A succ-ess story: My path to becoming a successful plant parent

Photo of succulents
Natalia Brusco/Staff

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Succulents are all the rage, and they have been for quite some time now. At this point, it’s rare to encounter a person who hasn’t yet tried to nurture their own “plant babies,” and my family is no exception to this. Since the beginning of the summer, we’ve progressed on a journey toward becoming the best plant parents … but it has taken us some time to get here. Family dynamics have shifted, an intense succulent sunlight system was added to our daily schedules and small bits of chaos have transcended in the process. If this sounds anything like your succulent story, read on to find out how we’ve finally found success in caring for our plants!

The beginning

My family was first introduced to succulents when my parents won a beautiful succulent arrangement at a work event. It was this huge, long ceramic pot filled with six or seven succulents that were thriving. But after two weeks, they were all dead! My mom was devastated. How did this happen so quickly? Could they be revived? Perhaps they died because we initially soaked them in water and didn’t let them dry out completely before watering them again, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it was just a fluke. We continued to overwater them until they shriveled up to their official demise. We also placed the arrangement somewhere that did not get enough sunlight. Essentially, we were completely lost on how to take care of the succulents. We insisted on trying to make them flourish indoors, despite the general consensus among articles we read that succulents do better outdoors.

A succ-y middle

At the beginning of summer, we decided it would be fun to try out succulents again, and this time we set a goal to take it more seriously so that they would last at least three months. We created a very intense system in which we would place them outside in our backyard every day from 9 a.m. to noon before placing them back inside the house. Imagine you are a new parent trying to put your toddler to sleep for a three-hour afternoon nap — that’s what it was like. We so delicately placed them outside, left them alone with only the butterflies, the sun and the breeze and hoped no squirrels would attack them. Like children on a napping schedule, my mom’s succulents are on a sunlight schedule. We were doing well with this system until we went to Tahoe and completely neglected all of our succulents for five weeks. All that work going down the drain was most definitely awfully succ-y.

A succ-ess story

This fall, we’re learning from our failures and are on the path to success. We made various arrangements in smaller pots. We decided we would continue with our 9-to-noon sunlight sessions — and when I say 9 to noon, I mean we set a timer and run outside to arrange them on a table so they can get their daily dose of sun. Then, at noon sharp when the alarm rings, we bring them all in before the sun gets too intense. We’ve placed them inside my sister’s room while she’s away at college for the semester because it has the most natural light. Though she can’t be bothered to take care of real plants and prefers fake ones, if I’m being honest, some of our real succulents look better than her fake ones. We’ve been watering less, and with a full heart, I am happy to say they are still thriving beautifully. We haven’t gone through the winter months with less sun yet, but my mom is fully prepared to buy “grow lights” to help mimic the sun.

We recently went to a relative’s house, excited to share our succulent pictures with them. They smiled and nodded as we showed them our gorgeous babies, and then pointed to a “few” pots filled with succulents in their backyard. My goodness, I felt as if I had entered a nursery. Maybe our plant parent skills weren’t as good as we thought. But nonetheless, I’m proud of my family for figuring out how to keep the ones we do have alive.

Regardless, it seems as if the success has gone to our heads. My mom is making pumpkin succulents for the holidays, already brainstorming how to give away succulent gifts for Christmas and designing what she wants our backyard “succulent wall” to look like. However obsessed my family and I may be, taking care of succulents seems to be a never-ending commitment, and I’m convinced we have embarked on a dangerous and challenging journey.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that just like when raising children, tender loving care and compassion are essential when raising succulents. But, as with anything else, practice makes perfect, and by learning from your mistakes and putting some effort in, you’ll be on your way to raising your own beautiful succulent garden!

Contact Natalia Brusco at [email protected].