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Why Doesn’t My Succulent Bloom?

Succulents (most plants for that matter) need light in order to flower. Sun is essential to photosynthesis, which creates energy and fuels new growth. All plants (actually, all living things) really want to reproduce, and for plants that means being robust enough to bloom. Because most succulents come from warm, dry climates, they require a lot of light.

 If this aloe could talk, it would say, “I’m starved for light! I may not be able to bloom! Help!”

*Aloe maculata (A. saponaria)

Above: A specimen of Aloe maculata growing indoors in the Seattle area. Although it’s healthy, it has flattened and elongated its leaves in order to expose as much of its surface as possible to light. The term for this is etiolation (et-ee-oh-lay-shun).

Aloe maculata (A. saponaria) in bloom

Above: This is how Aloe maculata looks with half a day of sun and half a day of bright shade. Even in these near-ideal conditions, the rosette and flower spikes lean in the direction of greatest light. Leaf tips have protected themselves from too much sun with reddish-brown pigmentation. (It’s similar to melanin, which causes skin to tan or freckle.)
Above: In all-day sun with minimal water, a similar specimen’s leaves have shortened to reduce evaporation. (Note how those in the first photo are much longer.) Sun exposure is evidently somewhat harsh because it has reddened even more. The horticultural term for this is “stress,” which is aesthetically desirable because it enhances color and symmetry. This plant may be a bit too stressed—leaf tips have scorched and growth has slowed—but look closely: It’s in bud.
What to do if you live in an often overcast climate or grow succulents mainly inside? This is from my website page, How to Grow Succulents in Seattle (Northern Climates):
Indoors, set them near windows that face south or west. Don’t bother with north-facing windows, but if your windows face east, do collect and enjoy low-light lovers such as haworthias and gasterias. [Read more]
 
*About Aloe maculata: Formerly known as Aloe saponaria (soap aloe) because the gel in its leaves lathers like soap, it is one of the few potentially invasive succulents, capable of sending up new plants from horizontal roots a few inches below the soil surface. Baby plants can pop up three feet or more from the mother! I have a colony of Aloe maculata in a rocky area of the garden where they can’t get into trouble, because I love the flowers, which are branching—unlike the columnar spikes of many other aloes. They don’t make good cut flowers, though, because cut stems ooze a mucilaginous gel. Aloe maculata is not often found at nurseries in Southern CA because there’s minimal demand for it (it’s a common passalong plant). A similar aloe that is better behaved, not toothed, often sold in nurseries, and much more prized in cultivation is Aloe striata (coral aloe). See it and others on my website’s Aloes page.
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How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors

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

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

OR…

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Succulent Color Wheel Rainbow Centerpiece

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

I’m proud and pleased to announce that the winter issue (now shipping) of Garden Design, the premier magazine about the aesthetics of gardening, features my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online class and includes a photo of one of its seven projects—the Succulent Color Wheel rainbow centerpiece.*

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

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

Method: Remove plants from their nursery pots and pack them tightly in a wide, shallow pot saucer so no soil shows. Place taller plants in the center, shorter around the rim, and arrange according to color. Water sparingly and give your Succulent Color Wheel plenty of bright light so hues stay vibrant.

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

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

Garden Design has no ads, so there’s nothing to distract readers from the beauty of the photos.  It’s 148 pages of beautiful gardens and plants delivered each quarter. Many of the stories unfold over 8 to 20 pages—all behind-the-scenes look at topics we care about most: designing with plants, landscapes, container gardens, kitchen gardens, houseplants, and more. Each issue is collectible and coffee-table worthy. Everything about Garden Design, from paper and binding to writing is quality. I’m honored to contribute occasionally for Garden Design, too—not only in print, but on their excellent website as well. 

If you don’t get Garden Design yet, the Winter 2018 issue is a great one to start off with.
My friends get their first issue free when they subscribe!
Go online to https://www.gardendesign.com/dlb or call (855) 624-5110 Monday – Friday, 8 – 5 PST and mention this offer.

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

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Succulent Topiary Tree

A succulent topiary tree holiday centerpiece needs less care than a floral arrangement and lasts much longer—several months or more. Its requirements are similar to those of a succulent wreath: bright but not intense light (rotate occasionally for even exposure), weekly watering (from the top, to evenly moisten the moss), and pinching back if cuttings get leggy.

See how I made this one in my YouTube video: DIY Succulent Topiary Tree.

The method is simple: poke holes in the moss, insert cuttings, and secure them with floral pins. It takes about two hours, start to finish, and you’ll need approx. 200 one-inch-diameter cuttings. Harvest them from your garden, potted plants, nursery-grown succulents or from online sources. You needn’t use the same varieties that I did, but do aim for contrasting colors and textures. Use jade plant (Crassula ovata) as a filler—it’s inexpensive and easy to come by. Stay away from blue, blue-gray and lavender succulents because those aren’t holiday colors—unless of course that’s what you prefer. And do resist the temptation to decorate the little tree with vivid ornaments, thereby making it all about them and not about the succulents (but then, I’m a little prejudiced).

MATERIALS

Topiary cone made of sphagnum moss, 12″ tall (including wooden base)
200 floral pins (or paper clips cut in half with wire cutters)
Clippers or scissors for taking cuttings and shortening stems
Chopstick or a Phillips screwdriver for poking holes in moss

Succulents (suggested, but nearly any kind will work):
Crassula ovata ‘Minima” (mini jade), 60
Sedum nussbaumerianum (Coppertone stonecrop), 30
Sedum rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’, 50
Senecio haworthii, 60

Optional:
Lazy susan
Crystal corsage pins (around 50)
Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls plant), 9′ of strands for garland

 

 

More info and ideas ~

Watch my YouTube video, DIY Succulent Topiary Tree
For my Succulent Topiary Sphere design project, see pp. 156-161 of Succulents Simplified
See the Topiary section of Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 178-181
Follow my Pinterest Board, Succulent Topiaries

Happy Aloedays!

Debra Lee Baldwin 

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How to Propagate Succulents

Aaron Ryan takes a cutting from a stacked crassula

Ever wondered how to propagate a certain succulent? For example, lithops (living stones)…is it possible to take cuttings from those thick, molar-shaped leaves? How about ruffled echeverias…can a solitary rosette be made to offset? And stacked crassulas…what do you do when stems are tightly lined with leaves? 

Most succulents can be propagated vegetatively—via stem cuttings, pulling apart offsets, or rooting leaves. To the novice, of course, such tasks are mystifying. How deep, for example, does one plant a leaf? 

Even more challenging are succulents that make propagators pull out a power drill, coffee grinder, or tub of roofing gravel—all tools routinely used by nurseryman-grower Aaron Ryan of Petaluma, CA. 

Aaron is down-to-earth in more ways than one. At past Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens Nursery, he graciously showed standing-room-only audiences a half dozen ways to propagate a variety of succulents. 

Somehow watching Aaron grind seed pods, guillotine a frilly echeveria, or snip a stacked crassula is soothing. You know those babies are gonna make it. You also know that with Aaron’s methods, you’ll soon have plenty of new plants to play with. 

Impressed by his teaching skills, I’ve made several videos that feature Aaron. They’re short (4 to 6 min.), fun to watch, and easy to follow. You’ll find them on my YouTube channelplaylist “Succulent Propagation.” Or click below.

To be notified when I release a new video, subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

FIND “How to Propagate Succulents” IN MY BOOKS ~

Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 148-154

Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 232-235

Succulents Simplified, pp. 58-61