If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents stunning. Give aloes and crassulas a bit more heat, sun or cold and less water and richer soil than they really want, and they’ll turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. This doesn’t harm the plants, which I deem “well-stressed” when they show the brilliant colors they’re capable of. A case in point is Aloe nobilis, which in my garden grows in nutrient-poor decomposed granite with minimal water.
Such “stressed” succulents—which seal moisture in their leaves as effectively as Glad-Wrap—are fine. They perk up and send out new growth when the weather cools and the rains return.
Not all succulents turn shades of red, pink or orange when stressed, in fact, the majority don’t. But many common aloes and crassulas do, plus certain kalanchoes, euphorbias, sempervivums, sedums, aeoniums and echeverias. Agaves normally don’t; the one above is an exception. The reason is it’s post-bloom and dying, which has revealed the anthocyanin in its tissues. In the same way deciduous trees turn color in autumn, sunset hues become visible. The pigment also is found in berries and fruits—and is considered a powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins, according to Wikipedia, “are not synthesized until the plant has begun breaking down chlorophyll, it is presumed for photoprotection…” i.e. protection from excess sunlight, much the same way melanin tans skin. Wikipedia also wisely states that “plants with abnormally high anthocyanin quantities are popular as ornamental plants.”
After seeing my YouTube video, “How to Stress Your Succulents…and Why You Should,” a non-gardening friend observed, “I’d probably stress them so much, they’d croak.” Good point. How do you give a succulent the right amount of stress, but not too much? And how do you know which are worth stressing, and which aren’t?
Basically, observe the plant. If it’s leaves are margined or tipped in red, it’s a likely prospect. But if excess heat, sun or cold makes its tips shrivel and turn beigey-gray, it’s suffering. Move it to a kinder location, keep the soil moist (but not soggy), and/or repot it. Also check its roots. The problem may be that roots can’t access moisture and nutrients, as in the case of a cutting that’s sitting atop the soil instead of snugly planted.
This specimen of Crassula ovata is beautifully stressed (how’s that for an oxymoron?). Its leaves have reddened due to less water than the plant would like plus more cold than jade prefers (frost will turn the leaves to mush, but temperatures near but above freezing reddens them).
Most succulents—especially those with fat, fleshy leaves—can last weeks and sometimes months without water, even in hot sun, nipped by frost, and/or rooted solely in gravel. But eventually they need a respite, lest stress become life-threatening.
A few common succulents that redden when stressed:
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Don’t let summer sun and heat harm your succulents! Heat, unlike frost (temps 32 degrees F and lower), usually isn’t a concern for succulents. Although some tend not to thrive in temps above 80 or 90 degrees F, the majority can handle more than you’re personally comfortable with…as evidenced by greenhouse temperatures that soar into the triple digits on summer days. However, heat plus sun can be deadly to succulents. Unless they’re desert cacti or agaves, most smooth-leaved succulents need sun protection in summer, especially above 80 degrees.
Summer-stressed Aloe bainseii tree
If you live in an arid climate like Southern CA’s and grow succulents in the open garden (as I do) ~
— Know your property’s orientation to the sun. In North America, plants growing on your home’s north side will get the least amount of sun exposure; those on the south, the most. East-facing gardens like mine get morning sun and afternoon shade. Gardens facing west have afternoon sun and morning shade.
— “Bright shade” (no direct sun but not deep shade) is ideal for non-desert succulents in mid-afternoon when temperatures peak. Bright shade is essential for low-light succulents such as haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, echeverias, and anything light-colored or variegated. (Of course there are exceptions; for the requirements of specific plants, see the “Succulents A to Z” chapter of Designing with Succulents.)
— Whenever you buy a new plant, notice where it was located in the nursery. Was it out in the open or beneath shade cloth? Even if it’s a “full sun” succulent—like an agave—if it was growing in a sheltered area, it’ll need to be “hardened off” (shaded, especially in the afternoon) until it acclimates. Such exposure is similar to tanning: Start with half an hour of sun and increase it by an hour or so each day.
— Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn hues of red and orange but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn—at least half a day, ideally morning. (See “How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should.”)
— Because sunburned stems are less able to transmit moisture from roots to leaves, cover exposed, horizontal stems of trailing succulents (aloes, senecios, othonna and the like) with dry leaves or mulch.
— Protect newly installed plants and in-ground succulents susceptible to sun-scorch with temporary shade structures. I use old window screens secured with bricks, but you can buy shade cloth at any home improvement store. Leafy branches trimmed from trees works, too; insert branches in the ground next to the plant you want to protect, making sure it’s shaded on the side that gets the most sun.
— Plant trees and shrubs that will provide shade where needed during long, hot summer afternoons. (For low-water varieties good in succulent gardens, see the Companion Plants chapter of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.).
When it’s too late (what sunburn looks like)
Beige patches on succulents indicate sunburn. Cells have been irrevocably damaged, which turns them white or putty-colored. This looks similar to frost damage, but instead of leaf tips, you’ll see patches on leaves. An otherwise healthy plant will outgrow the damage. If marred areas are on outer leaves, so much the better; new growth from the center of the rosette will conceal sunburned areas over time. In any case, lower leaves, damaged or not, naturally wither and fall off. Depending on the succulent and the season, recovery from sunburn may take several months to a year.
More Info on this Site:
How to Water Succulents in Summer. OK, we all know that succulents are low-water plants. But they’re not “no-water” plants. Although they may survive without irrigation during the heat of summer, they’re unlikely to be lush and healthy. Be sure you… [continue reading]
How to Stress Succulents (and Why You Should). If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents turn color. A case in point is… [continue reading]
Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day in my garden, I show you what’s in bloom and lookin’ good (or sadly dreadful), and explain how to evaluate the health of your in-ground succulents, small and large.
https://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/P5160129.jpg17902476Debrahttps://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Logo-White-H200px.pngDebra2018-06-16 18:32:562018-06-16 20:13:44Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns
Certain low-water annuals and perennials are “nostalgia plants,” because they remind me of my SoCA childhood. These California classics are as popular now as 40 years ago, for good reason: they’re easy-care, readily available, inexpensive, and add great texture and interest to Southwest gardens. The plants’ bold hues are reminiscent of a Mexican serape: purple, orange, yellow, red and white. All blend beautifully with large-leaved succulents, especially agaves, aloes and aeoniums. Look for more “Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 250-285.
In my garden, California poppies are annuals that return every spring. I love how their vivid orange contrasts with the silvery blue of Agave franzosinii. Surrounding the agave are fragrant white alyssum, which some people consider a weed because it reseeds so prolifically. I don’t know about you, but in my garden, that’s a plus.
Purple is the complement of yellow, and few combos are easier than euryops daisies and statice. The shrubs get leggy over time; keep them compact by cutting back in fall.
Also pretty in purple is pride of Madiera. Here it contrasts with orange-and-yellow African daisies, a red rose, and yellow-leaved euonymous. Once the flower show is over, the succulents at lower left (an aloe and an aeonium) become more prominent, because their sculptural shapes stand out against finer-texture foliage.
Rosea ice plant, a succulent from South Africa, has become as much of a California classic as the state’s flower. The poppies die back and the ice plant goes out of bloom, leaving a green mound for most of the year. But when they bloom together in spring…wow!
In my own garden, African daisies, rosea ice plant, red ivy geraniums (another classic) and euonymous surround several types of agaves.
Rancho La Puerta health and fitness spa in Tecate, Baja California, across the border east of San Diego, offers the best of Mexico’s food, climate and ambience. It’s also famous for mature gardens that offer a wonderfully immersive experience. The Ranch is a great getaway within half a day’s drive from nearly anywhere in SoCa. Amid the lush landscaping are guest casitas (bungalows), gyms, library, gift shop, dining hall, and much more. Ornamental plants include Mediterraneans such as rosemary, Australian trees (melaleucas), native oaks and palms, and succulents large and small. The majority are minimally watered (or not at all) and are well suited to the region’s arid climate. Below are a few favorite photos from a recent visit. Bienvenidos al Rancho!
In the lobby, stained glass windows by famed Julian artist/sculptor James Hubbell overlook a cactus-and-agave boulder garden.
Agave shawii (Shaw’s agave) is native to the Baja peninsula. When backlit, teeth along leaf margins glow shades of yellow, orange and red.
One reason I went in April was to see the Aloe striata (coral aloes) in bloom. They’re beautifully juxtaposed with a similarly red-orange ice plant.
Incorporated into the door of the art studio is a stained-glass-and-brass butterfly.
A mosaic by artists Linda Weill and Tilly Nylin near the concierge office depicts a garden of cacti and succulents. That’s a scrub jay at lower right.
Another mosaic holds a blackboard with inspirational sayings that change daily. Its top echoes the outline of mountains nearby.
At La Cocina Que Canta (the Kitchen that Sings), dining tables are decorated with Mexican textiles and folk art.
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San Diego Voyager: Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Lee Baldwin. Thanks for sharing your story with us Debra. So, let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
I grew up on an avocado ranch in south Escondido on a hilltop overlooking San Pasqual Valley. As a child, I helped my father tend the hillside garden surrounding our home. Whenever I smell ripe plums or wet cement, I’m back in that garden. He explained fascinating things, like why nasturtium leaves repel water, what black-and-orange tarantula wasps are up to, and how to grow long-stemmed roses.
He also grew many succulents because cuttings were free from friends, and succulents need much less water than other ornamental plants. But I didn’t see these fleshy-leaved, water-storing plants as special. For one thing, there were not nearly as many varieties available then as now.
I fell in love with succulents while photographing cacti, aloes, agave and other varieties as a scout for Sunset Magazine, because of the plants’ sculptural geometry. I transformed my own hard-to-garden yard with these resilient plants, and through books, public speaking, YouTube videos, social media, and articles online and in print, I now advise others how to cultivate low-water landscapes with “plants that drink responsibly.”
— Author of the Timber Press bestsellers Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified.
— Magazine contributor to Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design and more.
— Succulent expert quoted by the Associated Press, Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, KPBS TV, Garden America, Garden Design, and others.
— Producer of 100+ YouTube videos with over 3,000,000 views.
— Presenter at venues that include Epcot Center; the Cactus and Succulent Society of America convention; flower-and-garden shows in Philadelphia, Seattle and San Francisco; and botanical gardens, universities and horticultural groups nationwide.
— Profiled in Garden Design as the publication’s Spring, 2016 “Ground Breaker.”
— Instructor at Craftsy, the leading online purveyor of how-to videos in the US. Debra’s popular 7-lesson class is “Stunning Succulent Arrangements.”
— Literary: Nineteen first-place awards from the Garden Writers Association of America, the Society of Professional Journalists and Authors, and the San Diego Press Club.
— Lifetime achievement: San Diego Horticultural Society “2017 Horticulturist of the Year.”
Has it been a smooth road?
I was a single mom when my son was ages 7 to 11. That instilled in me the desire to make a living at what I’m good at and love doing. It wasn’t easy, but it was essential to developing the person I was meant to be.
From 2000 to 2010 I suffered from a chemical imbalance that caused an anxiety disorder. I didn’t take medication because of the side effects. So to avoid being miserable, I stayed focused on the present moment via research, writing and photography. The result was a book that launched a worldwide gardening trend: Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007). My therapist at the time told me, “You’re the highest achieving person with an anxiety disorder that I’ve ever seen.” I’m fortunate that I was able to handle it in a positive and productive way.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Debra Lee Baldwin story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m proud and honored to have played a unique role in the history of horticulture and landscape design and to have been able to develop my skills in creative ways that help others, not only to use yards more sensibly, but also to enjoy them more fully.
You might describe me as an award-winning garden photojournalist who launched worldwide interest in succulents in 2007 with her first book, Designing with Succulents. I’m widely known as the “Queen of Succulents.” I’m especially proud of the book’s completely revised and updated second edition, released in 2017.
My mission is to increase awareness and appreciation of “plants that drink responsibly” through my books, articles, photos, videos, social media and more. During my 25-year career as a garden communicator, I have discovered and shared cutting-edge design ideas and interviewed renowned experts. To an ever-increasing fan base, I present information with the goal of “entertaining and enlightening in equal measure.”
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
It’s becoming politically incorrect to have a water-thirsty front yard and a lawn that isn’t used for anything but greenery. Yards are subject to fashion just like clothing, and furniture, and now we’re seeing more and more succulent landscapes replacing the turf.
But succulent gardens are not always done well. There’s a learning curve, and doubtless we’ll see smarter plant choices as homeowners and landscapers gain knowledge. For example, century plants (Agave americana) may be free for the asking, but they’re a poor choice unless you have a lot of land. All too often people put these plants, when small, alongside their driveways or in curb strips, little realizing that century plants eventually get as big as Volkswagens, and are extremely difficult to remove. Not only are they huge and heavy, the plants have sharply toothed, inflexible leaves. But this isn’t to say you shouldn’t plant agaves. There are numerous other kinds that make excellent garden plants.
I think we’ll see the trend toward low-water plants arrive at its inevitable conclusion: cactus. All cacti are succulents, but people haven’t wanted cacti in their gardens. That’s changing. The plants are supremely low-water—they get by on rainfall alone—and are beautiful when backlit. (Spines of many varieties are translucent and glow when low sun illuminates them.) Again, there’s a learning curve. People have yet to learn which cacti to stay away from because they’re too treacherous and to realize that there exist wonderful spineless varieties.
https://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Screen-Shot-2018-04-25-at-10.46.16-AM.png11842020Debrahttps://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Logo-White-H200px.pngDebra2018-04-25 11:39:462018-04-25 17:30:00Meet Debra Lee Baldwin: Author, Designing with Succulents
I like to display bouquets of succulent rosettes in clear glass containers filled with layers of sand. Practical as well as pretty, the sand lends color and interest, and serves as to anchor the stems so top-heavy rosettes don’t tumble out.
Succulent sand bouquets make quick and original hostess gifts. Moreover, recipients can remove rosettes from their faux stems and plant them, if they like.
The inspiration for my spring 2018 succulent sand bouquet (above) was an unusual blown glass vase I found at a thrift store. But any glass cylinder, bottle or jar will work.
I keep a palette of colored sand in glass jars on an open shelf so I can enjoy looking at them, even when not using them. Colored sand is available at craft stores and online.
This arrangement, which took about 15 minutes to make, is in a repurposed vinegar bottle.
And this one was a holiday gift.
To make your own colored sand, obtain a bag of playground sand from any home improvement store, plus Rit dye in whatever colors you want (sold in supermarkets and online). The sand looks white but is actually pale gray, but that’s OK, because the resulting muted colors look fine with the plants. To color sand, pour the liquid dye into a pan no longer used for food, add sand to the level of the liquid, and bake until the liquid evaporates—300 degrees for an hour or so. Stir occasionally with a metal spatula or clean garden trowel. Let it cool outside, stirring every so often to expose moist sand and to break lumps. When cool, funnel the dry sand into glass jars and store the excess in ziplock bags labeled with whatever color or mix you used.
When making a bouquet, select sand based on the colors of the rosettes (or vice versa).
I usually fill the container halfway with three colors, then turn it on its side and rotate it to make swirls, then add more sand so stems will be concealed. Try pushing a stiff wire or chopstick into the layers, along the inside of the glass, to create drizzly Vs.
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 mid-May. Increasing temps tend to put the kibosh on delicate spring flowers. If you live near the coast of CA, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get the sun and heat that makes many flowers blaze.
Spring is the season of flowers, so get outside and enjoy them. Soon enough, in summer, those hot colors will fade and your garden will go back to being mainly shapes and textures—which of course succulents do best. What many people don’t realize is that flowers are ephemeral—they flash and fade, and then you’re left with foliage. (I like to say that sentence in my talks. Try it. The alliteration is luscious.)
Above: A normally uninteresting corner of my garden is stunning in spring because of all the flowers. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa. Easy-grow shrub daisies (Euryops pectinatus) echo the yellow margins of Agave americana ‘Marginata’—which though nearly engulfed, still makes a bold statement.
California poppies pop in spring. These bright orange annuals reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant). Adding contrasting form is spineless opuntia. Almost incidentally, fruit on citrus trees repeat the poppies, and elevate their color to eye level.
Scilla peruviana, returns every March. It produces large, purple-blue snowflake flowers and then disappears for nine months. It was planted by the previous owner and I don’t do a thing to keep it going. But like all bulbs, it leaves behind droopy, messy foliage which you need to leave because it feeds the bulb for the next g0-round.
And as for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident.
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Succulents (most plants for that matter) need light in order to flower. Sun is essential to photosynthesis, which creates energy and fuels new growth. All plants (actually, all living things) really want to reproduce, and for plants that means being robust enough to bloom. Because most succulents come from warm, dry climates, they require a lot of light.
If this aloe could talk, it would say, “I’m starved for light! I may not be able to bloom! Help!”
*Aloe maculata (A. saponaria)
Above: A specimen of Aloe maculatagrowing indoors in the Seattle area. Although it’s healthy, it has flattened and elongated its leaves in order to expose as much of its surface as possible to light. The term for this is etiolation (et-ee-oh-lay-shun).
Aloe maculata (A. saponaria) in bloom
Above: This is how Aloe maculata looks with half a day of sun and half a day of bright shade. Even in these near-ideal conditions, the rosette and flower spikes lean in the direction of greatest light. Leaf tips have protected themselves from too much sun with reddish-brown pigmentation. (It’s similar to melanin, which causes skin to tan or freckle.)
Above: In all-day sun with minimal water, a similar specimen’s leaves have shortened to reduce evaporation. (Note how those in the first photo are much longer.) Sun exposure is evidently somewhat harsh because it has reddened even more. The horticultural term for this is “stress,” which is aesthetically desirable because it enhances color and symmetry. This plant may be a bit too stressed—leaf tips have scorched and growth has slowed—but look closely: It’s in bud.
Indoors, set them near windows that face south or west. Don’t bother with north-facing windows, but if your windows face east, do collect and enjoy low-light lovers such as haworthias and gasterias. [Read more]
*About Aloe maculata: Formerly known as Aloe saponaria (soap aloe) because the gel in its leaves lathers like soap, it is one of the few potentially invasive succulents, capable of sending up new plants from horizontal roots a few inches below the soil surface. Baby plants can pop up three feet or more from the mother! I have a colony of Aloe maculata in a rocky area of the garden where they can’t get into trouble, because I love the flowers, which are branching—unlike the columnar spikes of many other aloes. They don’t make good cut flowers, though, because cut stems ooze a mucilaginous gel. Aloe maculata is not often found at nurseries in Southern CA because there’s minimal demand for it (it’s a common passalong plant). A similar aloe that is better behaved, not toothed, often sold in nurseries, and much more prized in cultivation is Aloe striata (coral aloe). See it and others on my website’s Aloes page.
I’m proud and pleased to announce that the winter issue (now shipping) of Garden Design, the premier magazine about the aesthetics of gardening, features my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online class and includes a photo of one of its seven projects—the Succulent Color Wheel rainbow centerpiece.*
Method: Remove plants from their nursery pots and pack them tightly in a wide, shallow pot saucer so no soil shows. Place taller plants in the center, shorter around the rim, and arrange according to color. Water sparingly and give your Succulent Color Wheel plenty of bright light so hues stay vibrant.
Garden Design has no ads, so there’s nothing to distract readers from the beauty of the photos. It’s 148 pages of beautiful gardens and plants delivered each quarter. Many of the stories unfold over 8 to 20 pages—all behind-the-scenes look at topics we care about most: designing with plants, landscapes, container gardens, kitchen gardens, houseplants, and more. Each issue is collectible and coffee-table worthy. Everything about Garden Design, from paper and binding to writing is quality. I’m honored to contribute occasionally for Garden Design, too—not only in print, but on their excellent website as well.
If you don’t get Garden Design yet, the Winter 2018 issue is a great one to start off with.
My friends get their first issue free when they subscribe!
Go online to https://www.gardendesign.com/dlb or call (855) 624-5110 Monday – Friday, 8 – 5 PST and mention this offer.
Join me! I’m giving an ALL NEW presentation at the San Diego Floral Association’s June 20 meeting. My presentation at 7:00 p.m. is free and open to the public. The luau dinner that precedes it is $25 per person. No reservations are required to attend my presentation. However, you must make reservations and pay in advance to attend the dinner.
I’ll update you on the topic of “Designing with Succulents:”
Whether your yard is a boulder-strewn slope or a tiny balcony, I’ll offer simple, practical ways to create a lovely, low-maintenance garden that needs minimal water. I’ll introduce readily available varieties of succulents, explain how to care for them, and show how to combine them in fresh and appealing new ways—both in home landscapes and creative container gardens.
I’ll sign books before the dinner and after my presentation.
Founded in 1907, the San Diego Floral Association is the oldest garden club in Southern California.
Location: Room 101, Casa del Prado, 1650 El Prado, Balboa Park.
https://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/003_IMG_3887-1.jpg21262892Debrahttps://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Logo-White-H200px.pngDebra2018-06-20 17:00:002018-06-05 11:52:18San Diego Floral Association Dinner and Presentation