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Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns

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]

On my YouTube channel:


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.

Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.  I help you evaluate garden areas in need of shade and select trees to plant when the weather cools in the fall.

Sun and Your Succulents. Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)

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Eight Bold-Hued California Classics

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.

Related Info on this Site:

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Did I Find the Perfect Succulent Pillow?

Recently I embarked on an intensive, two-day hunt for the perfect succulent pillow. I wanted it for the love seat in my home’s 5×5 entry, where I keep 40 small, low-light succulents in a dozen containers. These are shades of green, bronze, brown, terra-cotta, and rose.

Small euphorbias, gasterias and haworthias thrive in the entry, out of direct sun.

Little did I realize how many succulent pillows are out there. Stores such as Pier One, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, Joanne’s and Cost Plus World Market have more than fulfilled my 2016 prediction that items themed with succulents would soon be commonplace.

From Pier One’s website.

I bought seven pillows and two area rugs, and charged about $500 on my credit card. No biggie, I was going to return all but one pillow and one rug, right? Well, yes, but an embroidered and beaded cactus pillow from Pier One was a keeper regardless. Only $40!  (I have a thing for throw pillows.)

I figured just about any multicolored succulent pillow would work. The walls are tan, the trim cream, the floor concrete gray, the door and wrought iron brown, and the seat cushion dark blue-green. Hoping that a rug would add punch and help pull everything together, I bought a 3×5 one striped in brown, green, blue and beige. But—I should have known this, being a Pier One fan—the colors were so crisp, they made everything else look shabby. Also, when I saw it in situ, I realized it really needed some orange-red.

The first go-round: The pillow is a bit too small for the love seat. The rug, though the right size and a nice texture, lacks colors necessary to unify the design.

So back the rug went. Next stop: Cost Plus World Market, where colorful cacti greeted me from Melamine plates, shower curtains, and even nifty metal buckets. Watch the 50-second video I made while there.

I model a fabric shower curtain at World Market.

I found a pillow with a watercolor of a cactus garden that seemed the right shape and size: rectangular (“lumbar”) and bigger than Pier One’s for less money. Score! Or so I thought.

Cactus pillow and rug at World Market.

Back home. Aargh. No pillow with a white background looked right. There’s no white in the entry, and they all screamed “bedroom.” Yet while at World Market I’d also bought an orangey-red rag rug trimmed in blue-green. It looked great! All along it wasn’t the pillow that mattered most, it was the rug.

My Dorothy-in-Oz moment: I had the perfect pillow all along.

I quickly went shopping in my own home, grabbing a pillow with the right colors from the living room sofa and two stretched canvas prints of agaves from the hallway. (Both prints are from my online Zazzle store.) None of the succulent pillows ended up in the entry. But I did keep two. One is now on my bed, the other on an armchair. The entry pillow has a bird on it, but hey, I’m into birds.

Cost: Two pillows that I kept despite not needing either one: $60. Rag rug from World Market: $40. Total: $100. Plus a day and a half of my time, but it was fun, so I can’t complain.

Do you, like me, need to hunt, gather and try things on before everything clicks? If so, you probably agree that the hard part—and hopefully you’re better at this than I am—is taking things back.

Now (drum roll) my pup Lucky would like to show you “his” new entryway.

Lucky demonstrates “downward dog” on his new yoga mat.

He’s probably meditating on his breakfast.

The love seat is ideal for cat-watching.

Lucky resembles the entry’s whimsical metal watchdog. At left are a pair of Talavera “shoes” and a frog pot atop a larger container. In the square pot are ‘Pink Blush’ aloes.

Items opposite the love seat include Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ in bloom.

Gasteria sp.

Related Info and links:

My stretched canvas agave prints:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See more of my succulent art pieces at my online Zazzle store.

Articles on this site:

April 13, 2018 — Cactus as a design element is trending, popping up on pajamas, place mats, wallpaper and more. As awareness of the plants grows, cliche images of “cactus” as saguaros and prickly-pear will give way to… [Continue reading]

Succulent Art, Decor and Gift Items
May 29, 2016 ~ We’ll see stylized succulents used more and more in art, home decor, clothing and gift items. The way succulents are trending, they’ll soon become the “new florals” for…[Continue reading]

If you enjoy gardening, you’ve no doubt experienced how it can be a form of meditation and a treat for all the senses. But have you considered how simply looking at certain plants induces a feeling of serenity? You can discover this simply by enhancing a sitting area with succulents that incorporate geometric patterns and spirals…[Continue reading]
Dec. 27, 2017 ~ Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small. [Continue reading]
 

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Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens

Rain at last!

Could the California drought finally be over? Well, no. It’ll take hundreds of years for underground aquifers to refill. The snowpack isn’t adequate for our future water supply. On the bright side, our gardens are looking glorious…even those with mainly drought-tolerant plants. Perfect conditions for succulents are good drainage, annual rainfall less than 25 inches, low humidity, and temperatures above freezing.

Check for:

Succulents with rotted leaves. Remove mushy leaves before rot spreads to the plant’s stem or crown. This and other concerns are addressed in my YouTube video, Oh No! Something’s Wrong with My Succulent! 

Drainage issues. If soil stays sodden and muddy areas remain long after a storm, roots may drown. Move plants to high ground, and install French drains.

Slope erosion. Create dams of rocks and diversion channels, and add gravel or mulch to diffuse the rain’s impact.

Stagnant water. Check pots, bins and barrels. If they’ve filled, dump the water before mosquitos find it and breed.

Weeds. Wherever soil is exposed to sun, weeds WILL sprout. Get them when small. All too soon they’ll have deep roots, go to seed, and look you in the eye.

Seepage. Check your home’s basement. Mine used to have an inch or two of standing water whenever the ground became saturated during storms. A few years ago, a friend suggested a simple solution: Coat the concrete blocks that form the basement’s walls with a special paint that prevents seepage. Works great. Any home improvement store carries it.

Shop for plants.  Now’s a good time to accumulate plants you want to add to your garden. Rain-soaked ground is soft and easy to dig. Early spring is the best time to establish new plants, after all danger of frost has passed (here in Southern CA, that’s mid-March). Plants will take off in spring and won’t have to contend with summer heat while putting down roots. Don’t delay; if your garden is like mine, when the soil dries, it’ll be as hard as concrete.

Take photos as what-to-do reminders. When the weather clears, such issues are easy to forget.

The bottom line: Succulents are opportunistic when it comes to rain. Given adequate drainage, they absolutely love it!

Related articles:

Spring in my succulent garden: Flowers wow with bold, hot hues 
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 [Continue reading]

YouTube Videos:

Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens Debra's post-rain must-do's video