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A Plant Lesson from Andrea Afra, Houston's Succulent Whisperer

How to have a lush outdoor space, no green thumb required.

By Beth Levine November 10, 2016

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Andrea Afra's succulent-filled patio.

Image: Beth Levine

I love outdoor living. My patio is my favorite place to relax—not just for me, but also for my cat, Mrs. Fat. I usually start out the season with everything looking so fresh, so lush, so green. Then something happens. No matter what I try, what I buy, somehow my green thumb becomes a black thumb and my lush landscape becomes, well, not so lush.

Perplexed and saddened by my seeming inability to keep plant life alive on my patio, I came across Houstonian Andrea Afra’s Instagram feed, @sucsforyou. I found myself obsessed with her feed and filled with succulent envy. Sucs For You’s feed was everything I wanted my outdoor space to encompass, and surely even I, owner of two black thumbs, could keep succulents alive, right?

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Andrea Afra, who shares her succulent love on Instagram as @sucsforyou

Image: Beth Levine

With this hope, I reached out to Andrea (whom I now lovingly refer to as the the "Succulent Whisperer") to see if she would not only sell me one of her handcrafted succulent designs, but offer insight on how to shop for and care for the just-right plants for your outdoor—or even indoor—spaces. 

Afra has cultivated succulents for over 15 years, well before they were a modern design mainstay, but it wasn’t until last summer that she started honing in on the concept and content of Sucs For You, fully immersing herself in the online imagery and culture of the succulent community. 

Her entire outdoor space at home is dedicated to taking care of her succulent family, paying special attention to how they all interact with one another. Nothing is ever left behind in her garden, as Afra has her own propagation system designed to keep every beloved plant in a constant cycle of rebirth.

Afra's deep connection to her succulents is palpable, and spending the afternoon in her sanctuary made me want to run around and gather up every succulent I could find and run home with them. Thankfully, in the hopes of turning my black thumb green, she prepared an arrangement specifically designed to help beginners like me, along with instructions.

During our time together I learned that shopping for just the right succulents is just as vital as taking care of them. Andrea’s creations are a symbiotic union of both. Houston’s climate can be brutal on plant life, but Afra has picked up some tricks to keep hope alive. She uses a make-up brush to dust clean the leaves so as not to disturb the plants' natural wax protection (known as farina) which can happen if you wipe the leaves.

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Andrea Afra designed this simple succulent arrangement specifically for the plant-challenged.

Image: Beth Levine

For my beginner arrangement, Afra chose succulent species specifically for the green-thumb-challenged. Moving left to right from the back left corner, the rosette-shaped bloomers are Echeveria Starburst, next to Crassula Muscosa, which looks like a watch chain or a piece of coral and adds a unique texture.

Pinkish-green Anacampseros will produce little purple and white flowers at certain times of year, while Kalanchoe Millotii has a fuzzy texture that begs to be touched. (Yes, you really should touch your succulents!) In the front row Afra placed a small aloe, a spray of Sedum Dasyphyllum—more commonly known as Stone Crop—and a Kalanchoe Tubiflora (Chandelier Plant) in a mini pot.

Not only are all of these easy to care for—"don't water them!" was Afra's main care instruction—but they can also all be re-potted in separate, larger vessels as they grow, to hopefully spread the green around my entire patio.

It's only been a few days since Afra's lesson, and my succulents and I are happily living together at home. We're all, thankfully, still alive. I'm in it for the long haul, as long as I've got the Succulent Whisperer to guide me towards that green thumb. 

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