The opening line in Wikipedia for Succulents reads, “Nearly all cacti are succulents; but not all succulents are cacti.”
That is a significant statement for the indoor or patio gardener who is dependent upon plants that can easily be grown in pots. Succulents have a sort of superpower. Because they store water and nutrients in their fleshy stems, if you have a big work project or finals week sneaks up to gobble your time before you are quite ready, a succulent will usually manage just fine for a week or two without being watered or generally pampered.
Succulent plants can range in size from the smallest members of the sempervivum family, sometimes called hens and chicks, to Aloe Barbarae, which is a tree-sized succulent native to Africa that can grow as tall as 60 feet, or three stories high. Obviously, you are unlikely to have a mature aloe barbarae in your greenhouse or on your patio, but they grow slowly, so you might be able to keep one in a large GRC pot for many years.
Cacti, most of which are succulents, also vary in size. They can range from junior members of the Golden Barrel Cactus tribe to the magnificent elephant cactus, native to Mexico and southwestern United States, believed to be some of the largest cactus anywhere. Many of these fascinating plants are a bit prickly, in every sense of the word. Some of them are particular about their soil, while others can become aggressively invasive, especially where water supplies are involved. A good pot can solve a lot of problems when it comes to growing cactus, ranging from easily providing just the right soil mix to restraining those wandering roots and babies.
Another plant that does well in a pot is agave, the famed “century plant.” While they do not usually grow for a full one hundred years before blossoming, they frequently do grow for twenty to twenty-five years before putting up a bloom stalk. They create lovely rosette-shaped plants that look great in containers. More than that, if you have your agave in a container you can keep it just a little bit low on nutrients and a little bit short on watering with an eye toward keeping it from blooming. Agave might bloom more often than every one hundred years, but most of them blossom only once. That magnificent bloom spike, which can be amazingly tall compared to the plant, is the agave’s swan song. But do not fret. Most of them leave a legacy of little plantlets that can be placed in new pots and sold or shared around with friends.
All of which brings us back around to the concept of placing succulents in pots. Since succulents are available in all sorts of sizes and species, then it is logical that you might need more than one size of pot. A lovely modern concept is to purchase a matched set of GRC pots in graduated sizes. The matching colors or designs helps create a unified appearance for your garden, patio, or sunroom while the varying sizes make it easy to accommodate plants that need new pots, or a variety of plants that require different sizes of pots.
Why GRC pots? GRC stands for Glass Fiber-reinforced Concrete. Adding fiber or aggregate to cement to make it stronger is not a new concept. Cement is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “a powdery substance made with calcined lime and clay.”
On its own, cement is somewhat fragile, but when mixed with gravel or other rough aggregate, it becomes fairly strong. To reach farther back in time, straw was added to clay to strengthen bricks.
GRC combines these principles. Glass fibers are added to a cement and silica sand mix and poured into molds. When fired, the result is a super strong but lightweight pot. This is a super blessing for indoor gardeners, especially those who might be pampering a baby tree-sized Aloe or infant elephant cactus, pending the day when these unique plants might find a home outdoors. As any gardener will tell you, a large plant requires a large pot. Super large pots sometimes require mechanical means, such as a dolly or even a forklift, to move them. A GRC pot is not a complete solution for this problem. Water, plus growing medium, plus plant is still going to be a weighty item to move around, but at least you are not adding a heavy pot to the load.
GRC has another attribute that is just amazing. It is super strong. Plastic, once the miracle cure for the big pot problem, tends to break down after four or five years of use. Terracotta, porcelain, and similar materials are inherently fragile. Metal tends to heat up in the sun, and plain old concrete pots have this outgassing problem that makes them environmentally unsound.
GRC pots have far lower emissions during manufacture, they are tough and durable, and therefore unlikely to join the millions of plastic pots that have made their way into the landfill.
All of these things make growing hardy, able to withstand some neglect, succulents of any size in beautiful, designer, GRC pots.