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Agaves Handle Summer Heat

Late summer is when tough succulents really shine. Large agaves handle summer heat, and are unfazed by harsh sun, high temps and lack of rain. Their statuesque, fountainlike forms lend a sculptural element to any landscape, and contrast beautifully with fine-textured ornamentals. They also make good firebreak plants and security fences.

With the exception of a few soft-leaved and variegated varieties, agaves want sun—the more the better in all but desert climates. Most are hardy to the mid- to high-20s F, and some go a lot lower.

Sharp points at leaf tips and along leaf edges can make agaves treacherous. I snip about a quarter inch from leaves’ needlelike tips with garden shears.

Agave attenuata, blue form

Agaves smaller than basketballs make excellent potted plants. Small agaves—there are many exquisite ones—look good displayed one to a pot.

Agave Victoria-reginae

Agaves with serpentine terminal spines and prominent teeth along leaf margins are both graceful and fierce. Don’t they remind you of how cats yawn and show their fangs?

Agave fangs

Scalloped patterns on an agave’s leaves (“bud imprints”) are caused by spines and teeth pressing into the flesh of inner leaves before they unfurl. Aren’t they fascinating?

Agave 'Baccarat'

When pruning a damaged leaf, keep in mind that a straight-across cut at its midsection may spoil an agave’s symmetry. It’s best to make two cuts that trim the leaf to a “V” that resembles the leaf’s natural tip. Or cut it all the way to the trunk.

One of the most common agaves, A. attenuata (foxtail agave) has soft, smooth, nonspiny leaves that are prone to sun scorch in summer and frost burn in winter. Damaged tips will collapse and turn white. If this has happened to yours, watch my short video on how to trim them.

How to prune a frost-damaged agave

Large agaves that pup (not all do) can be thugs. They’ll grow and spread rapidly, especially when given good soil and regular irrigation. One of the most widely grown is A. americana (century plant), because it offsets so prolifically (free plants!) and needs no care at all…until those pups start to get big and form an unruly, ever-expanding colony.

Agave americana with pups

Because it seems that everyone is blithely planting Agave americana these days, agave expert Kelly Griffin and I made a video that gives better choices for the long run: Six Great Agaves for Your Garden. It’s the sequel to What You MUST Know About Century Plants (Agave americana).

Being indigenous to the New World (the American Southwest, Mexico and Central America), larger agaves store enough moisture to get by on rainfall alone and will thrive in nutrient-poor soils. Although agaves like water, their roots—like those of most succulents—will rot in waterlogged soil.

All but a few agaves are monocarpic, meaning they bloom once and then die. This may take as many as 25 years, but it will happen. As it completes its life cycle, a mature rosette that has graced a garden for years sends up an asparagus-like flower stalk (most, but not all, branch). This dwarfs the plant and saps its energy. Flowers along the stalk eventually turn into miniplants (bulbils) or seed capsules.

All about agaves

Only the individual agave that flowers dies. In some cases—notably with those involving Agave americana—a litter of pups will carry on.

Agave americana post-bloom with pups

The above is edited from the intro to Agaves in “Succulents A to Z” in Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.). The book, which also covers Aloes among 30 important genera of succulents, includes photos and descriptions of significant varieties, and shows how to grow and use them beautifully in gardens and landscapes.

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Supermarket Kalanchoes: Succulents You Grow for Their Flowers

Supermarket kalanchoes (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana) are succulents you grow mainly for their flowers. They have been hybridized and sold as flowering plants long before succulents in general became popular.

Succulents are plants that look like flowers, and although all succulents produce them, they’re generally not the reason people buy them. Yet this one succulent has been commercially grown—and sold—for its bright, cheery blooms for decades.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana has dark green, scalloped leaves, forms a 12-inch-diameter shrub, and produces bouquet-like flower clusters off and on (mainly fall-winter). Hybrids come in every warm hue as well as shades of cream, white and multicolored blends. Because Kalanchoe blossfeldiana  tolerates conditions that would kill most nonsucculent plants, it has great commercial value.

A variety known as calandiva has ruffled petals. Each dime-sized calandiva floret resembles a tiny chrysanthemum.

For an eye-catching floral display, tuck several supermarket kalanchoes into a window box or flower bed.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana plays well with other succulents, adding bright pops of color for weeks at a time.

And when you combine several of the same kind in one pot, you’ll get what looks like one big, lush plant massed with vivid blooms.

For best results:
— As with most succulents, supermarket kalanchoes want good air circulation, three or four hours of bright but not hot sun daily (morning sun is best), protection from frost and extreme heat, and soil that’s moist but not soggy.
— Deadhead spent blooms and let the plants rest until the next round. If these succulents have a downside, it’s that they’ll bloom themselves to the point of exhaustion. With TLC they’ll recover.
— Deadhead spent flowers. This seems obvious, but the plants are repeat bloomers. They’ll perform better and look best with old flowers out of the way.


–Use with rosette succulents to create floral-style compositions. Supermarket kalanchoes with cream or pastel blooms look especially good with rose, pink and/or teal echeverias.
– If, after successive bloom cycles, the plants go downhill, take cuttings if you want the same color again, or simply discard the plants. Replacements are easy to come by.

Sources: If you’re in the San Diego area, Weidner’s Gardens nursery in Encinitas is one of the top growers of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana hybrids, and their plants are perfection. Otherwise, you can usually find Kalanchoe blossfeldiana in the garden section of big box stores…and of course, in supermarkets.

Related info on this site:

About Succulents, an Overview
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How to grow, care for, and create more succulents.
True, succulents are the easiest plants on the planet, but like all living things, the more you know about them, the higher your success rate and the fewer worries you’ll have. Here are the basics for [Continue reading]


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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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Where and How to Order Succulents Online

Wondering where and how to order succulents online?

For sempervivums, haworthias and other cold-climate or indoor succulents: Mountain Crest Gardens. 

The succulents in my YouTube videos and design projects mostly come from the largest grower of cacti and succulents in the US: Altman Plants—specifically their retail nursery north of San Diego, Oasis Water Efficient Gardens. Recently Altman became an Amazon vendor offering multi-succulent packs.*

Although I get a tiny commission from Amazon for orders that originate from links on my site, I’ve hesitated to recommend any of their succulent vendors…until now. It’s a win-win: No one grows succulents better than Altman, and no one does packaging and delivery better than Amazon.

Succulents in 2.5-inch diameter nursery pots are your best deal; expect to pay double for bigger specimens in 3.5-inch pots. The difference is six months to a year’s growth.

1. Flowering Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 12 Pack

This is Altman’s larger of two echeveria assortments. Use it to make a Gift Basket of Echeverias. Be sure to see my article: All About Echeverias: Succulent Roses That Last.

2. Flowering Succulent Collection – 3.5″ – 6 Pack

For container gardening tips and ideas for echeverias, see my post: Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings and my book, Succulent Container Gardens.

3. Kids Succulent Collection

Succulents are perfect for getting kids into gardening, and you have to love the names: kitten paws, Shreck’s ears, panda plant, ‘Chocolate Soldier’, cobweb houseleek and zebra plant. Enjoy my posts: Succulents + Kids = Great Summer Memories and LA’s Kids Day Features Succulents. 

4. Windowsill and Indoor Succulent Collection, 8 Pack, 2.5″

Haworthias and dwarf aloes prefer low-light conditions. Jade will tolerate them, but will lose red on its leaf tips. See my posts, How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors and How to Grow Tender Succulents in Northerly Climates as well as my book, Succulents Simplified pp. 138-143 and the corresponding video Make a Low-Light Succulent Dish Garden.

5. Desk Buddy Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 4 Pack

The description says, “product mix may contain Aloe ‘Minibelle’, Aloe nobilis, Aloe zanzibarica, Gasteria varieties, Haworthia fasciata (zebra plant), Rhipsalis capilliformis, Rhipsalis cassutha, or Rhipsalis salicornioides.” Rhipsalis (top right and lower left) makes a good filler, trailer and hanging-basket plant.

6. Texture Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 4 Pack 

“Depending on availability, product mix may contain Echeveria ‘FO-42’, Gasteria sp., Haworthia fasciata (zebra plant), Kalanchoe beharensis ‘Fang’, and Kalanchoe tomentosa (panda plant).” Good with collectible pots. For design ideas, see my post: “Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings.”

7. Assorted Succulent Tray – 2.5″ – 32 Pack

Use assorted succulent collections to make succulent bouquets, fill vintage and repurposed containers, for a succulent color wheel centerpiece, my online Stunning Succulent Arrangements class, and designs and projects in my books, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplifed.

8. Assorted Succulent Tray – 3.5″ – 18 Pack

“Depending on availability, product mix may include a selection of Aeonium, Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, and Sedum varieties.”

9. Assorted Cacti Tray – 2.5″ – 32 Pack

See my posts: Is Cactus the New Black?, Create a Cactus Curio Box, and I Come Out as a Cactus Lover.

10. Assorted Cacti Tray – 18 Pack, 3.5″

Be sure to see the cactus section of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 192-201.

 

*If you’re looking for solos or specific kinds, order through a specialty nursery near you, shop at CSSA shows, or Google the plant’s name to get mail-order sources. If you specifically want succulents grown by Altman, check the garden sections of big box stores or Altman’s online shop.


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Sunset’s Midcentury Succulent Cover Story

“Once in the ’90s and again in the late ’20s, gardeners have turned to succulents with an intensity amounting to a craze. Now they are coming back into favor again, and this time it looks like something more than a temporary infatuation.” — Sunset magazine, June, 1954*

Fifty years ago, each hefty, half-inch-thick issue of Sunset magazine cost 20 cents and brought days of useful, entertaining reading about gardening, food and travel. My parents subscribed, so they no doubt read the June, 1954 cover story about succulents.

I’ve always assumed they surrounded their Southern CA ranch home with succulents because cuttings were free for the asking, and my father didn’t want to water the garden more than absolutely necessary.

An ad for Fiberglas awnings shows an idealized midcentury patio

But was it possible that my parents were onto…a trend? Well, no. The six-page cover story is mostly about container gardens for “the outdoor living areas of the Western house: its patios, lanais, decks, and paved areas…And if ever a plant was made for a pot, it’s the succulent.” Containers didn’t appear on my folks’ patio until the ’70s. With geraniums.

The succulent article’s 25 photos are B&W except for those shown on the cover. In 4,000 words, Sunset editors give an overview of succulents and their care, design ideas, and a “beginner’s collection” of about 50 varieties. Most are still fairly common, but Euphorbia valida is now E. meloformisGasteria maculata is now G. bicolor; and Cotyledon hemisphaerica is Adromischus hemisphaericus.

Mentioned but nearly unknown today are Echeveria rosea grandis and Sedum amecamecanum. “Do you mean Sedum americanum?” asked Google. Uh, not unless Sunset made one whopping typo. I found out that this stutter-named sedum has “fragile leaves”—doubtless why it’s not much in demand.

Kalanchoe flammea” in the illustrations sure looks like Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, shown here. Don’t you wish it had kept its earlier, more descriptive name?

Aloe arborescens (left), Aeonium haworthii (right)

The jades, aeoniums, aloes, ice plants and cacti in my parents’ garden were not necessarily those in the article—they grew Aloe arborescens and  Aeonium haworthii, for example. Perhaps even back then these were so common, the few succulent specialty nurseries that existed didn’t bother to offer them. (Hence a reason not to mention them, lest readers write in and say they’d tried to find them but couldn’t.)

Although it’s shown in the article, perhaps Sunset shouldn’t have bothered. The defining characteristic of Drosanthemum floribundum is lost in black and white.

As a little girl, I was proud to pronounce the name of this searing pink ice plant: “mesembryanthemum.” And I would be still, except it’s since become drosanthemum.

Now about that astonishing statement, “Once in the ’90s and again in the late ’20s, gardeners have turned to succulents with an intensity amounting to a craze…” Aren’t you curious what happened in the 1890s and 1920s? I am. Hm. I’ll see what I can find out…

*Special thanks to friend, colleague, and retired Sunset Senior Garden Editor Kathy Brenzel for presenting me with the 54-year-old issue. In case you’re wondering, all its content is copyrighted, so apart from short excerpts, I’d need permission to share it.  There’s no link to it because it’s not online.

Related info on this site:

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are my “nostalgia plants” because they remind me of…[Continue reading]
As for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident… [Read more]

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The Joys of Cholla (Cylindropuntia)

In Baja recently I was showing off my knowledge of native succulents when one “got” me. The friend who was taking a video with my phone gasped when I unsuccessfully tried to set a 3-inch-long chunk of cholla (“choy-ah”) cactus back onto a boulder. It resolutely clung to my fingers.

When I tried to shake it off, the cholla hopped into a more secure position. Next I tried to remove it with my other hand, and spines stuck to that one too. Wow, what a determined little cactus!

I had help removing these cholla spines. Watch the 20-second tweezered extraction.

Cylindropuntia, of which there are 30+ species, are sometimes referred to as “jumping chollas” or “horse cripplers.” Like many other succulents, chollas reproduce via both seeds and cuttings. Cylindrical joints detach readily from the mother plant and cling with astonishing tenacity to whomever or whatever brushed them. They take root where they fall off, usually far enough from the original plant so they’re not competing with it for water, sun or nutrients.



My Mexico experience reminded me of when I addressed the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society, where I made the mistake of saying I don’t recommend that anyone grow cholla. “Could there be a more unfriendly plant?” I asked the group. Well, you’d think I’d insulted the entire state of Arizona.

“There are more than a dozen different species,” members told me, each more eager than the last to extol the virtues of cylindropuntias. “Cholla is beautiful.”

“This is my cholla comb,” one told me, pulling a small comb from his shirt pocket. “If I get spines in my clothing or skin, I just comb them out.”

A mourning dove nests in Cylindropuntia fulgida at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson.

“Cholla is an important part of the desert ecology,” said another. “Nesting birds feel safe in it. Snakes, coyotes and other predators can’t get to them or their young.” Birds aren’t alone in using cholla as a security enhancement, she added. “I have it below my bedroom window to keep burglars out.”

Intrigued, I went on a cholla hunt. I found this orange-flowered one at Tohona Chul botanic garden near Tucson. Not bad looking, considering it survives broiling desert heat and temperatures below freezing, with no water for months.

Cholla comes in more colors than I’d assumed—not just its flowers, but even its spines and skin. The specimen of Cylindropuntia versicolor above has green, rose-red and maroon segments, and translucent, rust-red flowers.

Cylindropuntia bigelovii is commonly called teddy bear cholla. Look how fuzzy it is, and its cute little ears. Like all chollas—like most spiny cacti, for that matter—it’s beautiful backlit.


The flower petals of teddy bear cholla are buttery yellow tipped in rose-red.

Cylindropuntia spinosoir, illuminated by late afternoon sun in a Tucson suburb, glows pink.

Cylindropuntia fulgida var. mammillata (chain fruit cholla) forms ropy, pendant strands. Doesn’t this one look like a face?

Diamond cholla at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

Cylindropuntia ramosissima, aka diamond cholla, has pencil-thin stems lined with glittering, translucent toothpicks.

I pretended to hug a Cylindropuntia fulgida, then sent this photo to my new friends at the Tucson Cactus & Succulent Society.

As for my Mexico adventure, what was it about those spines that made them stick? Like those of all cacti, cholla spines are modified leaves. But cholla spines differ in that they have papery sheaths lined with microscopic barbs. Try to pull one from your skin, and you’ll discover it’s well anchored. Sure it’ll come out, but if a bit of barb remains, you’ll feel it whenever pressure is applied to the area. If that’s just too annoying, you may have to dig it out with a needle.

“Living and working around cactus is an art that requires the balance of a dancer, the strength of a weight lifter and a high tolerance for pain,” one of my favorite authors, Maureen Gilmer, wrote in the Desert Sun. “In time we become immune to the arrows of these New World beauties, and in all our homes are the tools of the trade. These are the magnifying glass, sharp needles and tweezers with a bit of Neosporin afterwards if the going gets bloody.”

Fortunately, “my” cholla’s spines were shallowly embeded. The only thing that stung was my pride.

 

Related Info

On this site:

Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like [Continue reading]


Is Cactus the New Black?

Aug. 9, 2017 — Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. Spiny succulents are following smooth ones in popularity, notably in [Continue reading]

Succulent enthusiasts flock to the annual Cactus & Succulent Society Show at the Los Angeles Arboretum mid-August. It’s the largest of its kind in [Continue reading]

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Aloe Superstars: A Landscape Designer’s Favorites

One of Southern CA’s in-demand landscape designers, Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc., likes to use aloes of all sizes in residential gardens. If you love succulents, live in a mild climate, and grow these South Africans in soil that drains well, “they’ll soon become your favorite plants,” Bills says. For a natural setting, he suggests mixing one or two varieties with tough, drought-tolerant ornamental grasses and flowering perennials. And “for a contemporary look, plant similar aloes in rows and geometric blocks.”

In this Rancho Santa Fe courtyard garden, Bill installed multiple coral aloes (Aloe striata). Their long-lasting flowers and translucent leaf margins repeat the orange of roof tiles and pavers, succulent ‘Sticks on Fire’ at left, and bird-of-paradise along the wall (when in bloom).

Blue, the color complement of orange, creates striking contrast via Senecio mandraliscae and Senecio serpens (at left) and tufts of blue fescue (below). Other ornamental grasses, paddle cactus and elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’) lend texture and interest. Dymondia, a walkable ground cover, serves as a low-water lawn substitute. Stone pavers and Saltillo tiles repeat the rust hues of boulders that line a dry creek bed. (Also see this garden in Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., page 58.)

Bill’s Favorite Aloes

I asked Bill if he’d share which aloes he uses most often in clients’ gardens, and why. He graciously provided the list below. For additional descriptions, photos, and landscape ideas for aloes, see Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190. For labeled photos of these and 70+ other species and cultivars, go to my website’s Aloes page—which also is a good resource for determining what you may already have.

 

Small aloes. These tough, toothed aloes handle adverse conditions.  Height: 8 to 18 inches.

Aloe x nobilis, Aloe aristata, and Aloe humilis all grow tight and stay low.

Aloe ‘Rooikappie’ is Bill’s favorite small aloe. It gets a little bigger than the three above and is a good fit for small and large landscapes. It’s a repeat bloomer and transplants easily.

Mid-size aloes are good for borders and large-scale massing.  Height: 18 to 36 inches.

Aloe striata has nice plump leaves and good floral color.

Aloe vera is dramatic planted en masse, and yes, the gel is useful for burns and cuts.

Aloe x spinosissima is a 2- to 3-foot sprawler great on hillsides and rocky soil.

Aloe cameronii is Bill’s favorite 2-foot aloe. Stays red all year if given full sun.

Tree aloes tend to be slow growing and may not look their best in cold winter months. Don’t plant them near foundations or under eaves—they do get big.

Aloe bainesii is a moderate grower, 15 to 30 feet tall. Leaves may turn yellow and get black spots, but with summer warmth and feeding they’ll green up.

Aloe dichotoma is slow-growing to 15 to 20 feet. It has nice gray leaves and is very drought tolerant.

Aloe ferox is slow growing to 6-10 feet with a single trunk that holds dead leaves.

Aloes ‘Hercules’ is a faster-growing hybrid with a thick, strong trunk. Give it plenty of room.

Shade-tolerant aloes useful as firebreak plants are fast-growing and spreading.

Aloe ciliaris is a sprawling succulent that will climb palm tree trunks. Take care that it doesn’t get buried in leaves and melt away. Sometimes called ‘Fire Wall’ aloe, when grown on a slope, the plants form a 3- to 4-foot mat of fire resistant growth.

Aloe arborescens is probably the most commonly grown aloe in the world. If you have room for it, you can’t go wrong. It solves a multitude of landscape problems, and thrives everywhere—coast, low desert, foothills—from Mexico to San Francisco. Originally from South Africa, it’s also found all around the Mediterranean. This multiheaded aloe makes a good background plant and tolerates filtered shade beneath tall trees. For a dense barrier, plant 6 to 8 feet apart in a line or triangle. Height: 4 to 8 feet and spreading.

The above is courtesy of Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc. and Rebecca Simpson.


More Info

On this site ~

Go to my Aloes page for 70+ Aloe photos and IDs
Most of my aloe photos show the plants in bloom. After all, their large, vivid flowers are… [Continue reading]

Patrick Anderson’s Garden: It All Started with Aloes

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]

Books ~
Aloes are shown throughout my books, with special sections in Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190 and Succulents Simplified, pp. 185-197.
I also recommend nurseryman/designer Jeff Moore’s beautifully illustrated Aloes & Agaves in Cultivation.

My YouTube Videos ~

Spectacular Aloes in Flower

Hannah Jarson’s Aloe Eden


 
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Will Succulents Recover from Frost Damage?

Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s a southern California nursery’s display garden before nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid-20s F:

IMG_9517annotated_resized

Here’s the same Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata, after the frost:
IMG_1410_annotated_resized

Likelihood of recovery: Nil. Too much of the tissue was damaged. But what about the Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ behind it? It’s hope of recovery is excellent because only the top growth froze. It protected the stems underneath, which are still healthy.

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If something similar has happened to your plants, succulent or otherwise, once all danger of frost has passed, prune the dead top growth and the plant will be good as new…except smaller, of course!

How about the frozen aeonium below? Pretty much hopeless. But look a the Sedum ‘Angelina’ surrounding it. It’s a succulent too, and perfectly fine!
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Why does frost kill 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. See my Wall Street Journal article on this topic.

Related articles and info:

An excellent book about succulents that survive freezing temps is Hardy Succulents, by Gwen Kelaidis, illustrated by Saxon Holt.

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My books also have info on growing succulents in challenging climates and how to protect them from frost and excess rain ~

 

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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.

Read more

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Soft Succulents: Jeff Moore’s Stunning New Book


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.]

His new book, Soft Succulents, is the sequel to Under the Spell of Succulents and Aloes and Agaves in Cultivation. Moore’s books are self-published, which imbues them with a refreshing persona and makes them an excellent value (none are over $35).

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!)

Many of these photos from Solana Succulents’ website appear in Soft Succulents ~

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.