There was a time when Sally Coady thought the word “succulents” meant only the hen and chicks she, her mother and grandmother all cultivated in their gardens.
That was until 12 years ago when she attended a workshop on how to create living wreaths out of succulents.
“I was instantly hooked,” she said. “I started expanding and expanding because they’re so fascinating.”
Coady, of Toledo, has been a member of the 40-year-old Winolequa Garden Club in Winlock for the last 39 years. She is passionate about gardening and collects many different kinds of plants but perhaps none more than succulents. She said she does not know how many of the plants she owns but she collects them when she travels and even has friends who bring them to her.
“Our garden club goes to DeGoede’s in December for poinsettias and we get there and everybody heads for the poinsettias and I go for the succulents,” Coady said with a laugh.
Succulents refers to a wide variety of fleshy plants that are generally unusually shaped, colorful and easy to grow. There are three categories of succulents: sempervivum, which are native to the Pacific Northwest; sedums, also sometimes called stonecrops; and jovibarba. Coady said she used to enjoy flower arranging but now enjoys creating equally creative and colorful living arrangements using succulents. Her creations have even won ribbons at the Southwest Washington Fair. She said the plants inspire her because there is such a variety of them.
“I think the variety and the colors are magnificent,” Coady said.
In her home garden, Coady decorates extensively with succulents. She has a 4-foot by 8-foot raised bed where she has built a fairy garden style scene of rocks, sculptures and succulents. She also has a number of containers she uses.
Sempervivum, which include hen and chicks, can usually weather Northwest winters without assistance. But Jovibarba (which includes ice plants) and sedums are generally less hardy and need some assistance during winter. Coady has a small greenhouse where she brings in all of her potted succulents as soon as the nights become colder. An open raised bed in the greenhouse serves as a temporary home for succulents brought in from the raised beds as well as new plants Coady is working to propagate.
Coady said when brought indoors, succulents do best when they can be in direct sunlight. The more light they get the more color they will exhibit, though they do not need to be particularly hot and too hot of sunlight will burn them. She said she only heats the greenhouse if the temperatures get in the 20s, otherwise she said just a little warmer than outside is fine. Whether inside or outside, Coady said the one real trick to caring for succulents is to watch how much you water.
“Don’t overwater,” Coady said. “Ignore them and they do really well.”
The succulents live in the greenhouse until late April but she said in March she usually takes apart all of her succulent pots and replants everything to accommodate plant growth. Coady said there are special potting soils that work well such as Miracle Grow’s Cactus Palm and Citrus mix. She has also been making her own soil mixtures: three parts soil (she likes Black Gold), two parts sand and one part perlite; or one part coir (coconut husk fiber), one part soil and two parts perlite.
“It needs to be fast draining because they do need water, just not too much,” Coady explained.
Some succulents like hen and chicks reproduce by creating offsets, or smaller versions of themselves. Succulents that do not create offsets can also easily be propagated by taking a cutting, allowing it to dry for about a week and then loosely setting the cut side into dirt. Whenever any of Coady’s succulents have a leaf or area that wilts, she said she lets it dry and then puts it in dirt.
Coady has also learned to make beautiful bouquets that will last up to a month from succulents. She simply puts wire through the cut stems and wraps them in floral tape. If it wilts, she spritzes it with water. When the bouquet dries out completely, she allows the cut sides to dry for a week and then puts them in dirt to encourage new roots to grow.
“I don’t ever throw any of it away,” she said.