Succulent plants have fleshy leaves, stems and roots for storing water to survive conditions that are too dry for most plants. In fact, they are sometimes able survive on moisture only from dews, mists and fogs.
Succulent comes from the Latin word "succos," which means juice or sap. Plants from over 60 families and 300 genera are called succulents, and they fall into the following categories:
* Leaf succulents are almost entirely composed of water storage cells in the leaves. A thin layer of photosynthetic tissue covers these cells. Aloe, haworthia, lithops and sempervivum are examples.
* Stem succulents have their water storage cells in their fleshy stems. The near absence of leaves in these plants reduces the loss of water by evaporation by reducing the surface area. Euphorbia obesa, stapelia and most cacti are stem succulents.
* Root succulents store water away from the sun, underground. During a prolonged dry season, these plants may shed leaves and stems. Examples are Calibanus hookeri, Fockea edulis, Pterocactus kunzei and Peniocereus striatus.
* Some succulents, like Ceraria pygmaea,Tylecodon paniculata, and Cyphostemma juttaeare, are combinations of these types, using more than one organ to store water.
Your succulent may look healthy and show new growth, but in soil that is too wet, the roots may begin to rot. When the damage is so great that there is not sufficient root structure available to take up water, the plant will look to be underwatered. This will only make the condition worse. Once the body of the plant gets soft and discolored, it usually can't be saved.
During the summer, water your succulent about once a week, letting the soil dry completely in between. If you are following the basic watering plan and your plant is not thriving, take it out of its pot immediately and examine the roots. Cut away any dead, brown or rotted material, and repot in fresh, drier soil.
Watering a succulent more than once a month while it is dormant can also cause root rot.
If the succulent is underwatered, a dieback, or self-pruning of stems and branches, may occur. Stress pigments may make a cactus take on a reddish or purple cast. If your plant has been underwatered, start reversing the effects by slowly starting to water. Some of the roots may have died off during the drought, making it hard for the plant to absorb water, and more water than the damaged roots can absorb can cause rot.
Succulents prefer bright light, and many will grow outdoors during the summer. Watch for scorching conditions on the leaves and move the plant if necessary.
Stunted leaves, pale or yellow in color, mean the succulent is not receiving enough light. There may be long spaces between leaf joints, and the stems will be thin. Move the plant to a better light and prune to restore the shape.
Some succulents can be kept dormant in the winter in a dark, cool and absolutely dry environment without showing bad effects.
Scorch and Heat Damage
Sunken brown or white patches developing on the succulent mean heat damage. The green chlorophyll is destroyed where the tissue is overheated. Intense heat can cause the damage, even if the plant is not in direct sunlight.
Harden your succulent after a shady period of time by gradually exposing it to sunlight to prevent scorching.
Succulents are cold-hardy but shouldn't be exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees F unless dormant. For the best results, keep daytime temperatures between 70 degrees and about 85 degrees, and between 50 degrees and 55 degrees at night.
Fungal attack to the soft tissue at the growing points will kill the plant. Unsightly brown spots can also occur if the plant is exposed to the cold.
Succulents need a fast-draining soil to thrive. A mixture that's at least half sand or clean gravel is best. When grown in containers, succulent plants usually have shallow roots that form a dense, shallow mat just under the surface.
Don't fertilize your succulent during the winter. While the plant is growing during the summer, follow the same schedule as you do for your other houseplants.