Besides their eye-catching appeal, succulents are relatively
pest- and maintenance-free. They are easy to grow if their
cultural needs are met. Their large, fleshy leaves store
moisture, making them relatively drought-tolerant. The larger
the leaves on the plants, the longer they can go without water.
The most critical factor in success with succulents is to plant
them in a container mix that drains freely.
When you do water your container, make it a nice deep watering,
allowing the water to flow out of the bottom of the container. A
small container might require weekly watering, while a larger
one could be watered every two weeks. A container planted
outside might do fine with natural rainfall until the hottest
days of summer. Jade plants will actually tell you they need
more water. Their plump leaves will begin to pucker if the plant
is too dry, making it perfect choice for an unsure gardener.
Humidity affects the need to water. If the weather is sunny and
dry, you will need to water more often than if the dew point is
not allow the top of the soil to dry out completely between
watering. If the soil is so dry it’s pulled away from the sides
of the pot, you’ve waited too long. Ideally, the roots should be
contained within potting mix as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
Although similar in appearance, spiky leaved agave plants can
tolerate less water than aloes. Smaller-leaved sedums require a
bit more water than their larger-leaved relatives. However, a
mixed planting of succulents will do just fine if their watering
needs are met as described above. A layer of gravel on top of
the exposed soil sets succulents off well, and it also has the
advantage of keeping their stems dry. Rotting from too much
water is the most common pitfall.
Correct Exposure to Sunlight
Most succulents prefer a partly sunny location, about four hours
of sun, preferably not the hottest midday exposure. Variegated
and light green leaves can scorch in full sun. Darker green and
burgundy leaves can generally tolerate more sun. If you are a
shade gardener, more shade-tolerant species include Haworthia
attenuata or zebra plant and sansevierias, commonly known as
mother-in-laws’ tongue or snake plant. These species can thrive
in as little as 2 hours of sun per day.
Interestingly, a light-stressed succulent, one that is getting
more sun than it prefers, will display brighter coloration of
the leaves. One popular succulent is Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks
on Fire.’ The red coloration on the ends of the “sticks” is
enhanced if it is planted in full sun. Large-leaved kalanchoes,
commonly called paddle plants, will have warmer red leaves if
they’re given a higher than optimal dose of sunshine.
Specialist growers of succulents may recommend a more specific
soil mix than the good quality soilless mixes that I have had
success with. Many advocate the addition of grit, bark, coir,
pumice or perlite. There is near unanimous agreement that
fertilizing is unnecessary, but your plants might appreciate a
watering with half strength fertilizer in the spring when you’re
bringing overwintered succulents outdoors.
'Purple Emperor' Sedum
The range of species is vast. It includes plants hardy in our
area, such as sedums and sempervivums, commonly known as
hens-and-chicks. But most succulents are tender in the
Pittsburgh area. For the purposes of design, succulents offer a
diversity of forms and -- let’s face it, weirdness -- which few
other species possess.
Succulents can be found from the best local nurseries to the
ubiquitous box stores. Hopefully, when you find a plant that
intrigues you, a plant tag will be included. That is not always
the case. The aeonium that drew me into the world of succulents
was not marked, but it was easy to grow and encouraged me to try
more of these truly interesting plants. I have successfully
wintered some over, simply pulling the pots in before the first
frost and seeing which species survived. Jade plants and a cool
gray-green Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ have proven hard to kill.
Arrangements of Succulents
The real fun in growing succulents is creating compositions in
containers that will enhance your garden and have great style.
Succulents allow the gardener to create a vignette of plants
that will look terrific from early spring until frost, complete
with a range of height, color and form unequaled by the common
flowery confections found in most gardens.
Dramatic, linear plants such as agaves, sansevierias and aloes
look terrific planted alone atop a narrow container or urn. A
row of tall zinc containers with a sansevieria planted in each,
repeated on a contemporary deck, would be effective and
Alternatively, you can add rosettes of aeonium and echeverias at
the base of the anchor plant. If you like the “thriller, filler,
spiller” formula for your container plantings, add trailing
sedums or senecios to the pot. Sedum burrito or burro tail,
Senecio radicans ‘Fishhooks,’ commonly known as string of
bananas, or string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) all will
tumble down the sides of a container. A memorable container with
such trailing plants was a chubby cherub holding a planter
filled with string of pearls.
for that teenager who noticed the aeonium many years ago, his
own home garden now features a single decorative container, a
pot glazed in shades of brown, tan and blue/gray. It is planted
with bluish echeverias, Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ and Carex
flagellifera ’Toffee Twist,’ making for a display that is both
cool and different.