Propagating Succulents

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Happy New Year! I remember meeting Haworthia, my first succulent plant acquaintance after Aloe vera. My mother kept that one in a pot on the porch for burns long before my daddy and his lodge buddies began putting it in their milkshakes to aid digestion. I digress, which is sometimes the best way to blog if it doesn’t go on too long. If you don’t know Haworthia, check the photo with this blog although I doubt I can depict its charms in 2 dimensions. Haworthias sprout succulent leaves from a stemless clump like their relatives, the Aloes. There are more than 50 species native to South Africa and well suited to its harsh, hot sun environs. The leaf shapes and their markings vary wildly and give rise to extensive collections. For a look at a beautiful group of them, visit the gallery click here. Grow What Pleases You I think about being more sophisticated in my succulent choices, even of branching out to grow a few other Haworthia relatives in the Gasteria group. But ordinary jade plant (Crassula ovata) and kalanchoe (K.blossfeldiana) are always with me as is this common Haworthia. Pearl plant (H. margaritifera) has had my heart all these years and always will. Pearl gets her name from the raised white dots that decorate the backside of each leaf. What starts as a dotted pointed leaf in the center of the plant soon opens to reveal the solid green topside. To my odd eye, that makes her look like a girl in a green dress with a dotted swiss petticoat underneath. You will certainly see that the leaves are thick, less chunky than most of the family, and extend to a sharp point at the tip. Because the rosette expands up as the plant puts on more leaves, pearl plant bursts with optimistic charm. Each pointy leaf holds its place in the petite symmetry and reminds me that each victory should be celebrated, even the smallest ones. Horticulture Heaven The original pearl plant of my youth lived in the padlocked succulent house next to the floriculture greenhouses at my alma mater, LSU. If you were very good, you got to go into this inner sanctum of glorious, truly exotic life. The small, glass pane Lord and Burnham greenhouse with a peaked roof had a gravel floor, concrete path, and raised benches like the other houses. These benches were solid and sided, however, with sheet metal bottoms to hold a bed of pea gravel. Also unlike the growing houses where uniform size pots stand at perfect spacing, the succulent pots were a wildly varied lot. I learned that most were chosen to crowd the roots slightly with enough room at the surface to encourage reproduction. The succulent house was home to representatives of every succulent family and its object was propagation. There I met rosary vine, burro’s tail, starfish flower, and dozens more, but the first one I ever got to touch was pearl plant. I watched as the green nubs grew, noting their progress with glee when they got large enough to divide and multiply. Propagating Succulent Sideshoots Last weekend I thought about that day as I divided yet another pearl plant, this one left too long as a crowded mother. It was really simple to slip the rootball out of the pot as this one was a pair of plants and 10 babies in a four inch pot. Left much longer, it would have broken the pot and to tell the truth, that is often a good way to know when succulents need repotting. That is the first step – to slip the rootball out of the pot – when you want to remove pups. It is tempting to pull or cut them off the mother plant right there in the pot, but less successful for most people, including me. Each pearl plant puppy is its own entity with strong ties to its mother. I’d like to think that describes my children! Most of the time you can separate the baby pearls with your fingers by gently working each one away with a few roots after you unpot it. If you must use a knife, make one clean slice through the separating tissue, usually roots knotted together from overcrowding. Sometimes there are no roots at all even on a pup an inch tall but any roots that are present need encouragement to prevent dehydration after division. Pearl plant and similar succulents present a good opportunity to use Hormex Liquid Concentrate. Soak the roots and base of the plant for 3 minutes in undiluted HLC and plant in a very well drained potting mix. Grow them forever in a warm sunny windowsill.

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