How to grow a succulent garden that brightens your New Orleans home
Carefully arranging houseplants, especially cacti and succulents, is an easy and creative way to enliven a room.
"We have people come in all the time and ask us how to brighten up their interiors," says Caroline Pesses Larussa of Modern Market, a retail and lifestyle shop on Magazine Street. "One of our favorite go-tos is to bring succulents, air plants or cactus inside. Putting plants everywhere makes people happy, and it's also a beautiful finishing touch to a room."
Fortunately, you don't need gardening experience or a green thumb to keep these low-maintenance plants alive.
"The reason why I love succulents, air plants and cactus so much is because they're easy," Larussa says. "Not everyone has tons of time to garden, so this is a way to get the plants in, without having to spend a lot of time and upkeep on them."
Modern Market recently hosted a workshop with Luna Botanicals and taught clients how to cultivate a cactus garden.
Luna Botanicals, run by landscape architect Stephen Luna and his fiancee Jeanne Arceneaux, is a local plant pop-up shop specializing in potted and hanging plants, custom-made terrariums and landscape design and installation. They stressed the importance of proper drainage and ventilation in cactus and succulent gardens.
Most of these moisture-retaining plants already have thick leaves and prefer dry conditions.
"The number one thing that these plants suffer from is root rot," Luna says. "And that's from being over-watered or sitting in water for too long."
Arceneaux offers a few guidelines for starting a succulent garden. First, purchase a planter or a geometric-shaped glass terrarium. She says vintage stores often carry budget-friendly options.
"That's a low-cost way to start out," she says. "You want to find (planters) that coordinate with your general style. Then you can find plants to go with them."
Experiment with plants of various shapes, colors and textures. Succulents can have plump, green leaves with rounded tips, while others, such as aloe plants, contain long, blade-like tentacles. The colors range from rose and burgundy to blue-green. Some succulents even produce small blooms.
Next, place rocks at the base of the planter, followed by a layer of sand and dirt. Then add the plants. To complete the look, arrange decorative rocks or crystals around the plants. Use a thin strip of cardboard rather than gardening gloves while maneuvering sections of cacti to avoid splinters.
"You never want to touch a cactus with bare hands, because it's kind of like a caterpillar," Arceneaux says. "The ones that look soft will get you really bad."
She noted that succulents could suffer from sunburn if they're suddenly placed outside under direct sunlight. Outdoor succulent and cactus gardens require a different type of preparation and care.
Catherine Perino, a horticulturist at Perino's Home & Garden Center, says outdoor gardens should be raised six inches above the ground with a layer of rocks and a mixture of dirt and sand.
"You don't want to build it at ground level," she says. "When people want to start succulent gardens, I usually tell them it's better to do them in pots and put the pot in the garden."
Gardeners should select pots with drainage holes and line the base with rocks, Perino says. A lightweight soil or potting soil also is important. Many brands sell soil designed for succulents, but a similar product can be made by mixing potting soil and sand.
Rather than planting seeds for cacti and succulents, budding gardeners can buy the plant, since new plants are propagated from cuttings.
"If you have succulents, you'll soon find that they make 'babies' fast, and you can actually break off those babies and plant them," Perino says. "They root easily."
Although most succulents last throughout the winter, individual plant tags note weather conditions ideal for growth. Indoor succulents tend to thrive all year when exposed to adequate natural light.
Perino encourages her clients to mist the leaves and soil every three days, or give the plant a thorough watering every two weeks.
"Don't overthink it," she says. "Sometimes, people overthink it and give them too much care, and these are plants that don't require a lot of care. They're pretty self-sufficient."
A healthy dose of patience also comes in handy, Arceneaux says.
"You have to look at a plant as a form of home decor, but also as something to nurture," she says. "You get a rewarding feeling when it's taken care of."