, , ,

Succulent Topiary Tree

A succulent topiary tree holiday centerpiece needs less care than a floral arrangement and lasts much longer—several months or more. Its requirements are similar to those of a succulent wreath: bright but not intense light (rotate occasionally for even exposure), weekly watering (from the top, to evenly moisten the moss), and pinching back if cuttings get leggy.

See how I made this one in my YouTube video: DIY Succulent Topiary Tree.

The method is simple: poke holes in the moss, insert cuttings, and secure them with floral pins. It takes about two hours, start to finish, and you’ll need approx. 200 one-inch-diameter cuttings. Harvest them from your garden, potted plants, nursery-grown succulents or from online sources. You needn’t use the same varieties that I did, but do aim for contrasting colors and textures. Use jade plant (Crassula ovata) as a filler—it’s inexpensive and easy to come by. Stay away from blue, blue-gray and lavender succulents because those aren’t holiday colors—unless of course that’s what you prefer. And do resist the temptation to decorate the little tree with vivid ornaments, thereby making it all about them and not about the succulents (but then, I’m a little prejudiced).

MATERIALS

Topiary cone made of sphagnum moss, 12″ tall (including wooden base)
200 floral pins (or paper clips cut in half with wire cutters)
Clippers or scissors for taking cuttings and shortening stems
Chopstick or a Phillips screwdriver for poking holes in moss

Succulents (suggested, but nearly any kind will work):
Crassula ovata ‘Minima” (mini jade), 60
Sedum nussbaumerianum (Coppertone stonecrop), 30
Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’, 50
Senecio haworthii, 60

Optional:
Lazy susan
Crystal corsage pins (around 50)
Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls plant), 9′ of strands for garland

 

 

More info and ideas ~

Watch my YouTube video, DIY Succulent Topiary Tree
For my Succulent Topiary Sphere design project, see pp. 156-161 of Succulents Simplified
See the Topiary section of Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 178-181
Follow my Pinterest Board, Succulent Topiaries

Happy Aloedays!

Debra Lee Baldwin 

 

, , ,

Succulent Cornucopia

My DIY Succulent Cornucopia

 The wicker cornucopia was $4.99 at a thrift store. So I grabbed it. At the supermarket, I sorted through gourds for “the best bottoms,” and got a bag of in-shell nuts. At the nursery, I went up and down the aisles muttering, “Succulents that look like fruit.”
Plants and materials for succulent cornucopia

I loaded up on sedums in fall colors and an aloe shaped like the basket. But when I spotted a Euphorbia obesa with multiple offsets, I nearly swooned. It was pricey at $12.99, but I had to have it. Just look how it goes with the gourds! 

My succulent cornucopia includes a cluster of Euphorbia obesa, colorful sedums, a small aloe, gourds, and nuts

Watch it come together in my latest YouTube video, DIY Succulent Cornucopia (3:36). 

Incidentally, after Thanksgiving, I plan to pull out the plants and use them in a container garden inspired by Jeanne Meadow’s pool pots (p. 229 of Designing with Succulents). Stay tuned!

To be notified when I release a new video, subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

Happy Thanksgiving! ~ Debra 

Debra Lee Baldwin with succulent cornucopia
 Sources: Succulents are from Altman Plants‘ retail outlet north of San Diego, Oasis Water Efficient Gardens. Wicker cornucopias can be found at craft stores and online. 

Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Cornucopia

, , ,

A Succulent Centerpiece in Five Easy Steps

IMG_4091cropped_annotated_resized

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!  

 

IMG_3973_annotated_resized

  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.

 

IMG_3996annotated_resized

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

IMG_3996annotated_resized

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

IMG_4049annotated_resized

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.

IMG_4090annotated_resized

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

Design by Susan Teisl of Chicweed floral design shop, Solana Beach, California

See more lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. Visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for designing with succulents. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin 

,

Four Ways to Overwinter Succulents

Where you live makes a big difference when it comes to the well-being of your succulents in winter. Most varieties go dormant in winter and are frost-tender, meaning they can’t handle temps below 32 degrees F.

These common winter conditions can lead to damage or death for dormant (not actively growing) succulents:
— soggy soil (causes roots to rot)
— excess rainfall (engorges cells)
— frost (causes cell walls to burst)

Some succulents do have a built-in antifreeze. Those indigenous to the Americas, such as cacti and agaves, or to northern climates like many sedums and sempervivums, tend to fare better than those from Madagascar and South Africa (kalanchoes, aeoniums, aloes and crassulas). But no succulents want a lot of water when dormant, nor high humidity at any time of the year. All prefer well-draining soil, bright but not intense light, and good air circulation.

If you live, as I do, where frost is occasional and lasts only a few hours (Zone 9b), plan to cover vulnerable, in-ground succulents with frost cloth or bed sheets when there’s a frost advisory for your area. In my YouTube video, Frost Protection for Succulents, I show how I do this in my own garden. In the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet, it’s subject to cold air that settles in inland valleys. My neighbors higher-up generally get no frost at all.

If you live in Zones 8 or lower, grow tender succulents as annuals or in containers that you overwinter indoors. These members of my Facebook community graciously shared their winter set-ups:

Pat Enderly of Virginia Beach, VA: Midwinter lows average 32 F. Pat brings her plants indoors and tucks them into shelving units she purchased online. Each shelf has a waterproof tray, and each unit is lit by two T5 bulbs. “They do a wonderful job of keeping my succulents from etiolating (stretching),” Pat says, adding that the lights, on timers, stay on from 7 am to 7 pm daily. Pat moves her succulents indoors in Sept. and Oct. and takes them outside in April.

 

Candy Suter, Roseville, CA (near Sacramento): Midwinter nights may drop into the 20s F but seldom go lower than 25 F. Candy moves her succulents into a small walk-in greenhouse (center) or a gazebo (right), which she covers with 5mm plastic to hold in warmth. She anchors the plastic along the bottom, secures the seams with duct tape, and adds a small heater with a fan on the coldest nights.

Tenaya Capron of Buffalo, TX: Although average midwinter lows hover above freezing, occasional winter lows may drop into the single digits. Tenaya and her husband built this 24×20 free-standing greenhouse, which they outfitted with exhaust and overhead fans, an overhead heater, and double sliding barn doors on either end. I love the library ladder, don’t you?

Find more info in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.):
— Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens, pp. 111-113
— Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates, pp. 143-148

,

It’s My Succulents 2018 Calendar!

Every year I create a calendar for friends and family who appreciate the beauty of succulents. The main criterion for each image is that I’d enjoy looking at it for a month, so I figure others will too. Some years, creating a calendar gives me a reason (and a deadline) for painting watercolors. Otherwise, I select the best photos from thousands in my files.

Over the years, the calendar has become a top seller at Zazzle.com. Zazzle keeps 90% of the sales price, but creating a calendar is easy, the quality is excellent, and in any case, I never meant it to be a money-maker. If my earnings pay for calendars I buy to give away, I’m thrilled.

The regular price is $22. Zazzle invariably has a sale going on, but you have to get their emails to know which items and how much…unless you wait until Black Friday, when pretty much everything is deeply discounted.

Debra Lee Baldwin calendar

Images in my Succulents 2018 calendar are from my new book, the completely revised and updated second edition of “Designing with Succulents”. 

, ,

My Top Five Firewise Succulents

The horrific wildfires and loss of life in the CA wine country are a reminder of what we experienced here in San Diego County in 2007. My own home was blanketed with ash when I returned from being evacuated, and during three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. This post is timely for fall, but in no way do I want to imply that succulents are THE answer, nor (God forbid) do I want to try to capitalize on others’ suffering by suggesting you buy a book. My sympathy and prayers are with the victims. Debra Lee Baldwin

Whether you live nearby or on the other side of the country, Sunset offers a few ways you can help. Go to http://www.sunset.com/syndication/california-napa-fires-how-to-help

 

It’s been a decade since wildfires devastated much of San Diego county. In Designing with Succulents (2nd edition, p. 107), I tell how my husband and I were evacuated, and how the succulent garden on the cover of the book’s first edition “saved” a home in Rancho Santa Fe.

From my Los Angeles Times article, “Did Succulents Save Her Home?” ~ “SUCCULENTS have soared in popularity recently because they’re drought-tolerant, easy-care and just plain cool to look at, and now there’s another compelling reason to grow them: They’re fire-retardant. During last month’s wildfires, succulents — which by definition store water in plump leaves and stems — apparently stopped a blaze in its tracks…” [Read more]

My top five firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire and plant them around your property’s perimeter. As you can see, they combine to make a beautiful, low-water landscape. This garden originated entirely from cuttings:

  • Opuntia (paddle cactus), the thicker the better. If you wince at the thought of having cactus in your garden, look for spineless or near-spineless varieties. They do exist, and they don’t draw blood. Those rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.
  • Aloes. Mound-forming Aloe arborescens is the heroic succulent that “saved” the home of Rob and Suzy Schaefer during the devastating wildfires of 2007. It sends up orange-red, torchlike flower spikes in midwinter.
  • Aeoniums. There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.
  • Crassulas. Plain old green jade didn’t burn during the wildfire that threatened the Schaefer home, but rather it cooked, and like the aloes, its leaves turned putty-colored and collapsed. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.
  • Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food) is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.

 

,

Seen at Succulent Extravaganza ’17

Members of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook Group take advantage of a hanging frame planted with sempervivums and echeverias. A perfect photo-op!

The 7th annual Succulent Extravaganza (Fri-Sat, Sept. 29-30) at Succulent Gardens Nursery in Castroville, CA drew about 1,000 visitors a day. Not bad for a relatively small wholesale/retail nursery out in the boonies 100 miles south of San Francisco. There’s an energy there, some might say a vortex, that whirls visitors into a state of enchantment.

Debra Lee Baldwin and Hannah Eubanks

Hannah Eubanks, designer Laura Eubanks‘ daughter, was my assistant and took lots of footage of event highlights and my presentations. During the Extravaganza, Hannah posted short videos on my Instagram and Facebook pages. I’ll soon release longer, edited versions on YouTube. To be notified of new releases, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Although the greenhouses themselves, viewed from outside, are about as pretty as quonset huts (which they resemble) there’s true magic inside—rows and rows of perfectly grown echeverias, aloes, kalanchoes, haworthias, sedums, sempervivums and more.

Much of the fun of returning year after year is seeing old friends and making new ones. The staff is friendly and welcoming, plant enthusiasts come from near and far, stellar speakers like Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Garden share their knowledge. Nursery founder and fellow book author Robin Stockwell was there, as were many delightful members of the Facebook group “Succulent Fanatics 2” founded by San Jose designer Laura Balaoro.

Laura Balaoro of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook group, with her snorkeling-themed succulent display

Laura’s also known for her stunning succulent decorated hats. (See my article about her in Country Gardens.) I think she outdid herself on this one, don’t you?

Laura Balaoro’s sea-themed, succulent decorated hat

 

A barn door’s peeling paint makes a great backdrop for this sempervivum-planted square

All sizes and shapes of containers suitable for planting are available at the nursery. They seem to have the best selection of wooden ones anywhere.

 

IMHO, the nursery’s potted succulent gardens were better than ever this year

Also at the 2017 Extravaganza, I launched my new book, the completely revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents. We sold out the first day.

Audiences for my presentations were enthusiastic and engaged.

A speaker’s dream! SRO!

When it seemed the Extravaganza couldn’t get any better, my book’s publisher Timber Press provided a succulent-decorated cake!

The cake, by Sweet Reba’s of Carmel, CA, combines succulents with books

For more, I recommend Gerhard Bock’s “Succulents and More” blog posts about the Extravaganza.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified of new releases. Those filmed at the event will show clever uses of topdressings, a bouquet of echeveria flowers, how to compose a perfect plant-pot combo, growing succulents in nondraining containers, how to keep aeoniums looking good, agaves for your garden, Brian Kemble on in-ground succulents, Aaron Ryan on succulent propagation, how to refresh a tired container garden, and much more!

Find out more about what I’m up to! 

, , , ,

Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks

My new YouTube video

Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a ’60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and good-looking as they are practical.

“Before” photo of driveway planting

 

Driveway garden, “after” (newly installed)

In my latest video, Van Liew Garden Redo, San Diego landscape designer Steve McDearmon explains how he installs succulents amid swaths of warm-toned Mojave Gold gravel, Hickory Creek rubble rock, and Honey Quartz boulders (all from Southwest Boulder and Stone). Though subtle, the rocks are as important as the plants.

Reasons for rocks:

— They need no maintenance and look the same forever.

— They contrast texturally with walls, pavement, and plants.

— They add color and cohesion to a landscape.

— They moderate soil temperature, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

— They hold moisture in the soil and inhibit evaporation.

— They prevent erosion by diffusing the impact of rain.

— They give a garden a finished look. (Doubtless you already know that topdressing is important for containers. The same is true of gardens.)

— They’re visually intriguing, especially when several sizes combine.

— When used to create flowing lines in the landscape, they lend design interest and emphasize focal points.

— By shading the soil, they prevent weeds from germinating. (And any that do pop up are easier to pull.)

Your (fun) homework:  Browse my newly released, second edition of Designing with Succulents and notice how rocks enhance many of the gardens. 

Aloe glauca

,

Gerhard Bock’s Q & A with Debra Lee Baldwin

Gerhard Bock

Davis, CA garden blogger Gerhard Bock has the precise mind of a scientist, the sweet demeanor of a teddy bear, the photo skills of a magazine photographer, the wit of a TV show host, and a love of succulents comparable to mine. His “Succulents and More” blog is one of the few I subscribe to, and I recommend it highly.

I asked my publisher, Timber Press, to send Gerhard a review copy of my new book, the celebratory 10th anniversary, completely revised and updated, second edition of Designing with Succulents. Naturally I hoped he’d blog about it, and boy howdy, did he. Read Gerhard’s review.

Gerhard also asked if I’d do a Q&A interview. I happily agreed. It’s below in its entirety. If it reads like a conversation between friends, well that’s exactly what it is.


Spanish Blogger Discusses Designing with Succulents

I’ve long been a fan of El Blog de La Tabla, a daily garden blog out of Spain written and researched by Maria Jose Holguin. A bonus is that it’s written in Spanish that is not difficult to understand, which provides daily practice that I enjoy. But you can always click on the “English” option.

I’m thrilled that Maria honored the second edition of Designing with Succulents with such a thorough and comprehensive review. Below is an excerpt. Read the entire post. While you’re there, do subscribe. Her writing is wonderful, but Maria’s curated photos of gardens worldwide alone are worth it.

Read more of Maria’s review.
Visit El Blog de la Tabla’s Facebook page.
Order the second edition of Designing with Succulents.