Haworthia Attenuata pictured above in a Living Coaster.
The Look: Resembles a tiny aloe plant. With fleshy green pointed leaves and white bumpy stripes. With low light, the leaves tend to get a little wild in search of sunlight. I've had some that resemble the tentacles of an octopus or squid. With bright light, the leaves will stay small and more orderly.
Daily Care: Plant in quick draining cactus soil. Water frequently in spring summer months, the soil does not have to dry completely between waterings at this time, just make sure it’s not sitting in excess water. Fertilize with diluted liquid cactus fertilizer once a month during the spring/summer, never during the winter. The zebra plant likes indirect full sun to bright shade but will tolerate full shade for a while. If the leaves turn white or light yellow, it is getting too much direct sun. This plant does well on an indoor window sill or as an office plant if you give it some weekend sun.
Flowers: Not common for indoor plants, but it can produce small pink or white flowers at the end of an inflorescence (thin stem).
Propagation: once mature, offshoots will emerge from the bottom of the plant. These offshoots can be removed with a knife, left to callus over, then replanted.
Growth: Slow growing, especially during the winter. You will probably need to re-pot after 2 or more years. To keep it small, you can also trim off the bottom leaves if they spread out too far to fit easily in the coaster.
Living Coaster Compatibility: Excellent. If planted at a young age (small size), this small and slow growing plant thrives in a Living Coaster. This plant prefers not to have water on inside the rosette, so watering it from below like in a coaster is ideal. It is quite hardy and can tolerate frequent waterings in the spring/summer and as little as 1-2 waterings in the winter time. It can also handle temperatures down to near freezing.
Orostachys boehmeri or Orostachys iwarenge a.k.a Chinese Dunce Cap
The Look: Small soft rosettes in a bluish green/grey color with shooting off runners of tiny offspring - similar to a spider or strawberry plant. This plant gets its nickname for the bloom that emerges from the center of the mother plant. It creates a tall cone shape, similar to a dunce hat.
Daily care: This plant can tolerate poor soil, but it needs to drain well. It prefers full sun, if it receives low light, the petals will start to stretch and it will look more like a daisy than a rose. Wait until the soil is dry before watering again. Trim away dead leaves as it can attract bugs (mealybugs love this plant!) or promote rot.
Flowers: A tall cone of tiny flower buds will emerge from the mother plant in autumn. The flowers are very small and a creamy white color. Once the plant blooms, it will die shortly after.
Propagation: Very easy once the mother has produced a baby on a runner. If possible, let the baby plant grow a few roots before separating it from the mother. New plants can also be propagated from mature leaves.
Growth: The mother plant is slow growing and doesn’t get much larger than 1.5” across.
Living Coaster Compatibility: An easy plant to care for and with it’s small baby offshoots, it’s a very interesting plant. This plant will not tolerate sitting in damp soil, make sure to use a course cactus soil and don’t over-water. It can handle a few weeks without water so it’s good for travelers. Chinese Dunce caps also dislike water on it’s leaves so by watering it from the bottom up with a living coaster, makes for a happy plant!
Mammillaria Gracilis - a.k.a. The Thimble Cactus
The Look: a rich, bright green flesh with groups of delicate white snowflake shaped needles. A rounded cylinder shape with many branching arms. The needles are perpendicular to the plant so it’s easy to handle and won’t accidentally bite you.
Daily Care: This cactus can tolerate both full sun and bright shade - make sure to gradually bring it to full sun if it’s been living in the shade for a while or it can burn. In the summer season, it can handle regular waterings with well draining soil and it fully drying between waterings. During the winter it prefers to have very little water.
Flowers: Small creamy white or light yellow flowers, the blooms will emerge from the ‘nodes’ grown from the previous summer season giving a flower crown effect.
Propagation: Very easy! The branches are quite easy to detach and will form roots once placed on soil.
Growth: Overall it is quite slow to grow in size. During the summer months it can grow numerous branches but the height and diameter will not change dramatically. In low light, it will lose it’s rounded shape and become more pointed and stretched in search for sunlight.
Living Coaster Compatibility: A great choice if you frequently travel (it can handle a long drought), tend to take the cooler winter months off from drinking ice-cold drinks, or have low humidity during the winter months. This cactus really enjoys having a small pot and will happily live in a Living Coaster for a couple years before needing more room. With it's non-prickly needles, it's safe to be around after a couple cocktails!
TIP: if you are propagating a succulent, make sure the stem has had 1-2 days to callus over. If you plant it right after cutting, there is a chance that it will rot instead of growing roots. Read more about propagating succulents.
Things that are tiny are somehow cuter than normal sized things - baby animals, unbelievably small full grown animals, cherry tomatoes, cupcakes, espresso shots, Mini cars, bonsai plants... and of course tiny succulents!
When I was studying biology and genetics at University, I really, really wanted to create a gene therapy that would cause animals to stay the size they were basically born at - can you imagine??? Tiny floppy puppies, fluffy peep-peep chicks, and teacup pigs that actually stay the size of teacups! But then I realized that it was ethically and morally wrong and moved on to creating amazing bikes for smaller sized people... and some tall people too :)
The trick to finding a tiny plant that will live happily in a Living Coaster is to first consider where it's going to be living and how often it will be sharing a drink with you. Basically, think about how much light the plant will see throughout the day and how much water it will get a week. The soil you use also plays a role. And of course, the plant type and variation is critical for having a happy, low maintenance tiny drinking buddy.
Living Coaster has a UV protectant added to the plastic so it will stay looking nice if it is used outside on the patio. Just note that you will need to keep it protected from rain since it has no drain hole and a heavy rain will drown your plants!
Most offices and living rooms will fall under the partial sun/shade category. Some full sun plants will survive and grow, they just might not flower or could appear "leggy." For those sun loving plants, you can treat them by setting them on a south facing windowsill over the weekend.
Fast draining cactus mix soils will dry out quicker and will take less water to fully saturate. Where as, heavy black potting mix soils will take a bit more water to saturate and will hold onto it longer. Most of the time, you will want to use the soil that your plant is in when you buy it. I live in a hot and medium humidity climate and coasters that have cactus soil mixes completely dry out in 1-2 days. Also know that with the small size of Living Coaster's plant pot, it will dry out quicker than the larger 2-4" plant nursery sized pot.
Not sure of how humid it is? I would suggest to do a test with your Living Coasters before you plant your plants. Just enjoy a cold drink as usual with an empty coaster and then see how much water has pooled at the bottom. I would also recommend rinsing the coasters out when you first get them as it will help the water flow a little easier once it has been wet. If you've got only a few droplets, you may need to give a little extra water to your plants once a week or you could add more ice to your drink.
If you are in a hot humid environment or enjoy having more than one ice-cold drinks at a time, you may find that there is too much water for your plants and the soil is supersaturated. When that happens, I just carefully tip out the extra water or use a napkin to soak up the excess. Most plants won't have an issue with this as long as the soil can dry out before the next watering.
Succulents are my top choice for Living Coasters as they tend to be low maintenance, come in a variety of colors and shapes and will propagate easily if they become too big or if you want more. With succulents being so trendy, you can also find them everywhere for cheap. If you're looking for something special, check out the online garden shops that I've listed here to find your dream plant.
Cacti work great too, just be sure your variety doesn't have too large of tap root, as it might not fit in the pot. Also, a cactus's spines may be a bit of a hazard after a cocktail or two!
Moss and ferns are super cute in a Living Coaster and can be found by going on a walk in the woods. Some types of moss will 'hibernate' if it hasn't been watered in a while and then will spring back to life once watered. This might be a good choice if you travel a lot.
HOW TO KEEP THEM TINY
Plants in a small pot won't stop growing, but they may stall or slow down. Some variety of plants happen to be very slow growing, like the Haworthia and Copiapoa Laui cactus and will last years in your coaster. If your plant does outgrow your Living Coaster, you could simply make a new home for it and transplant it into a larger pot... which would then allow you to buy a new tiny plant (addicts rejoice!). If it is a succulent, and it's now too tall, you can chop off it's "head" and either plant the "head" back in the coaster or plant the "head" in a different pot and see if the stalk shoots up new tiny plants. Read more about succulent propagation here.
LIVING COASTER PLANT GUIDE
Here are a few plant types that will work in a Living Coaster based on light and watering needs:
There are many other varieties/sub-varieties of the plants mentioned here and many completely different species that have not been mentioned. Feel free to experiment and grow something different! Tag me in Twitter or Instagram @livingcoaster and I will feature your coaster!
Have questions? You can post a comment below or message me directly on Facebook or with email.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have an engineer in their life. If you do, sometimes those engineers are just the wrong type of engineer or sometimes your engineer friend is too busy to help you with your kooky pet-project. The same goes for all the marketers, graphic designers, etc that you may know. Sometimes you don't want to overload your friends and families with requests and help can be hard to find... so what do you do?
With my background of being a product manager, I had a good understanding of the tasks and milestones for developing a new product. Somethings I could definitely do myself and for other tasks, I knew that I would need some help. For this project, I ended up outsourcing the advanced engineering work (3D part design and plastic-injection mold design), logo creation, packaging design, video graphics, and some social marketing support. Just looking at that list, it seems like there really isn't much left to do... right? Right.
Before you start recruiting for help, you should have your ducks in a row and have a preliminary timeline and budget. Don't worry about this being super accurate at this point, it's going to change as you learn more and things progress - but you need to start somewhere and be able to tell someone a target completion date (asap doesn't fly here) and how much you are willing to spend.
At this point, I've spent about 30% more than when I first estimated (which is pretty good for me, I'm a little bit of a spender ;) and as this project has progressed and I've learned a bit more, my budget estimation is getting a lot more accurate. But without an initial budget to follow, it's hard to make decisions about costly re-work, extra marketing support, etc.
After you've got your budget and timeline, the next most important tool for making that perfect product is a great project brief. You want to make sure that you will be setting up your hired help for the most efficient and best outcome possible. I spent soooo many hours searching for images on google, browsing design websites and watching stupid info-graphics all so I could clearly define and show what I wanted. There definitely is a specific vocabulary when communicating with designers or engineers, be sure to look into it before you casually start throwing descriptive words or technical sounding terms around. Here's a reference for graphic design and one for mechanical engineering.
How I was able to get help - beyond that of friends and family - was using an online freelancer finder. There are quite a few out there, but the one that I chose to use was Upwork*. I was able to post a job description and receive work offers from freelancers from all over the world. It was easy to use and seemed very safe & secure. It's free to browse and post a job offer but there is a small fee once you hire someone (I think just a couple dollars). I found a great graphic designer from Armenia that made my lovely logo (with a few alterations) in a week for less than $100. I used this service for packaging design and video graphics as well; engineering and all other kinds of services are also available. Being able to get these tasks done for a reasonable budget really inspired and helped me to try and make this product be the best it could be.
[Side note] Having experienced how these freelance/job websites work, it is inspiring as an option for a little income later down the road. For those who are working hard/saving hard for early financial independence, this could be a nice retirement gig. Being able to work when you want, for however long you want, and only on the projects that you're interested in sounds pretty amazing, right?
Ok, back on topic...
The last bit of work to do is a little scary and intimidating but I can't stress enough how important it is to do! It's SUPER important to get outside feedback on major decisions - like the look & design of the product, the name of your company, and who is your target demographic - who's buying it. It's a great reality check and can help you focus and get back on track if you feel lost or when things get tough. Being a company of one, makes it challenging to collaborate and get quick feedback. Find yourself a mentor and a group of trusted peers that will give you honest feedback. Be open to suggestions and take all feedback as good intentions... but in the end, you're the boss and you get to choose what's right.
*note, I am not getting paid for mentioning them. It is my own opinion :)
Working as a product manager in a bike company, product testing was definitely one of the most fun parts of the job. Taking an extended afternoon ride to log some miles on a new bike frame, saddle, wheels, tires, etc was a great perk, unless it was winter in Connecticut and it's raining and 35 degrees F which was typically the time when new products were developed! Weather aside, I came to love the process of developing and testing a new product and found that it is extremely exciting and rewarding.
Being a good product tester takes a lot of attention to detail as you can imagine but also a lot of compassion and understanding of who the end user is. After every bit of information or detail that you notice, you have to put it in perspective of the user - would they notice this? Is it important to them? Would they think this was a good thing or bad thing? How would it make them feel? You can't assume that you are the ideal user and that everyone will think and feel exactly the way you do - so not having an inflated ego is a good quality to have as a product tester!!
After I received my first 3D printed samples of the Living Coaster, I spent a lot of time and care in testing. For weeks I didn't plant anything in the plant pots and simply used it like a regular coaster. I did this so I could see exactly how much water would pool in the plant pot. Using different glasses, mugs, cans, I could compare how much condensation would form and make its way into the pot. Watching to see where water would get stuck and how well it would transfer from the glass to the coaster. After throughly exploring the water side, I added a small variety of plants to the coasters.
The plants were planted on Nov. 26, 2016 and six months later, they are doing well and are starting to outgrow their pots! I even had a few blooms along the way! I've been leaving them out on my window sill for days at a time and the 3D print material isn't holding up so well. The real version will have a UV protectant mixed in with the plastic.
I would say that most of the time these plants were watered as intended - using them like a coaster with a cold drink. But other times, I was either too busy to make a cold drink or I would forget to use them and would water them once a week with about a tablespoon of water from my water bottle. So this is good news if you're not a fan of ice-cold drinks or live in a cold dry place, you can simply water them like a house plant and enjoy the cute aesthetic of a tiny plant in your coaster.
Next time: finding an engineer and taking this to the next level...
After living in California through one of the worst draughts in history, I started appreciating water a lot more. I lived in a house with 7 other roommates and everyone agreed that with small changes our house could have an impact. Five-gallon buckets were placed in every shower to collect water while it warmed up to use for watering the garden. Toilet flushing was kept to the minimum, and rainwater was collected from the roof.
Yep, it was a bit of a hippy co-op but it was all for really good reason... California was running out of water. Streams and rivers were disappearing, farmers' wells were drying up and couldn't supply water for their crops and livestock. Not to mention that it's just irresponsible and embarrassing to waste so much clean water. I came to scoff at green lawns and drove my dirty, dusty car with pride.
This is why when Marshall and I were enjoying fruit smoothies at a little cafe in Ho Chi Minh, we were amused by how the glasses were just swimming in pools of condensation. Obviously, we've all probably noticed this before but for some reason - maybe it was because we were living somewhere new - we really thought about it and brainstormed on how we could put that free and effortless water to use. At first, it was just a cute idea that we chuckled at... but after a few more times of watching that puddle appear, we decided that we should really test an idea out.
Just a quick side note: when we came up with this idea, I was working part-time and had just moved to a new city so I tended to have a lot of extra time. If I had a full-time job, this project probably never would have happened. Being able to have the freedom to pursue a cool and fun idea is life changing, I hope everyone has the chance to do so if you want to. Now spoiled, I'm not sure if I'll be able to go back to that corporate 8-6 lifestyle again and hopefully I won't have to.
The first step in making this idea happen: I decided to make a model and get it 3D printed. Most DIY and makers forums recommended a free software called SketchUp. I watched some tutorials and played around for a while but I was quickly frustrated with it and realized that I could probably never be an engineer... but there had to be an easier way! Engineers are few and far between, so there must be more options geared at people with a more basic understanding of things like this. I found tinkercad.com which is free and it was prefect for my skill set... I was able to quickly model something up that seemed like it could work!
After I had my model, I checked out all the big 3D printing companies and with getting it shipped to Vietnam, it was going to cost a fortune! Instead, I looked on Facebook to find people who were offering to print things on their 3D printers. After a few messages, I found a nice surgeon who makes custom hand braces for children that agreed to print my coasters for a small fee. One week later, I had a set of coasters and bought some tiny succulents and a cactus to plant.
Next was the fun part... product testing :) read the next entry to find out more about it!
Before going any further with this crazy idea, I needed to have a reality check. Should I really be spending my time developing this? How much is it going to cost and am I OK with fronting the bill? And the bill would probably be pretty serious: hiring a professional engineer, buying injection-molding tooling, lawyer fees, and all the little expenses of starting a new business... it's going to add up quickly! As you can guess, I decided yes. This is going to be a great learning experience that I can use for my career later in life... and if I treat it like a long-term investment I'll be more likely to see it through. Even if it doesn't pay out financially, it will pay out in knowledge and as a cute blurb on my resume. Let's do it!