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The Secret to Happy Succulents

A happy saguaro in Arizona

Can you grow saguaros in Tucson? You bet! In California, probably not.

The secret to happy succulents is to duplicate their native growing conditions as much as possible. The more you know about where a succulent comes from, the easier you can do this…up to a point. Occasionally (not often) it’s nearly impossible. No matter what you do, saguaros don’t thrive beyond the Sonoran Desert, where they grow like weeds. But most other succulents, regardless of origin, can be accommodated anywhere.

There’s a reason jade (Crassula ovata) is in everyone’s collection.

Some are super easy. Jade, for example, survives under- or over-watering, starts readily from cuttings, seldom gets pests, loves sun but tolerates shade, and will grow indoors or out if protected from freezing temps.

Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’ doesn’t mind desert heat or high humidity.

This may surprise you, but a succulent I’ve seen in gardens from Miami to Honolulu and everywhere in-between—including Phoenix—is from South Africa: elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra).

Sempervivum heuffelii hybrids, largely considered cold-climate succulents, do fine when grown in bright shade in the Southwest. Mine are happy as pot plants.

Haworthias (related to aloes) make terrific terrarium succulents.  This one, from my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online Craftsy class, features Haworthia attenuata ‘Variegata’. (Yes you can grow succulents in nondraining containers. This one, on my kitchen counter near a window, gets a mere 1/4 cup of water monthly.)

Windowsill succulents in my office.

Nearly any succulent when small will bask happily on a bright windowsill.

The mild temperatures and drought-rainfall cycles of southern CA replicate regions of Africa, Madagascar and the Canary Islands, where many desirable succulents originate.

Florida and Hawaii may seem to have climates similar to southern CA’s, but succulents see it differently. Where there’s high humidity and summer rainstorms, it can be challenging to grow aeoniumsagavesaloes, dudleyas, echeverias, euphorbias and senecios.

Think about it: Succulents by definition survive dry spells by storing water in fleshy leaves and stems. They’re not set up to handle continually moist conditions. Add cold to that, and the buzzer goes off. The farther north and east you go from coastal CA, the fewer types of succulents you can grow effortlessly in your garden. Read about those you can grow in colder, wetter climates.

Echeverias, from high elevations in Mexico, top the popularity list in terms of resembling roses that never fade. Their rosette forms serve a practical purpose: they funnel rainwater to roots.

From the Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World:

Other succulents from Mexico and Central America such as graptopetalums, pachyphytums, and large-leaved sedums have leaves that pop easily off stems. These tumble down and take root far enough from the parent plant that they don’t compete with it for nutrients.

Like the plump bodies of tadpoles, fat leaves feed juvenile succulents, enabling them to grow and develop without water. The leaf slowly withers as the baby plant drains moisture and nutrients to form its own leaves and roots.

Succulents with ever-lengthening, pendant stems may become bearded with roots as they sniff out soil pockets.

So, how do you make echeverias and their nook-and-cranny relatives happy? Tuck them into niches in rock walls, and let them cascade from terraces, pedestal pots and hanging baskets. Place any fat, fallen leaves atop the soil out of direct sun. (Don’t bury or water them lest they rot.)

Not surprisingly, the easiest succulents to grow throughout the arid Southwest, and that survive with no irrigation other than rainfall once established, are those native to the region: cacti, agaves, dasylirions, yuccas, hesperaloes and beaucarneas. (Those last four don’t have fleshy leaves, but rather store moisture in their stems or cores.)

Consult my books for the best succulents for your area and how to keep them happy. You’ll discover how to use them in all sorts of design applications, from pots and projects to in-ground gardens and landscapes.

Related info on this site:

Succulents for Coastal Southern California Gardens
These thrive in frost-free, low-rainfall regions within several miles of the ocean (i.e. coastal CA from San Diego to Santa Barbara)…[Continue reading]

How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region
Where you live and the time of year make a big difference as to how well your succulents grow and perform, and even which kinds you should choose…[Continue reading]

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Ants in Your Succulents? What to Do

Late summer into fall, Argentine ants like to nest in the root balls of potted plants. Haworthias, aloes (especially dwarf varieties), gasterias and gasteraloes are highly vulnerable. Ants overwinter in the soil and consume the plant’s juicy core. Leaves eventually fall off and the plant dies.

Argentine ants infest a haworthia

The first line of defense is to create a barrier around your pots using ant powder or diatomaceous earth. The latter, available at garden centers and online, is the best “green” solution. (Go to my Useful Tools page for more about it.)

Rinse ants out of the rootballIf an infestation is well underway—ants swarm when you water the pot or tap it on a hard surface—unpot the plant and wash the roots until pests are gone (you may want to wear gloves). Before replanting in fresh soil, place a square of fine-mesh screen in the pot to keep ants from re-entering the drain hole. I know it’s overkill to buy a roll of screen for a single pot, but really, you should be using it in ALL your pots. It’s surprising how quickly you’ll go through it, especially if you repot your plants often. A role isn’t expensive and you can always share it with friends.

Pot in a moat of waterMove the plant to a different location and/or surround it with a moat (ants can’t swim). Add water to a bowl or other shallow container and, to keep the drain hole above water, set the pot atop rocks or gravel. Be vigilant until the weather cools in October.

Mealy bugs on aloe

Ants “farm” other pests for their sweet secretions. The best preventative is good air circulation. Aphids attack new growth, and mealy bugs (shown below) nestle under leaves and in leaf axils. Spray with isopropyl alcohol (70%). Isolate plants you’ve treated, and trash any that are badly infested. Indoor plants are especially susceptible, so run a fan in the room in which you overwinter your succulents. If you find pests on one plant, be sure to check its neighbors.

Also see the “Pest and Damage Control” section of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed (pp 137-142); the “Pests and Diseases” page of my website, and my YouTube video, “Oh, No! Something’s Wrong with My Succulent!”

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Laura Eubanks’ Top Ten Tips for Succulent Garden Design

Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity is a celebrity succulent garden designer in Southern California. Her “Succulent Tip of the Day” sent her popularity skyrocketing on social media, and her YouTube channel recently exceeded 4,000,000 views. Here, Laura shares her Top Ten Tips for Succulent Garden Design. The photos are from two videos I made with Laura: “How to Create a Succulent Pocket Garden” (12:36 min.) and  “Succulent Garden Design Secrets” (3:40).

“Whether you’re doing a 5-foot-square garden or five acres, the same techniques apply,” Laura says. Meet Laura and see her in action at the Succulent Extravaganza, Fri-Sat Sept. 28-29 at Succulent Gardens Nursery in Northern CA.

1. Create elevations. Nature isn’t flat. Mimic nature by moving the dirt around to create hills and valleys.

2. Rocks ROCK! Second only to succulents in horticultural awesomeness, well placed rocks, pebbles and boulders can take a succulent garden from good to spectacular.

3. Remember to plant your boulders by creating a cradle in the soil. Sinking your boulders gives the illusion that they’ve been there for a few million years.

4. Connect your succulent pocket plantings by running river rock through the design in ribbons.

5. Choose plants that are zone appropriate and favor your microclimates. When in doubt, ask!

6. Know how they grow. Stage your plants according to size. Taller in the back, groundcovers in front.

7. Got drainage? Succulent thrive in poor soil and will reward benign neglect by deepening in color. Just remember, no matter your soil type, it must drain well.

8. Plant cuttings in cooler months or in a partly sunny or semi-shaded area of the gardens to avoid sunburn.

9. When your succulents get leggy, simply pull them out by the roots, clip stems to desired length, discard roots and reset rosettes in a hole deep enough to stabilize the plant. If your succulent cutting stands up, you’ve done your job!

10. Most importantly, be bold, take risks and be creative! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so plant and design what appeals to you and makes you happy.

 

Related Info on this Site:

Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks
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… [Continue reading]

Succulent Garden Design Essentials
Here are a dozen succulent garden design essentials for you to keep in mind as you design and plant your own garden. They’re exemplified by an award-winning succulent garden in…[Continue reading] 

 


Obtain my comprehensive guide to succulent landscaping, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

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It’s the Succulent Extravaganza!

It’s the Succulent Extravaganza! Every year, this fun and enriching event is the last Friday and Saturday of September, from 8 to 4, at Succulent Gardens Nursery. Location: 2133 Elkhorn Rd., Castroville, CA 95012 (in northern CA near San Francisco, between Carmel and Santa Cruz). Free.

The annual Succulent Extravaganza, started in 2010, is one of the largest succulent-themed events in the world. Attending it is a wonderful opportunity to enlarge your knowledge of succulents, view and acquire gorgeous specimen plants, tour a premier specialty nursery, learn from expert growers and top designers, and mingle with fellow enthusiasts.

Succulent Extravaganza

The Succulent Fanatics, a Facebook group founded by San Jose master gardener Laura Balaoro, host a display table with succulent-themed compositions made by members. It’s a fun gathering spot, and everyone’s welcome whether you’re in the group or not. Because it’s international and has thousands of members, you never know whom you might meet.

Succulent Extravaganza

This dish garden seen on the Succulent Fanatics table, by Danielle Romero, has a sansevieria that emphasizes a lovely red-edged aeonium. Danielle and husband Michael Romero professionally design succulent gardens in the Los Angeles area.

Every year there are new things to see and numerous photo ops…

Succulent extravaganza

For example, who could resist having their photo taken within a special succulent frame?

Succulent Extravaganza

Laura Balaoro is known for decorating her hat or visor with succulents. Discover out how she does it, and get design inspiration to make your own. 

Succulent Extravaganza

This giant succulent heart was the hit of a past Succulent Extravaganza. The event originated when succulent expert Robin Stockwell owned the nursery. He has since retired, and new owners Megan and John Rodkin have continued the Extravaganza tradition with quality plants, displays and photogenic, inspirational ideas.

Succulent Extravaganza

Horticulturist-nurseryman Aaron Ryan’s propagation demonstrations typically have standing room only. Impressed by Aaron’s knowledge, I did a post about it and show his methods in several YouTube videos.

Succulent Extravaganza

Another year, the succulent globe that Robin Stockwell made for the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show was on display. Nothing like it had been done before, and I think you’ll agree it takes vertical gardens to a whole new level! In the foreground, with Robin and wife Sanne looking on, San Diego floral designer Marialuisa Kaprielian demonstrates how to wire succulent rosettes.

Succulent Extravaganza
This may be my favorite Extravaganza photo. A young member of the Rodkin family greets visitors in front of a big succulent spiral made of sedums and sempervivums.

Related info on this site:

Related videos on my YouTube channel:

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How to Make a Succulent-Decorated Hat and More

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Notice how succulent rosettes contrast beautifully with Cathy Leiss’ auburn hair? She’s a little shy (ha).

Here’s how to make a succulent-decorated hat and more, with design ideas from attendees at succulent events.

Wearing succulents at succulent-themed events is a great ice-breaker. Everyone wants a photo of you. The easiest way to attach succulents to a hat brim, visor, hair ornament or bracelet is with the moss-and-glue method pioneered by San Diego garden designer Laura Eubanks, who first used it to attach succulent cuttings to pumpkins. (As seen in Succulents Simplified, pp.150-155 and the video we made.)

Succulent hair ornament

I’m wearing a butterfly hair ornament made by Laura Eubanks for a photo shoot. She used tiny sedum rosettes and string-of-pearls.

Here’s how:

1. Assemble your materials: a hot-glue gun, a hat or other wearable, dry moss (from any craft store), and succulent cuttings.
2. Glue moss to the area you’ll cover with cuttings. Like a moss-filled succulent wreath, this gives the cuttings something to root into.
3. Hot-glue cuttings to the moss. Wondering why they don’t cook? So do I! You can’t touch hot glue without getting burned, but—go figure—cuttings are fine.
4. Cuttings eventually send roots right through the glue into the moss, so treat the hat as you would a topiary or wreath: Store in bright shade and spritz occasionally.

See the video. 

Design ideas

These are from earlier events: the Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens nursery near San Francisco (this year, Sept. 28-29), and the Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals nursery near San Diego (coming up April 12-13, 2019):

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Laura Balaoro of San Jose, CA, founder of the Succulent Fanatics Facebook group, is known for her succulent chapeaux. In fact, she and I collaborated on an article for a national magazine showing how she does it. Above: Yellow-orange Sedum angelina contrasts with purple echeverias and Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’. Suggesting a ribbon is the trailing succulent: variegated rosary vine (Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’).

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Laura decorates hats to match her colorful outfits.

Above: Laura used bell-shaped cotyledon blooms to add a bright complementary color to another turquoise hat.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Laura’s sea-themed hat includes a tillandsia, shells and even some sand. Nice earrings, too.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

For friend Jeanne Eige’s ball cap, Laura used Sedum angelina to repeat embroidered poppy leaves.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Above: I added Aeonum ‘Kiwi’ rosettes to the center of a hat’s bow, echoed the orange in the rosettes with a flower from a dwarf aloe that happened to be in bloom (to go with my jacket), and added string-of-pearls as a cascader. No glue or moss—pins hold everything in place.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Los Angeles landscape designer Shirley Kost-Haskell can be counted on to decorate a hat or visor with succulents, and earrings too. Find blank earrings suitable for moss-and-gluing at craft stores and online.

Succulent decorated hats and art-to-wear

Above: Where lines intersect at the back of Nancy Pedersen’s hat, she placed a red aeonium rosette and surrounded it with smaller cuttings. Btw, try not to touch aeoniums when you design with them—they mar easily, something not evident until the next day (as I explain in a short video, “Aeonium Leaves, What You Need to Know.”)

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Above: Design by Deana Rae McMillion for Lydia Dunaway, who came to the Succulent Celebration from Florida.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Deana Rae McMillion added dried flowers and fresh succulent blooms for bright bits of color.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Candy Suter of Roseville near Sacramento does lovely hat-band bouquets. At one event, a fellow attendee asked if she could buy Candy’s hat. Surprised and flattered, she sold it to her.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Carrie Goode from Arizona placed Graptopetalum paraguayense on her hat. This is one succulent that the leaves pop off the stems easily, so working with them takes a delicate touch.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Susan Morse of Vista, CA creates lavish hats. This one features a purple-pink echeveria (E. ‘Perle von Nurnberg’) and ice plant flowers. The flowers close in dim light—which was probably the case when Susan glued them to her hat. Smart of her to know they’d open in full sun!

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

And here’s Susan wearing a succulent-decorated headband.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Succulents stay fresh without water because they draw on moisture in their leaves. The downside is this makes them heavy, but Jen Golden of Brisbane, CA, is smiling regardless. Notice her succulent pendant, too. Blank pendants suitable for moss-and-gluing are available at craft stores and online.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Designer Katie Christensen glued tiny succulent rosettes, flowers and shells to a hair clip.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Katie also taught a class at Weidner’s Gardens on succulent art-to-wear. This is a bracelet from the class. Watch the DIY on my YouTube channel: “Fashion Wearable Succulents for Weddings, Gifts and Garden Events.” 

You probably don’t want to take the time and trouble to make a succulent lei, but I just had to show you this one, a memorable gift from the Honolulu Garden Club.

Guess what? String-of-pearls makes a miserable necklace. Its little spherical leaves each have a tiny point that’ll irritate your skin. After doing this selfie, I was happy to take it off.

Fabulous fakes

The downside to using fresh floral material—even succulents—is that they don’t last forever. If you get a couple of weeks out of them, you’re doing good. It’s not that succulent cuttings wither and die, but rather that they get leggy. New growth elongates the rosette, and lower leaves dry and fall off. Cuttings can be salvaged (even reused), but you’ll need to pull them off the decorated object and start over.

So why not use faux succulents instead?

Plastic string-of-pearls are available online for around $10. 

Sculpey succulents on a visor

For this year’s Succulent Celebration, I fashioned succulents out of oven-bake modeling clay and hot-glued them to my visor. No moss needed, and they’ll last the life of the hat. See the video: DIY Sculpey Succulent: Striped Agave (3:15).

Sculpey succulents on a headband

I glued faux succulent rosettes to a headband and added them to succulent crowns for book-table guests to wear for selfies. Below is Hannah Eubanks, Laura E’s daughter. Both will be at Succulent Extravaganza 2018, where Laura is presenting. (She’s wonderfully knowledgeable and entertaining. Watch for an interview in an upcoming newsletter.) If you’re a fan, delight Laura by wearing one of her Hot Mess ball caps or visors—with or without succulents attached.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

I’ve yet to see a succulent buckle, nose ring, belt, or bunny ears. Maybe you’ll be the first? Send me photos!

 

Related info on this site:

See my Pinterest board: Succulent Hats, Crafts and Art-to-Wear

Related videos on my YouTube channel:

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Agaves Handle Summer Heat

Late summer is when tough succulents really shine. Large agaves handle summer heat, and are unfazed by harsh sun, high temps and lack of rain. Their statuesque, fountainlike forms lend a sculptural element to any landscape, and contrast beautifully with fine-textured ornamentals. They also make good firebreak plants and security fences.

With the exception of a few soft-leaved and variegated varieties, agaves want sun—the more the better in all but desert climates. Most are hardy to the mid- to high-20s F, and some go a lot lower.

Sharp points at leaf tips and along leaf edges can make agaves treacherous. I snip about a quarter inch from leaves’ needlelike tips with garden shears.

Agave attenuata, blue form

Agaves smaller than basketballs make excellent potted plants. Small agaves—there are many exquisite ones—look good displayed one to a pot.

Agave Victoria-reginae

Agaves with serpentine terminal spines and prominent teeth along leaf margins are both graceful and fierce. Don’t they remind you of how cats yawn and show their fangs?

Agave fangs

Scalloped patterns on an agave’s leaves (“bud imprints”) are caused by spines and teeth pressing into the flesh of inner leaves before they unfurl. Aren’t they fascinating?

Agave 'Baccarat'

When pruning a damaged leaf, keep in mind that a straight-across cut at its midsection may spoil an agave’s symmetry. It’s best to make two cuts that trim the leaf to a “V” that resembles the leaf’s natural tip. Or cut it all the way to the trunk.

One of the most common agaves, A. attenuata (foxtail agave) has soft, smooth, nonspiny leaves that are prone to sun scorch in summer and frost burn in winter. Damaged tips will collapse and turn white. If this has happened to yours, watch my short video on how to trim them.

How to prune a frost-damaged agave

Large agaves that pup (not all do) can be thugs. They’ll grow and spread rapidly, especially when given good soil and regular irrigation. One of the most widely grown is A. americana (century plant), because it offsets so prolifically (free plants!) and needs no care at all…until those pups start to get big and form an unruly, ever-expanding colony.

Agave americana with pups

Because it seems that everyone is blithely planting Agave americana these days, agave expert Kelly Griffin and I made a video that gives better choices for the long run: Six Great Agaves for Your Garden. It’s the sequel to What You MUST Know About Century Plants (Agave americana).

Being indigenous to the New World (the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America), larger agaves store enough moisture to get by on rainfall alone and will thrive in nutrient-poor soils. Although agaves like water, their roots—like those of most succulents—will rot in waterlogged soil.

All but a few agaves are monocarpic, meaning they bloom once and then die. This may take as many as 25 years, but it will happen. As it completes its life cycle, a mature rosette that has graced a garden for years sends up an asparagus-like flower stalk (most, but not all, branch). This dwarfs the plant and saps its energy. Flowers along the stalk eventually turn into miniplants (bulbils) or seed capsules.

All about agaves

Only the individual agave that flowers dies. In some cases—notably with those involving Agave americana—a litter of pups will carry on.

Agave americana post-bloom with pups

The above is edited from the intro to Agaves in “Succulents A to Z” in Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). The book, which also covers Aloes among 30 important genera of succulents, includes photos and descriptions of significant varieties, and shows how to grow and use them beautifully in gardens and landscapes.

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How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region

How to grow succulents by season and region

Where you live and the time of year make a big difference as to how well your succulents grow and perform, and even which kinds you should choose—especially if you’re growing them in the open garden. Indoors, you have much more control over the environment, but seasons will still affect cyclical aspects of growth such as flowering and dormancy.

This page is a launching point, so scroll down to see which page or video best answers your questions. (Please be patient, it may take a moment for the page to load fully.)

Also refer to “Seasonal Care for Succulents” on pages 74-75 of my book, Succulents Simplified.

Spring

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants.
Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through… [Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:  Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Summer

On my YouTube channel, see: Succulents, Sun and Summer (10:34)

Autumn

Winter

Region: Bay Area

Region: Coastal Southern California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Succulents for Northerly Climates

On my YouTube channel:

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

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


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Supermarket Kalanchoes: Succulents You Grow for Their Flowers

Supermarket kalanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) are succulents you grow mainly for their flowers. They have been hybridized and sold as flowering plants long before succulents in general became popular.

Succulents are plants that look like flowers, and although all succulents produce them, they’re generally not the reason people buy them. Yet this one succulent has been commercially grown—and sold—for its bright, cheery blooms for decades.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana has dark green, scalloped leaves, forms a 12-inch-diameter shrub, and produces bouquet-like flower clusters off and on (mainly fall-winter). Hybrids come in every warm hue as well as shades of cream, white and multicolored blends. Because Kalanchoe blossfeldiana  tolerates conditions that would kill most nonsucculent plants, it has great commercial value.

A variety known as calandiva has ruffled petals. Each dime-sized calandiva floret resembles a tiny chrysanthemum.

For an eye-catching floral display, tuck several supermarket kalanchoes into a window box or flower bed.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana plays well with other succulents, adding bright pops of color for weeks at a time.

And when you combine several of the same kind in one pot, you’ll get what looks like one big, lush plant massed with vivid blooms.

For best results:
— As with most succulents, supermarket kalanchoes want good air circulation, three or four hours of bright but not hot sun daily (morning sun is best), protection from frost and extreme heat, and soil that’s moist but not soggy.
— Deadhead spent blooms and let the plants rest until the next round. If these succulents have a downside, it’s that they’ll bloom themselves to the point of exhaustion. With TLC they’ll recover.
— Deadhead spent flowers. This seems obvious, but the plants are repeat bloomers. They’ll perform better and look best with old flowers out of the way.


–Use with rosette succulents to create floral-style compositions. Supermarket kalanchoes with cream or pastel blooms look especially good with rose, pink and/or teal echeverias.
– If, after successive bloom cycles, the plants go downhill, take cuttings if you want the same color again, or simply discard the plants. Replacements are easy to come by.

Sources: If you’re in the San Diego area, Weidner’s Gardens nursery in Encinitas is one of the top growers of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana hybrids, and their plants are perfection. Otherwise, you can usually find Kalanchoe blossfeldiana in the garden section of big box stores…and of course, in supermarkets.

Related info on this site:

About Succulents, an Overview
This is the perfect place to start if you’re at all uncertain about succulents: Debra’s dozen favorites, all hand-selected for skittish beginners. These easy-grow varieties are… [Continue reading] 
How to grow, care for, and create more succulents.
True, succulents are the easiest plants on the planet, but like all living things, the more you know about them, the higher your success rate and the fewer worries you’ll have. Here are the basics for [Continue reading]


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Ten Succulent Front Yard Essentials

These ten essentials for a successful succulent front yard aren’t difficult to achieve yet make a big difference. We have designer Deana Rae McMillion to thank for chronicling and sharing her lawn-to-succulents transformation, not only after installation, but also over the ensuing three years. It looked great immediately, earned a city beautification award, and—as you’ll see—continued to improve. Deana Rae credits San Diego designer Laura Eubanks for inspiration. 

BEFORE The McMillions 1970s house and yard, viewed from the street, was all lines and rectangles lacking interest and personality. The location is Carpinteria, CA, south of Santa Barbara, a mile inland from the ocean.

AFTER:

In 2012, a year after she and her husband moved in, Deana Rae cut out a small area of the lawn and experimented with succulents. They did well, and an Agave americana quickly attained several feet in height and diameter. Notice how it (the big blue century plant at upper right) has grown over time and serves as a dramatic focal point that visually balances the “weight” of the house.

Succulent Essential #1: Know how large plants will get. For example, Agave americana, though easy to grow and often free for the asking, isn’t for every garden. (See my video, “What You MUST Know About Century Plants.”)

After the sod was cut and removed, Deana Rae installed pocket gardens alongside the new front walkway.

#2: Ask friends and neighbors for succulent cuttings. If you’re not going to put them in the ground right away, start them in pots.

#3: If soil is compacted and difficult to dig, give succulent roots a fighting chance by spading it and adding amendments prior to planting.

#4: To add interest and definition to the overall design, bring in large boulders. They weigh tons, so have them delivered and positioned BEFORE you plant.

#5: Don’t skip the infrastructure. Take care of pre-planting steps like installing and adjusting irrigation, evaluating runoff, repairing drains and walls, and upgrading hardscape.

#6: Design with undulating lines for a natural look. Straight lines and rows are more formal, seldom found in nature, and emphasize the linearity of nearby structures.

#7: In close-up areas, create complex plantings. Viewpoints that are broader and farther away need less detail and larger plants.

Deana Rae’s plant choices include medium-sized agaves, aloes, calandrinia (with purple flowers), bulbine (orange flowers), blue Senecio mandraliscae, and drought-tolerant perennials such as yellow sundrops (Calylophus sp.). A dry creek bed of river cobbles funnels rainwater into the garden. Small succulents such as jades, aeoniums, echeverias and sedums—all from cuttings—nestle around boulders.

#8: Top-dress with crushed rock (gravel). Imagine this garden with only bare dirt between plants. Topdressing finishes a landscape aesthetically; adds interest, color and texture; discourages weeds and makes them easy to pull; moderates soil temperature; and slows moisture evaporation. “I had so much fun shopping for rocks and gravel,” Deana Rae says. “I think I love rocks as much as I do succulents.”

Aloe maculata (in bloom) is tough and its offsets are often free for the asking. It’s one of the few succulents that’s invasive in friable soil, but in a parkway strip like this, it can’t get into trouble. In fact, as it spreads, it’ll make the the area look even better. The fortnight lily at right was well established, so it stayed.

#9: Continue rocks and gravel into the parkway strip. This enhances the overall design, makes the front yard larger, and makes what’s sometimes called a “hell strip” easy to maintain.

#10: Include intriguing plant-rock combos within the larger garden. Such “vignettes” are optional, but offer a great way to express your creativity, enjoy your garden hands-on, and offer visitors delightful discoveries. A few examples:

Lance-leaved Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ (center) contrasts with curvier plants: ripple jade (upper right), Euphorbia mammilaris (lower middle) and a crested myrtillocactus (center left). Echoing the agave’s pointed rosette are Echeveria subrigida ‘Fire and Ice’ (lower right, in bloom), Echeveria agavoides ‘Lipstick’ at lower left, and aloes.

 

Rivulets of gravel flowing through the garden suggest motion and water. They also contrast and repeat colors of succulents, and provide access to planted areas. Statuesque Euphorbia trigona ‘Rubra’ serves as a focal point that will triple in size over time. An eclectic mix of small succulents includes echeverias, aloes, kalanchoes, sedums, crassulas and barrel cactus. A low-water salvia in bloom (upper left) lends floral color and a mounding, soft-textured backdrop.

 

A ceramic turtle adds a touch of whimsy and repeats the color and shape of a cluster of turquoise echeverias. It’s fine to add a planted pot to a garden, like the wide terracotta bowl at left (with Crassula ‘Mini Jade’, Kalanchoe luciae and Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’). Lampranthus deltoides at upper left extends the blue and lends frothy texture. Aeoniums, sedums and aloes complete the composition.

 

A sheltered niche amid rocks is a great spot for echeverias, which can be tricky to grow in the open garden and generally do best in  pots. Amid them are Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’, silver squill (Ledebouria socialis), and orangy-red Crassula ‘Campfire’.

 

Related info on this site:

WHY YOU REALLY NEED ROCKS

Here are ten reasons why your landscape—especially if it includes succulents—really needs rocks, large and small… [Continue reading]

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Creative Bird Feeder Materials & How-To 

If you’d like to make lovely bird feeders similar to those in my video, Eight Creative Bird Feeders for Your Garden, you’ll find materials, suggestions and how-to here.

Depending on the time of year, I’ll have as many as 20 birds of a dozen different species at feeders I’ve positioned outside my office, kitchen and dining room windows. I’m in the foothills northeast of San Diego where native plants such as oaks and fan palms provide nesting sites. The second-floor deck where most of my feeders are located is adjacent to trees with limbs for perching and hiding, is high enough to be safe from cats, and isn’t easy for squirrels or nocturnal varmints to access.

It’s helpful to have:
— A dozen rustproof heavy-duty steel S-hooks, each about 3 inches long
— About 15 feet of soft, flexible, rustproof wire. 
— A 6-foot-tall wrought-iron free-standing plant stand designed for hanging baskets.

If you’ll be hanging feeders from your home’s eaves, you’ll also need a hammer and nails, several feet of chain, and a stepladder.

Optional: Spray-paint for metal. I paint my repurposed metal and wire feeders with Rust-Oleum so they’re all the same color (to match my home’s trim).

Essential: Keep them clean! It’s better to not put food out than to let feeders get dirty. Feeding birds is messy. Every evening, I hose the area, bring in the feeders, and clean them with hot water and dish soap. I don’t let food come into contact with bird droppings, which can spread diseases. And if I see a sick bird at a feeder, I stop putting out food for several days.

I found this ornamental bird cage and glass dish—both candleholders—at a thrift store. About $6 total. The goldfinch was gratis.

Metal drink holders (aka “beverage stakes”) are designed to go next to lawn chairs to hold bottles or soda cans. They’re perfect for suet cylinders, providing you set each in a plastic lid that keeps the suet from crumbling away. (I give my birds suet year-round, even though I live in a mild climate, because the extra fat and protein encourages brood production. It also attracts woodpeckers, grosbeaks and jays.) Each holder has a long vertical bar for staking into the ground. I placed this one, being enjoyed by a male grosbeak, in the same 5-gallon plant container shown below.

Small dishes and votive cups are handy for peanuts and seeds. But once they get wet, birds won’t eat out of them, so clean and refill them daily. The bird is a spotted towhee.

The hanging candleholders (“tea light lanterns”) are available at Cost Plus World Market and Amazon. In them are 2.5-inch-diameter glass tea light holders (“votive holders”) that contain grape jelly (from any supermarket) and sugar water (1 cup sugar to 4 cups water, boil and let cool). You don’t want to fill the entire candleholder with food because it’s too much, will likely get wet or go to waste, and is hard to clean. You also may have to unhook the feeders to bring them inside for cleaning, which means getting out a stepladder. Tea light holders, on the other hand, can easily be removed, washed and dropped back into the candleholders. Even though they’re stable enough that their contents won’t splash onto birds, like the Anna’s hummingbird at lower right, it’s best not fill them to the brim.

The flower pot that the oriole is sitting on is by Fallbrook, CA artist-potter Alicia Iraclides, who also fashions the lovely copper loops that her pots hang from. The glass dish came from a thrift store (or possibly my kitchen cupboard). Regardless, at 5 inches in diameter, it’s a perfect fit. It doesn’t slide around, is shallow enough (1-1/2 inches) for birds to easily access, yet also is deep and wide enough to hold the right amount of food (1/4 cup of grape jelly or 1/2 cup of seed mix).

This 14-inch diameter metal bird cage came from Home Goods—a seasonal item. Here’s a similar one on Amazon. Also this “lantern.” The bars are about an inch apart, which is perfect for letting in small birds (like finches) and keeping out large ones (like jays and doves). If bars in your ornamental bird cage/bird feeder are closer together, prop the door open or bend and spread the wires so that little birds can come and go. I lined the cage with a paper towel and placed a glass saucer atop it, full of seed mix. This makes it easy to clean and helps elevate the birds for better viewing.

Both this stylized metal “nest” (16 inches in diameter) and bowl-like platter (10 inches) were thrift-store finds. I used coated, rustproof wire to secure the nest to the corner of the metal deck railing. I decided not to spray-paint it beige because it’s the same color of the railing. In the dish is Wild Birds Unlimited’s No Mess Blend which includes millet (which doves and quail like) and sunflower and nut bits that other birds enjoy. I also buy raw peanuts and sunflower seeds in bulk at Sprouts. Jays and titmice eat peanuts; finches prefer sunflower seeds—and nyger, but that’s too messy, perishable and expensive. There’s a grosbeak at left and oak titmouse at top.

This spherical candleholder came from a second-hand shop that specializes in utilitarian antiques. It originally was black, so I spray-painted it beige. Items like this are fun to hunt for and not difficult to find (hint: they’re often hanging from the ceiling, so look up). The best ones have an open design that lets you easily view birds that visit. Yes, birds will use feeders made of wood, plastic and other non-transparent materials, but isn’t getting a good look at these flitting, fleeting creatures what birdwatching is all about?

Related info on this site:

On my YouTube channel, check out my playlist: Debra’s Bird Feeders.