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Ants in Your Succulents? What to Do

Late summer into fall, Argentine ants like to nest in the root balls of potted plants. Haworthias, aloes (especially dwarf varieties), gasterias and gasteraloes are highly vulnerable. Ants overwinter in the soil and consume the plant’s juicy core. Leaves eventually fall off and the plant dies.

Argentine ants infest a haworthia

The first line of defense is to create a barrier around your pots using ant powder or diatomaceous earth. The latter, available at garden centers and online, is the best “green” solution. (Go to my Useful Tools page for more about it.)

Rinse ants out of the rootballIf an infestation is well underway—ants swarm when you water the pot or tap it on a hard surface—unpot the plant and wash the roots until pests are gone (you may want to wear gloves). Before replanting in fresh soil, place a square of fine-mesh screen in the pot to keep ants from re-entering the drain hole. I know it’s overkill to buy a roll of screen for a single pot, but really, you should be using it in ALL your pots. It’s surprising how quickly you’ll go through it, especially if you repot your plants often. A role isn’t expensive and you can always share it with friends.

Pot in a moat of waterMove the plant to a different location and/or surround it with a moat (ants can’t swim). Add water to a bowl or other shallow container and, to keep the drain hole above water, set the pot atop rocks or gravel. Be vigilant until the weather cools in October.

Mealy bugs on aloe

Ants “farm” other pests for their sweet secretions. The best preventative is good air circulation. Aphids attack new growth, and mealy bugs (shown below) nestle under leaves and in leaf axils. Spray with isopropyl alcohol (70%). Isolate plants you’ve treated, and trash any that are badly infested. Indoor plants are especially susceptible, so run a fan in the room in which you overwinter your succulents. If you find pests on one plant, be sure to check its neighbors.

Also see the “Pest and Damage Control” section of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed (pp 137-142); the “Pests and Diseases” page of my website, and my YouTube video, “Oh, No! Something’s Wrong with My Succulent!”

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Laura Eubanks’ Top Ten Tips for Succulent Garden Design

Laura Eubanks of Design for Serenity is a celebrity succulent garden designer in Southern California. Her “Succulent Tip of the Day” sent her popularity skyrocketing on social media, and her YouTube channel recently exceeded 4,000,000 views. Here, Laura shares her Top Ten Tips for Succulent Garden Design. The photos are from two videos I made with Laura: “How to Create a Succulent Pocket Garden” (12:36 min.) and  “Succulent Garden Design Secrets” (3:40).

“Whether you’re doing a 5-foot-square garden or five acres, the same techniques apply,” Laura says. Meet Laura and see her in action at the Succulent Extravaganza, Fri-Sat Sept. 28-29 at Succulent Gardens Nursery in Northern CA.

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.

 

Related Info on this Site:

Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rocks
Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a ’60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and… [Continue reading]

Succulent Garden Design Essentials
Here are a dozen succulent garden design essentials for you to keep in mind as you design and plant your own garden. They’re exemplified by an award-winning succulent garden in…[Continue reading] 

 


Obtain my comprehensive guide to succulent landscaping, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

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How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region

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—especially if you’re growing them in the open garden. Indoors, you have much more control over the environment, but seasons will still affect cyclical aspects of growth such as flowering and dormancy.

This page is a launching point, so scroll down to see which page or video best answers your questions. (Please be patient, it may take a moment for the page to load fully.)

Also refer to “Seasonal Care for Succulents” on pages 74-75 of my book, Succulents Simplified.

Spring

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants.
Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through… [Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:  Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Summer

On my YouTube channel, see: Succulents, Sun and Summer (10:34)

Autumn

Winter

Region: Bay Area

Region: Coastal Southern California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Succulents for Northerly Climates

On my YouTube channel:

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

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


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Succulent Windowsill Pots DIY

In this Succulent Windowsill Pots DIY, you’ll find out how to make a quick, colorful, succulent windowsill garden. Sunbathing helps succulents maintain their symmetry and color, and whenever you look out your window or work at a countertop or sink nearby, you’ll see and enjoy them.

My six little windowsill succulents

These six pots, each 3-inches in diameter, come as a set on Amazon (about $16). Their rainbow colors makes them fun and easy to combine with succulents. I added crushed glass topdressings because glass and sunlight are made for each other…just like sun and succulents.

Other multipot sets work equally well…for example:

Materials:

Four to six 3-inch decorative pots.
Four to six succulents in 2-inch nursery pots. Numerous varieties and even cuttings will work. I chose Adromischus cristatus, Sedeveria ‘Lilac Mist’, Sedeveria ‘Letizia’, Senecio haworthii, Sedum nussbaumerianum, and Sedum adolphi. All are from Altman Plants’ retail nursery north of San Diego, Oasis Water Efficient Gardens.

Pumice or potting soil (“cactus mix”) to finish filling the pots.
White or neutral-colored sand (but not beach sand—too salty), available at craft stores and online.
Window screen or paper towels cut in six 2-inch squares.
Crushed glass topdressing (optional), available from craft stores, floral suppliers and online.

Method:

Cover drain hole with a square of window screen or paper towel so soil doesn’t fall out.
Gently slide the plant out of its nursery pot and place in its new pot.
Remove 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil from top or bottom so root ball stays below the rim.
Spoon pumice or potting soil between rootball and pot.
Tap the pot and gently press on the soil to anchor the roots.
Add a layer of sand to conceal pumice and soil. The sand also will fill gaps and keep the glass topdressing’s color true.
Add topdressing. I chose colors that echo the glaze on the pots, but fewer or just one color also would look good.

Succulent windowsill pots

Care:

Water lightly and infrequently—1/4 to 1/2 cup per pot weekly in summer, less in winter. Aim to keep soil barely moist, never soggy.
If your windowsill might be damaged by moisture, move the pots to the sink when watering. Let drain thoroughly before replacing.
If stem succulents stretch or rosette succulents flatten, they probably need more light. However, the sun’s ultraviolet rays, when magnified by untreated window glass, can burn plant leaves. If this is a concern, add a sheer curtain or move the plants farther from the glass.
Keep in mind that south-facing windows typically get the most sun and north-facing the least.
It’s normal for succulents to get leggy over time. After four to six months or whenever you tire of looking at stems that have growth only on the tips, take cuttings and replant.

Also see my DIY video ~

Related info on this site:


Succulent Basics, Must-Do’s and FAQs

Let me guide you through the essentials of growing succulents successfully: water, light, soil, fertilizer and more. If all this is new to you… [Continue reading]

Also on my YouTube channel: 

Create a Colorful Succulent Terrarium


 

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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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How to Water Succulents

Succulents—fleshy-leaved plants from hot, dry regions—are designed to live off water stored in their leaves and tissues in order to survive periods without rainfall. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t water them at all. In their native habitats, succulents can look pretty ratty during times of drought, and those that are not yet established may not survive.

Succulents do appreciate water and look best if given it regularly…up to a point. Their roots simply aren’t set up to handle too much water. They certainly won’t survive in mud. Don’t assume that adding rocks to the bottom of a nondraining pot provides drainage. This basically creates a bacteria-filled soup that can rot roots. On the other hand, don’t assume that a pot must have a drain hole in order for succulents to be healthy and happy. (I know it’s counterintuitive…but when you read why, you’ll see it makes sense.)

How to water succulents in pots and in the ground

Aim to keep soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. About once a week should do it. Water thoroughly to soak the roots and flush salts. For succulents in containers, that means until water drips out the bottom of the pot. Let common sense prevail: water more during hot, dry spells and less or not at all during periods of high humidity, cool temperatures and rain.

Do succulents need drainage? Not necessarily!

How to water succulents in non-draining containers

They’ll be fine if they’re not overwatered. It’s not drainage that’s important so much as avoiding root and stem rot, which succulents are prone to if they sit in water. When given less water than is optimal, they’ll draw on moisture stored in their leaves (which is the very definition of a succulent).

I water my terrarium succulents by dribbling water onto their centers or inserting a medicine dropper full of water at each one’s base. As soon as I see through the glass at the bottom that the sand is moist, I stop. Underwatered succulents tend to grow very little, which is a good thing because they don’t outgrow the container. You could never do this with most other plants, which when given too little water, will dry out and die.

DO NOT add a layer of pebbles or activated charcoal to the bottom of a nondraining container, assuming that this “provides drainage.” Water that pools at the bottom of a planted bowl becomes a microbial soup that leads to rot. It’s OK to add lava rock (pumice) to soil or sand to help absorb excess moisture, but don’t assume that it “provides drainage” either. Remember, the point isn’t to provide drainage, but to water the plants so minimally that it isn’t needed.

For more about growing succulents in nondraining containers, see my videos, Succulents in Silver (3:58) and Succulent Desk Buddies, DIY (4:15).

What about rain?

Succulents do best in areas of winter rainfall that falls intermittently and doesn’t exceed 20 inches a year (of course there are exceptions). When rain threatens to be excessive, move potted succulents beneath your home’s eaves. Place patio umbrellas with concrete bases for stability in the garden to keep rain from soaking your in-ground succulents. Channel runoff away from garden beds. Move and replant succulents in low-lying areas where water puddles. Topdress the soil around the plants with several inches of pumice to absorb excess moisture.

See my videos, Why Rain is Good for Potted Succulents (0:53) and Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens (3:51)

Overwatering concerns

The rule of thumb is to let the soil dry out (or nearly so) between waterings. An occasional overwatering won’t harm most succulents providing the soil is fast-draining. If water has collected in a pot saucer, remove it so roots don’t sit in water.

How to tell how much water a succulent needs

The fatter the succulent or the fleshier its leaves, the more water it stores in its tissues and the less water it needs (and will tolerate). Cacti in general are less tolerant of overwatering than smooth-leaved succulents. See my video, Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It (2:01)

The more susceptible an in-ground succulent is to rotting from excess moisture, the higher it should go on a berm or mound of soil.

Also on this site: 

How to Fertilize Your Succulents 

Fertilize succulents when they’re emerging from dormancy and beginning their annual growth spurt, which for most is [Continue reading]

Watch How You Water! Summer Care for Succulents 

OK, we all know that succulents are low-water plants. But they’re not “no-water” plants. Although they may survive without… [Continue reading]

Prepare Your Succulents for Rain Storms
Succulents, which come from arid climates, may rot. Stems or trunks turn squishy and collapse… [Continue reading]


 

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How to Stress Succulents (And Why You Should)

Plenty of sun brings out brilliant reds and yellows in certain succulents, but how much to “stress” the plants varies depending on where you live, the time of year, and the kind of plant.

If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents stunning. Give aloes and crassulas a bit more heat, sun or cold and less water and richer soil than they really want, and they’ll turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. This doesn’t harm the plants, which I deem “well-stressed” when they show the brilliant colors they’re capable of. A case in point is Aloe nobilis, which in my garden grows in nutrient-poor decomposed granite with minimal water.

Aloe nobilis. Left: winter (cool temps, bright shade). Right: summer (full, hot sun).

In winter, the same plant reverts to green.

Such “stressed” succulents—which seal moisture in their leaves as effectively as Glad-Wrap—are fine. They perk up and send out new growth when the weather cools and the rains return.

Not all succulents turn shades of red, pink or orange when stressed, in fact, the majority don’t. But many common aloes and crassulas do, plus certain kalanchoes, euphorbias, sempervivums, sedums, aeoniums and echeverias. Agaves normally don’t; the one above is an exception. The reason is it’s post-bloom and dying, which has revealed the anthocyanin in its tissues. In the same way deciduous trees turn color in autumn, sunset hues become visible. The pigment also is found in berries and fruits—and is considered a powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins, according to Wikipedia, “are not synthesized until the plant has begun breaking down chlorophyll, it is presumed for photoprotection…” i.e. protection from excess sunlight, much the same way melanin tans skin. Wikipedia also wisely states that “plants with abnormally high anthocyanin quantities are popular as ornamental plants.”

After seeing my YouTube video, “How to Stress Your Succulents…and Why You Should,” a non-gardening friend observed, “I’d probably stress them so much, they’d croak.” Good point. How do you give a succulent the right amount of stress, but not too much? And how do you know which are worth stressing, and which aren’t?

Basically, observe the plant. If it’s leaves are margined or tipped in red, it’s a likely prospect. But if excess heat, sun or cold makes its tips shrivel and turn beigey-gray, it’s suffering. Move it to a kinder location, keep the soil moist (but not soggy), and/or repot it. Also check its roots. The problem may be that roots can’t access moisture and nutrients, as in the case of a cutting that’s sitting atop the soil instead of snugly planted.

This specimen of Crassula ovata is beautifully stressed (how’s that for an oxymoron?). Its leaves have reddened due to less water than the plant would like plus more cold than jade prefers (frost will turn the leaves to mush, but temperatures near but above freezing reddens them).

Most succulents—especially those with fat, fleshy leaves—can last weeks and sometimes months without water, even in hot sun, nipped by frost, and/or rooted solely in gravel. But eventually they need a respite, lest stress become life-threatening.

A few common succulents that redden when stressed:

Kalanchoe luciae

 

Aeonium canariense

 

Aloe dorotheae

 

Learn more in my book, Succulents Simplified“The Well-Stressed Succulent,” pp. 54-55.

Also on my YouTube channel:

Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)
How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should, my first video now with 80,000 views, gives additional examples and includes before-and-after photos.

 

 

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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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12 Succulent Bouquets to Inspire You

12 Succulent Bouquets to Inspire You ~

When wired onto faux stems, succulent rosettes—despite having no roots, soil or water—make long-lasting floral bouquets. Echeverias, graptosedums, crassulas and kalanchoes lend themselves beautifully to bouquets because of their colorful leaves and floral shapes. They’re easy to attach to stems, need no water (because they live off moisture in their leaves), look good for a long time, and can later be planted as cuttings.

Succulent arrangement
At one of my workshops, a student made this lovely bouquet of wired succulent rosettes, ‘Sticks on Fire’ stems, and red eucalyptus. For ballast, she added layers of sunrise-colored sand.

Sunburst aeonium bouquet
This is a bouquet I made before I learned the floral technique of wiring succulent rosettes. The reason for the arrangement was to show how the plants resemble flowers. It consists of aeoniums and graptoverias with long stems. But in general, succulents have short stems, or stems so thick they don’t work well for vase arrangements.

Aloe flower bouquet with wired succulents
I made these bouquets for the launch party for my book, Succulents Simplifiedwhich has similar plants on the cover. I used marbles as ballast and filled the vases with water to keep the flowers fresh. The stems are bamboo skewers.

Succulent bouquet of wired rosettes
After the aloe flowers faded in the bouquet shown earlier, I pulled them out and arranged the succulent rosettes in a different vase (with no water). They looked good for several more weeks.

Elaborate succulent bouquet of wired rosettes
I made this bouquet of echeverias, dwarf aloes and silver eucalyptus stems for a garden club at which I was speaking, for a raffle. It took me forever to wire so many rosettes (30 @ 3 min./ea. = 1-1/2 hours). The response was gratifying, but I’m not eager to do it again!


The amber color of the glass vase inspired the selection of ‘Coppertone’ stonecrop, which in turn inspired blue echeverias for contrast.

Gift bouquet of succulent rosettes
Wired rosettes are heavy, so you need something to anchor them. Here I used crushed, tumbled glass. (I made this a few years ago. I wonder, should I have filled the jar with glass? At the time, I thought it was cool to let the wired stems show.) Succulents include jade, aeoniums, sedums, and in the center for texture contrast, a fuzzy kalanchoe. When stems are this short, you needn’t stabilize them with floral picks or bamboo skewers.

Succulent bouquet in colored sand
Above: The colors of the succulents inspired the colors of sand. (I keep a palette of colored sand in jars that occupy an entire bookshelf.) Read more about how this arrangement came together. 

Succulent bouquet with eucalyptus and dried split peas
I agreed to demonstrate how to make a succulent bouquet at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Few colorful succulents were available, so I wired red and silver tillandsias onto stems as filler and included dried floral material. I had brought a bag of split peas for ballast, so imagine my delight when my volunteer brought seeded eucalyptus—an unplanned yet delightful repetition.

Succulents in a gift mug

It’s nice to place the bouquet in a container that’s also a gift, such as a pretty coffee mug. This one is filled with playground sand as ballast.

A jay looks interested in my spring ’18 succulents-and-sand bouquet.

Another bouquet of wired succulent rosettes anchored in colored sand, made by one of my students.

Hints:

— Handle succulent leaves minimally because they mar easily. Hold cuttings by their stems or the underside of the leaves.

— Unless you’re using heavy rosettes, floral picks or skewers aren’t necessary with short-stemmed arrangements (wires wrapped with tape are adequate).

— As with any good design, select elements that are colorful, textural, and provide pleasing repetitions and contrasts.

— It’s nice to place the bouquet in a container that’s also a gift, such as a pretty coffee mug.


More info ~

My book, Succulents Simplified, pp. 162-169, shows how to make a special occasion succulent bouquet.

Articles:

DIY Succulent Bouquet When I need a hostess gift, thank-you present, or an arrangement for a special friend, I create a bouquet of succulents. I start by selecting… [Continue reading]

Use Colored Sand for Succulent Bouquets  I like to display bouquets of succulent rosettes in clear glass containers filled with layers of sand. Practical as well as pretty, the sand lends…[Continue reading]

Videos:

My Craftsy Class: Stunning Succulent Arrangements ~ See how I made this bouquet in a Mason jar with crushed glass for ballast. Use this link to take my Craftsy class (all seven lessons) at 50% of the regular enrollment price—$20 instead of $40.Succulent bouquet made by Debra Lee Baldwin for Craftsy

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Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra’s WSJ Article)

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra’s WSJ Article): A shorter version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 3/9/18. 

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

Snow heightens the color of hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum globiferum ‘Connie’). Photo: Mountain Crest Gardens

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.

Stonecrops

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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 (Sedum rupestre ‘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.”

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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.”
Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

Plant breeder Brent Horvath of Intrinsic Perennial Gardens in Hebron, IL is perhaps best known for upright sedums with serrated chartreuse leaves and flowers that blanket the plants with clouds of pink. Horvath authored “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Sedums” (Timber Press, 2014).

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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.”

Hens-and-chicks

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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.”

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

Sempervivum heuffelii are “truly special plants,” Jopson says. They have…

  • More consistent year-round color than regular Hens and Chicks
  • “Glowing” edges
  • Foliage is probably the most durable of any hardy succulent
  • Many are more tolerant of indoor light than semps.

 

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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 the garden.org forums.” 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.

Vaughn’s book is a must-have for semp enthusiasts: Sempervivum: A Gardener’s Perspective of the Not-So-Humble Hens-and-Chicks.

Among professional breeders of cold-hardy succulents mentioned by Jopson and Kelaidis is Chris Hansen of Michigan-based Garden Solutions (chris@sunsparklersedums.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.

See more of Hansen’s patented plants, including his SunSparker Sedums, on my 50 Cold Hardy Succulents for Northern Climates page. His online mail-order plant business (with Mary Walters) is www.GreatGardenPlants.com.

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.

Ice plants 

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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.

Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra's WSJ Article)

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.

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