Cactus and succulents

Succulent Fun!

OK, I might have a slight attraction (addiction?) to growing succulents. They are weird and funky-looking and so easy to grow and propagate. Just stick a leaf of a jade plant (or one of the many other species) in the soil, or even leave it on top of a pot of soil and you will soon see new growth.

Leaf propagation – so easy!

A Few Cacti

I do grow some cacti but some of them are spiky and dangerous. I have a Fishhook cactus  (Mammillaria tetrancistra) in a clay pot, and I once picked it up by the rim of the pot to move it. One of the thick, curved “fish hooks” dug into my thumb and I couldn’t put the pot down. I finally-very carefully-eased the whole plant out of the pot and was able to get free. It was such a well-behaved, cute little guy when I bought it in a 2 inch pot on a trip to Arizona!

Fishhook cactus. Picture by BCCS (British Cactus and Succulent Society)

I also have a Prickly Pear cactus (Opuntia species) that I grew from seed. You do not want to mess with these guys! They have groupings of tiny spikes called glochids that will get you if you get too close. The glochids are so small and hard to remove with a tweezers and can be a skin irritant. According to Wikipedia, “Glochids or glochidia (singular “glochidium”) are hair-like spines or short prickles, generally barbed, found on the areoles of cacti in the sub-family Opuntioideae.” The bigger needles in the picture do not come loose but you only have to brush against the finer needles to get a handful.

Glochids on cacti.Photo : Christer Johansson

Keep in mind that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Succulent simply means juicy, like when you bite into a peach and the juice runs down your chin. Yum!

Growing Succulents

So cultivating succulents isn’t that dangerous, except for their addictive nature.

Succulent cuttings from Mt. Crest Gardens

One of my favorite sites for sourcing  succs is Mountain Crest Gardens ( There you will find good information for ordering and caring for your plants. I joined their Succulent of the Month Club a few years ago and received four small potted plants per month, plus cuttings. In the Winter you can request a heat pack for shipping and I had very good luck with plant survival in the cold months.

I have pretty much settled on planting my succulents in groups in bonsai pots, rather than individual pots. The bonsai pots may be made of ceramic or resin, and may be round or oval, but I was given several rectangular ones and they work great for grouping small plants and cuttings. And there WILL be cuttings! Some succulents will elongate and become unattractive. Just take a 2-3 inch tip cutting and stick it in soil and there you go! Add a toy dinosaur and you have a Jurassic world. I added a favorite quartz rock to one of my dish gardens.

Bonsai pot.
Echeveria grouping in bonsai dish. I used Bonsai Jack’s soil mix to topdress the planter. You can also use chicken grit, traction sand or aquarium gravel.

Photo : Mountain Crest Gardens
Succulent collection on deck.

Soil mix

I use one part Black Gold Cactus Mix  (mineral soil for structure and drainage) and one part Promix or your favorite potting soil. You can experiment with the ratios, but this formula works for me. Most pots have drainage holes, which I cover with landscape cloth (aka weed mat). I do this for all my potted plants to keep soil in and critters out.

Succulents in  individual pots on deck.
Dish garden collection in recycled deli container.

So why do you make cuttings of succulents? Because, truthfully they outgrow themselves and need refreshing periodically. Especially the upright-growing types. The rosettes are better behaved. It’s up to what you think looks good. I’d rather have a small, fresh-looking tip cutting to watch over than an overgrown plant that’s outlived its pot.

Much more information can be found on the Mountain Crest Garden site. Make sure to explore this site for ideas on plants, containers, soil etc. But keep in mind the Laidback way and don’t stress. Propagating and raising succulents is easy. Enjoy the journey (but don’t blame me if your collection gets out of control).

La collection de plantes de Pat en extérieur pour l’été.

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

4 comments on “Succulent Fun!

  1. Totally agree on how much fun it is to propagate succulents especially when winter seems to be dragging on and you are itching to do something horticultural. It can also be a dangerous hole to go down due to how many cool collectible genus there are. Oh to live somewhere warm where you could indulge your passion year round outside.

  2. Victoria

    Oh so true about the needles on the prickly pear. This spring I managed to get quite a few needles stuck into my hand when trying to pull out some leftover fall leaves between plants. A few needles came out with tweezers but way too many stayed firmly in place and were virtually impossible to see (only FEEL). I did get them all out by spreading Elmer’s glue (or any white glue) on the areas where they remained, let it dry and then peeled it off. The needles came out along with the film of glue. Hurrah!

    • If I’m unwise and get them stuck in my hand, AGAIN, I’m going to try your method. I’ve had success putting a piece of duct tape on the area for awhile but the glue sounds better!

  3. Love succulents too! Easy to grow where other plants won’t. Thanx for website

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