Cactus decorated with lights
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Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights, Step-by-Step

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

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

Cactus decorated with lights

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

Here’s how I did it, step-by-step.

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

Cactus with holiday lights

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

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

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

Decorate a cactus for Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorate a cactus for Christmas

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

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

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

Decorate a cactus with holiday lights

This is how the cactus looks after dark.

 

And at anytime, it looks like a snowflake.

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

Decorate a cactus with holiday lights

Related Info on This Site:

Succulent Topiary Tree

Succulent wreath how-to

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Why I put plastic bottles in big pots
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Use Plastic Bottles for Lighter Pots

I use plastic bottles to make large pots lighter before I add potting soil. It makes pots easier to carry, cuts down on the amount of soil needed, and is better for shallow-rooted succulents. Before I plant any tall or large pot, I half-fill it with tightly capped empty water bottles.
Why I put plastic bottles in big pots
Good design and aesthetics dictate that large spaces need large pots. They make a “wow” statement in any garden, patio, entryway or sunroom. Pots that aren’t in scale with a big space can be visually lost or add clutter.

Problem is, if you fill a big pot with soil, you might not be able to move it, especially after you water it. And if succulents sit atop soil that never dries, roots may rot. My solution, a result of trial-and-error, also works for window boxes.

Kalanchoe luciae

To make my deep window boxes less heavy, there’s a layer of plastic bottles beneath the soil.

Mistakes to avoid

— Initially I tried placing a succulent, still in its nursery pot, inside a tall glazed pot. The plastic rim showed, which looked tacky. I tried the nursery plant in a different large pot. The plastic pot dropped too far inside, making the succulent look like it was hiding. Not to mention I hoped to put more than one succulent in the focal-point pot. I considered half-filling it with rocks, but being denser, they’re even heavier than soil. As for lightweight organic matter, like chipped wood, it makes the soil level sink as it decomposes.
— I tried keeping the lower half of a large pot empty by using a pot saucer as a shelf inside it. It was tricky to find a saucer that fit and would rest where I wanted it to (about a foot below the rim). Plus it needed a drainage hole.
— Next I tried filling the bottom half of a large pot with styrofoam packing peanuts. Later, when I emptied the pot to reuse it, I discovered that wet soil plus styrofoam equals a sodden mess that’s no fun to dispose of.
— I also tried dumping clean items from my recycling bin into a hefty pot, but discovered that bottles and crushed cans hold soil and water—an anaerobic mix that becomes a microbial soup. Even bubble wrap, when stuffed into a pot, forms nondraining pockets.

My cheap and easy answer

I fill large pots half full with empty plastic water bottles, tightly capped. As far as roots are concerned, bottles are the same as rocks. Yet empty plastic water bottles don’t weigh anything. Some soil does fall into gaps, so it’s a good idea to pour pumice into the pot prior to adding potting soil. Pumice, a lightweight volcanic rock, absorbs excess moisture. Make sure bottles are tightly capped, so inside them is only air and the weight of the soil won’t make them collapse.
Use bottles to make pots weigh less
Empty water bottles make big pots weigh less, save on soil, prevent soggy roots, and are easy to remove when emptying the pot. Simply hose them off before returning them to your recycling bin.

Use Plastic Bottles for Lighter Pots
Step-by-step [see the video]

— Assemble your materials: Pot, plants or cuttings, empty plastic water bottles, potting soil, pumice.
— Place empty bottles in the pot to midlevel, or to about 12 inches from the rim.
— Add enough pumice to nearly cover the bottles.
Use bottles to make pots lighter
— Remove plant/s from nursery pot/s and arrange in pot.
— Add soil so the crown of the plant (where roots meet stem) is a bit lower than the rim.
     OR, if planting cuttings, simply insert them in the soil.
— Move pot to its new location. Protect flooring from drips if need be. Water lightly to settle roots.
— After a week or so, insert a wood chopstick several inches into the soil to check its dryness. If the stick comes out clean, add water until it flows out the drain hole.

Related Info on This Site:

Showcase succulents in large pots

Use pumice to make pots lighter
Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
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Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Depending on how long temps stay below freezing (32 degrees F), “frost tender” succulents may show varying degrees of damage. When moisture in the cells of a vulnerable plant freezes, it expands, bursts cell walls, and turns leaves to mush. In a “light frost,” leaf tips alone may show damage. In a “hard frost,” temps stay below freezing for hours, which can collapse entire plants. Succulents typically don’t regenerate from roots.

Crassulas, aeoniums, euphorbias, and kalanchoes are among the most tender succulents. A few succulents have a built-in antifreeze that enables them to survive temperatures well below 32 degrees F—below zero, in fact.

Should you be worried about your outdoor succulents in winter? It depends on where you live. See “Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region.”

Your area is frost-free (lucky you!) if…

Agave attenuata grows in gardens, and the plants look like this year-round.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Agave attenuata is the first succulent to show damage from frost in winter.

In my garden, this soft-leaved agave is the canary in the mineshaft where cold is concerned. A lot of succulents breeze through a brief frost (less than an hour), but leaf tips of Agave attenuata show damage right away.

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

After a brief exposure to 32 degrees, Agave attenuata will look like this.

Such damage is unsightly but seldom fatal. See the healthy green part of each leaf? Use scissors to trim off the tissue-paper-like frozen tips [see how], cutting each leaf to a point. When you’re done, the damage will be barely noticeable. By summer new growth will have hidden those shorter, trimmed leaves. (Note: Such damage is similar to scorching caused by too much sun and heat, typical of desert climates, and by—believe it or not—wildfire.)

 

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

What about an agave or other succulent that has frost damage only on its leaf tips? Don’t bother to trim them. It’ll lose those oldest leaves in a few months anyway.

Areas of occasional, mild frosts (like inland Southern CA):

Watch the weather forecast, and if there’s a “frost advisory” for your area, before dark go outside and cover your tender succulents. Frost tends to happen after midnight, with temps getting colder toward dawn. Cold air is heavier than warm, and flows down slopes and collects in low spots. Consequently, succulents in swales are more at risk than those atop berms. You may have heard that Christmas lights raise the temperature a few degrees. Yes, if they’re the old-fashioned kind. Those sold nowadays (LEDs) don’t generate heat. The succulents you have to worry about are those out in the open, with nothing above them. I sometimes stand over a succulent and gaze upward. If there are no tree limbs or eaves directly overhead, it gets draped.

I live in the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet (Zone 9b). And yes, I’ve been outdoors in my pajamas and slippers at 11 pm after hearing the weather forecast on the late-night news, shivering as I throw sheets on vulnerable plants, while my husband holds a flashlight. If frost is predicted for a series of nights, I may leave the plants covered; otherwise, I remove the sheets the next morning. To make sure they won’t blow off, I secure them with clothes pins and rocks. Do NOT use plastic. It doesn’t allow the plants to breathe.

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Frost cloth protects jades and other vulnerable succulents in my garden. See the video. 

Why cold damages some succulents and not others

A lot has to do with where a particular kind of plant originated. Succulents, which store water in their leaves to survive drought, are mostly from dry, hot climates. But some are from dry, cold climates—and those are the ones that don’t freeze. See my article in the Wall Street Journal: Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates. Among the “hardies” are:

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Stonecrops (small-leaved sedums), like those above in a Colorado rock garden…

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

sempervivums (hens-and-chicks, above) of which there are numerous species and cultivars; certain cacti, yuccas and agaves (like Agave utahensis, A. montana and A. parryi), and lewisias from the Pacific Northwest.

Related Info on This Site:

Overwintering

How to grow indoors

Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents

Frost damage

 

Learn more in my books:

Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.):
— Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens, pp. 111-113
— Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates, pp. 143-148

Succulents Simplified:
— Protection from Frost, pp. 48-50
— Frost Damage, p. 72 and p. 77

I also recommend Hardy Succulents, by Gwen Kelaidis, illustrated by Saxon Holt:

Screen shot 2016-01-05 at 7.59.00 PM

Cold weather care for outdoor succulents
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Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region

Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region

Should you be worried about your outdoor succulents in winter? It depends on where you live.

It’s all about frost. The temperature at which water freezes—32 degrees F—is the Great Divide. Above that, most succulents are fine. Below that, most are at risk. See “Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know.

Hardiness Zone Map

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a good basic guideline. However, it doesn’t take into account climate variables potentially harmful to succulents.

Regional Care for Succulents, An Overview

There’s very little of North America where every kind of succulent will grow outdoors year-round. The “banana belt” is the heavily populated California coast. Of course, you can grow any succulent anywhere if you’re able to replicate the conditions it likes, either in your home or in a greenhouse. But this article is about cultivating succulents outdoors, in the garden, during the most challenging season: winter.

If you live in…

Coastal CA from the Bay Area south: You don’t get frost (at lower elevations), and humidity and rainfall are minimal, so simply make sure your succulents get good drainage during occasional rainstorms.

Cold weather care for outdoor succulents

My garden is in Southern CA inland, in the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet (Zone 9b). A freak snowfall happened on New Year’s Day, 2017. When temps rose above freezing, I hosed off the snow. The Agave attenuata at left was damaged but recovered.

Central and Southern CA inland: Frosty nights tend to follow rainy weather, December through February. Like a citrus grower, I pay attention to “frost advisories for inland valleys.” When temps are predicted to drop below 32, I drape succulents with bed sheets or commercial frost cloth made of non-woven fabric[Learn more about how I protect my garden.]

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

When a non-gardening friend noticed bedsheets draped over my plants, she asked if my dryer wasn’t working (!).

Areas of hard frost: You get temps below 32 degrees that last for hours, so it’s not adequate to merely cover your in-ground succulents or shelter potted succulents beneath eaves. Move them indoors or into a greenhouse. Depending on where you live, an inexpensive temporary shelter may be OK. [See “Four Ways to Overwinter Succulents” on this site.]

Northwest and Northeast: Protect and shelter your succulents indoors (perhaps in your basement) or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. [On this site, See “Cold-Hardy Succulents for Northern Climates” for exceptions; “How to Grow Succulents Indoors;” and “Winter Protection for Succulents: Products].

Desert Southwest: You get hard frosts, so protect and shelter tender succulents indoors or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Those that do well for you include cacti, agaves, dasylirions, yuccas and other succulents specific to your region.

South: If you get frost, see above. But even if temps stay above freezing, you’ll still contend year-round with trying to grow arid-region plants in a wet, humid climate. Find out which succulents you can grow outdoors in Florida and other states too damp and humid for most succulents.

Related info on this site:
How to grow indoors
Overwintering

Frost and succulents Frost damage

Learn more in my books:

Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.):
— Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens, pp. 111-113
— Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates, pp. 143-148

Succulents Simplified:
— Protection from Frost, pp. 48-50
— Frost Damage, p. 72 and p. 77

I also recommend this excellent book: Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis, photos by Saxon Holt.Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

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How to Grow Succulents Indoors

If you’re wondering how to grow succulents indoors, basically you need to 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. Don’t fertilize succulents when they’re dormant (growth slows to a standstill, usually in winter).

Move potted succulents indoors when temperatures drop into the 30s. Clean the pots’ exteriors and check for pests. Keep them above 32 degrees F but not higher than 60 (cold is necessary for flowering later on). Keep a fan running to enhance air circulation, and a dehumidifier if the air is moist.

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.

Don’t set plants near heaters or furnace vents. They’ll cause the soil to dry out and your plants to desiccate.

Install grow lights. Situate indoor succulents beneath lights that stay on six hours daily. Fluorescent is fine and economical. Experts in growing succulents in gray-sky climates recommend T-5 grow lights. If your plants stretch toward light (or flatten their rosettes to expose more of their surface area), add more lights or move the plants closer to the ones you have.

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

 

No room? Go vertical. Create a “light island.” There are shelving units designed for indoor plants. Each shelf has a waterproof tray, and each unit is lit by two T5 bulbs. The lights, on timers, stay on from 7 am to 7 pm daily. 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 $12 on Amazon.

Watch for pests. Succulents in cramped conditions are at risk of mealy bugs, spider mites and other pests. At the first sign of infestation, spray with 70% Isopropyl alcohol. Isolate infested plants so pests don’t spread, and clean the surrounding area.

Related info on this site: Overwintering

 

How to keep succulents happy


 

 

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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

http://debraleebaldwin.com/caring-for-succulents/frost-damaged-succulents-heres-what-to-do/

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 ~