AMES, Iowa – Another way to bring some of the beauty of the outdoor world inside while isolating during COVID-19 is to create a terrarium with adapted plants, like succulents. This is an activity that can be performed with students of all ages – as both a horticulture educational lesson and a fun activity.
Succulents are fleshy plants that, because they store water in their leaves, require little watering. Many popular terrarium species evolved under drought conditions in the semi-desert areas of Latin America and the Mediterranean.
In the third video of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Gardening While Isolated series (available on the ISU Extension and Outreach Facebook page), “Bringing the Outdoors In” takes viewers to Independence, Iowa, with Cindy Haynes, associate professor and extension specialist in horticulture at Iowa State, to learn about succulents and air plants from industry expert Josh Spece of In the Country Garden and Gifts. At this nursery, viewers will find an immense array of succulents and terrarium plants, including Sedum, Echevaria, Aloe, Kalanchoe, Aeonium, Agave, Senecio, and Crassula species.
Starting a succulent garden
Succulents prefer full sunlight, such as a sunny, south-facing window, although some shade is tolerated. Succulents are drought-tolerant, but you should water your terrarium once, when creating the garden, and then after, only as a deep watering (until water comes out the bottom of the container) once a month.
A once-a-year fertilization with a slow-release organic fertilizer should be sufficient. You can move your terrarium or succulent garden outside in the summer, and move them inside in the winter, or treat them as annual plants and replace them each year.
Potting mix is the preferred medium in which to grow succulents, and it is recommended to mix in additional perlite to mimic a dry, desert soil. If you don’t wish to be pampering your plants every day, select hardy varieties like sanseviaria and crassula species. There are many colorful cultivars, but the bright colors may fade unless provided full sun. Cultivars with green, or green and white variegated leases, are easier to grow.
Succulents come in a variety of textures, shapes and sizes, with the most popular being the more compact specimens that would fit in a 10-inch diameter bowl container. For a strappy shape, try miniature Sanseviaria or snake plants, or agaves. The more round-shaped ‘Baby Toes’ (Fenestraria aurantiaca) creates a moon-like atmosphere in the terrarium. Green varieties tend to tolerate the lowest light levels.
Creating more succulents
Another activity is propagating succulents. With echevaria plants, for example, offsets are produced, resembling “hen and chicks,” where the chicks can be separated into individual pots. Individual leaves can also be placed in potting mix, where they will sprout new leaves at their base if kept moist. Other succulent leaves can also be propagated into new plants using this method.
Original photo: Succulent garden.