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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 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.

Related articles:

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

Debra’s own garden 

My succulent meditation garden

YouTube video: Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Flowering Plants in My Spring Garden: Inland Southern CA, Zone 9b

Spring (peak): mid-March to early April

Annual: California poppies


Babiana stricta (baboon flower)

Scilla peruviana

         Sparaxis tricolor


Aeonium arboreum

         Aloe maculata

         Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’

Gasteria sp.

Ice Plants:

Delosperma congestum ‘Gold Nugget’

Drosanthemum floribundum

                  Drosanthemum speciosum

         Sedum ‘Firestorm’

Perennial shrubs:

Euryops pectinatus

Gazanias (African daisies)

Pelargoniums (geraniums)

Rose, climbing: ‘Altissimo’



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Why Doesn’t My Succulent Bloom?

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 maculata growing 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.
What to do if you live in an often overcast climate or grow succulents mainly inside? This is from my website page, How to Grow Succulents in Seattle (Northern Climates):
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.

How to Fertilize Your Succulents

Time to Feed Your Succulents

Fertilize succulents when they’re emerging from dormancy and beginning their annual growth spurt, which for most is spring. A light feeding of manure tea, diluted fish emulsion, or a balanced fertilizer will help them grow lush and lovely. See my video. 

Link to video of Debra video about fertilizing succulents

What do I use?

For container-grown succulents, one Moo Poo tea bag per three gallons of water, steeped overnight.

Uh…”Moo Poo?”

Yes. Otherwise known as Authentic Haven Brand Soil Conditioner, Premium Manure Tea. (Btw, I’m not getting paid to endorse it.)

What about in-ground succulents?

I apply Ironite before a winter rainstorm (I know, it’s too late) and a balanced granular fertilizer in March.

How to apply?

Water the plants, then pour manure tea until it begins to run out the pot. In the garden, spread granular fertilizer and water it in.

What kind of granular fertilizer?

The brand doesn’t matter, but the ratio of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium) should be equal.

How much?

Succulents need about half the dose recommended on the package.

Is there an organic alternative?

Apply a topdressing of compost. I like fish emulsion, too, for both pots and in-ground plants (diluted half strength).

How often?

Once in spring when daytime temps stay above 60 degrees F. Then again in June.

What if I don’t feed my succulents?

No biggie, but they’ll look and perform better if you do.

Is it OK to fertilize more frequently?

That’s what many growers do. A little bit of fertilizer with every watering promotes rapid growth. However, such plants are considered “soft” (a nursery term) rather than “hard,” meaning tough. It’s a trade-off. I grow my succulents hard to help them endure the vicissitudes of the open garden.

Anything else?

Soils vary from region to region and even within a garden. The best way to know what your soil lacks is to have it tested, but it’s common sense that succulents growing in, say, oak leaf mulch are getting ample nutrients and don’t need fertilizing; those living in pots for years or growing in decomposed granite probably do.

No other soil amendment is as widely used by succulent growers and collectors as pumice (crushed lava rock). Here’s why. [Read more]