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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.

 

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Succulent Windowsill Pots DIY

In this Succulent Windowsill Pots DIY, you’ll find out how to make a quick, colorful, succulent windowsill garden. Sunbathing helps succulents maintain their symmetry and color, and whenever you look out your window or work at a countertop or sink nearby, you’ll see and enjoy them.

My six little windowsill succulents

These six pots, each 3-inches in diameter, come as a set on Amazon (about $16). Their rainbow colors makes them fun and easy to combine with succulents. I added crushed glass topdressings because glass and sunlight are made for each other…just like sun and succulents.

Other multipot sets work equally well…for example:

Materials:

Four to six 3-inch decorative pots.
Four to six succulents in 2-inch nursery pots. Numerous varieties and even cuttings will work. I chose Adromischus cristatus, Sedeveria ‘Lilac Mist’, Sedeveria ‘Letizia’, Senecio haworthii, Sedum nussbaumerianum, and Sedum adolphi. All are from Altman Plants’ retail nursery north of San Diego, Oasis Water Efficient Gardens.

Pumice or potting soil (“cactus mix”) to finish filling the pots.
White or neutral-colored sand (but not beach sand—too salty), available at craft stores and online.
Window screen or paper towels cut in six 2-inch squares.
Crushed glass topdressing (optional), available from craft stores, floral suppliers and online.

Method:

Cover drain hole with a square of window screen or paper towel so soil doesn’t fall out.
Gently slide the plant out of its nursery pot and place in its new pot.
Remove 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil from top or bottom so root ball stays below the rim.
Spoon pumice or potting soil between rootball and pot.
Tap the pot and gently press on the soil to anchor the roots.
Add a layer of sand to conceal pumice and soil. The sand also will fill gaps and keep the glass topdressing’s color true.
Add topdressing. I chose colors that echo the glaze on the pots, but fewer or just one color also would look good.

Succulent windowsill pots

Care:

Water lightly and infrequently—1/4 to 1/2 cup per pot weekly in summer, less in winter. Aim to keep soil barely moist, never soggy.
If your windowsill might be damaged by moisture, move the pots to the sink when watering. Let drain thoroughly before replacing.
If stem succulents stretch or rosette succulents flatten, they probably need more light. However, the sun’s ultraviolet rays, when magnified by untreated window glass, can burn plant leaves. If this is a concern, add a sheer curtain or move the plants farther from the glass.
Keep in mind that south-facing windows typically get the most sun and north-facing the least.
It’s normal for succulents to get leggy over time. After four to six months or whenever you tire of looking at stems that have growth only on the tips, take cuttings and replant.

Also see my DIY video ~

Related info on this site:


Succulent Basics, Must-Do’s and FAQs

Let me guide you through the essentials of growing succulents successfully: water, light, soil, fertilizer and more. If all this is new to you… [Continue reading]

Also on my YouTube channel: 

Create a Colorful Succulent Terrarium


 

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Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase

At Jim and Jan Gardner’s home near Los Angeles, hundreds of varieties of mature succulents and low-water companion plants pack a colorful, well-thought-out landscape.

A retired MD, Jim’s the “succulent guy” at nearby South Coast Botanic Garden and an art potter as well.

For over 40 years, the Gardners have lived in Rolling Hills Estates on the Palos Verdes peninsula, which juts from the coastline like a burl on an oak. It’s a highly desirable habitat for people as well as plants, and a great place to view large specimens. Tropicals and succulents have thrived in this mild, maritime climate for as long as nurseries have offered them.

Palos Verdes peninsula, southwest of LA. The red dot indicates the South Coast Botanic Garden.

Jim is a self-described “biophile:” a person who enjoys interacting with nature’s life forms. “They stick to me,” Jim says of his collection of 1,300 potted succulents and cacti. Many are in containers made by Jim himself, who after 30 years in internal medicine at Kaiser’s South Bay Medical Center, became an artist-potter. His sought-after work is characterized by textures derived from organic items such as pine cones and tree bark. A long-time Cactus and Succulent Society member, Jim volunteers at nearby South Coast Botanic Garden. His pots are available at the gift shop and the annual two-day Cactus & Succulent Show in April.

Jim makes it look easy to grow 20-foot tree aloes, airy epidendrums and sofa-sized deuterochonias (a spiky, colony-forming bromeliad), but like any avid biophile, he’s made his share of mistakes. Years ago, for example, when applying herbicide to an invasive grass, Jim sprayed his succulent euphorbias as well. “They turned to mush,” he recalls wryly.

“Out in front,” he adds, “I trimmed the lavenders too vigorously and killed them, so that’s how these plants happened.” He gestures to a streetside garden lush with aeoniums, aloes and shrub euphorbias. Pavers that traverse the area appear grouted with dymondia, a low-water ground cover that withstands foot traffic. Other waterwise ornamentals include tower of jewels (Echium wildpretti), with conical, deep pink, 5-foot bloom spikes; and a trunkless burgundy cordyline with white flowers that suggest shooting stars.

As you can imagine, it was a treat for me to meet Jim and Jan and see their garden, a visit made possible by Jackie Johnson, president of the Peninsula Garden Club, where I gave a presentation on Designing with Succulents. Jim graciously provided IDs for the main plants in my best photos—well, the top 60—40 of which are below for you to enjoy. I’ve already posted on Instagram several short videos taken at Jim’s, but THE must-see is my newly released, 5-minute YouTube video: “Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase.”

Btw, Jim collects and hybridizes mangaves (Manfreda x Agave hybrids). You’ll notice these intriguing dotted and speckled succulents in some of my photos. Watch for a future newsletter about these increasingly popular succulents. See if they don’t deserve a place in your own collection!

And now…drum roll…here’s my annotated gallery of the Gardners’ garden. As with all the photos on my site, you’re welcome to download and use these, providing the photo credit remains intact.

 

Related info on this site:

Patrick Anderson’s Garden: It All Started with Aloes

Fleshy green monsters in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook garden look like they might snap him up if he turns his back. They’re giant succulents, and Anderson’s half-acre hillside showcases hundreds of unusual ones. “I like their huge, sculptural forms,” [Continue reading]

Succulent Garden Design Essentials 

Nancy Dalton’s award-winning succulent garden in San Diego is an outstanding example of smart landscaping for Southern California’s arid climate. Enjoy it’s many pleasing and practical aspects and keep these dozen ideas in mind [Continue reading]

 

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Fire, Succulents and South Africa

Like the American West, Australia and elsewhere, Africa is having an increase in devastating wildfires. Numerous succulents are native to the continent, and in the south the climate is similar to that of coastal and southern California.

Recently I heard from Talfryn Harris, a fire manager in Johannesburg who was working on a presentation for their succulent society on the role of the plants in fire protection. “Last year we had very destructive fires on our south coast where many homes were lost,” he wrote. He asked permission to show my YouTube video, Do Succulents Catch Fire?
Of course I said yes, but added, “I don’t want to give the impression that succulents can serve as a wildfire barrier that guarantees a home won’t burn. Plants that store water in their leaves and are slow to catch fire serve merely as a way to lessen the threat. Succulents really do need to surround a house, as shown in my other wildfire video: Succulents as Firebreak. There are so many factors that come into play, wind especially. I compare myself to a meerkat, the way I watch the wind during fire season here in Southern CA.”
Later Mr. Harris sent me his PowerPoint presentation (below). It describes the impact that global climate change has on wildfire, gives practical tips for protecting homes, and explains why succulents are a good landscaping choice for at-risk areas.
He also suggested that “a useful fire-wise succulent that I would add for South Africa is Carpobrotus edulis (aka Mesembryanthemum edule) which is great as a fire-wise and medicinal succulent lawn.  However I believe it is invasive in Australia and California. The African people in the townships around Jo’burg call it ‘chips’ because of the resemblance to what you call french fries. One medicinal use is to infuse a flower in a jar of honey and then after 4 months use that for colds and sore throats. It is also a very useful remedy for the oral thrush that accompanies HIV/AIDS.”
I felt I had to inform him that when I was researching my article for the Los Angeles Times about how succulents helped protect the Schaefer house back in ’07, a fire fighter told me that dry plant material beneath carprobrotus leaves can smolder for days, causing flare-ups and endangering anyone who walks through it.
Have you wondered why wildfires are burning hotter than ever and causing unprecedented devastation? In his book, “Land on Fire: The New Reality of Wildfire in the West” (Timber Press), acclaimed nature writer Gary Ferguson explains why fire suppression and chronic drought have created a dire situation, and the ways nature responds in the aftermath of wildfire.

Related info on my site:

Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me immediately after the Lilac Fire to say that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said.  Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media)… [Continue reading]

DEBRA’S TOP SIX FIREWISE SUCCULENTS

My top six firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire by planting them around your property’s perimeter. View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and… [Continue reading]

FIREWISE LANDSCAPING WITH SUCCULENTS

Firewise Landscaping with Succulents Succulents have become in-demand landscape plants in California because of their beauty, ease of care, and ability to withstand drought by storing moisture in their leaves. Not surprisingly, the plants are the fastest growing segment of the nursery marketplace. And now there’s another, little-known reason for homeowners to grow these fleshy-leaved plants…[Continue reading]

 

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Succulent Desk Buddies, DIY

“Desk buddies” are succulents that look good on your desk and require almost no care. They’re cute and classy, and visitors invariably ask about them. All you have to do is dribble water on them twice a month (which also keeps them dusted).

Here for your enjoyment is a step-by-step DIY project for creating a sparkling trio of succulent desk buddies. Watch my corresponding YouTube video.

I chose haworthias for my desk buddies because they do great in terrariums. These small succulents from South Africa are rosette-shaped and shades of green sometimes variegated with cream or white. Certain species have translucent tissue and veining. Most haworthias prefer bright shade, grow no more than 4 or 5 inches in height and diameter, and offset to form mounding colonies. Outdoors, they need protection from sun scorch and frost.

Recently I brought home several haworthias in 2.5-inch nursery pots to create a trio of desk buddies, inspired by Altman Plants’ collection with the same name. Another great online source is Mountain Crest Gardens.

Plants*

Haworthia fasciata hybrid. Similar to H. attenuata (zebra plant), the rosettes have stiff, upright, pointed leaves that appear sharp but aren’t.

Haworthia emelyae. Each leaf forms a fat triangle that curves up and outward. Leaf tops are translucent and veined. Similar to H. retusa.

Haworthia cymbiformis. Similar to H. retusa and H. emelyae, but offsets are more clumping.

Design

I wanted a simple, sophisticated trio that would showcase the plants, so I went with glass spheres. These have a clean, fresh look and won’t leave water spots on tabletops. (Lack of draingage is not a problem. If that seems counterintuitive, see How to Water Succulents.) I didn’t want any dirt to show, so I concealed roots beneath layers of sand. You might add pebbles, beads or even buttons, but keep in mind that as sand sifts through and past them, bigger items work their way to the surface.

Materials

— 3 glass globe candle holders, each 4 inches in diameter. I found these at Michael’s (by Ashland). Similar ones are available from Amazon: Libbey Bubble Ball Glass Bowl Set of 12 (4.3-inch), $29.99, eligible for Prime 

Pumice (crushed white volcanic rock), one to two ounces per container

— Several colors of sand. I chose light earth tones because subtle variations are best when seen up close. You might also consider colors that harmonize with furnishings or accessories. Cautions: Bright sand can call excessive attention to itself and overshadow the succulents. Don’t use beach sand, which contains salts, or sand that’s green because it’ll suggest algae.

Craft stores sell small bags of colored sand, but the selection is hit-or-miss. If you collect your own sand from the wild, sift out impurities and microwave it 60 seconds or so to kill microbes and weed seeds. If you want extra colored sand for other projects, I found these on Amazon (July, 2018): 

— Bowl or bucket of water for swishing soil off roots (optional).

— Soft artist’s brush for cleaning sand off leaves.

Method

— Slide plants out of their nursery pots, gently remove as much soil as possible, and swish the roots in water (optional). If some soil clings to them, that’s fine, just so it won’t be visible through the glass.

— Dip roots into pumice so it clings to them (optional). Add a couple of spoonfuls of pumice to the bottom of the globe and set the roots atop it. The plant might rest below the rim, suggesting a terrarium. If leaves are at mid-rim or slightly higher, the container will suggest a flower pot.

— Pour in different colors of sand to create layers. Experiment with tipping the globe to achieve curved or sloping lines. Avoid getting sand on leaves because you’ll have to clean it off.

— Tap the container gently to settle sand around roots.

— Think it could look better? Simply start over (remove contents, clean the glass). When you’re satisfied, gently brush grains of sand from the leaves.

— Use a squirt bottle to further cleanse the leaves and settle the roots. Avoid soaking the sand.

Care

— Dribble a little water (no more than an ounce, less if humidity is high) on each plant every couple of weeks or so. Hold the globe so you can see where the water goes (wet sand will appear darker). Aim to moisten the center, not the sides.

— Give haworthias as much bright light as possible but no direct sunlight. Sun may burn the leaves and cause algae to grow in damp sand.

— Over time, lower leaves may wither and dry, which is normal; snip and remove them with scissors and tweezers.

— If you don’t like the haworthias’ spindly blooms, you have my permission to pinch them off.

— Watch for pests such as aphids and mealybugs. Should they put in an appearance, spray with 70% Isopropyl alcohol.

— No fertilizer needed.

*Trying to accurately ID Haworthia species and cultivars is frustrating, to say the least. There are innumerable hybrids, and it takes an expert to tell them apart, especially when growing conditions may shorten or elongate leaves, or cause rosettes to have a flatter shape or greater or lesser variegation.  Fortunately all have similar cultivation requirements, so if you see one you like, chances are it’ll do well for you, whatever the heck its name may be. 

Related Info

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On my YouTube channel ~

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How to Water Succulents

Succulents—fleshy-leaved plants from hot, dry regions—are designed to live off water stored in their leaves and tissues in order to survive periods without rainfall. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t water them at all. In their native habitats, succulents can look pretty ratty during times of drought, and those that are not yet established may not survive.

Succulents do appreciate water and look best if given it regularly…up to a point. Their roots simply aren’t set up to handle too much water. They certainly won’t survive in mud. Don’t assume that adding rocks to the bottom of a nondraining pot provides drainage. This basically creates a bacteria-filled soup that can rot roots. On the other hand, don’t assume that a pot must have a drain hole in order for succulents to be healthy and happy. (I know it’s counterintuitive…but when you read why, you’ll see it makes sense.)

How to water succulents in pots and in the ground

Aim to keep soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. About once a week should do it. Water thoroughly to soak the roots and flush salts. For succulents in containers, that means until water drips out the bottom of the pot. Let common sense prevail: water more during hot, dry spells and less or not at all during periods of high humidity, cool temperatures and rain.

Do succulents need drainage? Not necessarily!

How to water succulents in non-draining containers

They’ll be fine if they’re not overwatered. It’s not drainage that’s important so much as avoiding root and stem rot, which succulents are prone to if they sit in water. When given less water than is optimal, they’ll draw on moisture stored in their leaves (which is the very definition of a succulent).

I water my terrarium succulents by dribbling water onto their centers or inserting a medicine dropper full of water at each one’s base. As soon as I see through the glass at the bottom that the sand is moist, I stop. Underwatered succulents tend to grow very little, which is a good thing because they don’t outgrow the container. You could never do this with most other plants, which when given too little water, will dry out and die.

DO NOT add a layer of pebbles or activated charcoal to the bottom of a nondraining container, assuming that this “provides drainage.” Water that pools at the bottom of a planted bowl becomes a microbial soup that leads to rot. It’s OK to add lava rock (pumice) to soil or sand to help absorb excess moisture, but don’t assume that it “provides drainage” either. Remember, the point isn’t to provide drainage, but to water the plants so minimally that it isn’t needed.

For more about growing succulents in nondraining containers, see my videos, Succulents in Silver (3:58) and Succulent Desk Buddies, DIY (4:15).

What about rain?

Succulents do best in areas of winter rainfall that falls intermittently and doesn’t exceed 20 inches a year (of course there are exceptions). When rain threatens to be excessive, move potted succulents beneath your home’s eaves. Place patio umbrellas with concrete bases for stability in the garden to keep rain from soaking your in-ground succulents. Channel runoff away from garden beds. Move and replant succulents in low-lying areas where water puddles. Topdress the soil around the plants with several inches of pumice to absorb excess moisture.

See my videos, Why Rain is Good for Potted Succulents (0:53) and Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens (3:51)

Overwatering concerns

The rule of thumb is to let the soil dry out (or nearly so) between waterings. An occasional overwatering won’t harm most succulents providing the soil is fast-draining. If water has collected in a pot saucer, remove it so roots don’t sit in water.

How to tell how much water a succulent needs

The fatter the succulent or the fleshier its leaves, the more water it stores in its tissues and the less water it needs (and will tolerate). Cacti in general are less tolerant of overwatering than smooth-leaved succulents. See my video, Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It (2:01)

The more susceptible an in-ground succulent is to rotting from excess moisture, the higher it should go on a berm or mound of soil.

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