Cactus snowflake
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How Cactus Snowflakes Seduced Me

Remarkably, the spination of certain cacti suggests snowflakes, something I first noticed years ago at a succulent specialty nursery. I was there to photograph aloes in bloom, but I’d come too early in the season. I thought of leaving, and I’m so glad I didn’t! That afternoon forever changed the way I see certain succulent plants.

Cactus snowflakes

There were a lot of columnar (ceroid) varieties—you know, those shaped like fire hydrants and baseball bats—all with tapered tips. I looked down on one, was intrigued by how lower spines framed upper ones, and took a photo. Wow! I took lots more. When the images (above) appeared later in the Los Angeles Times, editors prefaced my photo essay with: “We thought we’d share our version of snowflakes with readers in colder climes.”

I hope you’ll hunt for succulent snowflakes in your own garden or cactus collection. I know that whenever I find one, it’s a delightful surprise. Now, for your enjoyment, a few from my own garden:

Cactus snowflakes

Cactus snowflake

Moon cactus

Succulent snowflakes

Cactus snowflakes

It’s a paradox worth savoring: Spines on hefty desert plants resemble delicate, geometric ice crystals. Do check for cactus snowflakes the next time you visit a succulent specialty nursery, whether you bring any home or not. To capture them with your camera, simply hold the lens horizontally above the plants.

P.S. If you search online for “cactus snowflake,” you’ll get images of succulents that look like cacti but aren’t. They’re Euphorbia polygona, the green form and silvery gray ‘Snowflake’…which has been renamed “Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’. But as you can see, there’s nothing horrid about it!

Succulent snowflake

Also in my own collection is this Euphorbia meloformis. The green is new growth that happened after the plant got sunburned. Pretty cool, eh?

Euphorbia meloformis

Related info on this site:

Succulent spiral

Enjoy my article on succulents with spiral patterns: Many cacti and succulents form geometric spirals similar to those of sunflowers, pine cones and nautilus shells. Spiral leaf arrangements funnel rain to roots, and keep upper leaves from…[Continue reading].

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
12 Days of Cactus
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The 12 Days of Cactus

When putting this together, I envisioned friends and family sitting around the tree with a fire going. They’re finishing hot mugs of cocoa (laced with whiskey for the grownups). I hand out Xeroxed copies; they peer at the words. Teens giggle at the word “obesa.” Someone asks how to pronounce “saguaro.” But no one groans. They all know the tune. I clear my throat and begin…

On the first day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

A dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the second day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the third day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the fourth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the fifth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the sixth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the seventh day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the eighth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the ninth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the tenth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Ten chollas jumping, nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the eleventh day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Eleven trips to Tucson, ten chollas jumping, nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

On the twelfth day of cactus, my true love gave to me:

Twelve ‘Sunburst’ drumming, eleven trips to Tucson, ten chollas jumping, nine lithops dancing, eight mams a-milking, seven saguaros spinning, six obesas blooming, five golden barrels, four claret cups, three hens-and-chicks, two agave pups and a dove in a prickly pear tree.

Now, if you’d like to suggest alternative or more alliterative lyrics, please do so. I likely have photos to match. I’ll update this as good suggestions come along. 

See the YouTube version, set to music:

12 Days of Cactus

Happy AloeDays, one and all! — Debra

Gifts for succulent lovers
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Great Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Much of what follows is my own wish list, but these items would likely make great gifts for you and other succulent lovers as well. Some I already own and figured you’d want them too. If you’re the giftee, consider forwarding this to the gifter. Note: Some links go to Amazon, where I’m an associate, so I do get a small percentage of any sales that result, but it doesn’t cost you extra. Please know I appreciate it—especially since, while doing this exhaustive research, I bought a few things. ;+)

Tools and useful items

Thorn Armor Gloves: These are the gloves that Phoenix artist Jim Sudal wore while assembling his prickly-pear holiday tree. His gloves were ruined after two days and 250 spiny pads, but Jim says he couldn’t—and wouldn’t—have done it without them. Prices vary according to size, but expect to pay $40 or $50. I figure a pair ought to last someone like me, who doesn’t handle cactus much, a lifetime. In fact, they’ll probably become heirlooms.

Thorn armor gloves

Thorn Armor gloves

Joyce Chen scissors. Around $20. I have four pairs that I keep in various drawers and on my potting bench. I even have a pair in my car for…well…you know, the occasional overgrown succulent by the side of the road. Joyce Chen scissors don’t appear tough, but they can cut through finger-diameter branches. I use them mainly for precision snipping, clipping and deadheading. If I could keep one of my pairs of Joyce Chen’s out of the garden, I’d use it for its intended purpose: in the kitchen, cutting chicken bones.

Succulent clippers

12-Inch Tweezers. Under $10. These are for those fiddly instances when you have to reach into an agave or between spines to extract fallen leaves, weeds and bits of debris. Long tweezers also are good for picking up bristly succulents. However, for a plant much larger than a ping-pong ball, you really need tongs…which I suspect you already have (check the kitchen). Hm, maybe you should get a second set of those, too.

Gifts for succulent lovers

The Colorful Dry Garden, $23. Not only is author Maureen Gilmer an expert on plants and gardening in the dry Southwest, her explanations, advice and descriptions are full of wit and insight. Gilmer’s beautifully illustrated book presents an extensive assortment of flowering shrubs that make great low-water companion plants for succulents. It dovetails nicely with the updated and revised second edition of Designing with SucculentsWant to get both books for free? Scroll down to the Giveaway. 

Moisture meter. Are you concerned about under- or over-watering your succulents? If you tend to be a helicopter plant parent, you’ll find a moisture meter reassuring. Stick its probe into the soil, and if the indicator goes to the left of moist, it’s OK to water. If it zips to the right, back away from the plant. This particular meter also measures light and soil pH, and needs no battery—not bad for under $10.

Gifts for succulent lovers

Pretty, cool stuff

Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Commemorative Tile: It’s a win-win: You support a worthy cause; honor a cherished relationship for decades (if not centuries) from now; and you give the recipient a lifelong fondness for a public garden. This particular tile is in the Children’s Garden of the San Diego Botanic Garden (SDBG), and whenever my grandson is there, he looks for it. The SDBG is now raising funds for a 7,400-square-foot glass conservatory. Donor tiles are $250 to $5,000, depending on size. In the Bay Area, the Ruth Bancroft Garden—renowned for its succulent collection—is currently selling donor tiles to raise funds for a new building; theirs include the garden’s agave logo.

Cactus pad jewelry. I found the adjustable ring (above) on Etsy for $11. Matching earrings are $10. They’re made of “high quality resin” and come from Bulgaria, so it takes a couple of weeks for them to arrive.

Gifts for succulent lovers

Succulent leggings. No one would ever think of getting these for me (how sad is that?), so I consoled myself by adding them to my cart. If the pattern I chose is too sedate for you, do a search for “succulent leggings.” There are dozens of styles, some insanely colorful.

Succulent shoes. These come in several patterns, including cacti. I can’t speak for the quality, but at $50 it had better be good. The seller won’t ship after Nov. 30 to ensure delivery by Dec. 25, so if you’re interested, jump. Btw, I’m a size 9. Just sayin’. 

My Own Designs

Over the past few years, I’ve created numerous gift and decor items based on my own artwork and photos. They’re for sale online at my Zazzle store. Zazzle doesn’t make it easy to pass along discounts, but here’s a 15%-off code you can use through Jan. 31, 2019. Copy-and-paste it when you order: UQEYOJQKDMCOXQJQPRTP. But first see if they’re offering an even better discount (which they often do).

Gifts for succulent lovers

Agave watercolor tile 4.25” x 4.25” on Zazzle, regular price $13.70

Agave throw pillow on Zazzle, 16′ x 16″ square, regular price $31.35.

Gifts for succulent lovers

Barrel cactus lumbar pillow, 13” x 21”, on Zazzle $36.65 regular price.

Gifts for succulent lovers

My 2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar, on Zazzle $22.15 regular price.

And now, the giveaway!

I’m giving away a pair of books that are must-haves for anyone who gardens in the dry, hot Southwest. If you already own them, they make great gifts: The Colorful Dry Garden (see above) and my magnum opus, Designing with Succulents (the revised and updated 2nd edition). Do enter! If the winner is a subscriber to my newsletter (sign up on my Home page), he or she will also receive my Succulents 2019 Watercolor Calendar! Go to my Instagram page to enter. 

Gifts for Succulent Lovers

Related Info on This site:

Buy and Shop for Succulents Online 

Tools, Books and Products — My personal faves!

Want to give a signed copy of one or more of my books? Contact me! 

Succulent topiary tree
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Six New Holiday Designs to Inspire You

To inspire and entertain you, I’ve selected six new, never-seen-before holiday design ideas featuring succulents. Do consider each as a launching point for your creativity, and feel free to share them with friends. I’d love it if you’d post photos of what you come up with on Instagram or Facebook, and tag me @DebraLBaldwin. Regardless, have fun and enjoy!Succulent topiary tree
Sempervivum topiary tree.
This is a riff on my 2017 topiary tree. I love hens-and-chicks but only recently have grown them successfully year-round. The concept for this year’s mini-tree was one by Margee Rader in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. I used nearly 50 assorted Sempervivum heuffelii (hew-FEL-ee-eye) hybrids in 2-inch pots from Mountain Crest Gardens. When the holidays are over, they’ll join my other “heuffs” in the garden. (Most semps don’t like our hot summers here in Southern CA but so far, heuffs–which used to be classified as Jovibarba–are doing well.) See my materials list for a topiary tree. Succulent pine cone ornaments
Ready-made succulent ornaments.
Speaking of Mountain Crest Gardens, the succulent pine-cone ornaments they introduced this year are a super deal. The set of three includes six sempervivums atop sequoia cones (each 3-inches tall by 1.5-inches wide) for $10. So that means you get six semps that you can wiggle off and plant after the holidays for under $2 each! Be sure to check out MCG’s other fetching succulent ornaments too.

Crassula tetragona Christmas tree

Mini succulent Christmas tree. This desktop tree is 8 inches tall with a 4-inch-wide base. To make glass balls appear to hang from branches, I held the three-stemmed cutting upside-down, dotted the leaves with white glue, then added beads. A small, shallow container makes the cutting look proportionally large and treelike. A glass jar lid sort of looks like ice, but any container will do including a flowerpot. A small floral frog (a flower holder made of metal pins) holds the cutting upright, and white sand with blue sparkles hides the frog and suggests snow.

Succulents Lit for the Holidays
Succulent garden of lights.
Every year Sabine Hildebrand of  Weidner’s Gardens nursery in Encinitas, CA, decorates her own garden with holiday lights. In December night falls by 5:00, so Sabine and husband Rob enjoy their glowing garden for hours every evening. She keeps the design simple—no colored or twinkling lights—to showcase the plants’ shapes and colors. There’s not much difference in decorating succulents instead of shrubs, Sabine says. “Do it late in the afternoon so you can see the results as it’s getting dark. Then rearrange the strings of lights as necessary.” See more in my new YouTube video: Sabine’s Holiday Succulent Garden.

Cactus decorated with lights

Ferocactus glaucescens in a gold-painted terra-cotta pot glows with mini lights.

Barrel cactus aglow. Inspired by Sabine’s garden, I added tiny lights to a ferocactus to create a holiday centerpiece for the patio table outside my kitchen and dining room windows. The plant’s translucent spines shine, making an intriguing display. See how to make it, step-by-step, on my website and in my latest DIY video: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights. I also painted the pot to match the gold of the spines, and to make the combo look good during the day as well as at night. [Continue reading]

Cactus pad Christmas tree

Cactus pad Christmas tree.  Jim Sudal’s cactus-pad holiday tree reinterprets the traditional fir, and is perfect for the dry, hot Southwest. Like Jim, many residents of Phoenix (and well beyond) have stands of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), a succulent iconic to the region. About 250 cactus pads from Jim’s garden cover a 7-foot-tall cone that he and friend Mark Faulkner assembled on an iron frame wrapped with poultry fencing. “We wore special gloves called Thorn Armor that did their best to protect our hands,” Jim says. [Continue reading]

Wonder why I didn’t include succulent wreaths? Well, there are so many gorgeous ones, I created a Pinterest page for the best of the best! 

Related Info on This Site:

Succulent Topiary Tree

 

Cactus Pad Holiday Tree

 

Decorate a cactus w lights

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Cactus Christmas tree
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Jim Sudal’s Cactus Pad Holiday Tree

Jim Sudal‘s cactus pad holiday tree is a great reinterpretation of the traditional fir tree, and perfect for the dry, hot Southwest. Like Jim, many residents of Phoenix (and well beyond) have stands of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica). The juicy-leaved succulent is iconic to the region. “Last year I built a garland around my gallery front door made from fresh prickly pear pads,” Jim told me. “They lasted at least eight months and even started to sprout new pads.”

 

About 250 cactus pads from Jim’s garden cover the 7-foot-tall tree. He and friend Mark Faulkner spent two days assembling it on a conical iron frame wrapped with poultry fencing. “We wore special gloves called Thorn Armor that did their best to protect our hands,” Jim says. The men wired each pad at its stem end, then hooked it to the frame. Jim’s not planning on leaving the tree up past winter, but it has the potential to look good for at least six months.
Jim, a renowned ceramicist, gets much inspiration from succulents. He sells his work via mail order, so if you’re looking for home decor items or the perfect gift for a succulent lover, do visit his site. A few of many lovely items:
Ceramicist Jim Sudal

L-R: Cactus pad soap dish comes with a bar of prickly pear soap and a cactus ornament; two pots decorated with agave leaves; an aloe-in-bloom plate; a vase inspired by columnar cacti.

Cactus tree Q&A 

If you’re keen to make a cactus tree or just want to know more, here’s my Q-and-A with Jim. 
Q: What’s the approximate diameter of the base of the tree?
A: Probably 4 ft.
Q: Did you secure the chicken wire to the frame with zip ties?
A: No, we used bailing wire.
Q: Where did you get the frame?
A: I bought the metal tree frame from a retail display company, Tripar.
Prepping cactus pads for holiday tree
Q: How and why did you remove the spines?
A: We removed some of the daunting spines, not all, with scissors to make them easier to handle and to make a bit safer for spectators who are taking pictures of themselves next to the tree.
Q: What’s the cloth under each pad, and what purpose does it serve?
A: It’s natural colored burlap, and it was simply an aesthetic choice to give the pads some distinction between the layers.
Christmas tree frame
Q: Figure 3 lbs/pad x 250 = 750 lbs. What’s the tree standing on?
A: The tree is on one of the iron table bases I have made for making my ceramic-topped tables. We wanted to bring the tree up a bit higher above the prickly pear garden in front of my gallery. I clamped the base of the tree to the top of the table base.
Jim Sudal Christmas tree
Q: What kind of hooks did you use?
A: We made our own hooks from bailing wire. We threaded the wire through the woody end of the pad and looped it around, twisted it and bent it into a hook.
Thorn armor gloves

Thorn Armor gloves

Q: Despite wearing $50 Thorn Armor gloves, did you get poked?
A: They worked really great, but by the end of the day, they were a bit saturated with spines that eventually made their way through. They really helped. We couldn’t have done it without them, but nothing is foolproof.
Q: I see that you used seed pods and gourds for the garland, but what’s the white-dotted vine?
A: It’s a garland from a floral supply shop that we added natural elements to.
Cactus pad Christmas tree
Q: Anything else a do-it-yourselfer should know besides “start at the bottom, overlap the pads like shingles, and use smaller pads as you go higher”?
A: That’s pretty much it, except that we ended up using a lot more pads than we originally anticipated…probably by twice as many!  Also, as you mentioned, it’s a lot of weight so we really needed to secure the tree frame wherever we could and secure it tightly to the base.
Q: What are you going to do with all those pads when you take down the tree?
A: Being a lover of succulents and succulent gardening, the pads will come back home with me and be planted in my yard!

Related Info on This Site:

Decorate a cactus w lights
Reasons to grow opuntia
Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
Cactus decorated with lights
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Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights, Step-by-Step

These DIY step-by-step instructions correspond to my YouTube video: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights

Inspired by my friend Sabine’s holiday succulent garden, I decided to light up a succulent of my own. The resulting potted ferocactus is the holiday centerpiece for a patio table visible from my kitchen and dining room. The plant’s translucent spines glow when light shines through them, creating a fascinating display. I painted the pot to match the gold of the spines so the tabletop display would look good during the day as well as at night.

Cactus decorated with lights

Ferocactus glaucescens in a gold-painted, terra-cotta pot glows with mini lights.

Here’s how I did it, step-by-step.

If you’re decorating an in-ground cactus or one that’s already in a pot, skip to #7.

Cactus with holiday lights

My ferocactus is shaped like a pumpkin and is 7 inches in diameter (including spines).

Step #1: Select a spherical, long-spined cactus from the nursery. I chose Ferocactus glaucescens because its spines are quite long, and I like the plant’s blue-green color. In retrospect, I would have counted the number of ribs and gotten a barrel cactus with 10. This one has 12—two more than the number of lights in the package. But most arrangements are viewed mainly from one side, so the “dark” side is in the back, along with the battery pack.

Step #2: Choose a pot or container that’s in scale with the plant. I went with a new terra-cotta pot because I wanted something clean and simple that would elevate the plant, and that I could paint the same gold as the spines.

Decorate a cactus for Christmas

Tools and materials include long handled tweezers, a soft brush, a wood chopstick, mini lights, kitchen scissors, gold stones, floral pins, a disposable paintbrush, gold paint and water sealant.

Step #3: Head for the craft store. At my local Michael’s, I bought gold “patio paint,” a disposable brush, floral (“greening”) pins, and battery-operated lights. I already had a wood chopstick, a can of Thompson’s Water Seal, long-handled tweezers and the kitchen scissors I use for gardening.

Step #4: Paint the outside and inner rim of the pot with outdoor craft paint and spray the inside with the waterproofing sealer.

Step #5: Gauge the size of the plant’s rootball in relation to the shape and depth of the pot. Add soil (I simply used pumice—up to you) if you’ll need filler for the bottom. Otherwise you risk plopping the plant into the container and finding it sits too high or too low. Which means picking up the !@#$% porcupine again.

Step #6: Extract the plant from its nursery pot and plop it into the new pot. This is tricky. You can’t touch the plant, and I didn’t want to dump it out because that might get soil on it that would be difficult to remove or worse, break spines. I also didn’t want to pull on a heavy plant and risk detaching it from its roots. So I cut the plastic pot away from the rootball, using the kitchen scissors, resulting in a plant-plus-rootball I still needed to get into the pot. I knew garden gloves were useless with spines like those, so I improvised with a long-handled bathroom brush and tightly crumpled newspaper. Using them to push against it, lifted the plant. (Memo to self: Get a second bathroom brush.)

Step #7: Settle the plant in the pot. I adjusted it a bit using the bathroom brush and newspaper, then pushed down on the soil along the rim with the tips of my long-handled tweezers.

Step #8: Turn on the mini-lights to make sure they work. Start with the light on the end of the string and, using the long-handled tweezers, tuck it between two ribs, under the lowest spines. Use floral pins to secure the wires and conceal them. Remember they’re there when it comes time to remove the lights or repot the plant. The pins will rust in the soil and… Step #8.5: Get a tetanus shot.

Decorate a cactus for Christmas

Gold rocks are $14 for 1.65-lb jar. Small pebbles would work as well.

Step #9: Add topdressing. I used gold rocks that I found online. Wait a week to water it. Cactus roots really shouldn’t be watered immediately after planting because broken roots are more vulnerable to rot.

Step #10: Place it where you can see it at night. Take photos and post them on Instagram or Facebook and tag me @DebraLBaldwin. I’d love to see what you come up with!

Decorate a cactus with holiday lights

This is how the cactus looks after dark.

 

And at anytime, it looks like a snowflake.

Watch me make it on YouTube: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights DIY

Decorate a cactus with holiday lights

Related Info on This Site:

Succulent Topiary Tree

Succulent wreath how-to

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

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Succulent White-Pot Pairings

White pots are a simple, effective way to display your prized succulents and cacti. Here I’ve paired colorful, geometric cacti and sculptural succulent euphorbias with an assortment of white-glazed containers. Solo or in groupings, succulent white-pot pairings would look good on your patio, deck, entryway or sunroom. Watch the 4-min. companion video: Succulent White-Pot Pairings.

#1 Euphorbia lactea variegata, crested

I usually start with a project’s largest item and work my way down, so the design flows from the biggest, most prominent element. The first plant I chose at Oasis Water Efficient Gardens (a succulent specialty nursery near me owned by Altman Plants) was a white-variegated crested euphorbia. Its coloration repeats that of the largest container, and the plant’s spiky texture contrasts with the pot’s smooth finish. The euphorbia is in scale with the pot…not too large or small. That’s important aesthetically and practically—the arrangement will look the same for years (crested plants grow slowly).

#2 Euphorbia leucodendron (cats’ tails)

I repeated the horizontal lines of the pot with the upright lines of a cylindrical cats’ tails succulent. Wherever you put it, the euphorbia provides a strong vertical element. The nursery plant had more stems than I needed, but because they were a half a dozen rooted cuttings, they easily pulled apart.

#3 Echinocereus rigidissimus rubrispius (“Red-headed Irishman”)

The pink of the crested euphorbia led me to select this magenta echinocereus (which also has white in its spines), but those at the nursery weren’t large enough to fill the bowl-shaped pot. Cross-hatching in the pot repeated patterns in the echinocereus and I liked the cactus’ clean lines, so I decided to combine several. Doing so emphasizes and repeats pleasing circles; and having five rosy, radiating starbursts creates design interest.

Compositions like these look unfinished if soil shows, so we concealed it with a topdressing of white crushed rock and white stones.

Production assistant Pat Roach pours white crushed rock

4. Melocactus azureus. 

I’d rather not put a succulent in a pot that’s deeper than the plant is tall because roots may rot in soil that stays moist. But this blue melocactus was a perfect match for our last and smallest pot. In the video you’ll see me pour pumice down the inside of the pot; that’s to absorb excess moisture. The resulting plant-pot combo showcases the plant’s geometric shape and looks good with the rest of the planted white pots, too.

Related Info on This Site:

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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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Cochineal Scale on Paddle Cactus, What To Do

White fuzzy lumps on paddle cactus indicate the presence of a parasite that pierces the plant’s skin and consumes its juices. A bit of cochineal (coach-en-ee-al) scale is no big deal, but it does tend to spread and may eventually kill the plant.

Your first line of defense is to blast what appears to be bits of cotton with a hose to dislodge them. However, in crevices and where a hose can’t reach, they’ll proliferate. I take preventive action and scrub my paddle (opuntia) cacti at the first sign of infestation with insecticidal soap. I also remove any badly infested pads and those growing quite close to each other (slice them off at the joints).

Then I treat the plants with Safer insecticidal soap. So named because it’s safe for the environment, it controls soft-bodied insects without harming plants like harsher soaps may. (Don’t use dishwashing liquid on succulents.) I mix 4 or 5 tablespoons of concentrated Safer soap to a gallon of water, then dip a long-handled, soft-bristle brush into the solution and scrub the pads.

This removes the insects (which are not mealybugs, a common misconception), won’t scratch the pads, and leaves a soapy residue that inhibits the pests’ regeneration. I do this “as needed”—about every six weeks in the summer. In winter, if the problem persists, I spray with Neem oil.

In my YouTube video, How to Treat Cochineal Scale, helper James squashes the bugs with his thumb.

Cochineal scale does have the odd benefit of entertaining garden visitors, especially kids. Squish a white lump and you’ll get marvelously realistic “blood.” (Use cold water to remove any stains on clothing.) Of course if the opuntia has spines—as most do—real blood also is a possibility. If so, simply use a stick to squash and smear the cottony bumps.

Insects nestled within the waxy white fuzz are rich in carminic acid, a red liquid that repels ants, birds and other predators. Used by ancient Aztecs to color woven fabric, cochineal scale was highly prized by Spanish conquistadors, who considered it second in value only to New World silver.

Cochineal insects under a microscope. Actual size: 0.2 inches (5 mm).

Because harvesting cochineal dye is labor intensive, it was replaced by synthetic dyes in the 1800s. But due to cancer-causing concerns, natural red dye is now back in favor with food and cosmetic manufacturers. Next time you pick up something that’s edible, red and packaged, read the label. If ingredients list “carmine,” “cochineal,” “E 120,” or “natural red 4,” it’s been colored—ironically, to make it more appealing—with insects.

Related info on this site:

Uh-Oh, Is My Succulent Sick? When a succulent isn’t looking quite right, you may wonder if you’ve done something wrong. Here’s what to look for [Continue reading] 

On my YouTube channel:

Go to my 6-video playlist, “Succulent Pests and Diseases.”

Watch my 2-min. YouTube video, How to Treat Cocineal Scale. Under my direction, James, 9, scrubs opuntia pads with a bathroom brush and squashes popcorn-like bugs with his fingertips.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

In my books:

Succulents Simplified, pp 76-77: “What’s Wrong with Your Succulent?”
Designing with Succulents, pp 137-143: “Pest and Damage Control.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Colors of Rancho La Puerta

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.

Want to see more? Be sure to watch my YouTube video, “The Succulents of Rancho La Puerta.”

Related Info on this site:

Even if you live in drought-parched Southern CA, garden plants that don’t need to be watered are not as hard to come by as you might think…[Continue reading]
Agaves are rosette-shaped succulents native to the Americas. There are dozens of species of Agave… [Continue reading]