Some Like It Hot: Succulents 101
If it seems like cacti are everywhere right now, it’s because they are. We called the prickly trend back in January, and now it’s clear that these plants have really taken root.
When we were designing the space for our Summit, we borrowed catci and succulents of all shapes and sizes from Dallas plant shop Ruibal’s. Our director of operations, Alyssa, and Ruibal’s manager Bethany Mieth went to college together; Bethany was kind enough to hook us up with flora that gave our event a special touch.
She was also kind enough to patiently explain to us the difference between a cactus and a succulent, walking us through the farmers market location several times one afternoon last week as we pointed and asked, again and again, “Cactus or succulent?”
Though botanists say that all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti; and the words are not interchangeable. What’s good for one is not necessarily good for the other. (Which probably explains why our editorial director, Allison, can’t keep either one alive for very long.)
However, Texas weather is good for both — as long as they’re not left to roast in the sun. And that’s good news for those who adore the look.
Care and Feeding
In general, you can think of a cactus as a spiny bugger that thrives on neglect. “The more you ignore a cactus, the happier it is,” Meith says. However, what most people think of as a succulent — a more tender plant comprising many leaves — needs a bit more love.
Water a cactus about once a month, Mieth says. For a succulent, wait until the soil gets dry and then give it a good drink — which could be as much as once a week.
Both plants need good light. Filtered light is fine; they do not need direct sunlight, as many people think they do. But a room with no windows, such as a bathroom, is no bueno.
The characteristics of the soil are important too. Regular potting soil is too moist and dense for either a cactus or a succulent to thrive. It’s better to use a soil created just for succulents or a landscape mix, or you can mix potting soil with sand or even leaves and sticks from your yard. “What’s important,” Meith says, “is that the soil is permeable and water can drain easily.”
Get the Look
When creating your own arrangement of either cacti or succulents — their moisture needs are so different that you should stick with one or the other; they’re not going to be happy together for very long in the same pot, Meith says — choose one plant as the centerpiece and have smaller ones around it.
“Think about creating a grouping that looks like they are all reaching for the sun,” Meith advises. Plants should’t be all on the same level. They shouldn’t all be the same color, size or shape. And they should be in a container that drains.
“It really just takes practice to get it right,” Meith says.
Which is true for most things in life.