Beyond the obvious fact that succulents are water-wise plants, they are just so darn attractive in the garden, with an irresistible appeal. But heading into California’s fourth year of drought, succulents are more popular than ever as alternates to a water-thirsty landscape. With thousands of varieties available, it’s easy to showcase succulents inside or out, in containers of all kinds, or planted directly in the ground. Berkeley’s Cactus Jungle, cactusjungle.com, has an online A-Z listing of hundreds of cacti and succulent varieties that thrive in the Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate; each listing links to a photo and optimal growing conditions.
Succulents store water in their leaves and stems for times of drought, and they can thrive where other plants cannot: in dry, windy or rocky places. What they do require is bright light (which can be indirect) and well-drained soil. Most indoor succulent varieties will be happiest in a south-facing window. They can go a couple weeks without water in winter or a couple of days in warmer weather, depending on the type.
Succulent leaves dry up and fall off without enough water, and rot with too much. But many succulents are easy to grow—just give them a well-drained pot and sandy soil. Sand can be added to the bottom of a container, or mixed into soil in the ground before planting—cacti/succulent soil is also available at most garden centers. Gwen, and other “plant geeks” at Mid City Nursery, agrees that with water current concerns, it makes sense to incorporate succulents into the landscape. She offers this advice: “When they are not in bloom, succulents provide a tapestry of textures and colors with their foliage, creating year-round interest in the garden. Sedums are a favorite super-hardy species that come in a variety of colors; other tried and true favorites include Agave, Echeveria, Aloe, Crassula, Graptoveria, and Sempervivum. Some unusual, newer varieties include Aloe ‘Fire Ranch,’ Pachyphytum Hookeri, Sempervivum ‘Ruby Hearts’ and Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy.’”
Even the forgetful gardener is rewarded with a succulent garden’s striking appearance when grouped together in a variety of species. They make a great ornamental addition to landscape borders, around the base rocks and other hardscape areas, in garden pots or mixed in with other types of low-water plants. Getting creative in your approach is more than half the fun. Unique containers can range from concrete vessels to vintage wooden toolboxes—from old baskets to glass terrariums—the possibilities are only limited by one’s imagination.
Succulent arrangements can also go vertical—there are good how-to videos on YouTube (see resources). You’ll be rewarded with a low-maintenance spot of color on your deck or patio, a privacy screen of green or something whimsical that elicits a smile. Terrariums of all shapes and sizes have made a big comeback, and are attractive options for hanging mini-gardens.
Try local shops, antiques stores, garage sales, your own garage and Craigslist for interesting succulent garden vessels. From the elaborate to the diminutive, here are a few ideas to get you started: hollowed-out tree stumps, mason jars, used vegetable cans, birdcages, teacups, formal French garden urns, cowboy boots or old shoes, empty candle tins, suitcases, hollowed-out books, shells of any kind, or old dresser drawers. The point is to have fun, create a beautiful conversation piece and enjoy the view.
Order these & other titles from Bookshop Benicia
Succulent Container Gardens, Deborah Lee Baldwin, Timber Press
Cacti and Succulents, Graham Charles, The Crowood Press
The Succulent Garden, a Practical Gardening Guide, Yvonne Cave, Timber Press
Succulents Simplified, Deborah Lee Baldwin, Timber Press
Dry Climate Gardening with Succulents, Debra Brown Folsom, Pantheon Books