How to Kill Succulents

How Not To Kill Succulents

What IS it with New Yorkers? Whatever we’re cheerfully crazy about on the West Coast is dismissed by somber-clothed subway sprinters as idiotic. Or at least that’s the vibe I got from a reporter with New York Magazine, who disguised her weather envy with a lot of polite questions. Evidently what she really wanted was yet more reasons to diss succulents.

Jamie Lauren Keiles emailed that she was researching an article on how to kill succulents, and would I be available for a phone interview? I responded that I had killed plenty and would be happy to explain how.

I figured she was kidding.

SHE WASN’T. An excerpt:

“What kind of asshole hates a plant? Me, I guess. A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop in Bed-Stuy, glowering at a jade plant in a ceramic mug, unable to get the phrase benign uterine polyp out of my head. The surge of disgust took me by surprise. For most of my life, I believed myself to like succulents. I loved them, even. In the same way that a baby’s oversize head and round eyes provoke empathy, the plump and whimsical leaves of these desert plants felt undeniably cute. But as with babies, more plants does not necessarily equal more cute. One baby? Adorable. Hundreds of babies in twee upcycled teacups atop every coffee-shop table and windowsill in your neighborhood? A nightmare.”

I emailed her: “just read your article on killing succulents, and would like you to know that they forgive you, sappy plants that they are.”

To not leave the question begging—and because succulent lovers (as well as haters) need to know—

“But what if one did want to kill a succulent? Or many succulents? Hypothetically speaking.

‘Their roots are not set up to deal with too much water,’ Baldwin told me. ‘So the No. 1 way to kill a succulent is to love it too much.’

With this in mind, we succulent-haters wait in hiding. It’s only a matter of time.”

Btw, I had told Jamie, “Every reporter’s favorite quote from me seems to be, ‘People used to say they hate succulents. Now they say they love them.’ So would you please use a different one?”

She wrote:

“Baldwin worked with succulents before the current fad, in an era when plant-lovers considered them ‘common’ and ‘for poor people.'”

But hey, she did mention my books. Even linked to them…more or less. (After the article appeared without links, I sent her a heart-rending reminder.)


For another East Coast reporter’s opinion and perspective, you might enjoy my post: Why Are Succulents So Popular?


Also see: How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors


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  1. Katie on February 19, 2016 at 9:35 am

    OMG. Just… OMG. You were so classy in the face of craziness.

    • Debra on February 21, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Why thank you. To be honest, I admire how the writer made succulents controversial.

  2. sue on February 20, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    you may forget how popular cynicism and ennui are among the younger set of writers. Those attitudes ‘sell’, and that’s what its all about. Their loss.

    • Debra on February 21, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      Say! I should send Jamie a jade plant, because she’s…well…jaded.

  3. Carolyn Rice on February 23, 2016 at 10:14 am

    Having worked as a reporter for many years, I had a big laugh out of your experience with reporters. I have heard you speak several times and enjoy your succulent information. My garden is full of the “poor man’s plants” and I have friends who make advance requests for adoption of the offspring of some of my rarer plants. I have other friends who have left my yard with so many cuttings of some of my huge jade plants they could hardly see out of the rear view mirror of their car! As long as a person has fun with succulents, it’s immaterial what any reporter has to say! I thoroughly enjoy my hobby of raising and sharing them.

    • Debra on February 23, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Carolyn — No kidding!? Back in the day, so was I…more or less. I didn’t do investigative reporting, nor was I on staff, but I covered homes, gardens, architecture and interior design for the San Diego Union-Tribune. I freelanced hundreds of profiles, columns and features. That was during the ’90s, in the heyday of print, right before so many periodicals choked and died due to competition from the Internet. The pay wasn’t good, but the experience was invaluable. Now, when I’m interviewed or profiled, I have a pretty good idea what’s motivating the reporter and what they’re after. I Google them before we talk, which is sometimes more than they do where I’m concerned! As for Jamie, I found her perspective refreshing. Don’t quote me (ha) but there are too many reporters fawning over succulents these days. Moreover, what she wrote was satirical. She has a tongue-in-cheek style, uses words well, and conveys a distinctive “voice.” All of which I admire very much. But what I liked best was she quoted and credited me correctly and mentioned my books!

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