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Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra’s WSJ Article)

An abridged version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 3/9/18. 

Snow heightens the color of hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum globiferum ‘Connie’). Photo: Mountain Crest Gardens

Is it a given that Northerners can’t grow succulents? Not at all. Granted, most of these moisture-storing, arid-climate plants prefer warm, sunny habitats. Yet in response to demand, major growers are cultivating tough, showy varieties that sail through subzero winters. The two main kinds are stonecrops and hens-and-chicks, but there exist others that may surprise and delight you.


Golden barrel cactus is cold hardy only to 14 degrees F. The fluffy ‘Angelina’ stonecrop surrounding it will go well below zero.

Arguably the best known cold-hardy succulent, because of its wide distribution and tolerance for nearly any climate except desert, is Angelina stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’). The feathery-textured ground cover turns from chartreuse in summer to orange-tipped gold in winter. This trailing spreader makes a good filler plant for potted and in-ground gardens alike.

Tiny-leaved ground covers like ‘Angelina’, commonly known as stonecrops, spread “even in Zone 3,” notes Panayoti Kelaidis, senior curator of the Denver Botanic Gardens. “They’ll root from little pieces. There are hundreds of different kinds, and they’re the backbone of green roofs.”

Kelaidis says that clump-forming succulents once classified as Sedum (now in the genus Hylotelephium) are “probably the most important succulents for perennial gardens” because of their size and year-round beauty. Like sedums, these have star-shaped flowers in clusters, but unlike true sedums, hylotelephiums form tap roots and have rosy flowers rather than yellow. Although the top growth of hylotelephiums dies and turns brown in winter, “don’t cut them back until spring,” Kelaidis advises. “The dry flower stalks look great covered with snow.”

Plant breeder Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, IL is perhaps best known for upright sedums with serrated chartreuse leaves and flowers that blanket the plants with clouds of pink. Horvath authored “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Sedums” (Timber Press, 2014).

In his book, Horvath says of the best-known perennial sedum, Autumn Joy (Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’), “The flower heads of soft raspberry pink deepen to garnet as fall approaches. What’s more, in all but the harshest climates, this tenacious plant continues to delight through the winter months as its flower heads turn copper, then bronze.”

Monrovia nursery notes, “This sturdy perennial is as tough as they come. Clumping foliage displays large, plate-like flower clusters… Succulent foliage will die back to the ground in cold winter regions, but will re-emerge in early spring.”


Succulent hens-and-chicks, so called because offsets ring the mother rosette, are in the genus Sempervivum, meaning “ever-living.” “Many of our semps and hardy sedum spent over a month buried in 18 inches of snow last year, resulting in tremendously vivid red, pink, purple, and even some orange tones later in the spring,” says Matts Jopson of Mountain Crest Gardens near Mt. Shasta in Northern CA. “They also survived a record -15 F night without issue.” Certain semps will look different throughout the year, depending on variety and climate; warm colors caused by cold may settle into shades of green by late summer.

One of a handful of nurseries specializing in hardy succulents, Mountain Crest Gardens’ “rapid growth has continued through 2017, and we’ve been expanding our selections like never before,” Jopson says. “We should have at least 200 different hardy varieties for sale this spring, at least 50 of which we consider to be rare collectibles.”

Nearly all of the succulents found in the nursery’s Hardy Succulent category can be grown outdoors year-round in zone 5 (-20F) areas such as New York, Boston, and Chicago. “We created that category and our own definition of “hardy” exactly for this purpose,” Jopson says, “to let the large northern population of the U.S. (and thus most of the country’s population) know that they can grow a wide selection of beautiful succulents outside through the winter. Even people in colder Minneapolis should be fine keeping many of the Sempervivum heuffelii and hardy Sedum outdoors.”

Sempervivum heuffelii are “truly special plants,” Jopson says. They have…

  • More consistent year-round color than regular Hens and Chicks
  • “Glowing” edges
  • Foliage is probably the most durable of any hardy succulent
  • Many are more tolerant of indoor light than semps.

“Propagation can more difficult because heuffelii offsets are not produced on stolons so they must be cut into pieces,” Jopson says. “However, they do have the advantage of letting you force offsets via cuts if needed; other semps may not give you sufficient numbers of chicks each year and there’s nothing much you can do about it.”

Several Sempervivum cultivars by Kevin Vaughn

Mountain Crest Gardens works with a hybridizer and creator of “many beloved semp cultivars,” Jopson says: Kevin Vaughn of Salem, OR. Vaughn holds a hybridizing clinic each year in April “organized by the avid semp community on the garden.org forums.” Jopson adds that the breeder’s current goal is to hybridize “a ‘football sized’ semp with the dark color tones of an Aeonium ‘Black Rose’.”

Hybridizer Kevin Vaughn’s book. Release date: May, 2018.

Vaughn’s book is a must-have for semp enthusiasts: Sempervivum: A Gardener’s Perspective of the Not-So-Humble Hens-and-Chicks.

Among professional breeders of cold-hardy succulents mentioned by Jopson and Kelaidis is Chris Hansen of Michigan-based Garden Solutions (chris@sunsparklersedums.com). Hansen says of one of his cultivars, Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime plant, the world’s first bright yellow semp with red tips.” Depending on growing conditions, ‘Gold Nugget’ turns shades of lime green and hot pink in summer, gold and red in spring and fall, and warm red in winter.

Chris Hansen shows Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’, part of his registered Chick Charms line of hens-and-chicks.

See more of Hansen’s patented plants, including his SunSparker Sedums, on my 50 Cold Hardy Succulents for Northern Climates page. His online mail-order plant business (with Mary Walters) is www.GreatGardenPlants.com.

Sempervivums are monocarpic, meaning that after a rosette blooms, it dies. But this seldom compromises a colony’s appearance. Chicks carry on, filling gaps with their own offsets in spring.

Ice plants 

Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ is a Kelaidis introduction

Naturally Kelaidis mentions ice plants, of which he says tongue-in-cheek, “I invented 35 years ago.” He trekked through Siberia, Mongolia, and similarly remote, high-elevation regions seeking mat-forming succulents with shimmering, daisylike blooms. Kelaidis went on to introduce many—including his own hybrids—to gardens in the Rockies and beyond.

Asked to name an ice plant that’s especially floriferous, Kelaidis praises purple Delosperma cooperi: “It blooms all summer.” The plant, which Kelaidis has helped popularize over his 35-year career, is readily available nationwide. “Hundreds of millions sold,” he says proudly.

How to Grow the Hardies

There’s more to growing hardy succulents than plunking them in the ground. They need to be acclimated to the cold. Jopson advises: “It’s never a good idea to leave them outside in a hard freeze immediately after delivery. Established root systems are required for most hardy succulents to survive the coldest winter temps, and it is recommend to plant in the ground, beds, or large containers for additional insulation for the roots. Snow is actually welcomed by hardy varieties as it can insulate them from frigid air temperatures.”

“Wetness is the enemy,” cautions Kelaidis. “Plant them in walls, rock gardens and shallow containers.” Give in-ground plants maximum sun exposure and “a microclimate similar to a Russian steppe:” a south-facing slope amended with coarse, gritty soil.

Read more


Soft Succulents: Jeff Moore’s Stunning New Book

Jeff Moore’s books are the See’s of eye-candy, filled with photos that show the very souls of fleshy plants. Moore is a succulent expert, garden designer, photographer and author who for 26 years has owned Solana Succulents nursery in Solana Beach, near San Diego.

We met in 2003, back when I was covering gardening for magazines. He struck me as unusually normal. Generally I’d hang out with an endearing plant geek until I understood his or her passion, and then I’d write about it. I interviewed many collector-experts, but (apologies to those still around), most were off-the-charts eccentric. Not Moore, a regular guy who just happened to have a thing for fleshy plants. The only weird thing was that he made a living at it. I asked this surfer and family man (who usually wears shorts, sunglasses and sandals—very Solana Beachy) which succulent we should feature. He chose Aloe bainesi (Aloe barberae). [Scroll down for an excerpt.]

His new book, Soft Succulents, is the sequel to Under the Spell of Succulents and Aloes and Agaves in Cultivation. Moore’s books are self-published, which imbues them with a refreshing persona and makes them an excellent value (none are over $35).

Moore’s nursery specializes in plants for Southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south. Not surprisingly, Soft Succulents skims over cold-climate varieties and devotes 20 pages to Dudleya, an underutilized genus native to California and Baja. Echeverias, also from Mexico, have 52 pages with 63 varieties. Aeoniums, challenging to grow elsewhere in the US, have 53 pages with 46 varieties. (And to think I grow only 14!)

Many of these photos from Solana Succulents’ website appear in Soft Succulents ~

A few favorite quotes from Moore’s latest (and arguably loveliest) book:

“You could take a dive into and roll around on any of these juicy creatures, and the only damage would be to the plants and maybe stains on your clothes. These softies will pass the nervous grandma test.”

“Consider blending them with at least a few of their more heavily armored relatives…my kids and animals grew up around the spiky stuff, and they learned some valuable life lessons from daddy’s plants.”

“I would estimate that well over half of the species, cultivars or hybrids that I have at my nursery were either unavailable or yet to be created when I opened in the early nineties.”

Echeveria ‘Bubble Machine’ is either a true beauty of genetic manipulation, or an example of man’s inhumanity to plant.”

“If you’ve tried and killed a traditional bonsai tree, keep the pot and try a jade, such as Crassula ‘Hobbit’ at left.”

To nit-pick, I would have preferred the plants presented alphabetically by genus. Although most of them are, it’s odd finding Sempervivum in the front and Cotyledon in the back. There are nomenclature glitches (such as different spellings of the same plant) and formatting inconsistencies (i.e. single quotes, italics and the like). But, as it turns out, the one error I thought was egregious wasn’t.

I figured “Toelken” in a header was a misspelling of “Tolkien” (as in J. R. R.). However, on page 196, re crassulas ‘Hobbit’ and ‘Gollum’, Moore explains: “The fanciful names are attributed to Helmut R. Toelken, who published a thesis on the revision of the crassulaceae in 1977. Although no relation to the J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings renown, someone must have been inspired by the similar names to bestow these cultivars with their monikers.” Well OK, then!

From “Aloes Aloft,” the article I wrote about Moore for the June, 2004 issue of San Diego Home/Garden magazine:

“People speculate that Seuss drew his multiheaded palms after seeing Aloe bainesii,” Moore says, “But I doubt it. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, there were maybe a couple in all of San Diego. Aloe bainseii just happens to look like a Dr. Seuss tree, not the other way around.”

Inside Moore’s mind is a map with locations of memorable succulents highlighted.

“I notice them when I’m driving around. Each one is a piece of art.”

Photo: Mary Beiler

Fourteen years and three books later, Moore has provided the horticultural world with impressive photo galleries of nearly every kind of succulent. And he’s not finished. In the works is a book on cacti and spiky euphorbias. Such plants are gaining popularity, and I can attest that no other succulents are as much fun to photograph. If Moore’s previous books are a visual feast, the next will be desert (pun intended).

Above: In one of my earliest YouTube videos, Moore makes a couple of container gardens on the tailgate of his pickup truck.

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Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment

VIDEO: Agave snout-nosed weevil (30 sec.)

The agave snout-nosed weevil is a half-inch-long black beetle with a downward-curving proboscis that enables it to pierce an agave’s core, where it lays its eggs. Grubs hatch, consume the agave’s heart, then burrow into the soil to pupate. The weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus)—once prevalent only in desert regions and Mexicois spreading rapidly throughout the US and abroad, earning it the dubious distinction of being one of the “Top 100 Worst Global Invasive Species.”

The agave in the middle shows signs of snout weevil infestation. This a block from my home (eek!)

According to the Global Invasive Species Database, “Scyphophorus acupunctatus is becoming a major pest of native Agavaceae and Dracaenaceae species worldwide. From Mexico, it has decimated populations of Agave crops there, in particular those used in the tequila industry. The importation of ornamental Agave plants worldwide has facilitated S. acupunctatus to establish in many parts of the world, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, in Africa, Asia and South America.”

Is your agave infested? Look for damaged tissue where leaves meet stem. The lowest leaves will appear wilted, and may slope unnaturally downward while the center cone remains upright. The plant, no longer anchored by roots, will rock when pushed. When an infestation is well underway, it’s possible to shove the agave over onto its side. It’ll break at soil level, revealing a mushy, foul-smelling core infested by plump, squirming, half-inch, cream-colored grubs with brown heads.

Agave snout weevil

Above: an agave’s grub-eaten core resembles a sponge.


Above: Close-up of a snout-nose grub.

In my YouTube video, “Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment,” I demonstrate how to inspect nursery agaves, show resistant varieties, and interview agave expert Kelly Griffin at an infested colony of Agave americana. Kelly also talks about applying a systemic insecticide as a prophylactic (preventive) option.

How one homeowner does it: Succulent collector Jeanne Meadow is well versed in the fauna and flora of her large garden in Fallbrook, California, midway between Riverside and San Diego. Jeanne, an ace researcher, has become an expert on the agave snout-nose weevil. She says people tend to assume most nursery plants are pest-free, yet that’s the primary way snout weevil enters gardens. When an agave in her garden shows signs of infestation, she removes it and every plant for several feet surrounding it. Then she sifts the soil and picks out grubs and beetles. “It’s a huge undertaking,” Jeanne says. “Fortunately they’re slow crawlers.”

To remove a diseased agave, here’s Jeanne’s method:
1. Place a tarp around the plant.
2. Position a wheelbarrow nearby. Make sure the tarp covers the ground between it and the agave.
3. Dig up the agave and put in the wheelbarrow.
4. Dig out more dirt to a depth of 12 inches (deeper if you find grubs) and about 12 inches from where the base of the plant was.
5. As you transfer the soil to the wheelbarrow, inspect it for grubs and weevils.
6. The beetles “are hard to crush,” Jeanne says. “I use a hammer.”
7. Take the wheelbarrow to a paved area, like your driveway, so if beetles escape they’re easy to spot.
8. Transfer into heavy-duty trash bags, sprinkle contents with insecticide, and triple-tie.
9. Seal any rips with duct tape.
10. Drench the soil where the agave was with insecticide.

Aren’t insecticides bad for the environment? Although neither Jeanne nor I advocate inorganic pesticides, and we certainly aren’t licensed pest control experts, we strongly believe that the responsible thing to do is to share knowledge with others based on research and personal experience, and to do what we can to prevent the beetle from spreading. “This is an emergency situation,” Jeanne says. “The pest is spreading like crazy and has to be brought under control.” According to agave experts, growers, and pest management specialists, the best approach is preemptive: drench the soil around healthy agaves with a systemic insecticide that has imidacloprid as the main ingredient.

Hire a licensed pest control expert. The going rate is $175/hr., but you’ll know for certain that everything is done safely and protects the environment while eradicating the pest from your property. One in the San Diego area is Chris Mizoguchi, chrisagpestcontrol@hotmail.com.

How to preventatively treat your agaves. The goal is to drench the agave’s roots. Twice a year, in spring and fall, here’s what I do:

1. The night before, soak (hose-water) the soil at the base of each agave to aid penetration.
2. Read and follow the label directions. Be sure to wear gloves and protect your skin and eyes.
3. To mix the solution, I use a hose, a 3-to-5 gallon bucket, and a stick for stirring. Product labels don’t say how much concentrate per gallon of water for agaves, so I go with the ratio for shrubs. (If using Compare-N-Save Systemic Tree and Shrub Insect Drench, it’s 3 oz. per foot of height per gallon of water.)
4. Agaves naturally funnel rainwater water to their roots, so if you slosh the solution where lowest leaves meet the core, you’ll effectively drench the soil below them at the base of the plant.

Note: Avoid doing this in temperatures above 80 degrees F. High temps diminish the insecticide’s effectiveness and may even harm plants already stressed by heat. 

Don’t panic, but do pass the word. It’s only a matter of time before weevils in neighbors’ agaves find their way to yours (and vice-versa). The unfortunate reality is that agave owners who do nothing are inadvertently aiding the proliferation of a serious pest, and may incur the expense and inconvenience of removing prized, immense and spiky plants. I suggest you:
— Send close neighbors a friendly email with a link to this page.
— Post about agave snout weevil on your neighborhood’s online forum. If possible, include a photo of an infested agave.
— Copy-and-paste part or all of this into an email to the editor of your community newsletter. (All I ask is to be credited. With, of course, a link.)

Don’t assume your agaves won’t be affected. Although snout-nosed weevils can’t fly (yes, there are such things as flightless beetles), they sure can walk. I first suspected that snout-nose had arrived in my backcountry community northeast of San Diego when I noticed a collapsed Agave americana in a friend’s garden. I could barely believe it. She lives atop a rocky hill surrounded by acres and acres of native chaparral. Either the weevil had arrived via infested nursery stock (on a different agave most likely, seeing as the sick plant was part of an old colony), or it had walked in. I’ve since observed that it takes a captive weevil ten days to die despite receiving no water nor food. The entire time, it was mobile and capable of traveling 4 inches per second. Had I released it, it easily could have gone several blocks (at least). It also was a surprisingly good climber.

Consider: If a dying agave hosts dozens of grubs that turn into beetles, and if each takes off in a different direction, one or more will certainly find another agave.

A tiny concern. If your goal is to kill snout weevils before they spread, a systemic ought to do it, but it’s uncertain how much damage the puncture hole causes. The weevil is a vector (carrier) of Erwinia carotovora, a micro-organism that decomposes plant tissues, enabling grubs to easily consume it. I’m hopeful, and it seems likely, that the bacteria doesn’t go deeper unless spread by live grubs. Moreover, as I mention below (see “Good News”), bitten agaves have been known to recover.

GREEN ALERT: Insecticides kill beneficial insects as well as pests and may disrupt your garden’s natural predator-prey balance. Snout weevils have coexisted with agaves for millennia and are naturally preyed upon by reptiles, birds and mammals (though the spines that protect an agave from predation also protect the weevil). Systemics, as the name implies, transmit insecticides through a plant’s system, so that any bug that eats it dies. Some studies have indicated that bees and birds are not harmed by the nectar of treated plants, and that animals farther up the food chain are not at risk. Use sparingly and follow label directions. Don’t pour this (or for that matter, anything inorganic) into drains or gutters.

Weevil control without pesticides. Remove an agave at first sign of infestation and sift grubs and weevils out of the soil. (Feed them to your chickens or put them out with the trash in sealed plastic bags.) Don’t plant agaves in that part of your garden again, and watch your other agaves for signs of infestation. It’s possible that beneficial nematodes may be effective. They do kill larvae, but I’ve yet to find out if they’ll work against snout grubs. (Check back.)

Earthworm castings destroy beetle exoskeletons, advises Pat Welsh, author of Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening: Month by Month. In Jan, 2018, in response to this post, she wrote: “Imadacloprid is killing bees. It is one of the worst ever pesticides and will end up killing us also. Instead of that, purchase earthworm castings and spread them on top of soil surrounding agaves. Keep it up. Earthworm castings kill all insect pests and are a great barrier to the ones that live in the ground under plants. Weevils walk on top of soil and cannot cross earthworm castings or they die. This is because earthworm castings contain chitinase, an enzyme that destroys chitin. The exoskeletons of insects are made of chitin.”

Good news ~
Agaves treated early in an infestation may recover, providing there’s adequate meristem tissue to regenerate new growth. (An agave’s meristem cells are at the core, or heart, where leaves join roots. It’s prime grub fodder.)
An organic control currently being tested is a pheromone trap designed to attract adult beetles in search of mates.
— Weevil-resistant Agave varieties do exist and are being selected and cultivated. (Sometimes you’ll see seemingly unaffected plants alongside diseased ones.) Tissue-culture labs make it possible to produce quantities of plants over a short period of time, which is likely the future of commercially-sold members of the Agaveaceae family.
— The weevil seems less inclined toward those with thin, flexible leaves, such as Agave attenuata; those with tough, hard-to-pierce leaves (such as agaves desmetiana, murpheyi, parryi, lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, ‘Sharkskin’, triangularis, victoriae-reginae and vilmoriniana); and those with slender, nonjuicy leaves such as agaves bracteosa, filifera and geminiflora. See photos on my website’s Agaves page.


In the meantime…

Plant agaves bare-root. Before planting, remove an agave from its nursery pot, set the plant (root ball and all) in a wheelbarrow, and hose the soil from the roots. Examine the plant for beetles and puncture holes, and the soil for grubs. If a plant is infested, destroy it and inform the source nursery. Jeanne notes that when chased, weevils head back to the agave for shelter. “They don’t try to escape from the wheelbarrow.” Btw, after observing grubs kept alive in soil-filled jars, Jeanne says that when deprived of an agave to feed on, grubs don’t pupate (turn into weevils).

Grow agaves in pots. In areas where snout weevil is known to be active, plant agaves in containers like the urns shown here. You’ll know that the soil is OK because it came from a bag; you can easily get rid of infested soil should beetles show up; and when you apply a preventative drench, only the soil in the container is affected. Additional advantages are that pots elevate agaves for better viewing, enabling them to serve as garden focal points even when small. Potentially immense, pupping agaves (such as A. americana species) grow more slowly in containers, which also serve to corral their offsets.

The big green agave at left is likely a hybrid of A. salmiana; at right is A. franzosinii. In the foreground is what Jeanne Meadow calls “snout-weevil candy”: A. americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’.

Watch susceptible plants. Keep an eye on all your agaves, especially mature ones about to bloom, because they’re loaded with weevil-attracting carbohydrates. The pest seems to prefer specimens of Agave americana and its variegates (striped varieties), as well as closely related Agave franzosinii (one of the largest agaves). Reportedly, it may infest other genera in the Agavaceae family, such as Nolina, Beaucarnea, Yucca, and Furcraea. I’ve heard, but have yet to confirm, that it also attacks Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) and possibly barrel cacti — but symptoms may simply be due to a different bug. After all, it’s a Pandora’s box out there.

Don’t give up on agaves! “Snout-nose shouldn’t discourage anyone from planting agaves,” Jeanne says. “There IS hope, and my garden is a great example of that.” She adds that the imidacloprid drench—which degrades over time—has had no apparent impact on her garden’s overall health and ecosystem, “including its population of beneficial insects, reptiles, birds, and amphibians.”

More info:

UC Nursery and Floracultural Alliance Regional Report, Spring 2016, “Agave Pests

Global Invasive Species Database

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ

Pam Penick’s blog post: “Evil Weevils! Agaves Under Attack in Austin”

Tropical Texana blog: http://tropicaltexana.blogspot.com/p/agave-weevil-eradication.html

View my 7-minute YouTube video, Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment

Note: This post first appeared in August, 2016. I’ve updated it several times, most recently in Jan., 2018.  I welcome your comments. — Debra


What Reviewers Are Saying About “Designing with Succulents”

The newly released, completely revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents is the best book on the topic, ever. But why believe the author?

Book reviewers are important. It’s not the author or a publicist telling you how good a book is, it’s editors, radio show hosts, columnists, industry pros and peers whose opinions are impartial and credible. Consequently, I’m very pleased and proud to share with you reviews by…

Excerpt: “With more than 400 engaging, colorful photographs, this is a book for the seasoned succulent aficionado or the wannabe windowsill gardener.”
Mary Ann Newcomer for Country Gardens magazine, a Better Homes & Gardens publication


Excerpt: “Inspiring photos of world-class gardens are scattered throughout, but designers will especially appreciate the featured gardens that are profiled at the beginning of each chapter.”
Susan Morrison, author of The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing Your Small Yard (Timber Press, Feb., 2018), for The Designer

Excerpt: “Has everything to keep the succulent lover entertained and plenty of knowledge to help a new gardener become an expert.” — Rachel Eroh, Phoenix Home and Garden magazine

Above: from Garden Design magazine’s weekly e-newsletter.

Also: “If you liked Debra Lee Baldwin’s first edition of this book published 10 years ago, then you will definitely have to have a copy of this complete re-write, which includes several featured succulent gardens from designers and dedicated homeowners. . . . a book every succulent lover needs.” —Garden Design Magazine

“A masterly book about the creative use of succulents in modern landscapes.” —John Bagnasco, host of Garden America radio show and co-author of two books about succulents.

“Takes the mystery out of these fascinating plants. The book is well illustrated, full of good information, and eminently readable.” —Brian Kemble, curator of the Ruth Bancroft Garden; board member of Cactus and Succulent Society of America

“Another classic with amazing photos. From images that show you what can be done, to explanations that help you do it, this is a must-have for succulent gardeners.” —Ken Altman, president of Altman Plants

“Many people know about succulents, but using them in the landscape is another matter. Designing with Succulents shows us how; it’s inspiring, practical, and complete—a treasure for any gardener who loves these otherworldly beauties.” —Kathleen N. Brenzel, Sunset magazine

“Home gardeners as well as those looking for a ‘Zen’ book-cation of browsing gorgeous plant photographs should read (and purchase!) Designing with Succulents. Readers will be inspired by both plants and design, and take away principles and projects to incorporate more beauty into their surroundings and everyday lives.” —Esther Jackson, librarian and columnist, New York Botanical Garden’s Plant Talk

“Thanks to Baldwin’s expertise on succulents from propagation to design, beautiful photographs, and personable writing style, [Designing with Succulents] retains its well-deserved status as the bible for succulent gardeners.” —Pam Penick, Digging 

“Gardeners new to these plants will find both useful information and inspiration in this book. Experienced growers of succulents also will discover motivation to explore possibilities for refining their gardens and containers, and enjoying gardening with succulents.” —Tom Karwin, The Santa Cruz Sentinel 

“The second edition of Designing with Succulents is an instant classic. It’s a must-have for any succulent lover, even if you already own the first edition…my most anticipated book of the year.” — Gerhard Bock, Succulents and More


My Fave Garden Books are 30% off Through Dec. 8!

NOW THROUGH DEC. 8, all my books, including the newly revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents, are 30% off at timberpress.com! In fact, ALL Timber Press books are 30% off.
Timber Press is the leading publisher of gardening books in the US. Among the Timber titles I own and recommend:

 And of course…

Speaking of Designing with Succulents, enjoy my TV interview with a handsome reporter whose blue suit makes a perfect backdrop for orange aloe flowers. Note how the sweet man puts me at ease, is genuinely into gardening, and asks me what viewers likely want to know.

Want my books signed and personalized? Email me.

Behind the Scenes with “Designing with Succulents”

Brian Kemble and Debra Lee Baldwin     Photo: Kyle Short

I’m about to give you a behind-the-scenes look at my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) by sharing Brian Kemble’s comments on its manuscript, prior to publication. He was of one of the proofreaders who went over my plant descriptions.

Brian, a world-renowned horticulturist, shares my obsession with accuracy. However, I lack his decades of studying and growing thousands of cacti and succulents, and his memory for arcane and detailed plant information. Not that succulent cultivation and nomenclature are exact sciences, in fact, they’re rife with gray areas. Discussions can be lively—even heated—when geeks (I use the term respectfully) get together and discuss little-known succulents found only in, say, Zimbabwe or the Great Karoo.

Although Brian revels in that sort of stuff, he’s remarkably engaging when instructing the gardening public. He “gets” that not everyone is interested in obscure genera unsuitable for residential landscapes. At yearly Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens nursery 200 miles south of San Francisco, Brian starts the festivities at 8 a.m. with a tour of the display gardens. Despite the nursery’s rural location, he draws dozens of rapt listeners. Most are homeowners who are into gardening—as are the readers of my books.

You might wonder if Brian is eccentric, being so devoted to plants. Does he relate to people, too? Oh, yes. He’s active in the San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society, travels the world with fellow enthusiasts to observe plants in habitat, lectures widely to C&SS groups, and interacts with visitors at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, CA, where he has served as curator for decades.

Yet there’s a certain reserve to Brian. He’s mild mannered, soft spoken, and polite. He’s not one to leap into the limelight, yet he’s good on camera. When speaking on his favorite topics—cacti and succulents, dry-climate gardening, and landscape design—he does so with a quiet intensity that’s perfectly delivered, interesting and engaging. Plus he has a delightfully dry sense of humor.

You’ll notice these things about his comments too, some of which made me laugh. Granted, much of what follows has to do with nomenclature and what one expert has to say versus another. Yet Brian sifts through all the lofty blather and draws conclusions that are reasonable, helpful, and—to an author whose reputation is at stake—a huge relief.

He’s also exquisitely diplomatic. Brian never states that what I wrote was wrong or stupid, although at times it was. I committed some “howlers”— editors’ slang for errors that, should they find their way into print, would cause erudite readers to howl with dismay (or, possibly, laughter).

Not only do Brian’s comments merit a wider audience, they illustrate the effort that went into the book. Credit also goes to the excellent staff at Timber Press, the largest publisher of gardening books in the US, who focused on style consistency, logical flow, readability, photo selection, design and layout, and copyediting.

If, as you read through Brian’s suggestions, you find one that’s a snooze, skim past it to a nugget or howler. It pleases me to imagine you discovering them as I did, and perhaps vicariously experiencing my mingled dismay, relief and gratitude.

I’ve included a few pages from the published book so you can see the final results as well. Enjoy! ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

Excerpts from horticulturist Brian Kemble’s proofreading comments on the manuscript of Designing with Succulents (2nd edition), by Debra Lee Baldwin ~

Page 37 — Furcraea macdougalii should be macdougallii (note that Fouquieria macdougalii has one L, but the furcraea has two).

Page 99 — I am glad to see you mentioned aeoniums in the caption. Lots of succulents do well in sea-side conditions, but some such as aeoniums and dudleyas seem MADE for this – you should mention dudleyas, too!

Page 101 — The cactus looks like Cleistocactus icosagonus (or Borzicactus icosagonus in Hunt’s newest taxonomy) rather than Disocactus martianus.

For plants to suggest underwater creatures, many gardens use dyckias (like the aptly-named Dyckia ‘Brittle Star’) for a sea star effect. You list medusoid euphorbias under the “sea urchin” category, but isn’t it sea anemones that you mean? Sea urchins have a spiky look, and your listings of E. horrida and polygona are indeed appropriate for this.

Page 114 — In the Thinking Outside the Pot section, I feel a little uneasy about “succulents are not dependent on their roots to survive.” Yes, they can go a long time living off their stored reserves, but sooner or later they need to send out some roots!

Page 122 — In the list of succulents for miniature landscapes, you didn’t mention two of my favorite Crassula species for this purpose: C. tetragona and C. ericoides (I see you do mention the former on the last page). The many dwarf othonnas and tylecodons are also good for this, suggesting larger pachycaul plants like pachypodiums. And a Mestoklema makes a great miniature banyan tree – but one could go on and on with this; the idea is really to just throw out some ideas, letting the reader take the ball and run with it.

Page 133 — In the photo, the plant on left is C. strausii, but the one on the right isn’t (spines too yellow).

Page 148 — To the list of succulents that can be propagated from leaves, you could add gasterias.

Page 176 — The correct name for the agave is A. parryi var. truncata, not A. parryi ‘Truncata’. One might quibble with whether var. truncata is really a good variety or not, but that is the way it is described in Gentry.

Page 177 — According to the Mexican botanists who published Agave pintilla, the name A. nickelsiae has priority over A. ferdinandi-regis because it was published earlier. However, A. ferdinandi-regis is such a well-known name that one can’t ignore it. I would handle this by calling the plant Agave nickelsiae (syn. Agave ferdinandi-regis).

Page 182 — Re aloes, the text says “Native to southern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar…” This could be amended to “Native to southern and eastern Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar…” since there are so many widely grown aloes from East Africa, like juvenna, cameronii, camperi, elgonica, etc.

Page 184 — Aloe nobilis is a hybrid and not a species, so it should be rendered Aloe ×nobilis to denote its hybrid origin. Since Aloe maculata has been the accepted name for A. saponaria for quite a few years, I would use it in the caption, with (syn. Aloe saponaria) following, or “also called Aloe saponaria,” as you have done with Aloe vera/barbadensis.

Page 188 — Having just called Aloe dorotheae “arguably the loveliest aloe”, it seems funny a couple of pages later to be crowning Aloe polyphylla as “arguably the most beautiful of all succulents.” Wouldn’t it be better not to repeat the word “arguably” and simply say something like, “Aloe polyphylla, spiral aloe, is one of the most striking of all succulents”?

Page 189 — For the Aloe speciosa photo caption, saying “flowers banded with cream, pink, and rose-red buds” leaves out the rust-orange of the stamens, which seems to me too prominent to ignore.

Page 194 — The text says, “When designing with cacti, keep in mind their three main shapes: columnar forms that have “cereus” in their Latin names (ceroids), those with jointed stems such as Opuntia (paddle cacti and cholla), and globular ones such as mammillarias (pincushions and barrels).” First off, although many of the ceroid cacti do indeed have “cereus” as part of their Latin name, others do not (like Carnegiea or Neobuxbaumia or Backebergia or Browningia or Eulychnia), so perhaps you could say “columnar forms that often have “cereus” as part of their Latin names.” And while the three forms you mention are very important categories when thinking of cacti in the landscape, there are also types of cacti that do not fit in any of the three, like epiphytic cacti or scramblers such as Peniocereus. Here is a stab at a re-wording: When designing with cacti, keep in mind the three distinct forms taken by most of the kinds used in landscaping: the columnar ones that often have “cereus” as part of their Latin names; those with jointed stems such as Opuntia (paddle cacti and chollas); and globular types from large to small (barrels to pincushions).

[Item deleted—DLB] Caption of the Bob Barth astrophytum photo: The fuzz on the Astrophytum areoles (not aureoles) is referred to as “wool.” How to phrase the caption? Here’s an attempt: “…but the plants have furry areoles, the points on a cactus from which flowers, spines or offsets emerge.”

Page 195 — Though many ferocacti become cylindrical as they age, others do not (including the F. latispinus illustrated). And although some kinds form clumps, others remain solitary (like F. acanthodes in the Mojave Desert, F. wislizenii in the Sonoran Desert, etc.). Suggested re-wording: “These ribbed and stout-spined cacti from Mexico and the Southwest are spherical when young, but many become cylindrical with age. Some are solitary, while others eventually form clumps.”

Page 197 — For the Opuntia paragraph, you are on firm ground to say it is the most widespread genus of cactus, but “numerous” is a little trickier. There may be more individual plants of Opuntia than any other genus, but in terms of the number of species they are outdone by mammillarias (The New Cactus Lexicon recognizes 163 species of Mammillaria vs. 74 of Opuntia). Of course, the number of Opuntia species is in much dispute, and the same goes for Mammillaria. Perhaps it is best to avoid pinning yourself down on the number of species: “Opuntia or prickly pear is the most wide-ranging genus in the whole cactus family, occurring from Argentina all the way up to Canada.” Nobody could dispute that.

With regard to chollas, though they used to be classified under Opuntia, they have for some time been treated as a separate genus, Cylinropuntia. Suggested fix: “Those on my keep-away-from list include O. microdasys, due to abundant glochids, and also anything in the related genus Cylindropuntia, known as chollas, since these have vicious spines and cylindrical joints that detach all too easily. Chollas were formerly included in Opuntia.”

Page 197 — The problem of what to call the Santa Rita prickly pear is a vexing one. Benson called it O. violacea var. santa-rita; Anderson and Hunt both provisionally accepted it as a species in its own right (Opuntia santa-rita), and Ferguson in his book Prickly Pears classifies it under O. chlorotica, as O. chlorotica var. santa-rita. I think the easiest thing might be to call it Opuntia santa-rita (often sold as O. violacea var. santa-rita).

There is no such species as Opuntia macrocarpus. There has been debate about what species Opuntia ellisiana is a spineless form of, but most people I know have accepted David Furguson’s conclusion that it is Opuntia cacanapa. Furguson uses the designation O. cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’ – and here we go with Latinized cultivar names! In any case, that is the name in usage, so that’s what I would call it.

Page 199 — The cactus in the photo is certainly not Stenocereus thurberi; looks like Stenocereus marginatus.

Don’t you think it’s a little harsh to say Trichocereus hybrids when not flowering are “no more interesting than utility boxes”?

Page 200 — Do people call the epiphytic cacti “tropical cacti?” I usually hear them called epiphytic cacti or sometimes “jungle cacti,” but am not accustomed to hearing them called tropical cacti. But they are from the tropics…

Page 201 — “Epiphyllum, with long segmented leaves” should be “with long leaf-like segmented stems.” And for “Rhipsalis, which have jointed strands of leaves…” wouldn’t it be better to say, “which have cylindrical or flattened jointed stems”? Just like with opuntia pads, people often mistake flattened cactus stems for leaves, but let’s not encourage this!

The text says, “Grow cotyledons in semishade…” While some species of Cotyledon prefer semishade, haven’t you found that C. orbiculata does well in full sun? It grows fine in full sun in Walnut Creek.

Page 203 — While jadelike crassulas (like C. ovata or C. arborescens) certainly look quite different from stacking ones (like perforata or deceptor or ‘Tom Thumb’), there are plenty of species that don’t fit into either camp (like C. pubescens ssp. radicans or C. multicava, both of which are pictured). Perhaps you could get around this by saying something like, “Crassula is a large and diverse genus containing plants with widely differing forms. Some have definite trunks and look like miniature trees, like the jade tree. Others have stacked leaves which look like they have been threaded along ever-lengthening stems. These two types may seem like they don’t even belong in the same genus, but the key determinant is the flowers, which are tiny, star-shaped, and clustering for both types.” This preserves the contrast you are pointing out, without making it seem like all species of Crassula can be shoe-horned into these two categories.

Crassula ovata — Leaves the size of half-dollars sounds too big; I don’t have one handy to measure, but aren’t they usually more like the size of a quarter? Also, do you think you should put C. argentea in parentheses as a synonym? Plenty of people still call it that.

Page 205 — Crassula perforata — I would say that C. perforata and C. rupestris are both quite common when it comes to stacked-leaf crassulas, and they are very easy to confuse. I think your text is fine as is, but you could include C. rupestris by saying: “Most common of the stacked crassulas are Crassula perforata and Crassula rupestris, two similar species with triangular leaves…” This way the rest of the paragraph can remain unchanged. For the record, though, C. perforata has flowers that tend to be on the cream or yellowish side, while C. rupestris is usually pink or pinkish, which leaves the white-flowered ones in the hard-to-determine category.

Page 206 — Dudleya — The text says D. brittonii rosettes “resemble those of echeverias, but the leaves are flatter and broader, and the tips more pointed.” But there are Echeveria species with leaves flatter and broader than D. brittonii, and plenty with pointed leaves. But it’s hard to know how to concisely state what distinguishes the appearance of dudleyas from echeverias. A greater likelihood of being covered with thick white powder? But then there are dudleyas with none at all. The dead leaves being much more firmly attached to the stems? Maybe so, but you have to wrestle with the plant to find this out. I suppose you could just say something like “their chalky rosettes resemble those of echeverias, and even their flowers look similar, but though the two groups are in the same family, they are not close enough to hybridize.” This mentions the similarity and their degree of relatedness, but without trying to come up with a formula for telling the two apart.Page 211 – Euphorbia — It says: “Flowers of euphorbias are tiny relative to the plants and come in shades of cream, yellow, and rusty red.” This is not untrue, but it fails to point out that yellow is far and away the most common flower color, and neglects to mention ones that are pure white (esculenta) or green (some medusoids and some forms of horrida) or dark purple (‘Snowflake’). Without going on and on, perhaps you could say “Flowers of euphorbias are tiny relative to the plants and are most often yellow, though some come in other colors like white or purple or rusty red.”

Page 212 — Medusoid euphorbias – “…their prostrate, snakelike leaves resemble locks of hair…” Well, first of all we are talking branches here (or arms, as they are sometimes called), not leaves, and the resemblance is not to locks of hair, but to snakes, which is what Medusa had in place of hair. This is a great photo – almost hypnotic – of the spiral center, so let’s have a caption that doesn’t make me cringe! Perhaps: Medusoid euphorbias, so named because the cylindrical arms that emerge from their central heads are reminiscent of Medusa’s head of snakes, have numerous bumpy green stems that radiate from the core of the plant in a Fibonacci spiral. The tiny yellow, white or red flowers arise at the tips of the arms.” I have avoided saying “in spring,” because we have medusoids in flower all the way through October, though spring is indeed the peak season.

Euphorbia ‘Snowflake’ — There has been much debate about whether ‘Snowflake’ is a form of E. horrida or of E. polygona, but the most knowledgeable people I know (like Gerhard Marx) think that it belongs in horrida; thus Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’. Since many people also have it labeled the other way, you could put E. polygona ‘Snowflake’ in parentheses.

Page 216 — Graptopetalum — Perhaps it is splitting hairs, but describing the color of G. paraguayense, I would add lavender: “plants turn gray-blue when grown in shade and take on tinges of lavender, pink and yellow in full sun.”

Page 218 — Haworthia — It is not really accurate to say that “the plants are winter growers that go dormant in the hottest summer months.” Some species are from the winter-rainfall zone in the western part of South Africa, but the majority are from either the overlap zone where rain comes in summer as well as winter, or else from summer-rainfall areas. They tend to slow down or stop growing both in the hottest part of the summer and in the coldest part of the winter, so they do a lot of their growing in the spring and the fall (unless you live in San Francisco, where the “hottest part of the summer” is an oxymoron!).

Page 218 — Hesperaloe — You say the common name for Hesperaloe parviflora is red yucca “because of the color of its flowers.” This explains the “red” in the common name, but leaves out the “yucca” part. Possible re-write: “The common name of red yucca is applied to the most popular species, Hesperaloe parviflora, because its reddish flowers are reminiscent of an aloe, while its leaves with curling threads call to mind its relatives the yuccas.” Note that I am trying to sneak in the idea that its resemblance to an aloe is only superficial, while it really is related to yuccas.

Page 219 — Ice plants — Is there to be no mention of the mimicry-type plants in the ice plant family, like Lithops, etc.? Some of them have such evocative names, like “living stones”, “baby toes”, “split rock”, and “tiger jaws”. But perhaps they are a little too much collectors’ plants and not landscape plants.

[Entry deleted — DLB] Aptenia cordifolia —  I am accustomed to hearing this plant called candy apple, and I think that name is for the true species, while ‘Red Apple’ is a hybrid with another plant and is a brighter red. (Sunset Garden Book identifies the other parent as Platythyra haeckeliana – but who has ever heard of that?).

Page 220 — Kalanchoe — You are correct that the plants once included in Bryophyllum are now considered a subset of Kalanchoe (by most people; there are still those who prefer to keep them separate). I would vote for doing it just the way you have, with Kalanchoe as the primary name and Bryophyllum as a synonym in parentheses.

Page 231 — As to whether Sedum adolphi and S. nussbaumerianum are the same species or not, there is disagreement. Both come from central Veracruz and are no doubt each other’s closest relatives if indeed they are distinct. Miguel Chazaro, who has done much investigation of the plants in Veracruz, thinks they should be considered synonymous. But the plants we have in cultivation are different, with S. adolphi having shorter leaves which are more closely packed together, and more yellow in color, while the plants of nussbaumerianum have longer and pointier leaves which are a little more spaced out along the stem and turn orange rather than yellow (often with a distinct orange margin). For this reason, I prefer to keep them separate, even if it turns out that the two are merely different forms of one species.

Page 238 – Yucca — It says “Plant yuccas in full sun…” but yuccas are very adaptable and can be grown in partial shade or even quite shady conditions (or as house plants), though they may not flower if given too much shade. Regarding the trimming off of old leaves, there are some whose persistent old leaves give an attractive “grass-skirt” look, and might be considered an asset rather than a liability, like Y. rigida, Y. thompsoniana and Y. rostrata. Note that although Y. rostrata may indeed be single-headed, it often divides and becomes multi-headed (though it does not do so as much as the related Y. thompsoniana). To convey this, you might say “…which over time forms a trunk topped by one or more shimmering pincushions of blue-gray leaves.” (Your imaginitive descriptive phrases like “shimmering pincushion” for Y. rostrata and “whipped cream” for yucca flowers are one of the strengths of the book, since they are both evocative and a little humorous, and relate the plants described to familiar things).

Page 274 — It says, “Daylily hybrids come in a multitude of flower colors, including burgundy, pink, and red.” Of course, this means that it comes in these colors in addition to the usual yellows and oranges, but perhaps it would be better to state this, in case there is someone out there in the world who doesn’t know the usual colors of daylilies.

Page 283 — In the rosemary entry, you suggest using it with Senecio mandraliscae to repeat the blue color, and then you came up with a great photo which shows exactly this, but oddly the senecio is left out of the caption, as is the agave which dominates the picture.

Page 285 — For the entry on Tradescantia pallida, it might be worth mentioning that freezing weather will cause it to die back, but it will bounce back vigorously from the roots as long as the ground doesn’t freeze. Then people who plant it won’t pull it out thinking it had died when the above-ground portion turns to mush in winter (as it does every year at Ruth Bancroft Garden).

Watch a 3-min. video taken at the 2017 Succulent Extravaganza, in which I talk about the new book and Brian. 

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How to Propagate Succulents

Aaron Ryan takes a cutting from a stacked crassula

Ever wondered how to propagate a certain succulent? For example, lithops (living stones)…is it possible to take cuttings from those thick, molar-shaped leaves? How about ruffled echeverias…can a solitary rosette be made to offset? And stacked crassulas…what do you do when stems are tightly lined with leaves? 

Most succulents can be propagated vegetatively—via stem cuttings, pulling apart offsets, or rooting leaves. To the novice, of course, such tasks are mystifying. How deep, for example, does one plant a leaf? 

Even more challenging are succulents that make propagators pull out a power drill, coffee grinder, or tub of roofing gravel—all tools routinely used by nurseryman-grower Aaron Ryan of Petaluma, CA. 

Aaron is down-to-earth in more ways than one. At past Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens Nursery, he graciously showed standing-room-only audiences a half dozen ways to propagate a variety of succulents. 

Somehow watching Aaron grind seed pods, guillotine a frilly echeveria, or snip a stacked crassula is soothing. You know those babies are gonna make it. You also know that with Aaron’s methods, you’ll soon have plenty of new plants to play with. 

Impressed by his teaching skills, I’ve made several videos that feature Aaron. They’re short (4 to 6 min.), fun to watch, and easy to follow. You’ll find them on my YouTube channelplaylist “Succulent Propagation.” Or click below.

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

FIND “How to Propagate Succulents” IN MY BOOKS ~

Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 148-154

Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 232-235

Succulents Simplified, pp. 58-61


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.

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Is Cactus the New Black?

Dish garden by Matthew Maggio

Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small.

Golden barrels backlit by the sun

Succulent aficionados initially drawn to echeverias and other rosette succulents are gaining appreciation for those with streamlined, sculptural forms. There’s a surging interest in succulent oddities as well, resulting in windowsill gardens with a vaguely extraterrestrial look.

Collectible crested cacti on display at a nursery

Membership in the Cactus & Succulent Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1929, is at an all-time high. Longtime members of CSSA clubs nationwide seem bemused by the surging interest in succulents as landscape plants. But then, members are collectors. Clubs host shows and award trophies to rare, perfectly grown potted specimens. These widespread events are open to the public and free, so they’re often where people see exotic succulents first and in the flesh.

Large cacti that are spherical, cylindrical or jointed are popping up far from their native desert Southwest. Forward-thinking California landscape designers are creating focal-point beds consisting of rocks of all sizes (another trend) and dramatic succulents with translucent spines. These living sculptures, breathtaking when haloed by early morning or late afternoon sun, require no irrigation other than rainfall.

You needn’t live in a hot climate to grow cacti in-ground. On page 112 of the second edition of Designing with Succulents, I share this good news: “More than fifty types of Opuntia and a dozen varieties of Echinocereus will grow where temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, according to members of the Ottawa Cactus Club, who have grown and tested them in their gardens.”

My makeshift cactus tools include grippers with pieces of foam rubber attached to the tips with rubber bands and rubber gloves wrapped with duct tape


Whoever introduces flexible gardening gloves impervious to spines and glochids will likely make a fortune. Regardless, if they haven’t already, manufacturers of medical tools will see an uptick of interest in long-handled tweezers, calipers, hemostats, narrow-bladed scissors, and other items that enable gardeners to groom and handle cacti without actually touching them.

Not that I expect garden-club ladies to ever be enthralled by cacti. This edgy subsection of succulents appeals to a new generation of gardeners: people in their twenties and thirties who have the gardening gene (they’re fascinated by plants and their cultivation) but who want to do it their own way. Look for young green-thumbers to take an interest in formerly ignored fat plants, reveling in the eye-of-the-beholder beauty of mammillarias, euphorbias and more. (The more treacherous, the better, especially those with eyebrow-raising names and forms.)

Can spineless cacti help world hunger?

I’ve saved the best for last: It’s likely that research begun by famed hybridizer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) on spineless varieties of Opuntia (paddle cacti) will start up again in earnest, with the goal of creating a dependably smooth-leaved hybrid that’ll grow nearly anywhere. Many in this large genus have pads as thick as oven mitts, and juicy tissues capable of sustaining the plants during prolonged dry spells. Tender young pads, a dietary staple in Latin America (nopales), are notably high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.

Burbank envisioned spineless opuntia as an economical alternative to cattle feed. Despite harsh conditions, the plants grow from fallen pads. They thrive in poor soils and need far less labor than grains. Forget silos; simply leave pads on the plants until needed. But never mind cattle. Call me crazy, but I think spineless opuntia offers a significant way to combat world hunger. And due to its wealth of antioxidants, possibly cancer too.

Cacti are just one direction in which succulents are trending. With 400 photos and entirely revised and updated text, the celebratory, tenth anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents presents hundreds of innovative, practical, and eye-catching ways to use and enjoy these appealing and remarkable plants. Learn more at www.debraleebaldwin.com and www.timberpress.com.


I’m Horticulturist of the Year!


Above: I react to learning that a pair of Felco pruners is a traditional gift for honorees. San Diego Horticultural Society past president Susi Torre-Bueno, center, gave the introduction, and SDHS president Jim Bishop is at right. The event took place at the Flower & Garden Show of the San Diego County Fair. Photo: Hannah Eubanks

Recently I was honored by the San Diego Horticultural Society (SDHS) as their Horticulturist of the Year—a lifetime achievement award.  I knew the evening would be a blur, so I asked Laura Eubanks’ daughter Hannah to take photos and videorecord the speeches. I’m so glad I did!

I’ve since released two YouTube videos for those of you who would like to share (or re-experience) the festivities.

PART ONE is SDHS past-president Susi Torre-Bueno’s gracious introduction and informed perspective on the popularity of succulents.

PART TWO is my acceptance speech, in which I say a couple of times, “You may not know this, but…”

So, are you curious? Then settle in and be entertained and perhaps a little surprised. (Hint: My husband certainly was!)