One of the most instantly recognizable succulent types, the Echeveria genus is comprised of about 150 unique plants, all of which are native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. Having been extensively hybridized, there is an Echeveria for everyone, with a variety of leaf shapes, colors, and sizes to suit any style. While not difficult to grow, Echeveria do have specific requirements in order to flourish, grow to their full potential, and even bloom!
Appearance and Growth Habit
While some Echeveria can grow to the size of a dinner plate, many remain more compact, and make for a great addition to containers, succulent arrangements, and rock gardens. While all varieties fundamentally share the classic rosette growth pattern, the appearance of the leaves varies greatly between cultivars. While Echeveria 'Raindrops,' for instance, features an incredibly unique globular bump in the center of each leaf, its cousin Echeveria gibbiflora 'Blue Curls' features ruffled blue leaves, which give the entire rosette a crinkled affect.
When determining where best to highlight the unique appearance of Echeveria, bear in mind that it is not cold hardy beyond a Zone 10, and must be protected from frost during the colder months.
Echeveria require bright sun, ideally via a south-facing window, but can tolerate some shade – especially during the heat of the afternoon, when the sun’s rays can burn plants that are not properly acclimated. Quite prone to etiolating, Echeveria will begin to stretch without enough bright light, taking on a leggy appearance and losing their characteristic tight rosette shape. If the natural lighting in your home is too diffuse, you can supplement with a grow light to keep your Echeveria happy, especially during the dimmer winter months. Furthermore, it is worth noting that varieties with rich leaf coloration, such as Echeveria nodulosa with its swirled mint and magenta leaves, will maintain their bright coloration far better in higher light conditions.
Echeveria that receive enough sunlight will also reward you with blooms, which emerge on tall stalks and sport a variety of beautiful colors such as red, coral, and yellow. Some varieties, like Echeveria Esther, even bloom in coordination with the coloration of their leaves – in this case, blush pink blooms emerge from blueish-green rosettes also edged in a bright, warm pink! If your Echeveria lives outdoors during the warmer months, the blooms are known to attract pollinators such as butterflies and even hummingbirds.
Like most succulents, Echeveria require a very porous soil in a pot equipped with excellent drainage, to avoid the roots sitting in damp conditions for too long. Good airflow is also essential, to help the tightly packed leaves remain dry and free of pests. This is especially critical for varieties such as Echeveria 'Ramillette' Cristata, which is a crested succulent whose stems don’t grow in a typical branching pattern, but instead cluster together in a broad, flat surface that can easily trap water and humidity from stagnant air.
Be sure to remove old, dried leaves from the bottom of the rosettes promptly, to help further protect against rot and unwanted pests, such as gnats and mealy bugs.
The “soak and dry” method of watering works quite well for Echeveria, providing the roots with a thorough soaking only once the soil has had a chance to dry from the last round of water. It is important, however, to take care to water the soil directly, rather than pouring water into the rosette, as water accumulations between the leaves can predispose the plant to rot.
Varieties with the thickest and chubbiest leaves, like Echeveria Purpusorum, will require less frequent watering than the thinner-leaved varieties, like Echeveria ‘Blue Frills’ – the best way to determine when each unique variety needs a drink is to look at the leaves, which will wrinkle as the plant’s water stores become depleted.
Echeveria are extremely easy to propagate, as they readily produce offsets or can be started from leaf cuttings. Offsets can be carefully cut away from the base of the parent plant, allowed to callus over for a few days, and then planted into fresh, well-draining soil. The same protocol can be followed for leaf cuttings, which can be gently twisted away from the parent rosette and allowed to callus over before being placed on a lightly damp soil surface to grow.
Echeveria can also be grown from seed, but this is certainly not the most efficient method, as seedlings can take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years to mature into adult plants with full-on rosettes!
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