I kill plants. I have a plant. What do I do?
November 20, 2014 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Last night a neighbor very sweetly brought me this little plant - a stub of what seems to be a succulent, about 3 inches high, potted in a tiny glass pot. I have no idea what it is or what it needs, and I'd like to keep it alive. Please help!

Gardening-wise, i was handicapped by a childhood in the tropics. My gardening modus operandi is basically - "give it water. Give it more water. If it survives, it likes swimming - yay!" On the other hand, last week i managed to drown a sort of mint that is basically aquatic. I'm starting from scratch here, and there's a certain amount of personal prestige I need to build back up. Can i turn this little guy into a showcase for the Best Apartment Gardener Ever?
posted by tabubilgirl to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
That container might not have enough drainage for it - there a hole in the bottom? I'd water once every two weeks or so. And keep track of the plumpness of the leaves; if you pay attention you can notice when plants need watering before they get so limp they're suffering.
posted by hydrobatidae at 6:32 AM on November 20, 2014

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure it's going to need a new pot - probably much larger. This pot was just for gifting.
posted by tabubilgirl at 6:41 AM on November 20, 2014

A general rule that I follow for watering plants is to let them dry out pretty much almost completely and then saturate them with water. A good way to tell dryness is to stick your pinky finger into the soil as far as it can go and see if either the soil is wet or a little bit cool. If so, wait until the soil is less cool to the touch and fill 'er up. Use fertilizer sparingly. I love that little planter, but eventually this cutting will need another pot. I have some amazing succulents in both pots with drainage and pots without, and as long as you are vigilant about your watering habits, lack of drainage does not, in my experience, harm the plant too much.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:42 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

1. Identify Plant
2. Give it the environment it wants ("soil", water, light, fertilizer)
3. Enjoy!

I think this is succulent-like (could be wrong) which means well-draining soil, not much water, and lots of light. A larger pot with drainage would be better long-term. Hopefully someone will chime in with specifics for this little guy.
posted by achrise at 6:49 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

And, when you transplant the cutting, increase the pot size slightly or moderately, don't get a really big pot thinking it will grow into it, the plant will not be able to use the water in all of that soil efficiently.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 6:49 AM on November 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

I stopped killing little succulents like that when I put them in proper soil (sold as succulent/cactus soil), put a layer of rocks at the bottom of the pot (b/c my pot did not have drain holes), and then whenever I think it needs water I wait a couple weeks and then water it.
posted by mullacc at 6:56 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Gosh, thanks so much. This is all hugely helpful. I'm hoping that someone will be able to identify it properly, but this is lots to go on - a bigger pot, proper soil, and guidelines for sensible water management!
posted by tabubilgirl at 7:01 AM on November 20, 2014

Soil with a high sand content will drain better. Terra Cotta pots also dry out faster. Go for a shallower pot, as succulents do not have very deep root systems.
posted by lettuce dance at 7:02 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, it's perfectly okay to ask the giver, "I love my little plant so much. I have a brown thumb, so if you could tell me what it is, I can look it up and figure out what I need to do to give it a fighting chance at life with me."

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:07 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I did some searching on a succulent website and it looks like it could be part of the Senecio genus. It has a similar shape to the leaves as some of the Senecios on the website. They also have a forum where you can upload your pic and ask what kind it is.

I would suggest, just based on the habits of the few succulents that I've grown, that it's leggy stature might suggest that it hasn't gotten enough sunlight. Put it in a South-facing window sill if you can so it gets plenty of sun until it warms up outside.

When it gets older you may be able to prune it (and root new cuttings!) if you like a more compact/ bushy looking plant.
posted by lettuce dance at 7:16 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure that's a sedum rupestre 'angelina,' though sedums are sometimes hard to identify due to their adaptable nature (Moisture, temperature and light can really change how thin or full the plant appears.) Many (most?) sedums generally do not like living indoors because they need a noticeable temperature change between day and night. But, if you have a very sunny window you might make it work.

If you had some way to secure a pot just outside your window, it would probably do better. I have a patch of sedum rupestre 'blue spruce' and some 'angelina' like yours growing outside by my porch, and they definitely survive sub-freezing temperatures to thrive again next year.

I'm trying a selection of my sedums indoors under grow lights this winter for the first time as an experiment, including 'angelina.' Honestly the problem is that sedums thrive on neglect. They seem to have evolved to live in landslide zones. Trying too hard will kill it.

Because it is a succulent, make sure you let the soil *DRY* before you water again. Sedums (and most succulents) get sad with too much water.
posted by General Tonic at 7:33 AM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't repot it now because we're heading towards winter and typically the plant won't be actively growing so won't try to establish itself in new soil and transplanting is stressful. Succulents don't need much water over the winter months, about once a month to month and a half. If you over water the plant will rot and under watering it will initially cause the leaves to shrivel before they turn yellow and fall off. With succulents it's better to underwater imho I have a 20+ year old jade that is watered maybe every two months over the winter months. I submerge the pot in a bucket of water and then it drain after the soil has sucked up as much water as it needed. During the summer it gets watered like other house plants.

It looks like a sedum to me.
posted by redindiaink at 7:43 AM on November 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Last thread-
sit - I'm actually in the southern hemisphere, heading into the hotter part of summer. I live in a climate with hot summer days and cold summer nights, and i have a window ledge that sounds perfect. Thanks!
posted by tabubilgirl at 7:59 AM on November 20, 2014

I think it might be portulaca. Pot it up in sandy, crappy soil, put it out on the windowsill and forget about it. If it eventually blooms, enjoy it.
posted by cookie-k at 10:03 AM on November 20, 2014

My first thought is that it looks like an ice plant, though the wiki photos aren't as convincing as google. It's a little different so I don't think it's exactly that but it might be similar.

So I kill plants as well, so I tell you this to give you confidence, ice plants are what they plant on the sides of highways in southern California b/c they are so very very hardy, grow well and require very little water. Follow cookie-k's advice and you should be great!
posted by pennypiper at 11:29 AM on November 20, 2014

Be observant of it the first month or so. That guy will die horribly with too frequent watering (the stalks will rot and collapse), but underwatering - as long as you catch it and resolve the issue - will just lead to a few small leaves shriveling and falling off. If I were you I'd make it my goal to try to figure out how long it takes to get to under-watered, even if it loses a few leaves, and then water it slightly more frequently than that.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:33 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

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