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  • Turn your garden love indoors

  • Are you experiencing garden withdrawal symptoms with the onset of our chilly, wet, fall weather? I know I am. I love being outdoors, working in my garden, but not when I get wet and chilled to the bone.
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  • Are you experiencing garden withdrawal symptoms with the onset of our chilly, wet, fall weather? I know I am. I love being outdoors, working in my garden, but not when I get wet and chilled to the bone.
    It's time to create a warm atmosphere, perhaps even a desert look with cacti or other succulents.
    Succulents are plants that store water in their roots, stems or leaves, so they don't mind if they go without water for a period of time. Because the winter months often find me spending several days out of town visiting friends or family, that characteristic works to an advantage. Succulents just use their reserved water, and even if the leaves shrivel a bit, they'll swell up again when they are watered.
    Some examples of the hundreds of kinds of succulents are jade, aloe, agave, ice plant, kalanchoe, spider plant, sansevieria, stapelia, plus cacti of all sorts. However, because these plants hybridize easily, you will find great variations in their form. The cacti and stepalia are stem succulents — most of the others store water in their roots or leaves.
    Plants can be grown in individual pots but also look great when grouped together in a low pot or bowl. Because succulents and cacti are slow growers, your transplanting chores will be minimal after you plant them. At the plant store, try the plants, still in their individual pots, in different arrangements until you find a group that pleases you.
    Terra cotta is the preferred container material for your indoor garden. A large terra cotta "saucer," usually used under a pot, works well if you are grouping several plants together. Individual pots should also be of terra cotta, as this clay-like material will help keep the soil from staying too wet. Because they are heavier, they also help prevent tipping of pots that hold a tall cactus.
    Plants in plastic pots are more subject to root rot caused by overwatering, the number one killer of succulents. You would be wise to invest in a moisture meter, especially if you are a beginner, to help maintain the proper moisture level in the soil.
    The soil should be very coarse — do not use garden soil or even bagged potting soil, but instead choose a cactus soil mix. If you want to make your own soil mix, combine 2 parts of a soil-less potting mix with 1 part quarter-inch washed grit. Your new little garden will be more attractive if you cover the soil with pebbles or small gravel when you have finished planting.
    If your container does not have drainage holes, you will need to guard against overwatering. Depending on the container, you may even be able to drill some drainage holes in the bottom. Cover the holes with a coffee filter before adding soil.
    One tip I learned and appreciate is using strips of heavy brown paper like you'd get from cutting up a paper grocery bag to handle prickly cactus plants. Just wrap the strip of paper around the cactus plant to lift it from its original pot, and hold while you plant it in its new home. Leather gloves are handy, too.
    Put your succulents in a sunny window, and you'll feel better about staying indoors during the winter. Just don't kill them with kindness.
    To learn more about raising succulents, I recommend "The Complete Book of Cacti and Succulents," by Terry Hewitt. It's an informative and practical guide to this addictive hobby.
    Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.
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