel of MUD FLAT. Her glazes are beautiful complements to any plant addition and a great favorite of mine.

Something very special about these plants is that as mentioned they have an unbelievable will to survive. They want to be part of the world and want to keep their species alive. Therefore, a very fun thing to do is to take the leaf of one of your favorite plants and grow some new plants! Propagation is a great way to keep your garden young and healthy and perhaps even get some great gifts ready for friends! There are a lot of techniques floating around regarding the best way to propagate, but I will tell you that I find simply laying leaves on a fresh bed of soil and sprinkling lightly with water once a week will get you new sprouts in no time. When you feel that your little sprouts have decent roots growing, just take those babies and give them some soil to root into and grow!

Above, left, new sprouts and roots abound while at right - a recent injury doesn't stop fresh growth!

Succulents will produce offspring right off of their own stem. I noticed these Echeveria babies above at the nursery and knew they were coming home with me! Below, a freshly planted grown baby ready to be gifted for a friend.

Perhaps the greatest sign that your plant is happy is also one of the prettiest. When a succulent is genuinely content it will flower. There are an abundance of different kinds of sprouts and they are all beautiful. You can cut these right off and put them in a vase with water on your table with their many different colors and variations. Succulents really are wonderful additions to the home and their flowers are their beautiful thank you for letting them be a part of it.

 

 

Another wonderful addition to the home is the Air Plant, also known as Tillandsia. The name covers over 500 species of this tropical plant that comes in many different forms and also colors and flowers. The plants get their name from their ability to gather nutrients as well as water from the air around them. If you look closely you'll see there's not a root to be had.

Tillandsia come in a wide variety of appearances and can add a wonderful and interesting splash of color and form to your home design. They have a classy yet bold appearance and with their minimal upkeep can be a very clean and easy-to-maintain green element in your home. Worth noting, these have a completely different care plan than succulents. Sometimes, particularly for display purposes, these plants will be purchased in conjunction with succulents but suffer because their water intake is completely different in terms of both absorption and frequency needs.

 

 

Air plants are relatively easy to take care of, they just need a little bit of observation as any plant does to figure out if a soak or a spritz is needed. There are basically three ways to hydrate your air plant: Spritzes, Dunks and Soaks. Air plants can be spritzed with a gentle bottle at least twice a week, however if there is more hydration needed a dunk could greatly help the plant as well. If you should notice the leaves beginning to turn in on themselves, soak the plant once a week for at least 1-2 hours so it can rehydrate and fill its leaves out once again. A great idea when you come home with a new air plant is to just measure its width. If that begins to shrink or change after some time, additional water absorption may be required.

Air plants also do enjoy the sun, but direct sun can be tough on them. Ideally, diffused light is beneficial and so a place not far from a window would work wonderfully. In terms of hydration I personally am a fan of soaking and I do so once a week. What you'll notice though is that honestly air plants do have different needs. You'll have some that are very hardy and do well even if you forget a soak once in a while. And then there are some that are much more needy. The best thing to do is choose the aesthetic that works for you and should you notice any changes or shifts in the plant's health, work dunks and soaks into your routine until the plant is able to rehydrate. This can also shift during the year, as winter can be much drier in many parts of the country.

Their unique appearances make air plants ideal for different terrarium layouts, and in fact they are gorgeous hanging from the ceiling of different rooms with some rocks and moss to sit amongst. When they are happy, they will also flower for you and an air plant flower is definitely worth waiting for, arriving in gorgeous and bold color combinations that add pizzazz and spark to any room.

And so when you look to design, the use of color schemes found in nature is one of the most calming as well as beautiful elements you can add to your home space. There are countless forums for both of these plants should you have any questions once you get home with your new household additions. And so happy planting, go find some great ones!

 

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