These poor living echeverias have been spray-painted. Photo: i.imgur.com
I was recently talking to the representative of a local company specialized in the importation and distribution of houseplants. I wanted to know whether anything new was coming along and she proudly informed me that her firm would soon be importing and selling spray-painted succulents, as if that were a good thing.
I was horrified. If you spray-paint a plant, it can no longer carry out photosynthesis and produce energy. It’s suddenly put into a situation that will probably prove fatal. The only way it can survive is to produce new, paint-free leaves that can start absorbing light again. And even then, it will be severely weakened and misshapen. It can take years to recover. Most don’t. They simply die.
The salesperson was nonplussed. According to her, young people these days buy succulents strictly for their decorative value. They don’t care if the plants live or die. When they die, they simply toss them and buy more. They’ll love spray-painted succulents.
I remained horrified and the conversation ended there.
I can’t say I believe plants really have feelings and would be the first to admit I have no qualms about eating a carrot or a stick of broccoli, but somehow, that whole concept of buying a houseplant, then just letting it die it feels terribly wrong. Are “young people” really so callous? If anyone repeatedly bought a cat or a dog, then never fed it and caused its death, the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) would be on them in no time. They’d pay a fine or end up in jail.
Imagine how the SPCA would react to a pet shop that sold gerbils or kittens dipped in paint that was toxic to them!
Why is there no SPCP (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants)? This whole thing—buying a plant and never giving it any care at all, thus assuring its death—seems to me ethically wrong, if not legally wrong.
Is the Younger Generation Really So Indifferent to Plant Suffering?
I refuse to believe that all “young people” are so heartless as to buy plants with no intention of ever caring for them, just as temporary decorations they throw away when the plant dies. I get plenty of email from concerned “young people” asking what’s wrong with their succulent, why is it dying and what can they do to save it. Look on any search engine: What’s wrong with my succulent? is a hugely popular question and I’m sure it’s not only older people asking it.
If ever you want a truly no-care plant, buy a plastic one! Living plants always need some care!
The Underlying Lie
For years now, plant stores have been promoting succulents as “easy-to-grow houseplants,” even as “no-care plants.” That is, of course, utter nonsense. They are no easier to grow than most other houseplants: the main difference is that, when they don’t get the conditions they need, they die more slowly. If any salesperson tries to tell you a living plant doesn’t need light or water, they’re trying to rip you off.
Succulents, with very few exceptions, need a great deal of light. In fact, full sun is best for almost all of them. The very popular echeverias (Echeveria spp.), with their rosettes of blue-green leaves, practically top of the list of plants needing the most intense sunlight possible, yet are being sold as lowlight plants!
And all living plants need watering. There are no exceptions. Succulents have a lot of water stored in their tissues, but eventually will run out and will need to be watered.
Easy Succulent Care
What do indoor succulents, plants like echeverias, sedums, crassulas, euphorbias, cactus, etc., really need? It’s actually quite simple.
Full sun or very bright light, so a place them close to a bright window.
A thorough watering when their soil is dry to the touch (sometimes it dries out fairly quickly, notably in the summer, but at other times, only after several weeks).
And that’s really it.
Normal indoor temperatures are generally fine. They tolerate both high and low air humidity: no problem there. And are fairly indifferent to fertilizing, so whether you “feed” them or not makes little difference.
True enough, as the years go by, you will likely need to move them to a larger pot (just about any potting mix will do) and may need to prune them, but for starters, you just need very bright light and a bit of watering.
If You Don’t Have Bright Light
Light is the limiting factor. If you don’t have a sunny windowsill or need a plant for that back corner far from the sun’s rays, most succulents just won’t cut it. Exceptions include snake plants (Sansevieria spp.), gasterias (Gasteria spp.) and zebra haworthias (Haworthiopsis spp., formerly Haworthia spp.). They don’t like shade, but they’ll tolerate it … for years if necessary!
And again, if you really want an absolutely no-care succulent, buy a plastic one! You can then spray paint it any color you want without killing it!