Artificial plants Cactus and succulents

Painted Succulents: A Short and Painful Life

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. 

This echeveria is outgrowing its paint job, but may take years to fully recover. Photo: bea verdasco, pinterest.com

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.

Plant Torture

Spray-painting live plants is nothing less than plant torture. Photo: http://www.pngfans.com, www.pnglot.com, www.clipartwiki.com, montage: jardinierparesseux.com

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 you want a plant that requires absolutely no care besides dusting, buy a plastic one! Photo: http://www.overstock.com

If ever you want a truly no-care plant, buy a plastic one! Living plants always need some care!

The Underlying Lie

Succulents are not easy to grow, they’re just slow to die. Photo: leafandpaw.com

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. 

Succulents need intense light, usually only found near a window. If anyone tells you they don’t need light, they’re lying to you. Photo: barlowflowerfarm.com

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

Zebra haworthias (Haworthiopsis Su) are among the few succulents that will do fairly well in low light. Photo: indoor-plants.net

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!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

17 comments on “Painted Succulents: A Short and Painful Life

  1. I love succulents and have managed not to kill my Zebra haworthias for two years now. Cant see the point of spraying or dying plants like orchids or heather and I’m not that old 🙂

  2. As weird as it sounds, people have had that attitude about potted plants for a very long time. Poinsettias are like cut flowers with roots in a bit of potting medium. They get chucked when done blooming. The same applies to Easter lilies and most amaryllis, etc. Fortunately, some of the painted succulents are able to replace their foliage if they get the chance.
    Painted prickly pears are sometimes seen one in front yards in Mexican neighborhoods. A third of the pads get painted red. Another third get painted white. The remaining third are left unpainted and green. It might be more detrimental if there were no green in the Mexican flag.

  3. Great info! I hate seeing the painted succulents in stores. FYI, I believe snake plant has been re-classified as a Dracaena.

  4. It’s qualms lol. You have no qualms about eating a carrot.

  5. I’m likely in the age bracket that this sales person meant by “young person” and honestly I hate painted succulents. Not only is it cruel to the plant, they look ugly to me! I prefer their natural colours any day. I also hate when cacti have fake flowers glued onto them.

  6. Pingback: Plant Rant: Spray Painted Succs – Chelly Shoe

  7. I totally agree . I HATE PLANTS THAT ARE SPRAY PAINTED !!!! There should be a law against it !!!

  8. Malteaser

    I’m a teenager and even I’m not fooled by the painted plant ploy, they’re designed to die and rip you off of your money. Marketing has got it all wrong, this disgusting display should never have been a sales pitch to begin with.

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