This gallery of succulent-topped pumpkin design ideas are mostly by Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity, who pioneered the concept in 2011. It caught on immediately, becoming as popular for fall decor as wreaths are for the holidays. After several years of making pumpkins for sale, Laura now devotes her time to designing in-ground gardens.
Laura Eubanks during a photo shoot for Country Gardens magazine
Succulent-topped pumpkins by Laura exhibit her pioneering moss-and-glue method, which I describe in detail in my book, Succulents Simplified. Laura and I also made a video that shows how she does it.
Basically, she coats the top of the pumpkin with spray glue, adds moss, then hot-glues succulent cuttings and seed pods to the moss. Incredibly, the hot glue doesn’t harm the succulents, which root through the dried glue into the moss. The arrangement lasts for months—until early spring usually, at which time the pumpkin finally collapses and the plants can go into the garden. The pumpkin will rot much sooner if pierced or cut, so avoid doing that.
Use these examples to inspire your own creativity and designs. Have fun!
This may be my favorite, despite not including succulents!
Additional ideas by various designers:
I’ll post more pumpkin photos as I run across interesting, eye-catching and innovative ones, so be sure to check back. — Debra
1. Create elevations. Nature isn’t flat. Mimic nature by moving the dirt around to create hills and valleys.
2. Rocks ROCK! Second only to succulents in horticultural awesomeness, well placed rocks, pebbles and boulders can take a succulent garden from good to spectacular.
3. Remember to plant your boulders by creating a cradle in the soil. Sinking your boulders gives the illusion that they’ve been there for a few million years.
4. Connect your succulent pocket plantings by running river rock through the design in ribbons.
5. Choose plants that are zone appropriate and favor your microclimates. When in doubt, ask!
6. Know how they grow. Stage your plants according to size. Taller in the back, groundcovers in front.
7. Got drainage? Succulent thrive in poor soil and will reward benign neglect by deepening in color. Just remember, no matter your soil type, it must drain well.
8. Plant cuttings in cooler months or in a partly sunny or semi-shaded area of the gardens to avoid sunburn.
9. When your succulents get leggy, simply pull them out by the roots, clip stems to desired length, discard roots and reset rosettes in a hole deep enough to stabilize the plant. If your succulent cutting stands up, you’ve done your job!
10. Most importantly, be bold, take risks and be creative! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so plant and design what appeals to you and makes you happy.
https://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Laura1-1.jpg36485472Debrahttp://debraleebaldwin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Logo-White-H200px.pngDebra2018-09-01 16:07:592018-09-03 20:19:21Laura Eubanks' Top Ten Tips for Succulent Garden Design
For over 40 years, the Gardners have lived in Rolling Hills Estates on the Palos Verdes peninsula, which juts from the coastline like a burl on an oak. It’s a highly desirable habitat for people as well as plants, and a great place to view large specimens. Tropicals and succulents have thrived in this mild, maritime climate for as long as nurseries have offered them.
Jim is a self-described “biophile:” a person who enjoys interacting with nature’s life forms. “They stick to me,” Jim says of his collection of 1,300 potted succulents and cacti. Many are in containers made by Jim himself, who after 30 years in internal medicine at Kaiser’s South Bay Medical Center, became an artist-potter. His sought-after work is characterized by textures derived from organic items such as pine cones and tree bark. A long-time Cactus and Succulent Society member, Jim volunteers at nearby South Coast Botanic Garden. His pots are available at the gift shop and the annual two-day Cactus & Succulent Show in April.
Jim makes it look easy to grow 20-foot tree aloes, airy epidendrums and sofa-sized deuterochonias (a spiky, colony-forming bromeliad), but like any avid biophile, he’s made his share of mistakes. Years ago, for example, when applying herbicide to an invasive grass, Jim sprayed his succulent euphorbias as well. “They turned to mush,” he recalls wryly.
“Out in front,” he adds, “I trimmed the lavenders too vigorously and killed them, so that’s how these plants happened.” He gestures to a streetside garden lush with aeoniums, aloes and shrub euphorbias. Pavers that traverse the area appear grouted with dymondia, a low-water ground cover that withstands foot traffic. Other waterwise ornamentals include tower of jewels (Echium wildpretti), with conical, deep pink, 5-foot bloom spikes; and a trunkless burgundy cordyline with white flowers that suggest shooting stars.
As you can imagine, it was a treat for me to meet Jim and Jan and see their garden, a visit made possible by Jackie Johnson, president of the Peninsula Garden Club, where I gave a presentation on Designing with Succulents. Jim graciously provided IDs for the main plants in my best photos—well, the top 60—40 of which are below for you to enjoy. I’ve already posted on Instagram several short videos taken at Jim’s, but THE must-see is my newly released, 5-minute YouTube video: “Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase.”
Btw, Jim collects and hybridizes mangaves (Manfreda x Agave hybrids). You’ll notice these intriguing dotted and speckled succulents in some of my photos. Watch for a future newsletter about these increasingly popular succulents. See if they don’t deserve a place in your own collection!
And now…drum roll…here’s my annotated gallery of the Gardners’ garden. As with all the photos on my site, you’re welcome to download and use these, providing the photo credit remains intact.
Fleshy green monsters in Patrick Anderson’s Fallbrook garden look like they might snap him up if he turns his back. They’re giant succulents, and Anderson’s half-acre hillside showcases hundreds of unusual ones. “I like their huge, sculptural forms,” [Continue reading]
Nancy Dalton’s award-winning succulent garden in San Diego is an outstanding example of smart landscaping for Southern California’s arid climate. Enjoy it’s many pleasing and practical aspects and keep these dozen ideas in mind [Continue reading]
Is any plant lovelier than a ruffled echeveria? These rosette succulents are soaring in popularity, and new cultivars are being introduced all the time. Look for echeverias throughout my books and in many of my videos.
We have brides partly to thank—they prefer bouquets that match the blue of their eyes, or that come in hues of aqua, dove, lilac, silvery pink or celadon. Echeverias offer all those colors plus a bonus: They can be planted afterwards as living mementos of the occasion.
Keep in mind that new leaves grow from the centers of rosettes and lowest leaves eventually wither. So to tidy echeverias over time, old leaves should be removed. If you don’t like looking at the resulting exposed stems, snip off the heads and replant as cuttings. If you set the old plant aside, it may form new little rosettes along the stem. These also can be removed and planted. (The thicker the stem, the more likely it will produce offsets.)
Echeverias will grow toward greatest sun exposure, which is especially noticeable when bloom stalks lean. Echeverias grown in low light will have elongated leaves (from trying to expose more surface to the sun) and will revert to green. Expert Dick Wright advises that two hours of full sun daily is ideal. Age also is important; young plants may not display the ruffled edges, layered leaves and the carruncling (bumpiness) of mature ones.
Please Note: Dick Wright wants to thank everyone who has contacted him as a result of the YouTube series. He’s been swamped with inquiries, so please be patient. “It’s wonderful, but I can’t keep up with them all,” he says. Providing a list of plants is difficult because, “I don’t know what we’ll have from week to week.” His son Kraig is often away, so “I’m a crew of one,” Dick adds with a laugh. Moreover he had an accident—cut his finger and had to go to the ER—but he’s doing fine. “I heal real fast.” Dick will be 90 in Sept., 2018.
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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.png11842020Debrahttp://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
Is it a given that Northerners can’t grow succulents? Not at all. Granted, most of these moisture-storing, arid-climate plants prefer warm, sunny habitats. Yet in response to demand, major growers are cultivating tough, showy varieties that sail through subzero winters. The two main kinds are stonecrops and hens-and-chicks, but there are others that may surprise and delight you.
Golden barrel cactus is cold hardy only to 14 degrees F, but dainty-looking ‘Angelina’ stonecrop will go well below zero.
Arguably the best known cold-hardy succulent, because of its wide distribution and tolerance for nearly any climate except desert, is Angelina stonecrop (Sedumrupestre ‘Angelina’). The feathery-textured ground cover turns from chartreuse in summer to orange-tipped gold in winter. This trailing spreader makes a good filler plant for potted and in-ground gardens alike.
Tiny-leaved ground covers like ‘Angelina’, commonly known as stonecrops, spread “even in Zone 3,” notes Panayoti Kelaidis, senior curator of the Denver Botanic Gardens. “They’ll root from little pieces. There are hundreds of different kinds, and they’re the backbone of green roofs.”
Kelaidis says that clump-forming succulents once classified as Sedum (now in the genus Hylotelephium) are “probably the most important succulents for perennial gardens” because of their size and year-round beauty. Like sedums, these have star-shaped flowers in clusters, but unlike true sedums, hylotelephiums form tap roots and have rosy flowers rather than yellow. Although the top growth of hylotelephiums dies and turns brown in winter, “don’t cut them back until spring,” Kelaidis advises. “The dry flower stalks look great covered with snow.”
In his book, Horvath says of the best-known perennial sedum, Autumn Joy (Hylotelephium ‘Herbstfreude’), “The flower heads of soft raspberry pink deepen to garnet as fall approaches. What’s more, in all but the harshest climates, this tenacious plant continues to delight through the winter months as its flower heads turn copper, then bronze.”
Monrovia nursery notes, “This sturdy perennial is as tough as they come. Clumping foliage displays large, plate-like flower clusters… Succulent foliage will die back to the ground in cold winter regions, but will re-emerge in early spring.”
Succulent hens-and-chicks, so called because offsets ring the mother rosette, are in the genus Sempervivum, meaning “ever-living.” “Many of our semps and hardy sedum spent over a month buried in 18 inches of snow last year, resulting in tremendously vivid red, pink, purple, and even some orange tones later in the spring,” says Matts Jopson, VP of Mountain Crest Gardens near Mt. Shasta in Northern CA. “They also survived a record -15 F night without issue.” Certain semps will look different throughout the year, depending on variety and climate, and warm colors caused by cold may settle into shades of green by late summer.
One of a handful of nurseries specializing in hardy succulents, Mountain Crest Gardens’ “rapid growth has continued through 2017, and we’ve been expanding our selections like never before,” Jopson says. “We should have at least 200 different hardy varieties for sale this spring, at least 50 of which we consider to be rare collectibles.”
Nearly all of the succulents found in the nursery’s Hardy Succulent category can be grown outdoors year-round in zone 5 (-20F) areas such as New York, Boston, and Chicago. “We created that category and our own definition of “hardy” exactly for this purpose,” Jopson says, “to let the large northern population of the U.S. (and thus most of the country’s population) know that they can grow a wide selection of beautiful succulents outside through the winter. Even people in colder Minneapolis should be fine keeping many of the Sempervivum heuffelii and hardy Sedum outdoors.”
Sempervivum heuffelii are “truly special plants,” Jopson says. They have…
More consistent year-round color than regular Hens and Chicks
Foliage is probably the most durable of any hardy succulent
Many are more tolerant of indoor light than semps.
Several Sempervivum cultivars by Kevin Vaughn
Mountain Crest Gardens works with a hybridizer and creator of “many beloved semp cultivars,” Jopson says: Kevin Vaughn of Salem, OR. Vaughn holds a hybridizing clinic each year in April “organized by the avid semp community on thegarden.orgforums.” Jopson adds that the breeder’s current goal is to hybridize “a ‘football sized’ semp with the dark color tones of an Aeonium ‘Black Rose’.”
Hybridizer Kevin Vaughn’s book. Release date: May, 2018.
Among professional breeders of cold-hardy succulents mentioned by Jopson and Kelaidis is Chris Hansen of Michigan-based Garden Solutions (email@example.com). Hansen says of one of his cultivars, Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime plant, the world’s first bright yellow semp with red tips.” In northerly climates, ‘Gold Nugget’ turns shades of lime green and hot pink in summer, gold and red in spring and fall, and warm red in winter.
Chris Hansen shows Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’, part of his registered Chick Charms line of hens-and-chicks.
Sempervivums are monocarpic, meaning that after a rosette blooms, it dies. But this seldom compromises a colony’s appearance. Chicks carry on, filling gaps with their own offsets in spring.
Delosperma ‘Fire Spinner’ is a Kelaidis introduction
Naturally Kelaidis mentions ice plants, of which he says tongue-in-cheek, “I invented 35 years ago.” He trekked through Siberia, Mongolia, and similarly remote, high-elevation regions seeking mat-forming succulents with shimmering, daisylike blooms. Kelaidis went on to introduce many—including his own hybrids—to gardens in the Rockies and beyond.
Asked to name an ice plant that’s especially floriferous, Kelaidis praises purple Delosperma cooperi: “It blooms all summer.” The plant, which Kelaidis has helped popularize over his 35-year career, is readily available nationwide. He says proudly, “Hundreds of millions sold.”
How to Grow the Hardies
There’s more to growing hardy succulents than plunking them in the ground. They need to be acclimated to the cold. Jopson advises: “It’s never a good idea to leave them outside in a hard freeze immediately after delivery. Established root systems are required for most hardy succulents to survive the coldest winter temps, and it is recommend to plant in the ground, beds, or large containers for additional insulation for the roots. Snow is actually welcomed by hardy varieties as it can insulate them from frigid air temperatures.”
“Wetness is the enemy,” cautions Kelaidis. “Plant them in walls, rock gardens and shallow containers.” Give in-ground plants maximum sun exposure and “a microclimate similar to a Russian steppe:” a south-facing slope amended with coarse, gritty soil.
Jeff Moore’s books are the See’s of eye-candy, filled with photos that show the very souls of fleshy plants. Moore is a succulent expert, garden designer, photographer and author who for 26 years has owned Solana Succulents nursery in Solana Beach, near San Diego.
We met in 2003, back when I was covering gardening for magazines. He struck me as unusually normal. Generally I’d hang out with an endearing plant geek until I understood his or her passion, and then I’d write about it. I interviewed many collector-experts, but (apologies to those still around), most were off-the-charts eccentric. Not Moore, a regular guy who just happened to have a thing for fleshy plants. The only weird thing was that he made a living at it. I asked this surfer and family man (who usually wears shorts, sunglasses and sandals—very Solana Beachy) which succulent we should feature. He chose Aloe bainesi (Aloe barberae). [Scroll down for an excerpt.]
Moore’s nursery specializes in plants for Southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south. Not surprisingly, Soft Succulents skims over cold-climate varieties and devotes 20 pages to Dudleya, an underutilized genus native to California and Baja. Echeverias, also from Mexico, have 52 pages with 63 varieties. Aeoniums, challenging to grow elsewhere in the US, have 53 pages with 46 varieties. (And to think I grow only 14!)
A few favorite quotes from Moore’s latest (and arguably loveliest) book:
“You could take a dive into and roll around on any of these juicy creatures, and the only damage would be to the plants and maybe stains on your clothes. These softies will pass the nervous grandma test.”
“Consider blending them with at least a few of their more heavily armored relatives…my kids and animals grew up around the spiky stuff, and they learned some valuable life lessons from daddy’s plants.”
“I would estimate that well over half of the species, cultivars or hybrids that I have at my nursery were either unavailable or yet to be created when I opened in the early nineties.”
“Echeveria ‘Bubble Machine’ is either a true beauty of genetic manipulation, or an example of man’s inhumanity to plant.”
“If you’ve tried and killed a traditional bonsai tree, keep the pot and try a jade, such as Crassula ‘Hobbit’ at left.”
To nit-pick, I would have preferred the plants presented alphabetically by genus. Although most of them are, it’s odd finding Sempervivum in the front and Cotyledon in the back. There are nomenclature glitches (such as different spellings of the same plant) and formatting inconsistencies (i.e. single quotes, italics and the like). But, as it turns out, the one error I thought was egregious wasn’t.
I figured “Toelken” in a header was a misspelling of “Tolkien” (as in J. R. R.). However, on page 196, re crassulas ‘Hobbit’ and ‘Gollum’, Moore explains: “The fanciful names are attributed to Helmut R. Toelken, who published a thesis on the revision of the crassulaceae in 1977. Although no relation to the J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings renown, someone must have been inspired by the similar names to bestow these cultivars with their monikers.” Well OK, then!
From “Aloes Aloft,” the article I wrote about Moore for the June, 2004 issue of San Diego Home/Garden magazine:
“People speculate that Seuss drew his multiheaded palms after seeing Aloe bainesii,” Moore says, “But I doubt it. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, there were maybe a couple in all of San Diego. Aloe bainseii just happens to look like a Dr. Seuss tree, not the other way around.”
Inside Moore’s mind is a map with locations of memorable succulents highlighted.
“I notice them when I’m driving around. Each one is a piece of art.”
Photo: Mary Beiler
Fourteen years and three books later, Moore has provided the horticultural world with impressive photo galleries of nearly every kind of succulent. And he’s not finished. In the works is a book on cacti and spiky euphorbias. Such plants are gaining popularity, and I can attest that no other succulents are as much fun to photograph. If Moore’s previous books are a visual feast, the next will be desert (pun intended).
Above: In one of my earliest YouTube videos, Moore makes a couple of container gardens on the tailgate of his pickup truck.
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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.
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.
— 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.
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The agave snout-nosed weevil is a half-inch-long black beetle with a downward-curving proboscis that enables it to pierce an agave’s core, where it lays its eggs. Grubs hatch, consume the agave’s heart, then burrow into the soil to pupate. The weevil (Scyphophorus acupunctatus)—once prevalent only in desert regions and Mexico—is spreading rapidly throughout the US and abroad, earning it the dubious distinction of being one of the “Top 100 Worst Global Invasive Species.”
The agave in the middle shows signs of snout weevil infestation. This a block from my home (eek!)
According to the Global Invasive Species Database, “Scyphophorus acupunctatus is becoming a major pest of native Agavaceae and Dracaenaceae species worldwide. From Mexico, it has decimated populations of Agave crops there, in particular those used in the tequila industry. The importation of ornamental Agave plants worldwide has facilitated S. acupunctatus to establish in many parts of the world, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, in Africa, Asia and South America.”
Is your agave infested? Look for damaged tissue where leaves meet stem. The lowest leaves will appear wilted, and may slope unnaturally downward while the center cone remains upright. The plant, no longer anchored by roots, will rock when pushed. When an infestation is well underway, it’s possible to shove the agave over onto its side. It’ll break at soil level, revealing a mushy, foul-smelling core infested by plump, squirming, half-inch, cream-colored grubs with brown heads.
Above: an agave’s grub-eaten core resembles a sponge.
Above: Close-up of a snout-nose grub.
In my YouTube video, “Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment,” I demonstrate how to inspect nursery agaves, show resistant varieties, and interview agave expert Kelly Griffin at an infested colony of Agave americana. Kelly also talks about applying a systemic insecticide as a prophylactic (preventive) option.
How one homeowner does it: Succulent collector Jeanne Meadow is well versed in the fauna and flora of her large garden in Fallbrook, California, midway between Riverside and San Diego. Jeanne, an ace researcher, has become an expert on the agave snout-nose weevil. She says people tend to assume most nursery plants are pest-free, yet that’s the primary way snout weevil enters gardens. When an agave in her garden shows signs of infestation, she removes it and every plant for several feet surrounding it. Then she sifts the soil and picks out grubs and beetles. “It’s a huge undertaking,” Jeanne says. “Fortunately they’re slow crawlers.”
To remove a diseased agave, here’s Jeanne’s method:
1. Place a tarp around the plant.
2. Position a wheelbarrow nearby. Make sure the tarp covers the ground between it and the agave.
3. Dig up the agave and put in the wheelbarrow.
4. Dig out more dirt to a depth of 12 inches (deeper if you find grubs) and about 12 inches from where the base of the plant was.
5. As you transfer the soil to the wheelbarrow, inspect it for grubs and weevils.
6. The beetles “are hard to crush,” Jeanne says. “I use a hammer.”
7. Take the wheelbarrow to a paved area, like your driveway, so if beetles escape they’re easy to spot.
8. Transfer into heavy-duty trash bags, sprinkle contents with insecticide, and triple-tie.
9. Seal any rips with duct tape.
10. Drench the soil where the agave was with insecticide.
Aren’t insecticides bad for the environment? Although neither Jeanne nor I advocate inorganic pesticides, and we certainly aren’t licensed pest control experts, we strongly believe that the responsible thing to do is to share knowledge with others based on research and personal experience, and to do what we can to prevent the beetle from spreading. “This is an emergency situation,” Jeanne says. “The pest is spreading like crazy and has to be brought under control.” According to agave experts, growers, and pest management specialists, the best approach is preemptive: drench the soil around healthy agaves with a systemic insecticide that has imidacloprid as the main ingredient.
Hire a licensed pest control expert. The going rate is $175/hr., but you’ll know for certain that everything is done safely and protects the environment while eradicating the pest from your property. One in the San Diego area is Chris Mizoguchi, firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to preventatively treat your agaves. The goal is to drench the agave’s roots. Twice a year, in spring and fall, here’s what I do:
1. The night before, soak (hose-water) the soil at the base of each agave to aid penetration.
2. Read and follow the label directions. Be sure to wear gloves and protect your skin and eyes.
3. To mix the solution, I use a hose, a 3-to-5 gallon bucket, and a stick for stirring. Product labels don’t say how much concentrate per gallon of water for agaves, so I go with the ratio for shrubs. (If using Compare-N-Save Systemic Tree and Shrub Insect Drench, it’s 3 oz. per foot of height per gallon of water.)
4. Agaves naturally funnel rainwater water to their roots, so if you slosh the solution where lowest leaves meet the core, you’ll effectively drench the soil below them at the base of the plant.
Note: Avoid doing this in temperatures above 80 degrees F. High temps diminish the insecticide’s effectiveness and may even harm plants already stressed by heat.
Don’t panic, but do pass the word. It’s only a matter of time before weevils in neighbors’ agaves find their way to yours (and vice-versa). The unfortunate reality is that agave owners who do nothing are inadvertently aiding the proliferation of a serious pest, and may incur the expense and inconvenience of removing prized, immense and spiky plants. I suggest you:
— Send close neighbors a friendly email with a link to this page.
— Post about agave snout weevil on your neighborhood’s online forum. If possible, include a photo of an infested agave.
— Copy-and-paste part or all of this into an email to the editor of your community newsletter. (All I ask is to be credited. With, of course, a link.)
Don’t assume your agaves won’t be affected. Although snout-nosed weevils can’t fly (yes, there are such things as flightless beetles), they sure can walk. I first suspected that snout-nose had arrived in my backcountry community northeast of San Diego when I noticed a collapsed Agave americana in a friend’s garden. I could barely believe it. She lives atop a rocky hill surrounded by acres and acres of native chaparral. Either the weevil had arrived via infested nursery stock (on a different agave most likely, seeing as the sick plant was part of an old colony), or it had walked in. I’ve since observed that it takes a captive weevil ten days to die despite receiving no water nor food. The entire time, it was mobile and capable of traveling 4 inches per second. Had I released it, it easily could have gone several blocks (at least). It also was a surprisingly good climber.
Consider: If a dying agave hosts dozens of grubs that turn into beetles, and if each takes off in a different direction, one or more will certainly find another agave.
A tiny concern. If your goal is to kill snout weevils before they spread, a systemic ought to do it, but it’s uncertain how much damage the puncture hole causes. The weevilis a vector (carrier) of Erwinia carotovora, a micro-organism that decomposes plant tissues, enabling grubs to easily consume it. I’m hopeful, and it seems likely, that the bacteria doesn’t go deeper unless spread by live grubs. Moreover, as I mention below (see “Good News”), bitten agaves have been known to recover.
GREEN ALERT: Insecticides kill beneficial insects as well as pests and may disrupt your garden’s natural predator-prey balance. Snout weevils have coexisted with agaves for millennia and are naturally preyed upon by reptiles, birds and mammals (though the spines that protect an agave from predation also protect the weevil). Systemics, as the name implies, transmit insecticides through a plant’s system, so that any bug that eats it dies. Some studies have indicated that bees and birds are not harmed by the nectar of treated plants, and that animals farther up the food chain are not at risk. Use sparingly and follow label directions. Don’t pour this (or for that matter, anything inorganic) into drains or gutters.
Weevil control without pesticides. Remove an agave at first sign of infestation and sift grubs and weevils out of the soil. (Feed them to your chickens or put them out with the trash in sealed plastic bags.) Don’t plant agaves in that part of your garden again, and watch your other agaves for signs of infestation. It’s possible that beneficial nematodes may be effective. They do kill larvae, but I’ve yet to find out if they’ll work against snout grubs. (Check back.)
Earthworm castings destroy beetle exoskeletons, advises Pat Welsh, author of Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening: Month by Month. In Jan, 2018, in response to this post, she wrote: “Imadacloprid is killing bees. It is one of the worst ever pesticides and will end up killing us also. Instead of that, purchase earthworm castings and spread them on top of soil surrounding agaves. Keep it up. Earthworm castings kill all insect pests and are a great barrier to the ones that live in the ground under plants. Weevils walk on top of soil and cannot cross earthworm castings or they die. This is because earthworm castings contain chitinase, an enzyme that destroys chitin. The exoskeletons of insects are made of chitin.”
Good news ~
— Agaves treated early in an infestation may recover, providing there’s adequate meristem tissue to regenerate new growth. (An agave’s meristem cells are at the core, or heart, where leaves join roots. It’s prime grub fodder.)
— An organic control currently being tested is a pheromone trap designed to attract adult beetles in search of mates.
— Weevil-resistant Agave varieties do exist and are being selected and cultivated. (Sometimes you’ll see seemingly unaffected plants alongside diseased ones.) Tissue-culture labs make it possible to produce quantities of plants over a short period of time, which is likely the future of commercially-sold members of the Agaveaceae family. — The weevil seems less inclined toward those with thin, flexible leaves, such as Agave attenuata; those with tough, hard-to-pierce leaves (such as agaves desmetiana, murpheyi, parryi, lophantha ‘Quadricolor’, ‘Sharkskin’, triangularis, victoriae-reginae and vilmoriniana); and those with slender, nonjuicy leaves such as agaves bracteosa,filifera andgeminiflora. See photos on my website’s Agaves page.
In the meantime…
Plant agaves bare-root. Before planting, remove an agave from its nursery pot, set the plant (root ball and all) in a wheelbarrow, and hose the soil from the roots. Examine the plant for beetles and puncture holes, and the soil for grubs. If a plant is infested, destroy it and inform the source nursery. Jeanne notes that when chased, weevils head back to the agave for shelter. “They don’t try to escape from the wheelbarrow.” Btw, after observing grubs kept alive in soil-filled jars, Jeanne says that when deprived of an agave to feed on, grubs don’t pupate (turn into weevils).
Grow agaves in pots. In areas where snout weevil is known to be active, plant agaves in containers like the urns shown here. You’ll know that the soil is OK because it came from a bag; you can easily get rid of infested soil should beetles show up; and when you apply a preventative drench, only the soil in the container is affected. Additional advantages are that pots elevate agaves for better viewing, enabling them to serve as garden focal points even when small. Potentially immense, pupping agaves (such as A. americana species) grow more slowly in containers, which also serve to corral their offsets.
The big green agave at left is likely a hybrid of A. salmiana; at right is A. franzosinii. In the foreground is what Jeanne Meadow calls “snout-weevil candy”: A. americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’.
Watch susceptible plants. Keep an eye on all your agaves, especially mature ones about to bloom, because they’re loaded with weevil-attracting carbohydrates. The pest seems to prefer specimens of Agave americana and its variegates (striped varieties), as well as closely related Agave franzosinii (one of the largest agaves). Reportedly, it may infest other genera in the Agavaceae family, such as Nolina, Beaucarnea, Yucca, and Furcraea. I’ve heard, but have yet to confirm, that it also attacks Mexican fence post cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) and possibly barrel cacti — but symptoms may simply be due to a different bug. After all, it’s a Pandora’s box out there.
Don’t give up on agaves! “Snout-nose shouldn’t discourage anyone from planting agaves,” Jeanne says. “There IS hope, and my garden is a great example of that.” She adds that the imidacloprid drench—which degrades over time—has had no apparent impact on her garden’s overall health and ecosystem, “including its population of beneficial insects, reptiles, birds, and amphibians.”