No green thumb? Try the neglect plant
Here's a plant you will never have to spray, prune, deadhead or tie up to support.
If you ask me, it should be called 'the neglect plant,' but the 18th-century botanist who discovered it decided to call it after himself, so its name is a little more difficult: echeveria (say ek-eh-VER-ee-uh or esh-eh-VER-ee-uh.)
This thing is like hen and chickens on steroids: a large rosette of juicy leaves that look ruffled on the edges. The colors are spectacular. Good thing we've got pictures, because I'm at a loss as to how to explain it.
Echeveria hybrids are a rich relative of the much-maligned hen and chickens you may have seen. Hen and chickens have green rosettes of fleshy leaves with pointy tips that seem to hatch one after the other overnight. The new hybrid echeverias are in the same family, but these relatives are very fancy.
Burl Mostul of Rare Plant Research in Southeast Portland grows a couple thousand every year to sell to garden centers. Mostul admits he used to think of them as 'junk plants,' but now he hunts them in Mexico.
To Mostul, the echeveria is one plant that is in the 'One picture is worth a thousand words' category. He says it reminds him of a thick-leafed winter kale.
If you're short on space with only a small terrace or patio in full sun, here's your plant. There really isn't an easier one to grow.
Grow the plant in the soil it comes in, or repot it with a fast-draining cactus soil mix. Mostul takes plants out of the pot and grows them right in his clay garden soil with everything else. The trick, he says, is leaving the original soil around the root ball undisturbed; the water will just drain right through it.
If there's one drawback to the echeveria hybrids, it might be the fact that they have to come inside for the winter. Echeveria is a goner anywhere below 25 degrees. So make it a house plant before the first frost.
'The secret is to keep it relatively dry and let it go dormant in the winter if you don't have bright light,' Mostul says.
You can keep it growing indoors with a grow light, but allowing the succulent to remain cool and dry gives the plant a chance to hunker down for the winter without any care from you. If it gets too tall, you can just cut off the rosette top with about 2 inches of stem still attached at the base, Mostul advises. Let the stem dry out and heal over for a couple of days, then set it on top of some cactus mix. In three weeks, that echeveria will be getting all sorts of oohs and ahs again.
This week's to-do list
• For greater strength and more flowers, pinch the top growth off dahlias when the plants reach 12 inches or so.