MIDDLETOWN, NJ - Where have you been all my life? That was the question I asked myself as I began to learn about these easy-care plants known as Succulents.

The reason for my discovery of Succulents was that they represented one part of a class, or grouping, in the Horticultural section of Garden Club R.F.D.’s Small Standard Flower Show that was held on December 8 at Middletown Arts Center. I thought, “This might be an interesting area of the world of plants for me to explore.”

Before delving into the purchase of these plants and bringing them into my home, I knew that I needed to self-school myself and make it a point of discussion at a regular meeting of my garden club that gathers at the Little Red Schoolhouse on the corner opposite Thompson Middle School in Middletown. There, on the third Tuesday of each month, a sharing of knowledge often takes place—in fact, it is a must for the members who thrive in its nurturing environment. One member’s expertise may be just what another member needs to learn.

I learned that Succulents (from the Latin word, “succulentus,” for juice or sap) are defined by their moisture-storing capacity and are represented in over 40 botanical families that are spread all over the world and include close relatives of the poinsettia, geranium, lily, grape, amaryllis, daisy and milkweed. Medicinal aloe vera and the familiar Chicks and Hens are two examples of succulents many are familiar with. There is an incredible variety of whimsical and fantastic succulents and cacti that makes choosing one, or even five (as I did) exquisite torture.

All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti and that’s because while many may look like cacti, they do not have small, round, cushion-like structures called areoles from which spines, branches, hair, leaves and even flowers grow.

Succulents are known as survivors. Their tough skin makes them unappealing to most pests and predators and because their stems, leaves or roots hold so much water, they are able to survive long dry spells. Also, a waxy or horny material covers the skin and reduces evaporation from the surface.

Once the plants are in your home, a few basic growing conditions need to be met to ensure happy and healthy plants.

1. They need brightly lit areas.

2. Succulents have growth cycles that are generally in response to water and temperature. When temperatures are cool and moisture low, Succulents will go dormant. When temperatures are warm and moisture is more abundant, they grow more actively. For example, the Christmas Cactus prefers warm temperatures and moist soils during the late spring and summer and cool temperatures and dry soil for several months before their yearly blooming-- as you can see in the picture.

3. Dormant plants prefer temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees with occasional light watering.

4. During the summer, succulents may be taken outdoors into a lightly shaded area and kept watered.

Succulents can be the almost perfect houseplants—asking little but offering much in way of interest. Easy care, a host of hues to choose from and winter flowers! Are you ready to become a supporter of Succulents?

Try joining us at the January, 2016, meeting of Garden Club R.F.D. that takes place on January 19 at the Little Red Schoolhouse. The program will be “Propagation, Getting Ready for Next Year’s Garden” with actual demonstrations and sample cuttings. Call June Smith at 732-671-9216, our Membership Chair, to ask questions or to tell her that you are interested and would like to come to a meeting.

We are a member of the Garden Club of New Jersey that is part of the Central Atlantic Region of the National Garden Club. And by the way, if you were secretly wondering about the R.F.D. in our name—it stands for Rural Free Delivery that was the way mail was delivered to our historic schoolhouse back in the day.