The Secret to Growing Stunning Succulents

You love succulents. You want to grow them. Maybe you already do. You’re ready to have stunning succulents and show them to all of your friends. Well, we have the secret to growing stunning succulents! Actually, Margie does.

We sat down with Margie Funk who dotes on the succulents at Seascapes Nursery and she spilled the soil on how to grow stunning succulents. Read up and learn!

Hi Margie! Thanks for sitting down with us and sharing your succulent secrets… First tell us about yourself and where you’re from.

Margie Funk

Margie: I have lived on Kauai for about 10 years; I came here in 2010. Growing up on a farm in Tennesse means I’ve always been interested in plants. I came to Kaua’i and thought it was so amazingly wonderful and just so different. I took the master gardener course here at the experiment station up by the Hindu monastery. Living so close nearby was a blessing because I was able to walk to the classes! Over time and with patient application I got into succulents and found my home there.

What did you discover about succulents early on?

Margie: The reality with succulents is that you have to understand that they’re different from other plants. Those fat leaves and stems hold water. They hold so much water in fact, that you can dig them up and lay them somewhere as long as it’s not really wet and they will slowly get smaller over time. To survive, they are using their internal water whereas other plants have to constantly get water from the ground. They are living on their own reserves. Watering is the trickiest thing – if you understand how it works they are actually easier to grow and care for then regular plants.

So how does watering work?

Margie: They don’t want to be overwatered. Most people think you can’t grow succulents here on the wet side of the island because they won’t survive, but the secret, and the thing that is magical for me is that they can take all the rain. The secret is lots of cinders and very good drainage – creating a berm and piling up the soil so that it’s not flat. Our soil, the red soil we have here is actually a clay that acts like a sand. This is why when we get really heavy rain here it drains and dissipates right away, so we’ve got that going for us.

Tell us more about the potting mix you use and how to propagate succulents.

Margie: You need to do 50/50 cinders and a good potting mix. If I put them in the ground I’ll use the ground soil and mix that in too, but if I’m putting them in pots I always use a good pro mix and sunshine mix and mix it 50/50 with the cinders. I have pots and pots of succulents! Up in Wailua we get those really wet days and weeks where it’s just rain rain rain. This had me wondering if my succulents would actually live.

I used to keep all my succulents on the porch, but after awhile I thought, ‘Ok I’ve got enough. I can put some sacrificial succulents outside in the weather and see what happens.’ And you know, they were happy! The only thing is you get quite a bit of moss and ferns. I’m always puling them out. You need to pull them out. The moss is hard to get rid of because of its spores and it’s hard to control. The ferns will take over the soil in the pot and so I pull them out.

When you say over water, what does that mean?

Margie: I water 2 times a week and if we are in a super wet period I may water only 1x a week, and then it’s a light water. The way I garden, I don’t just want to keep plants alive, I want them to thrive and look gorgeous. If they don’t, then I believe they aren’t meant to be in my garden. I’m not happy with having less than great looking plants. I think here on the north shore a lot of people assume ‘I can’t grow succulents’, but here at Seascapes we are going to prove that you can. We are going to enlarge the parking area and put in big pots and I am going to plant them up beautifully with succulents and leave them out in the weather so people can see that you don’t have to keep them on the lanai. They’ll do wonderfully.

So the secret to having them do well outside is

Margie: Drainage, drainage, drainage. They can take frequent rain but their roots don’t want to sit in water. You do want to give them a good drink and water them through, when you do water them. However, little baby succulents you would want to mist because they don’t have a big water retention.

So how do you get baby succulents and propagate more?

Margie: My favorite way to propagate succulents is ‘to cut their heads off’. When they start getting leggy and the arrangement is growing out and looking long, cut the heads off and pull the roots and stems out. You should mist a little bit and get the soil nice and moist before they get their roots pulled out. Next, you’ll want to reset the heads right back in the same pot. Make sure you’ve got a bit of a mound and make sure you’ve got lots of cinders and something to help it drain well. When you cut it off you might want to let it callus first.

What does that mean? Callus.

Margie: It’ll get a skin over it. Over the stem where you cut it. This happens because after you cut it in a week or so you’ll start to see little tiny roots starting to grow. Don’t worry too much about this, the more you do it, the more comfortable you are with it.

Can you walk us through a bit more of your propagation techniques?

Margie: Sure!

  • Step 1: You have your cutting or your leaf. Lay it flat on a tray or soil and leave the soil dry for a couple weeks for them to sprout. Or remember you can stick your cutting or head straight back into the arrangement.
  • Step 2: Sprinkle on light soil and lay them out. Put them in the shade and check on them every once in awhile for them to sprout.
  • Step 3: After a few weeks you’ll have a plant ready to add to a new pot or arrangement. When I make arrangements I try to have a variety of shapes and colors. As many colors as I can in the pot.

It’s a total art, it’s so beautiful!

Margie: They just keep producing! It’s rare that I loose any. First thing I do after potting them is I separate the pots and put them in different places outside. I do this because I don’t know for sure what they like. I try to keep an eye out for how much light they like.

So it’s about paying attention.

Margie: Yes, pay attention to your plants and see which one looks like its doing better than the other. A lot of this is figuring it out as you go and letting the plants tell you what they want.

Succulent arrangement for sale at Seascapes Nursery

What about fertilizer? Do you use any?

Margie: Yes, I do! For fertilizing I use Nutricote and it is a time release product. I usually just go through and put a few beads in each pot. When I started doing that at the Nursery, I noticed an automatic difference in the plants. You can get Nutricote 100 which means it releases over a period of 100 days, or there’s 180. I have had success with the 100 day release. They say you don’t have to fertilize, but I want my plants to look their best. I believe you can get it online. There are so many variations, it is so delightful.

I love that. Well, this pretty much sums it up. Anything else you want people to know about?

Margie: It is such a joyful and wonderful practice. I love to talk about it and help people with it. I am here at the nursery Monday afternoon and all day Thursday if people want to come in and ask me questions.

If people want to find more go look for Laura Eubanks Design for Serenity on You Tube. She does landscaping with succulents in southern California and she goes through her gardens as she visits them and explains why she does certain things and what to watch out for. Debra Lee Baldwin is another one who has put out books and does beautiful work. They both have incredible designs for landscaping with succulents. It just is so much fun to see. I often sit in the morning with my coffee and watch their videos.

Thank you so much Margie for sharing with us your secrets to growing stunning succulents! You can find her at Seascapes Nursery on Monday afternoons or all day Thursday. Stop in and say hi or ask more questions about succulents. She’ll be more than happy to speak with you!

Beautiful Succulent in bloom
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