, , ,

Designing with Cold-Climate Succulents

Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more. She grows the plants, too, where she lives in Turner, Oregon, near the Washington border.

Becky’s compositions can overwinter outdoors in northerly climates (Zones 4 to 8), providing the potting medium drains well. Cold-hardy succulents such as stonecrops and hens-and-chicks will also grow in Zones 8 and 9 if protected from heat in excess of 85 degrees and scorching sun. Some varieties, notably shrub sedums, die to the ground in any locale and come back the following spring.

In her designs, Becky often combines sedums (stonecrops), sempervivums (hens-and-chicks), and Delosperma ice plants. Of a little-known Rosularia species with soft, light green leaves, she says, “When people ask which plant is my favorite, this is definitely on the list.”

There are about 35 species in the genus Rosularia. The sempervivum-like succulents come from Europe, the Himalayas, and northern Africa.

Find more photos of succulents for Northern climates—including many of Becky’s favorites—on my website’s new Cold-Hardy Succulents page. I photographed the designs shown here during the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Sedum Chicks booth, which won an award for outstanding visual appeal.

Below: This bright red vertical container was a hit. At right, I darkened the photo to make plant IDs, in white letters, stand out.

Below: Sempervivum ‘Jade Rose’ repeats the teal blue of a Sedum spathulifolium cultivar.

Below: In a cold-hardy wreath, Becky surrounded a large sempervivum rosette with smaller sedums, Delosperma cooperi (at lower left), and Sedum confusum (lower right).

Below: I’ve ID’d the three sedums in this wreath at right. Becky gives her plants “hair cuts” to keep them compact.

“I like its dark edges,” Becky says of Sempervivum ‘Black’, shown below in dramatic contrast with chartreuse Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’. At lower right is a succulent native to Oregon: Sedum oreganum.

Becky and husband Paul create planters from repurposed wood and metal. The bronzy succulents below are Sedum confusum, which blushes red-orange in a sunny location. When less confused, it’s bright apple green.

For wreaths and vertical gardens, Becky uses sphagnum moss to help hold plants in place. She emphasizes the importance of good drainage, which is true for all succulents, but especially those in rainy climates. Succulents from cold climates tend to have thin or small leaves and want a richer potting soil than thicker-leaved varieties from desert regions. Becky recommends Black Gold’s organic mix.

In my YouTube video, “Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show,” Becky explains how to select, cultivate and beautifully combine cold-hardy succulents.


Learn more about succulents for northerly climates:

How to Grow Tender Succulents in Northerly Climates: Resources and info for growing tender succulents in cold, northern climates.

Designing with Cold-Hardy Succulents: Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more.

In print:

Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) See the section on Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens.

All my books show design ideas and give care and cultivation for Sedum and Sempervivum.

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Sedums, by Brent Horvath (Timber Press)
Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates, by Leo Chance (Timber Press)
Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate, by Gwen Kelaidis, Photos by Saxon Holt (Storey Publishing)

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Sempervivums  Gorgeous new cultivars and design ideas from my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Sedums and More More cool succulents for cold climates plus how to select, grow and design using them. From my second presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Designer/grower Becky Sell of Turner, Oregon explains how to beautifully combine sedums, sempervivums and other cold-hardy succulents.

Make a Frost-Hardy Succulent Wreath with Hens-and-Chicks. Simple steps to a stunning wreath!

, ,

Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer

Melissa Teisl of Fresh Chic is the designer whose artistry I show most in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. 

Melissa and her mom, Susan, had a floral shop in Solana Beach, CA when I met them in ’07. Then Susan retired, and Melissa (with partner Jon Hawley) launched CW Design & Landscaping, specializing in gorgeous in-ground gardens.

But container gardens are Melissa’s first love (OK, except for Jon), so this dynamic couple—who also are in Succulents Simplified and Designing with Succulents—spun off Fresh Chic, CW’s boutique and container-garden division.

Melissa Teisl designs in Succulent Container Gardens

These photos from Succulent Container Gardens showcase Melissa’s aesthetic. She…

— Picks succulents in scale with their containers.
— Repeats plants’ colors and/or forms in her container selections.
— Uses lines and shapes of pots to lead the eye and frame the plants.
— Plants densely for a lavish look and uses topdressing to conceal the soil.
— Sets a container atop a table that becomes part of the composition.
— Expands her palette with non-succulents. A pink-striped cordyline adds drama to a tall pot; crypthanthus bromeliads create a wreath’s “bow.”
— Jazzes up gift arrangements with real bows of satin or velvet.

See how to make this Fresh Chic succulent centerpiece in five easy steps. 

Learn more (from Melissa herself!) in my how-to video about hanging containers.

See Fresh Chic’s succulent designs at San Diego’s Spring Home/Garden Show, March 2-4, in the outdoor vendor area. Btw, social media really “likes” Melissa’s innovative, photogenic combos, so have your cell phone handy!


Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
, , ,

How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors

If you need (or prefer) to grow succulents indoors, outfit a basement, sun room, spare room or alcove with tables and shelves that can withstand moisture, plus lights and a fan that run on timers. Fortunately succulents need very little water. Dribble a little at the base of each plant every three weeks or so, enough to hydrate the roots but not so much it puddles on the floor.

Place your succulents near a window. Maximum sun exposure is on the south and west sides of your house. The farther north you live in North America, east will provide bright light, but not enough for crassulas, echeverias and aloes to maintain their red hues. [Read more] 


Install grow lights. Experts in growing succulents in gray-sky climates recommend T-5 grow lights.

Agrobrite FLT44 T5 Fluorescent Grow Light System, 4 Feet, 4 Tubes, about $120 on Amazon.


Create a “light island.” Shown below is arguably the ultimate indoor plant-shelf unit. Made of lightweight, powder-coated aluminum, it has adjustable lights with energy-efficient, full-spectrum bulbs; plastic drip trays; and wheels for easy positioning. Three shelves provide 18 square feet of growing space. From Gardener’s Supply Co.; about $600. 

Get a timer which automatically turns the lights on at, say, 7 a.m. and off eight hours later. I like this one, below, because it has multiple outlets:  Titan Apollo 14, about $26. 

Watch the temperature. If it falls below freezing (32 degrees F) many succulents may show long-term damage (or die). This indoor thermometer is digital and also has a humidity gauge. But what I love about it is that it keeps daily high and low temps for 24 hours!

AcuRite 00613 Humidity Monitor with Indoor Thermometer, Digital Hygrometer and Humidity Gauge Indicator, about $10 on Amazon.

Wonder why your otherwise healthy succulent is stretched and doesn’t flower? Go to: Why Doesn’t My Succulent Bloom?




, , , , ,

Succulent Color Wheel Rainbow Centerpiece

Succulent Color Wheel rainbow centerpiece from my online class, as seen in Garden Design magazine and my book, Succulents Simplified

I’m proud and pleased to announce that the winter issue (now shipping) of Garden Design, the premier magazine about the aesthetics of gardening, features my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online class and includes a photo of one of its seven projects—the Succulent Color Wheel rainbow centerpiece.*

For the rainbow centerpiece, you’ll need a large pot saucer and about six plants in 4-inch pots for each pie-shaped section. Succulents come in all colors, so have fun selecting them at your local garden center. Or if ordering them online, here are some suggestions:

Green: sempervivums, aeoniums, Crassula lycopodioes (watch chain)
Blue: echeverias, Senecio repens, Sedeveria ‘Blue Elf’, Pachyveria ‘Glauca’, Kalanchoe tomentosa
Purple: Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, Echeveria ‘Neon Breakers’
Red: Sedum rubrotinctum, Peperomia graveolens
Orange: Sedum ‘Firestorm’, Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Euphorbia tirucalli‘Sticks on Fire’
YellowSedum adolphii, Crassula ovata ‘Sunset’

Method: Remove plants from their nursery pots and pack them tightly in a wide, shallow pot saucer so no soil shows. Place taller plants in the center, shorter around the rim, and arrange according to color. Water sparingly and give your Succulent Color Wheel plenty of bright light so hues stay vibrant.

Find many more types of succulents listed by color in my books. 

*Why It’s a Big Deal to be in Garden Design magazine

Garden Design has no ads, so there’s nothing to distract readers from the beauty of the photos.  It’s 148 pages of beautiful gardens and plants delivered each quarter. Many of the stories unfold over 8 to 20 pages—all behind-the-scenes look at topics we care about most: designing with plants, landscapes, container gardens, kitchen gardens, houseplants, and more. Each issue is collectible and coffee-table worthy. Everything about Garden Design, from paper and binding to writing is quality. I’m honored to contribute occasionally for Garden Design, too—not only in print, but on their excellent website as well. 

If you don’t get Garden Design yet, the Winter 2018 issue is a great one to start off with.
My friends get their first issue free when they subscribe!
Go online to https://www.gardendesign.com/dlb or call (855) 624-5110 Monday – Friday, 8 – 5 PST and mention this offer.

The red-orange-yellow side of the succulent color wheel. 

, ,

Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings

A few simple design principles can take your potted succulents from ho-hum to WOW. My new YouTube video, Tips for Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings, is a must-see if you’ve ever wondered which succulents to choose for a container—especially art pottery. Follow my guidelines in this 3-min video, and you’ll be amazed at how polished and perfect your plant-pot combos will be!

Succulents (from Altman Plants):
Echeveria ‘Green Abalone’
Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Chocolate Soldier’
Sedum adolphii
Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’
Echeveria pulidonis
Aloe ‘Christmas Sleigh’

Pots by Jeff Stewart of Oceanside, CA, jsstewbones@gmail.com

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified whenever I release a new video.

, , ,

DIY Succulent Centerpiece in Five Easy Steps


To create the composition shown here, the designer chose a white-painted wooden urn 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall, with a basin 3 inches deep. Plants include ‘Sunburst’ aeonium, Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, burro tail sedum, assorted blue echeverias, lithops (living stones), and Seneco radicans (fish hooks).

Instructions follow. Be sure to see more lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. And visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for designing with succulents!  



  1. Cut a circle from heavy mil plastic (such as a trash bag) and use it to line the basin. Fill with potting mix and press down on the soil with your palms to compact it. Form a mound several inches high in the middle that slopes to just below the rim.



2. In the center, plant an upright cluster of the largest rosettes.


3. Tuck smaller plants or cuttings around the center grouping, facing outward at a slight angle.


4. When the arrangement is nearly finished but still has some gaps, use a chopstick to push roots of remaining plants into the soil, and to tuck and conceal the edge of the plastic below the rim.


  1. Gently brush spilled soil off the leaves, then water the completed arrangement lightly to settle the roots.

Design by Fresh Chic, a division of CW Design & Landscaping For more Fresh Chic designs, see my article, Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer

Also find lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. And be sure to visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for using and designing with succulents! ~ Debra Lee Baldwin 


Plants and Pots at the Cactus & Succulent Society Show

Update: I released two fun and informative YouTube videos after doing this post. Both star “America’s Succulent Sweetheart” Jeanne Meadow, whose world-class succulent garden is featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). Enjoy! ~ Debra

At the San Diego C&SS show, Jeanne Meadow selects perfect succulents for her newly acquired, one-of-a-kind art pots

At the San Diego C&SS show, Jeanne Meadow hunts art pots to showcase her rare and collectible succulents


Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in the US. Judges award ribbons and trophies based on how well a specimen is grown, its rarity, and how well it’s “staged” in its pot. Pots aren’t merely containers, they’re works of art, and may be more valuable than the plant. Below are what caught my eye and photographed well, but represent only a fraction of the unusual and beautiful succulents on display.

Agave victoriae-reginae

Above: Agave victoriae-reginae, named after England’s Queen Victoria.

Twisted cereus

Above: A twisted cereus. Seriously.

Tephrocactus geometricus

Above: Tephrocactus geometricus. 

Mammillaria microthele

Above: Mammillaria microthele on the trophy table. Anyone for cinnamon rolls?


Above: Hoodia, the African cactus that’s reputedly an appetite suppressant. Not sure I’d want to take a bite, would you?


Above: Judge Woody Minnich examines an unusually colorful Gymnocalycium mihanovichii. 

Fig in Muradian pot

Above: A bonsai’d fig with its roots elevated in a Mark Muradian pot. His work is characterized by embossed patterns.

Euphorbia gorgonis

Above: Euphorbia gorgonis in a Mark Muradian pot. Notice the Fibonacci spiral in the plant’s center.

Epithelantha micromeris in Cone pot

Above: An Epithelantha micromeris cluster in a container by Tucson potter Mike Cone. More spirals!

Echinocereus pulchellus

Above: Echinocereus pulchellus on the trophy table. If all this Latin seems tiresome, consider how it describes the plant. Echino = prickly, cereus = waxy, and ceroid cacti tend to be cylindrical. Pulchellus you’ll remember if you took Latin in high school—it means beautiful.

E. castanea f. spiralis

A twisted cactus, Eulychnia castanea spiralis. Don’t you wonder how and why it would do that to itself? Ow!


Above: A dyckia. I’m not sure why these bromeliad relatives are in the show, but they’re certainly beautiful. And treacherous. Those stiff leaves are like serrated knives.

Dioscorea elephantipes Keith Kitoi Taylor

Above: A Dioscorea elephantipes on the trophy table. The plant is owned by Keith Kitoi Taylor of the Sacramento Cactus & Succulent Society, who also created the highly textural pot. What makes this a succulent is the plant’s woody caudex, which is a water tank. The vining foliage is deciduous.

Conophytum minimum

Above: Conophytum minimum. Sure wish I could get my hands on a few of those  muffin-like pots.

Cone pot

Above: Euphorbia horrida in a Mike Cone pot.

CA Cactus Ctr display

Above: A display of collectible plants in one-of-a-kind pots, presented byCalifornia Cactus Center in Pasadena.


Above: I was happy to see my trio of books for sale at the show (upper left).

Blossfeldia liliputana2

This diminutive Blossfeldiana liliputana is rare and difficult to grow. It made it to the trophy table, and is from a teen-age boy’s collection.


Above: A prehistoric-looking astrophytum. The name means star-shaped.


Above: Another astrophytum. Don’t the lines in its skin look like those of  a computer chip? I wonder what it might be trying to tell us.


Above: Best of show, an ariocarpus in bloom. These cacti, native to limestone hills of Rio Grande in south Texas, are endangered in the wild and notoriously difficult to cultivate.

Aloe by Tim Harvey

Above: An aloe hybrid developed by Tim Harvey, who edits the journal of the Cactus and Succulent Society. This plant is not for sale, nor is it available in any nursery; hopefully it will be some day.

Agave victoriae-reginae variegata

Above: Agave victoriae-reginae ‘Variegata’.

Agave utahensis

Above: Agave utahensis, from–no surprise–Utah. It’s one of the most cold-hardy agaves. Don’t you love its long terminal spines?

Agave pumila

Above: One of the smallest agaves, Agave pumila. Notice its blue color, wedge-shaped leaves and delicate striations.

Agave potatorum, Japanese hybrid

Above: Of all the plants in the show, this  was my favorite because of its deeply indented sides, rust-colored spines and  variegation. It was entered by agave expert Tony Krock of Terra Sol nursery in Santa Barbara, and is an Agave potatorum hybrid. The three-word cultivar name is Japanese and wasn’t translated on the tag. Anyone know what ‘Ikari Rajeh Nishiki’ means?


It’s also possible to purchase collectible succulents and containers at the show. Here I’m with the two potters mentioned above:  Mark Muradian (left) and Mike Cone (right). Photo by Jeanne Meadow.

, ,

I Come Out in Garden Design’s Spring ’16 Issue

GD Cover & DLB annotated_resized

No doubt you know that Garden Design is a fabulous “bookazine” for those who love luscious photos of gorgeous gardens and superb design. It’s a huge honor and a high point of my career to be profiled in the Spring 2016 issue as a “groundbreaker” (See “Succulent Chic,” pp. 32-35).

Consequently, I took the opportunity to come out as a cactus lover.

Well, I had to. They asked about trends in the world of succulents. I believe my progression is fairly typical. Most of us start out loving succulents that look like fleshy roses—echeverias, graptoverias and the like. As we gain appreciation for the lines, textures and shapes of all succulents, we inevitably arrive at those that exhibit elegant simplicity at its best—never mind that they have spines (in fact, sometimes because they do).

Note I’m not talking about common prickly pear—the plant most of us have bad childhood memories of. (Ow!) There are SO many other kinds of cacti.

The article’s portrait shot (above right) shows me surrounded by columnar cacti with spines that glow yellow-orange in the late-afternoon sun. Yep, I wore turquoise on purpose.

Herewith, I offer a dozen reasons why cacti are the coming thing…in waterwise gardens and in Garden Design.

Cacti in square pot

In a word: symmetry. Mammillarias in particular have it nailed.

Poodle opuntia

They offer astonishing textures. I mean, c’mon, fur? Opuntia sp.

Echinocactus rubrispinus

Endearingly, cacti don’t take themselves too seriously. Echinocactus pectinatus rubrispinus.

Cactus snowflakes

Some think they’re snowflakes.

Cactus flower looks like waterlily

Others, waterlilies (Trichocereus hybrids at left)

Mammillaria elongata crest

And brains (Mammillaria elongata crest)….

Succulent looks like bird

Or birds. (Cleistocactus strausii)

Cactus flowers look like roses

A few are in touch with their feminine side (roses at left, opuntia at right).


Others, not so much.

Mammillaria fragilis

More than a few are darn cute. Each of these thimble cacti is less than an inch in diameter.

GD Cover & DLB annotated_resized

But here’s what I like best about cacti: How they’re haloed by the sun. The spinier the better.

Obtain the Spring ’16 issue of Garden Design.

Mini Succulent High Desert Garden video

View how I assembled the container garden shown in the article. 

Are you a formerly closeted cactus fancier too? If there’s enough of us, I may organize a pride march.










Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulents

In the ground or in containers, your succulent compositions will look and perform better if bare soil doesn’t show. Top dressing lends a finished look, and plants benefit from how it disperses water.

In the open garden, soil exposed to sunlight is likely to foster weed growth. Add a thick layer of crushed rock, and those few weeds that do sprout will be easier to pull. My preference is to use an inorganic top dressing, such as crushed rock or pebbles, rather than shredded bark, which can be too water-retentive and may harbor molds, insects, and snails.

Be sure to watch my YouTube video, “Why You Really Need Rocks” which features a newly installed succulent landscape by Steve McDearmon of Garden Rhythms, who top-dressed with several sizes of warm-hued rock, brought in by the truckload from Southwest Boulder & Stone.

By diffusing the impact of rain, gravel also helps prevent erosion. And by holding moisture in the soil, rock promotes root growth, thereby boosting the vitality of plants—especially important during dry spells. The darker the gravel, the more heat it absorbs from the sun’s rays. Aloe and agave expert Kelly Griffin, whose coastal garden is featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.), top-dresses with dark crushed rock because warm soil promotes rapid root growth—which is what he wanted, and to which his garden attests. However, such chocolate-brown gravel wouldn’t be a good choice for a desert garden.

Aesthetically, as I told my audience at the recent Succulent Extravaganza, top dressing is to a potted succulent as a mat is to a painting. The pot is the frame, the plant is the artwork, and the mat helps fill in and enhance the overall presentation. I also discussed showy topdressings, like crushed glass. Watch the video: Why Top Dressing is Essential for Succulent Gardens.

Members of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America see top dressings as backup singers and never as the star. They enhance their collectible, container-grown succulents by harmonizing pot, plant and top dressing, sometimes adding a choice rock or two to suggest how the plant might look in habitat. This approach, an art form in itself, is called “staging.” In competitive shows, judges apply strict standards to the way plants are staged.

Commercial rock suppliers sell neutral-toned gravels in bags too heavy to lift. Craft stores offer odd-colored criva and neon-bright sand in small bags at high prices. So thank goodness for John Matthews, the top-dressing guy. John sells at C&SS shows throughout Southern CA, and offers the ideal solution: pea-sized crushed rock in a variety of hues, packaged in affordable, 2-lb. bags. For more info, email John at jgmplants@aol.com or call him at 661-714-1052.


Greenhouse for succulents in display garden
, , , , , , , , , ,

Succulents at the Spring Home/Garden Show

Succulent display garden

I zipped around San Diego’s Spring Home/Garden show right before the judging, cell in hand. (When in a hurry, I use my phone to take photos in dim light instead of my fancy-schmancy Canon.) I was delighted with what I saw. No question I’m biased, but the display garden (above) showcasing plants from Desert Theater nursery, and designed by Steve McDearmon of Garden Rhythms and Katie Christensen of Miss Katie’s Garden, was my favorite. You could plunk the whole shebang in your front yard for a great-looking, low-maintenance lawn-replacement landscape.

The show is the first Fri.-Sat.-Sun. of March every year. You’ll have to pay parking, but you needn’t pay the admission price of $9 at the door. Obtain a FREE PASS by going to the show’s Buy Tickets page and entering this special code for my fans and followers: DLBA.

Have fun!

Succulent display garden

Apologies for photos that lack credits. None of the display gardens had names on them because they were about to be judged. If you want to ID them in a comment below, please do!

Greenhouse for succulents in display garden

St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center (display garden above) helps adults with developmental disabilities. Gardening, propagating plants and selling them is a big part of it. I love the greenhouse in their display garden!


Do I detect a trend brewing? This lovely display combines succulents (dudleyas) with red bromeliads and other low-water tropicals.

Succulent vertical display garden

Melissa Teisl and Jon Hawley design gardens as Chicweed Design & Landscaping. Although they sold their floral shop in Solana Beach, you can still see aspects of it in their gardens, like the lovely vertical display above. I’ll bet the sandbox behind it was inspired by their little boy.Potted aloe garden by Chicweed

This mosaic pot filled with succulents also is in Chicweed Design & Landscaping’s display garden.


Speaking of lovely succulent container gardens, this one is by Katie Christensen for Desert Theater. The gorgeous purple plant is a dyckia, a type of bromeliad that’s succulent. Dyckias would doubtless be more popular if they didn’t have leaf edges as sharp as steak knives. (Katie, are you bleeding?)


Also in the Desert Theater display is “Miss Katie’s potting bench.”

Succulent container gardens

Miss Katie brings a feminine aesthetic to succulents.


Judges give bonus points for labeled plants. This is a charming way to do it, don’t you think?

IMG_4306The display garden above, which incorporates agaves and dasylirions, utilizes a lot of interesting hardscape and topdressings, which after all are THE ultimate way to have a waterwise garden.

echeverias in metal bowl

And isn’t this stunning? So simple! Pass the oil and vinegar. (Kidding.)

Don’t forget, you can get a free pass by going to the Show’s website and entering my special discount code: DLBA. If you missed it this year, subscribe to my newsletter (below), and I’ll give you a head’s up for next year.