I used to HATE succulents. I don't even know why. It's true - they are notoriously easy to overwater and can be picky about light quality - but these days I can't get enough of them. So much so that I've dedicated almost an entire table in the greenhouse to multiplying our collection. Once you get the hang of it, propagating succulents is SO EASY! And since they tend to be on the expensive side, it's a much cheaper option than buying them year after year.
You can propagate succulents a few different ways: leaf cuttings, tip cuttings, and divisions. Most reliably reproduce via leaf and tip cuttings, and plants that make pups (like aloe and hens & chicks) can be easily divided. It's usually obvious to tell by the way the plant grows which method you can use, but feel free to experiment. That's half the fun/challenge(/frustration?).
Most succulents thrive under bright light. If they're not getting enough, they become leggy, extending the distance between nodes in an attempt to reach for more light and leaving you with a sad, stretched-out plant. This is the perfect specimen for leaf cuttings. Simply pull off a few of the bottom leaves (you can use sharp scissors, but I find this unnecessary as most leaves pop off easily with a soft twisting motion), making sure to keep the entire leaf intact, most importantly the spot where the leaf meets the stem. This is from where new roots and shoots will grow. Planting directly into soil at this point may rot these fleshy leaves, so put aside in a dry spot for 2-3 days until the ends have callused over. Then place horizontally on top of your soil mix - either regular potting soil or a cactus mix; I've used both with equal success. Contact between the leaf node and soil isn't necessary as the roots will eventually grow down to reach it. Like their mother plant, these cuttings will rot if overwatered, so water once, then again only when the top layer of soil has dried out. If you're a chronic over-waterer, try using a spray bottle instead of watering can. This next step is slow, but with enough patience and tempered watering, you'll start seeing rootlets forming around week three or four. Some cuttings may not root, some may rot and die, some may form leaves but no roots - again, all part of the fun. Typically, leaves follow roots, then roots eventually reach the soil and become a more established baby plant. You can transplant them individually into a pot once the plants are at least a couple inches tall. And voila! A handful of new house plants to keep or gift away!
I can't tell you how many times I've broken off pieces of some of my more fragile succulents, only to turn around and make lemonade. Many succulents can be propagated from accidental or intentional tip cuttings. Just take off the top two or three inches of the plant with a sharp knife and pull all but a few leaves at the tip off. Set aside for a couple days to allow stem to callus over, then pot up into a small container of soil. Water once, then only again when the top layer of soil dries up. If your plant starts turning orangey-purple, water a little bit more, and if it starts turning yellow and squishy, STOP. That means it's getting too much and will rot if you continue watering at the same pace. And remember that sad, leggy plant that you removed the bottom leaves from to do your leaf cuttings? That's a tip cutting too! Generally, tip cuttings are a faster and more reliable way than leaf cuttings to propagate succulents. The plant below (of which I still have not found its name - let me know if you know it) is one of the easiest I've tried so far. You don't even need to remove any leaves when planting - just stick the end in the soil and water. It grew to a good-sized houseplant within a couple months and is one of my favorites.
Divisions are the easiest way to multiply your succulent collection, but not all succulents can be divided. The easiest way to tell is if it makes "pups," little baby plants that grow off the mother plant. Aloe plants and hens & chicks are perfect examples. Their pups are attached by runners (aloe below ground, hens & chicks above ground), so you just need to separate them from the mother plant and repot into their own containers. No need to set aside to callus.
Some ground cover succulents, like sedum and delosperma, can also be divided. They will root wherever a stem touches the ground, so it's easy to dig up a chunk from your garden and transplant to a new spot or into a container. Overgrown potted plant? Pull it out, pull apart starting at the root ball, and repot each chunk into it's own container. It's really that easy. I split the plant below into four new plants, giving each chunk a haircut to keep neat before repotting. There was tons leftover from said haircut, so I kept a few pieces and replanted as tip cuttings.
Soon you'll become a propagating pro, and you'll have more plants you know what to do with. For real. It's addicting. Don't say I didn't warn you! If you're lucky, you have friends who are always willing to give your extras a home. Cause who doesn't love free plants?
Hot dogs, baseball, apple pie...and green lawns? Few things are as irrefutably American. Starting in the latter half of the twentieth century, as "victory gardens" lost their shine and suburbia took hold, many home owners opted for the new ideal of a clean, expansive, bright green, weed-free lawn. And that tradition has largely continued to this day.
Being soft and bare-foot friendly, grass offers the perfect space for outdoor entertaining. It absorbs and filters water, improving water quality and reducing storm water runoff and erosion. It provides oxygen and creates a cooling effect during hot summer months, and trap dust and dirt that would otherwise find itself inside your home. Lawns offer many benefits to home owners, but they also come at an environmental cost. According to the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, 30% of water on the East Coast and 60% on the West Coast goes to watering lawns. In states that already suffer from drought conditions, that's a huge drain on resources. 18% of all municipal solid waste is yard debris, and the average lawn receives up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre than farm land - that's 70 million tons per year. Those stats are staggering, to say the least. But what can we do?
1. Start with healthy soil. Most plants thrive in slightly acidic soil, so perform a simple pH test to determine if you're in that ideal range of 6.5 to 7.0. Even if there are nutrients in the soil, plants can't necessarily absorb them unless the pH is correct. See nutrient availability chart here. Add lime to raise pH and sulphur to lower it. Spread a thin layer of compost on top of your lawn every year if you can. This helps increase organic matter and water retention, and will benefit both clay and sandy soils. Most lawns become compacted over time due to heavy foot traffic, so aerate accordingly.
2. Be water smart. Allowing the top couple inches of an established lawn to dry out between waterings forces roots to grow deeper, increasing drought tolerance, so water deeply and infrequently. Most lawns need just one to two inches per week. Test your sprinkler output with a measuring cup or rain gauge and adjust as needed. Water early in the morning to discourage fungal and bacterial diseases.
3. Switch to an organic fertilizer. Maintaining a lush, green lawn with synthetic chemicals is one of the most inefficient landscape practices we perform. Think about it - we go through the whole rigmarole of buying expensive fertilizers to apply at least twice a year, but then we pick up the grass clippings every time we mow, effectively removing the only source of natural fertilizer our lawn receives and wasting money in the process. Switch to an organic fertilizer like seaweed, bone meal, blood meal, epsom salt, or compost tea and leave those grass clippings on the ground. They're small enough that they biodegrade within the week and become unnoticeable anyway.
4. Don't be overly concerned with weeds (unless they're listed as invasive to your area). You may think those dandelion and clover heads are unsightly, but native pollinators love them. Clover is also a nitrogen-fixer, so naturally helps keep your lawn greener. And if you really can't stand the weeds, mechanically pull or spot spray with a citrus oil or white vinegar weed killer early in the season. Chemical herbicides kill up to 80% of earthworms in your yard and can be tracked inside your house, persisting longer than they do outside. They can also leach into groundwater sources, causing pollution down the line. Use corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent. It's safe, natural, but not as long lasting as its synthetic counterparts so may need to be reapplied multiple times. As with most organic methods, all of these require more patience and vigilance, but you'll be rewarded with a healthier lawn and household.
5. Know when to mow. Most grasses can be kept at two and a half to three and a half inches tall. Don't mow too short or you risk exposing surface roots, causing your lawn to dry out faster. And never mow more than one third of a lawn's height as it can send grass into shock. When trying to tame an overgrown lawn, start high and gradually work your way down. Cut slightly shorter in the fall to avoid mold problems.
6. Replace traditional lawns with a native, drought-tolerant grass mix or other lawn alternative. Native grasses are already suited to your area's climate, so should perform better without supplemental watering or fertilizing. In recent years, low-mow and no-mow grasses have become more popular for low-maintenance areas. There are so many other options for a beautiful yard! Try planting ground covers like thyme, clover, sedum, ajuga, creeping charlie, moss, snow-in-summer, or sweet woodruff. These never need to be mowed and have the added benefit of seasonal flowering. You can reduce your lawn area by adding foundation plantings, shrub and perennial beds, or even a small edible garden or raised vegetable bed. Go all out and build a dry river bed and rock garden. The possibilities are endless.
What is certain is that chemically-saturated lawn care is hard on your wallet, your health, and the environment. So switch over to organic methods today and start planning a more creative yard.
When searching for DIY compost bins online, it's easy to get overwhelmed at the vast array of plans available. Do you want one bin or three? Moveable or stationary? Do you have the tools to build them? Do you know how to use those tools? As someone with pretty limited experience in carpentry, I get easily intimidated with complicated cuts and equipment. But while looking for something to replace the pallet bins I'd built a couple of years ago, I stumbled upon this gem. These plans were not exactly what I was looking for, but they inspired my own design. (If you are looking for a small system that's easy to move around, I recommend the link above. If you want something bigger, read on.)
These are the bins I initially built from old pallets laying around the brewery. Convenient? Yes. Functional? Yes. Durable? Not so much. While it felt great to be able to reuse materials that would otherwise be trashed, untreated pine only lasts so long. And the bins were so large, I had a hard time filling them up quickly enough to attain efficient turnover.
So I set to work creating a new plan. I found cedar boards and 2x4s at Home Depot, and purchased all the hardware from our local Wilco store. I also reused the hinges from our old bins, so that saved about $15. If you can find reclaimed hardwood lumber, go for it! Recycling will make your project cheaper (and more sustainable!).
3-Bin Compost Plan
To start this project, I had the fellows at Home Depot cut my cedar boards and 2x4s into three foot sections - they don't guarantee a perfect cut, but it's much better than I can do. If you want to stain your wood, you should do it at this point rather than later. You will see why below.
One of the problems I had with our old bins was that - since I built the walls first, then installed the chicken wire - the wire wasn't flush to the corners and kept pulling itself off the wood. So I designed the new ones to bind it between layers. It makes everything a little bit harder to put together, but the results are 110% better.
Staple the chicken wire along the top edge of the top board and bottom edge of the bottom board again, then square the boards and screw them into the skinny side of another 2x4. Continue the same process for wall 3, following the 2x4 positioning laid out in plan above. Cut the chicken wire along the edge of your last stud. To finish off this wall, staple wire onto its backside and secure the 2x4s into position with (3) 2.5" screws each. You can now assemble the rest of the walls following their respective patterns in the plan.
After the bins are assembled, the doors should feel like a piece of cake. Though they are the same height, they will be a little bit narrower at 33" wide (and all identical). You can either cut three inches off the remaining fence boards, or construct first with all the long ends hanging off one side and cut with a reciprocating saw. I did the latter. Notice you will also only be using fence boards for the doors, no 2x4s, as well as the 1.25" wood screws. Once the doors are done, attach the hinges and locking mechanisms as shown and viola! You have a beautiful, functional, and durable compost bin that you can show off to your neighbors. Remember if you do choose to stain your bins, use non-toxic materials so that you don't inadvertently introduce harmful chemicals into your garden. I also perched the whole system on top of cheap concrete pavers to reduce contact with the ground, staving off wood decay and increasing air flow to the bottom of future compost piles.
Hopservatory Manager, NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador