Sept. 6, 2022
Michael Garcia is in our community of readers and was telling Kelsey about his love of succulents. She was drawn to his explanation of the hobby and wanted to share it with everyone, as part of our new ongoing series of enjoying our homes and lifestyles:
Q: Michael, you mentioned to me that you find growing succulents very therapeutic? How so?
A: I want to clarify and start by saying this hobby took time and a lot of effort to become therapeutic. At first, I did not have very many gardening tools or supplies or plants. I had to learn about proper plant care, soil types, container types and the biggest problems: bugs, plus how often to water. Once I had a general understanding, I was hooked. I wanted to recreate the propagation process. I found out the hard way that without large plants this is hard to do. I had visited a local San Jose favorite for succulents called Evergreen Farm and bought several small 2 inch and 4 inch pots to get started. I watered way too often and killed everything I had in a short period of time. It's funny now but was frustrating at the time. I started over. I went back to Evergreen Farms and bought more. I also went to other succulent nurseries throughout the bay area and bought many larger plants. When you buy large quantities and at smaller farms you can negotiate for better deals. I wanted to buy these larger plants so that I could create my own “propagation pattern trays.”
The reason I find growing succulents therapeutic is because there is something to be said about caring for things and getting results. There is also the fact that life can be challenging. Our lives are all complicated – such as family dynamics, grieving the loss of someone through death, divorce or drugs. I have had my share of many happy times in life but life has also had its challenges. In my life, I needed an outlet or just a temporary escape -- something that took my mind off of the day-to-day stress and my divorce. I needed something I could focus my attention on to help me relax and feel a sense of a simple accomplishment. This is when I turned to succulents and propagation. I like how my hands feel in the soil when I am creating a pattern of propagation or even repotting an offspring from a larger plant. When you have large overgrown succulent plants, you can remove pieces and start a new plant or propagate. As time goes on, I have so many new little plants, which of course get bigger. I end up giving these plants away to my good friends and family. I want others to share in the joy that these plants bring to me.
Q: How did you originally get into growing succulents?
A: It started by accident. I am a lover of all photography, especially landscape, floral, and black and white photography. My love for photos of plant patterns, colors and designs led me to look on social media for additional photos. I originally came across a photo of a beautiful (Graptoveria Opalina) succulent on a group page. The colors were so unique and irresistible. That is when I made the decision to join that particular succulent group, to see more of the great colorful plant photos. Once in the group, I saw so much more interesting plants and topics. One of the posts asked the question: "How many succulent plants do you have?" At that moment, I was a new homeowner for about two months. I walked my front and back yards in search of anything that looked close to a succulent. I was shocked to learn that I had four. At the time I couldn't tell you what types of succulents these were. I have since learned that I had an aloe plant, a Jade plant, an echeveria and an Aeonium. The Aeonium was my favorite because it was the biggest I had at the time. The more I returned to this group page, the more I learned about these plants, their survival and propagation of these plants. The coolest thing about it was that everyone on this group page was super friendly!
Q: Do you have a favorite type?
This is a hard question. It is hard to pick just one when there are so many types and varieties. I would have to say that in my possession, it would have to be the Echeveria Agavoides “Lipstick”. I love this plant because of its dark red tips. The darkness is based on the amount of sun it gets. The more the sun, the darker and wider the red tips become. I also have a plant that I thought had died but I found it living under some other taller succulents after months of not caring for them. That plant is called “Haworthia Cooperi”. I like this one because of its see-through puffy structure. I guess I also like it because I managed to continue to make it survive. It’s been 18 months since I found it and it is still going strong. The plants I would love to own are “String of Pearls” and “Hens and Chicks” plants. I have had them before but managed to kill them (probably from over watering or improper soil or not enough drain holes).
Q: Is this a difficult hobby for someone to start doing?
A: Well, my answers of the last two questions might make you think it’s difficult, but it is not. It is actually very easy as long as you develop an understanding for when your succulents go dormant, how often you should water them, proper soil for your plants, and drainage. Succulents like to have their roots completely dry before you water again. This was hard for me to understand when I first started. When I water now, I keep track of the day I watered. I’ll return and check my plants after two weeks. If the soil feels dry, I’ll wait another two weeks and water again. Yes, I wait about a month to water again. Sometimes even longer than that. I have learned that the longer you wait, the better their survival rate. Some succulent people say, the less you care about your plants, the better their chances to live. The more you care, the sooner they die. Most people who start caring for succulents usually over water. When you water too often, the roots do not have a chance to dry out. This is when they get “root rot” and die. Sad but true. I have learned a lot about succulents over the last five years. Actually, I learned what not to do first. Haha.
Q: A friend of mine gave me some succulent cuttings and said I can just stick them in the ground and water them. I am super excited about this - how soon do I need to plant them so they don't dry out?
A: Well, depending on the variety, sometimes that is the case. If your friend is a succulent lover and told you to do this, I would do as they say and stick it in soil asap.
In my opinion, plants go into shock when cut and do not like to be watered right away. I would put it in soil, wait a week and then water it. If you repot the plant, make sure your plant stands on it’s own and the thick leaves do not touch soil. Then when you do water, make sure the leaves don’t get wet. Some people like to water their plants by submerging the plant container into a tub so that the water comes up the drainage hole and waters just the roots. This is an option but not necessary.
On a different note, if your new succulent cutting has thick, water-storing type leaves, you may want to wait a week for your new plant cutting to build up a “callus.” To do this, you want to store your plant in a cool dry place with indirect sunlight. You want the part that is cut to dry up. About a couple weeks after it has been cut, the callus happens. About two weeks to a month later, the plant should start to spout roots. These roots are looking for water and trying to survive. It can survive off of the nutrients inside the thick body and leaves. I usually wait a few weeks after the roots start showing through before I repot. These plants are very forgiving when neglected but not very forgiving when over-watered.
I would like to conclude this interview by saying that I am not an expert on succulent growing but speak from my 5 years experience with these plants in the South San Francisco bay area. Different areas with high heat will affect succulents differently. When starting out, be patient, it can be lots of fun and rewarding. If you want help, I am up for meeting new friends.
Michael Garcia can be reached at Michael.email@example.com . He has requested you put “Your Succulent Interview” in the subject line of your email.
If you have a hobby that is therapeutic, or calming, or exciting and rejuvenating that you'd like to share, please email firstname.lastname@example.org . We're beginning a series on enjoying our homes and creating a happy lifestyle in our surroundings. Kelsey can work with you on a Q & A sequence so others in our network can learn from your experience