We attempted to turn our black thumb into a green one and this is what went down… Hint: It didn’t go too well.
First off, a little background. My love affair for plants began when I was in primary school and we had to grow green beans on cotton. Mine flourished, and I would carry with pride a container of full-grown leaflets reminiscent of a dense forest when we had to show and tell in class. I thought that would be an indication of my successful plant parenting skills, but I was wrong. That hasn’t been the case so far.
What followed was a list of failed attempts at growing plants, be it outdoors or indoors. I’m still dreaming about the hydrangeas that survived under my care for three short weeks. In my defence, I was fighting the harsh tropical weather and said plant has a penchant for cooler climates.
My sad succulent story
In April, right before the start of the circuit breaker, I thought I would try to cultivate a green thumb. What better time to do it than during a pandemic, amirite? Also, I’m a go-getter. I was determined to master the art of growing houseplants so I could flaunt it on social media and be part of the blossoming online houseplant community. Plus, the hobby comes with many benefits, from boosting your mood to purifying the air.
I wanted to start off with something easy and manageable, but I also wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing. Enter succulents. They come in interesting shapes, alluring colours such as purple and pink, and they’re generally low-maintenance. This winning combo was enough for me to purchase two pretty pots (pictured below). Would this be another case of unrequited love? Only time could tell, I thought.
Every morning, I hovered around my plants, trying to soak in the good energy they gave off ‘cos #positivity. As you can tell from the picture, it’s like a mini ecosystem filled with different species of succulents which – spoiler alert – I would soon destroy unknowingly.
The next week, I felt they needed some hydration. This was based on two assumptions: I wasn’t too sure when these babies last tasted water, and they were looking a little ‘brown’. After painstakingly watering the soil with a 30ml dropper bottle twice (because overwatering causes it to rot), I decided to leave them alone.
Days went by and I paid them no mind. A week later, I noticed some of the leaves had fallen. In hindsight, my innocent watering session was the ultimate kiss of death. I felt there was no way I could save them. So I decided to leave ’em alone and let nature take its course. Sure enough, after about eight weeks, one of them completely withered away (I’ll miss you!). The other looked like it had been stretched to its limits – literally!
How to care for succulents
Well, apart from the fact that my black thumb hasn’t successfully nurtured anything, I think I must have overwatered the plants. After sleuthing around online, I found it’s best to keep succulents in pots with drainage holes. Especially for beginners like me, who have yet to figure out the best watering practices. Another sign of overwatered succulents is when healthy leaves start to drop.
Denise Law, the founder of local plant store Tumbleweed, suggests watering once every seven to 12 days.
“The watering should really depend on the state of the soil. If the soil is not yet completely dry, don’t water it yet! Try to give it the morning or evening sun rather than direct sun in the middle of the day. Ideally, succulents like to have a few hours of bright but not too strong sunlight, particularly when they are young (as succulents often are). The succulents prefer dry air so avoid keeping them in a moist or humid area.”
Another telltale sign of succulents dying is “when the stems become soft and black (a sign of rot), or when the leaves shrink and wither (a sign of too little moisture),” says Law.
As to why succulents stretch, Law mentions it’s an indication of insufficient sunlight. “The plant won’t necessarily die but will look a lot less pretty! Most people prefer their succulents to be flat and chubby.”
And for those fallen leaves? There’s still a ray of hope. “One of the good things about succulents is that it is really easy to propagate new plants from a fallen leaf. Let the leaf dry out on top of the soil (not planted in the soil). Within about two weeks, you’ll see roots coming out and you can transfer it to water or into soil to grow a new plant!” says Law.
Let’s try this again, shall we?