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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

On this site ~

Here are the essentials for growing succulents successfully: water, light, soil, fertilizer and more. If all this is new to you… [Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel ~

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Make a Low-Light, “Scooped from the Garden” Succulent Arrangement

This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window. It makes a great gift, and all its components are readily available. Owner Jeanne Meadow displays it on her covered patio and waters it minimally (once a week in warm weather, once a month in cool).

Design by Megan Boone of Nature’s Containers, Temecula, CA, for Jeanne Meadow. 

You’ll need:

One rectangular 9×12 bonsai pot  (available at garden centers or online). A matte-finish, earth-toned container helps suggest that the composition came straight from the garden.

Cover the pot’s drain holes with pebbles or squares of screen so soil doesn’t fall out. Fill the pot nearly to the top with succulent potting soil and add:

Upper right corner: Aloe nobilis ‘Variegata’ rosette. Variegates like less sun and tend stay smaller than their solid-green cousins.

Lower right: A green sempervivum. This one’s fuzzy texture makes leaf edges look outlined with white.

Lower middle: Haworthia attenuata (zebra plant). It has intriguing raised white ridges and repeats the fountainlike shape of other plants.

Lower left: A  Sempervivum arachnoideum (cobweb houseleek) cluster fills the corner, repeats the solo sempervivum, and offers interesting texture accented with white.

Upper left: Gasteria bicolor. A little sun will bring out the red in its leaves. Its sculptural and its whitish dots serve as a subtle counterpoint to white on other plants.

Upper middle: A peperomia provides contrasting texture and serves as filler. Without it, the composition would be too regimented—less loose and natural. Any similarly sized and shaped succulent, such as Othonna capensis, will work as well.

Rocks: These three from Jeanne’s collection are varying sizes and shapes, are interesting in their own right, and are in scale with the plants. They also create planting pockets, making it possible to vary the elevation slightly.

Topdressing: By covering bare dirt, crushed rock gives a finished look and helps hold in soil moisture. And in keeping with the natural theme, this warm-toned gravel appears to have crumbled from the larger rocks.

Note that the gasteria is in bloom, but this isn’t about flowers. It showcases foliage, texture and form, as any good succulent container garden should!

Related Info:

See more of Megan Boone’s designs on my website.

Topdressings for succulent pots

YouTube: Learn more about Jeanne’s rocks and topdressings

Find additional succulent container ideas on my Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest pages.

Jeanne’s garden is also featured in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

Get Tips from a Top Succulent Container Garden Designer (Melissa Teisl).


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Megan Boone’s Vintage Succulent Containers

IMG_3996_annotated_resizedMegan Boone of Nature Containers Vintage Garden Art designs in three dimensions, using cast-off objects to showcase succulents and vice-versa. As exemplified by the pick above, Megan brings elegance and whimsy to her artistry by reinterpreting the forms and lines of utilitarian objects. I love how the aloe perfectly repeats the shape and color of the rusty metal, and also emphasizes its arc.

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The Temecula, CA, artist has teamed up with nearby Water Wise Yard Design & Decor to enhance their outdoor showroom with one-of-a-kind container gardens.  Those shown here are just a sample; Megan’s continually coming up with something new made from something old.

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Megan told me that her choice of stacked crassulas (Crassula perforata, above) coincidentally echoed the wire basket handle. Perhaps, but talented designers often do things subliminally.

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Hm. What ARE these containers? They look familiar but I can’t quite place them.

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Doesn’t the wheel below suggest a succulent wreath? Note the texture of the metal and how Megan left some of it unplanted to show the criss-cross pattern.

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I’m not normally a fan of shoes planted with succulents, but the boot below spoke to me. The lines, proportions and colors really work.

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Love this planted teakettle, too. The crassulas suggest steam; the senecio, flowing water.

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Wouldn’t the wood palettes below and the planted window frame make great vertical accents for a garden or patio? They could also serve as privacy screens.IMG_3915annotated_resized

 

I couldn’t resist showing you Leroy, Megan’s bloodhound. The velvet-eared puppy hangs out with her at work, regarding her with soulful eyes. Clearly Leroy knows that his coppery coat contrasts beautifully with Senecio mandraliscae. Perhaps he’s her muse.

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Related info on this site:

Make a Succulent Dish Garden for Indoors. Design by Megan Boone for Jeanne Meadow.
Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer (Melissa Teisl’s designs)

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Designing with Cold-Climate Succulents

Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more. She grows the plants, too, where she lives in Turner, Oregon, near the Washington border.

Becky’s compositions can overwinter outdoors in northerly climates (Zones 4 to 8), providing the potting medium drains well. Cold-hardy succulents such as stonecrops and hens-and-chicks will also grow in Zones 8 and 9 if protected from heat in excess of 85 degrees and scorching sun. Some varieties, notably shrub sedums, die to the ground in any locale and come back the following spring.

In her designs, Becky often combines sedums (stonecrops), sempervivums (hens-and-chicks), and Delosperma ice plants. Of a little-known Rosularia species with soft, light green leaves, she says, “When people ask which plant is my favorite, this is definitely on the list.”

There are about 35 species in the genus Rosularia. The sempervivum-like succulents come from Europe, the Himalayas, and northern Africa.

Find more photos of succulents for Northern climates—including many of Becky’s favorites—on my website’s new Cold-Hardy Succulents page. I photographed the designs shown here during the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Sedum Chicks booth, which won an award for outstanding visual appeal.

Below: This bright red vertical container was a hit. At right, I darkened the photo to make plant IDs, in white letters, stand out.

Below: Sempervivum ‘Jade Rose’ repeats the teal blue of a Sedum spathulifolium cultivar.

Below: In a cold-hardy wreath, Becky surrounded a large sempervivum rosette with smaller sedums, Delosperma cooperi (at lower left), and Sedum confusum (lower right).

Below: I’ve ID’d the three sedums in this wreath at right. Becky gives her plants “hair cuts” to keep them compact.

“I like its dark edges,” Becky says of Sempervivum ‘Black’, shown below in dramatic contrast with chartreuse Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’. At lower right is a succulent native to Oregon: Sedum oreganum.

Becky and husband Paul create planters from repurposed wood and metal. The bronzy succulents below are Sedum confusum, which blushes red-orange in a sunny location. When less confused, it’s bright apple green.

For wreaths and vertical gardens, Becky uses sphagnum moss to help hold plants in place. She emphasizes the importance of good drainage, which is true for all succulents, but especially those in rainy climates. Succulents from cold climates tend to have thin or small leaves and want a richer potting soil than thicker-leaved varieties from desert regions. Becky recommends Black Gold’s organic mix.

In my YouTube video, “Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show,” Becky explains how to select, cultivate and beautifully combine cold-hardy succulents.

 

Learn more about succulents for northerly climates:

How to Grow Tender Succulents in Northerly Climates: Resources and info for growing tender succulents in cold, northern climates.

Designing with Cold-Hardy Succulents: Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more.

In print:

Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) See the section on Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens.

All my books show design ideas and give care and cultivation for Sedum and Sempervivum.

The Plant Lover’s Guide to Sedums, by Brent Horvath (Timber Press)
Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates, by Leo Chance (Timber Press)
Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate, by Gwen Kelaidis, Photos by Saxon Holt (Storey Publishing)

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Sempervivums  Gorgeous new cultivars and design ideas from my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Sedums and More More cool succulents for cold climates plus how to select, grow and design using them. From my second presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

Sedum Chicks at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Designer/grower Becky Sell of Turner, Oregon explains how to beautifully combine sedums, sempervivums and other cold-hardy succulents.

Make a Frost-Hardy Succulent Wreath with Hens-and-Chicks. Simple steps to a stunning wreath!

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Tips from a Top Succulent Container Garden Designer

Melissa Teisl of Fresh Chic is the designer whose artistry I show most in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. She and her mom, Susan, had a floral shop in Solana Beach, CA when I met them in ’07. Then Susan retired, and Melissa (with partner Jon Hawley) launched CW Design & Landscaping, specializing in gorgeous in-ground gardens.

But container gardens are Melissa’s first love (OK, except for Jon), so this dynamic couple—who also are in Succulents Simplified and Designing with Succulents—spun off Fresh Chic, CW’s boutique and container-garden division.

Melissa Teisl designs in Succulent Container Gardens

These photos from Succulent Container Gardens showcase Melissa’s aesthetic. She…

— Picks succulents in scale with their containers.
— Repeats plants’ colors and/or forms in her container selections.
— Uses lines and shapes of pots to lead the eye and frame the plants.
— Plants densely for a lavish look and uses topdressing to conceal the soil.
— Sets a container atop a table that becomes part of the composition.
— Expands her palette with non-succulents. A pink-striped cordyline adds drama to a tall pot; crypthanthus bromeliads create a wreath’s “bow.”
— Jazzes up gift arrangements with real bows of satin or velvet.

Related Info on this site:

DIY Succulent Centerpiece Step-by-Step
A raised pedestal container garden stuffed with a lush collection of succulents looks complicated, but it’s simple once you know how. To create this floral-style centerpiece, the designer chose… [Continue reading]

This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window. It makes a great gift, and all its components are [Continue reading]

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
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How to Grow Succulents Indoors

If you need (or prefer) to grow succulents indoors, outfit a basement, sun room, spare room or alcove with tables and shelves that can withstand moisture, plus lights and a fan that run on timers. Fortunately succulents need very little water. Dribble a little at the base of each plant every three weeks or so, enough to hydrate the roots but not so much it puddles on the floor.

Place your succulents near a window. Maximum sun exposure is on the south and west sides of your house. The farther north you live in North America, east will provide bright light, but not enough for crassulas, echeverias and aloes to maintain their red hues. [Read more] 

OR…

Install grow lights. Experts in growing succulents in gray-sky climates recommend T-5 grow lights.

Agrobrite FLT44 T5 Fluorescent Grow Light System, 4 Feet, 4 Tubes, about $120 on Amazon.

 

Create a “light island.” Shown below is arguably the ultimate indoor plant-shelf unit. Made of lightweight, powder-coated aluminum, it has adjustable lights with energy-efficient, full-spectrum bulbs; plastic drip trays; and wheels for easy positioning. Three shelves provide 18 square feet of growing space. From Gardener’s Supply Co.; about $600. 

Get a timer which automatically turns the lights on at, say, 7 a.m. and off eight hours later. I like this one, below, because it has multiple outlets:  Titan Apollo 14, about $26. 

Watch the temperature. If it falls below freezing (32 degrees F) many succulents may show long-term damage (or die). This indoor thermometer is digital and also has a humidity gauge. But what I love about it is that it keeps daily high and low temps for 24 hours!

AcuRite 00613 Humidity Monitor with Indoor Thermometer, Digital Hygrometer and Humidity Gauge Indicator, about $10 on Amazon.

Wonder why your otherwise healthy succulent is stretched and doesn’t flower? Go to: Why Doesn’t My Succulent Bloom?

 

 

 

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Succulent Color Wheel Rainbow Centerpiece

Succulent Color Wheel rainbow centerpiece from my online class, as seen in Garden Design magazine and my book, Succulents Simplified

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.*

For the rainbow centerpiece, you’ll need a large pot saucer and about six plants in 4-inch pots for each pie-shaped section. Succulents come in all colors, so have fun selecting them at your local garden center. Or if ordering them online, here are some suggestions:

Green: sempervivums, aeoniums, Crassula lycopodioes (watch chain)
Blue: echeverias, Senecio repens, Sedeveria ‘Blue Elf’, Pachyveria ‘Glauca’, Kalanchoe tomentosa
Purple: Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, Echeveria ‘Neon Breakers’
Red: Sedum rubrotinctum, Peperomia graveolens
Orange: Sedum ‘Firestorm’, Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Euphorbia tirucalli‘Sticks on Fire’
YellowSedum adolphii, Crassula ovata ‘Sunset’

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.

Find many more types of succulents listed by color in my books. 

*Why It’s a Big Deal to be in Garden Design magazine

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.

The red-orange-yellow side of the succulent color wheel. 

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DIY Succulent Centerpiece Step-by-Step

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A raised pedestal container garden stuffed with a lush collection of succulents looks complicated, but it’s simple once you know how. To create this floral-style centerpiece, the designer chose a white-painted wooden urn 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall, with a basin 3 inches deep. Plants include ‘Sunburst’ aeonium, Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, burro tail sedum, assorted blue echeverias, lithops (living stones), and Seneco radicans (fish hooks).

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  1. Cut a circle from heavy mil plastic (such as a trash bag) and use it to line the basin. Fill with potting mix and press down on the soil with your palms to compact it. Form a mound several inches high in the middle that slopes to just below the rim.

 

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2. In the center, plant an upright cluster of the largest rosettes.

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3. Tuck smaller plants or cuttings around the center grouping, facing outward at a slight angle.

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4. When the arrangement is nearly finished but still has some gaps, use a chopstick to push roots of remaining plants into the soil, and to tuck and conceal the edge of the plastic below the rim.

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  1. Gently brush spilled soil off the leaves, then water the completed arrangement lightly to settle the roots. Because there’s no drainage, water it minimally, about once a week, to moisten the soil, but not so much that the roots are sitting in a puddle of water.

Design by Fresh Chic, a division of CW Design & Landscaping

For more Fresh Chic designs, see my article, Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer

Also find lovely centerpieces in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. Learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. And be sure to visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for using and designing with succulents! ~ Debra Lee Baldwin 

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Summer Potting Demo at Roger’s Gardens

Roger’s Gardens (the largest independently owned garden center on the West Coast) is all about opulent, over-the-top displays of succulents and flowering plants. These fill lovely containers, often an urn or pedestal pot that gives the nod to classic East Coast or European design. When I arrived at at 8 a.m., I hit the ground running. Roger’s is a 75-minute drive from my home, and I was scheduled to go on at 9:00.

Above: presentation area at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar, CA

After checking the presentation area, I made a beeline for the indoor retail boutique—an eye-candy cache of home decor enhancements that change kaleidoscopically with the seasons. The shop is full of items of glass, glossy metal, colorful fabrics, and themed stuff…which is what I wanted. I already knew two parts of my design equation—succulents and summer—all I needed was a third.

Above: I combined rosy-pink barnacles from the store with cuttings of a pink-tipped, cream-striped crassula.

Roger’s sells plenty of decorative pots, and this year large, ceramic-shell planters were new. I decided to fill one with succulents suggestive of undersea flora and fauna.  To see how it came together, start to finish, view my YouTube video: Succulents, Shells and Summer: Debra’s Potting Demo at Roger’s Gardens

Obtain my comprehensive guide to growing and designing with succulents in containers, Succulent Container Gardens.

Related Info on This Site:

A raised pedestal container garden stuffed with a lush collection of succulents looks complicated, but it’s simple once you know how. To create this floral-style centerpiece, the designer chose…[Continue reading]