You see them everywhere: grocery store counters, home goods stores, filling cute little votives as table centerpieces and party favors.  Succulents have become a decorating and gift giving staple.

I was first introduced to succulents shortly after I graduated from college.  My apartment was bare, I saw a tray of tiny succulents marked down at the grocery store, and the rest is history.  I was delighted with my new plant friends and, since people (and the internet) kept telling me how easy succulents were, was sure we would be together forever.

"Forever" lasted about four months.  Most of my succulents stretched into snaky nightmare versions of themselves and slowly wasted away.  Others refused to grow and rotted no matter how little I watered them.  I felt like a failure.  What kind of monster was I to have killed such an easy houseplant?

Succulents in Context

The term "succulent" is a fairly broad one and refers to pretty much any plant with thick, fleshy parts used to retain moisture.  In the houseplant world, we group things like cacti, jade, echeveria, and aloe together under the "succulent" umbrella because they require similar care: good drainage, lots of light, minimal water.  This makes sense considering that most of those plants' natural environments are arid and sunny.

Deceptively Easy

Calling any houseplant "easy" is a tricky business.  Each plant requires different things to thrive; what's easy for one plant parent to provide may be difficult for another plant parent.  So much also depends on the environment in which the plant was raised and the environment that you bring it home to.  For example, sun-loving succulents will never do well in damp space with no windows.

Instead of shopping for "easy" houseplants, try instead to be realistic about your space and your plant parenting tendencies.  My small apartment doesn't have many windows, and all of my plants have to be kept out of reach of a very curious kitty.  I also love the routine of a weekly watering schedule--low maintenance, ignore-me-and-I-thrive plants don't work for me.

So no, I probably won't replace my one-time army of tiny succulents.  Instead, I have a treasured philodendron that's close to ten years old, a Christmas cactus that blooms whenever it feels like it, and a money tree that was supposed to be bonsaied but grew two feet instead.  These are the plants that work in my space and my life which, for me, makes them easy.

Flora Michler