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The Metro Green Thumb Club: Jamie Lyn Arcega Introduces Us To The Creative World Of Cacti And Succulent Gardening

"Potted cacti and succulents are a great way to get initiated into gardening. You learn how to observe and listen to plants, you learn about working with water and sunlight to grow your plants, you learn about propagation. They work wonders for boosting your gardening confidence!" she says


So you think you're a bona fide plantita. This question from Jamie Lyn Arcega, founder of Smarty Plants PH, should weed out the the plant moms and dads truly deserving of the title. 


True or false: Cacti and succulents are low-maintenance and don't need water.


Final answer? 


False! Like most living creatures, they most definitely need their fair share of water, albeit the appropriate amount. 


For those not easily discouraged, she poses a second question. 





Is it true that cacti and succulents make great indoor plants, and they'll be A-okay when you make a cozy spot for them in a place like your work station, coffee table, or kitchen counter? 


Yes and no, Jamie explains. These kinds of plants thrive—that is, bloom— get their beautiful colors, and maintain their unique shapes—thanks to exposure to sunlight, so if they stay indoors, they'll need a spot that lets them soak up enough sun.


If you didn't perfect this this pop quiz, worry not! Jamie, a PR professional turned plant lover and entrepreneur, is just happy to have left you with a green nugget or two to enrich what you already know about gardening. 


Just like many budding green thumbs these days, she, too, started with limited knowledge about creating lush gardens, let alone launching a business that specializes in perhaps some of the most misunderstood plants there are. 


For those looking to learn more about the under-appreciated art of caring for cacti and succulents, you've come to the right place. Jamie shares everything she's learned over the years, and in the end, gives you all the inspiration you need to try your hand at caring for your own thorny and/or waxy beauties! 


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"At the time I started (which was around 2014) potted cacti and succulents were a novelty. It was new, it was cute, it was easy. I loved that there was such a variety available to play around with. As a newbie myself, it was fun to find new varieties every time I would go plant shopping," Jamie begins. 


Coming from the events industry, she'd first developed a love for plants after seeing how much they could liven up a space; just a pot or two here, or a fresh arrangement there made a world of a difference. 


"I would even think it was such as waste to just discard [plants] after [events]. I wanted to learn how to make my own arrangements but something more 'permanent,' something that would last longer. So I started learning about terrariums and dish gardens," she continues. 


And so began her rewarding relationship with plants, something she's since shared with others wishing to discover the joys of caring for their very own gardens regardless of what they wish to nurture. As for choosing to focus on small potted cacti and succulents in particular, she says that they're a great gateway for new gardeners as their size (and cuteness and fuss-free qualities) are much less intimidating than, say, a massive flowery or leafy plant that requires regular pruning, watering, and fertilizing. 


Think of succeeding at taking care of one of Jamie's cacti or succulents as a building block to what she gamely calls your "gardening confidence;" you learn how to become more observant of (even more intuitive towards) your plants, plus there's nothing quite like the feeling of knowing your own efforts have resulted in another living thing, well, living. 

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That's not to say that low-maintenance cacti and succulents are simply "practice plants" and aren't deserving of the same kind of awe their more delicate and prized counterparts receive (think rare and expensive orchids or giant pots home to thick stalks of multi-colored, uniquely shaped waxy leaves).


"...They are equally rewarding when they do show off. I am always amazed when my cacti and succulents produce beautiful flowers," Jamie shares.


Let your creativity bring out the best in them; you can arrange and rearrange potted cacti and succulents to make your own dish garden, you can grow them outdoors to uniquely line the pathway to your front door, or you can even learn how to build a cactus/succulent-friendly terrarium that's sure to be a statement piece in your home.  Let your imagination lead the way when it comes to figuring out what varieties would look stunning together, or what kinds of containers to use. 






Jamie is definitely glad to see a spike in an interest in gardening, in all its shapes and forms, thanks to quarantine living. One of the few welcome consequences of staying home for extended periods of time was people wanting to beautify their spaces, and for many, that included learning how to keep foliage alive and thriving.


"I would never say no to people who say they want to purchase plants. I say 'Go for it!' Having plants in the home/living space/work space is very therapeutic. Having something green and fresh in a space can be really uplifting; it really brings nature indoors. At a time such as this when we need some sort of symbol of hope, if we find it in cacti and succulents, then so be it," Jamie states. 

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If you've ever paid a visit to a gardening store or seen cacti and succulents for sale in your last trip to the mall and wondered if you were capable of caring for them, the answer is yesOr at least, with five cacti and succulent-focused tips from Jamie, you can be!  


Here's what she advises:  


#1 Patience is a virtue

"Don’t expect a jungle right away when you start bringing home a few pots here and there," Jamie begins. If you expect your cacti and succulents to grow at an unbridled pace, know that a lot of them can be slow growers, but don't be discouraged from expecting to see results. In fact, don't be put off if a plant doesn't thrive at all... or needs replacing. "Not everyone gets it right the first time, and that’s OK. Even the most seasoned gardeners will still have plants that will just not agree with them from time to time," she explains. 


#2 Be a good listener

As with all relationships, and that includes those you have with your plants, learn to communicate. In this case, listen well because according to Jamie, your cacti and succulents will "show you if they like their conditions or not. Plants are not afraid to let you know that they need light and water. Take a note of changes so you will know what to do."

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#3 Safety first

No, this doesn't mean that your cacti and succulents can grow into monster plants from a Stephen King novel, but do take note of who might come into contact with them. If you've got pets or small children that may be harmed by a cactus' spikes or accidentally ingest a succulent's leaf, do your due diligence as a plantita and keep all living things in your home safe.


#4 Be responsible

And Jamie doesn't just advice this in terms of learning how to keep your plants alive. She says, "Don’t just jump onto the bandwagon because everyone else has... It saddens me to hear that plants are being destroyed, and even endangered ones are poached, all for the sake of riding a trend. Know where your plants are sourced, if you can." Be careful about unintentionally purchasing a protected specie and further adding to their decline in their natural habitats.


#5 Get dirty

With organic matter, that is. "Be adventurous. Gardening means getting your hands dirty! So don’t shy away from soil (and the little critters that come with it!). And gardening equals mess! So be ready for always cleaning up after," she says. 

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For those more advanced in their gardening game, Jamie also suggests to connect with other gardeners as you can arrange to swap cuttings or "props" (parts of one of a kind plants from their own gardens that you can propagate in yours).


And when it comes to materials, there are a hundred and one online and physical stores to check out. Anything from soil and containers are now easily accessible thanks to the gardening boom the pandemic has brought about. Local artisans in particular are a great resources for those who wish to achieve a certain aesthetic with their cacti and succulents.







As for Jamie herself, her next project is to get a better grasp of landscaping to prettify her own garden. 



Syngoniums, pothos, and philodendrons abound in her home, and for Christmas, she might even arrange a terrarium or two to give as gifts.


So what do you say? What kind of cactus and succulent will you start with? There are round ones and plump ones, tall ones, purple ones and dusty green ones, flowering ones, and squishy ones! With so many to choose from, we're betting you're likely to come home with one (or two or three) more pot than you'd originally planned!


Photos courtesy of Jamie Lyn Arcega