,

Midwinter Succulent Show: Big Aloes In Bloom

Above: Aloe ferox at Desert Theater nursery, Escondido, CA. From my video, Spectacular Aloes in Flower.

Large, sculptural aloes with brilliant, Popsicle-like flowers make striking garden plants. Midwinter is peak aloe bloom season and an excellent time to see them in nurseries and landscapes.

Aloe ferox, or Cape Aloe, might be considered a tree because of its height at maturity–6 to 8 feet with bloom spikes that add another couple of feet—but unlike true tree aloes, it’s not branching. Growth is from the center of the rosette, and old leaves dry and wither, so eventually you have a large octopus of a plant atop a columnar trunk. Although the skirt of dry leaves hugging the trunk can be removed to make the plant more tidy, it’s best to keep them on. As in the aloe’s native habit of South Africa, these wraparound leaves protect the trunk from excessive heat, sun and cold. Aloe ferox does well in Southern California except in mountain and desert areas, and is hardy to the low 20s.

Aloe marlothii in bloom

Two specimens of Aloe marlothii in bloom flank an Aloe ferox not in bloom.

Aloe marlothii is similar to Aloe ferox and hybridizes readily with it, so it’s often hard to tell which is which. A. marlothii blooms later (in early spring), flower stems branch horizontally, and leaves are prickled—sometimes heavily so.

Even if you lack space for big aloes, or live where it’s too wet, cold or hot for them, I know you’ll enjoy seeing them. These exotic, over-the-top succulents are fairly new to the horticultural scene. Surprisingly, even in Southern CA where they thrive, few people cultivate them…[Continue reading]

For sources, see my list of nurseries.

More Aloe Info

On this site ~
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…[Continue reading]

Go to my Aloes page for 80+ Aloe photos and IDs
Most of my aloe photos show the plants in bloom. After all, their large, vivid flowers are… [Continue reading]

Aloes in bloom with names
Books ~

Find comprehensive info about aloes in my books Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190; and Succulents Simplified, pp. 185-197.

My YouTube Videos ~

Grow Aloe ferox! Just released.

See examples of mature Aloe ferox in the landscape and learn more about this big, beautiful succulent.

Spectacular Aloes in Flower

See in-ground aloes blooming en masse at Desert Theater nursery north of San Diego.

 Hannah Jarson’s Aloe Eden

Explore a colorful, waterwise Rancho Santa Fe garden and get plenty of great designs ideas, too!


Cactus snowflake
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How Cactus Snowflakes Seduced Me

Remarkably, the spination of certain cacti suggests snowflakes, something I first noticed years ago at a succulent specialty nursery. I was there to photograph aloes in bloom, but I’d come too early in the season. I thought of leaving, and I’m so glad I didn’t! That afternoon forever changed the way I see certain succulent plants.

Cactus snowflakes

There were a lot of columnar (ceroid) varieties—you know, those shaped like fire hydrants and baseball bats—all with tapered tips. I looked down on one, was intrigued by how lower spines framed upper ones, and took a photo. Wow! I took lots more. When the images (above) appeared later in the Los Angeles Times, editors prefaced my photo essay with: “We thought we’d share our version of snowflakes with readers in colder climes.”

I hope you’ll hunt for succulent snowflakes in your own garden or cactus collection. I know that whenever I find one, it’s a delightful surprise. Now, for your enjoyment, a few from my own garden:

Cactus snowflakes

Cactus snowflake

Moon cactus

Succulent snowflakes

Cactus snowflakes

It’s a paradox worth savoring: Spines on hefty desert plants resemble delicate, geometric ice crystals. Do check for cactus snowflakes the next time you visit a succulent specialty nursery, whether you bring any home or not. To capture them with your camera, simply hold the lens horizontally above the plants.

P.S. If you search online for “cactus snowflake,” you’ll get images of succulents that look like cacti but aren’t. They’re Euphorbia polygona, the green form and silvery gray ‘Snowflake’…which has been renamed “Euphorbia horrida ‘Snowflake’. But as you can see, there’s nothing horrid about it!

Succulent snowflake

Also in my own collection is this Euphorbia meloformis. The green is new growth that happened after the plant got sunburned. Pretty cool, eh?

Euphorbia meloformis

Related info on this site:

Succulent spiral

Enjoy my article on succulents with spiral patterns: Many cacti and succulents form geometric spirals similar to those of sunflowers, pine cones and nautilus shells. Spiral leaf arrangements funnel rain to roots, and keep upper leaves from…[Continue reading].

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin
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Oh No, My Succulents Froze!

Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s how frost-tender succulents looked before temps dropped into the mid-20s F, and after:

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.

IMG_3059annotated_resized

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!
IMG_1237resized_annotated

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.

If Your Succulents DO Become Damaged

Remove collapsed leaves if it’s likely they’ll rot, because that threatens the health of the plant. If instead they dry out, they’ll help protect healthy tissue from future frosts. Leave them on, then prune after the weather warms.

Preserve the symmetry of slender-leaved succulents (such as agaves and aloes) by trimming tip-burned leaves to a point, rather than cutting straight across. (See below.)

Chalk it up to experience. Now you know that particular plant is vulnerable and needs a protected location.

How to trim a frost-burned Agave attenuata

The tips of the leaves of this agave melt at 32 degrees, but the plant is usually fine. Here’s how to make it look good again—only takes a minute!

Related articles and info:WSJ article

Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents

 

Winter Protection for Succulents: Products  Soggy soil, dim light, high humidity and freezing temperatures can be death to succulents native to warm, arid climates. These items will help you get your succulents through cold, wet North American winters…[Continue reading]

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

All the info you need, all in one place: 

I also recommend this excellent book about succulents that survive freezing temps: Hardy Succulents, by Gwen Kelaidis, illustrated by Saxon Holt.

Screen shot 2016-01-05 at 7.59.00 PM

Bizarre succulents
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Bizarre Succulents

Bizarre Succulents for Your Collection, Bwa-ha-ha

To me, a bizarre succulent is one that suggests something it’s not in an eerie way—i.e. a cancerous growth, reptile or body part. When I take a second look and ponder what the heck it is, I experience a deliciously unsettling ah-ha (or bwa-ha-ha) moment. Of course, what’s bizarre is in the eye of the beholder. You might go to a Cactus & Succulent Society show and hear members exclaim how “beautiful” a lumpy plant is and wonder if their eyes need checking. With that in mind, here are some of my own choices. (More to come!)

Btw, the bizarre succulents shown here inspired one of my few forays into fiction: Professor Mordant’s Sea-Sand Succulents. Do enjoy “moonlit” photos and a pleasantly unsettling reinterpretation of collectible-yet-creepy succulents. An excerpt: I was the only one who accepted the professor’s invitation. I calmed my trepidation by anticipating a big story…or at least a small adventure. It turned out to be both. But except for these photos, I’m unable to prove it. I fear that now, after the tsunami, this is the only record that remains…[Continue reading]

Debra’s Gallery of Bizarre Succulents

 

Bizarre succulents

Mammillaria elongata, crested

This is the crested, or monstrose, form of a fairly ordinary cactus that consists of fuzzy cylinders, commonly called “ladyfingers” (after the golden pastry served with afternoon tea). When ladyfingers turn monstrose, they enter an entirely different world…that of horror movies. Anyone need a couple of brains?

Bizarre succulents

Lithops sp.

Lithops, or living stones, is always plural (no such thing as a “lithop,” please). These grow glacially and can be difficult to keep alive because their tap roots are prone to rot if overwatered. In their native habitat of South Africa, lithops go without rain for months, sometimes years. To avoid being eaten by thirsty animals, they’re buried in sand to their tops, which have translucent fissures that enable sunlight to enter.

Bizarre succulents

Lophocereus schottii (totem pole cactus)

Recently at his nursery in Fallbrook, CA, succulent expert Don Newcomer showed me a rare columnar, spineless cactus from Mexico: Lophocereus schottii (totem pole cactus)…[Continue reading]

 

Bizarre succulents

Crassula ‘Baby’s Necklace’

These remind me of eels emerging from an undersea crevice. They look as though they’re swaying in a current, hoping to ingest passing plankton or tiny fish. This is one of the “stacked crassulas”  subsection of a genus best known for jade plants. What makes such different-shaped plants similar are the flowers, which to botanists are THE defining characteristic.

Bizarre succulents

Gasteria hybrid

Doesn’t this look like it’s crawling toward you? I don’t know much about this specimen, which I shot at a nursery, other than it’s a gasteria (related to Haworthia). The color and texture alone makes it bizarre, but its shape takes it over the top.

Bizarre succulents

Medusa euphorbia in flower.

Medusa euphorbias are oddities even when not in bloom. Their stems radiate from a central point in a Fibonacci spiral, forming what looks like scaly snakes. “In Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster, a Gorgon, generally described as a winged human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Those who gazed upon her face would turn to stone.” (From Wikipedia.)

Bizarre succulents

Euphorbia grandicornis

This is a euphorbia that sure looks like a cactus, but its thorns don’t radiate from central points (aureoles), and the flesh has a milky sap. The Latin means “large horn;” the common name is “cow’s horn.” Plants can form thickets 6 feet tall.

Bizarre succulents

Tillandsia sp.

Air plants (Tillandsia species) are not succulents, but often are paired with them. They have a wonderful tentacled look, and some suggest spiders or sea urchins.

Bizarre succulents

Echeveria ‘Mauna Loa’

This is one of many carruncled echeverias hybridized by Dick Wright. The lava-flow leaves doubtless inspired him to name it after a volcano. Such bumpy echeverias polarize collectors, who tend to love or hate them. I think they’re cool in a weird way, and I like how each cancerous-like mass is different. Definitely a plant that makes you look twice!

Bizarre succulents

Pilosocereus sp.

I turned this photo sideways in my fictional story about sea-sand succulents, so the flowers would appear to grow upright. This cactus is truly blue, and its blooms, especially when they turn black, truly bizarre.

Bizarre succulents

Kalanchoe luciae (Flapjack plant)

Comparisons to confections come to mind with this marvelously swirly succulent. Not all members of this species of Kalanchoe have loopy leaves, so perhaps this specimen is a cultivar (I shot it at Roger’s Gardens nursery in Corona del Mar, CA). Regardless, to keep Kalanchoe luciae compact, don’t let it bloom. 

Bizarre succulents

Fenestraria aurantiaca ‘Baby Toes’

I bought my first Baby Toes at the county fair when I was around 20. I put it on the kitchen counter and overwatered it, thereby causing it to stretch, rot and die. During the decades since, I’ve come to realize it wants a few hours of sun daily, and although sensitive, can tolerate more water than most plants in the “living stones” category (like lithops). The name comes from the Latin for “window,” referring to translucent tissue at each tip.

Bizarre succulents

Euphorbia obesa

When the succulent craze took off, these little fatties became so popular that they’ve since become scarce…typical of highly desirable succulents that are extremely slow growing. I hope sometime soon we’ll see marvelous nursery inventories of obesas again, like this one shot in ’07.

Bizarre succulents

Myrtillocactus geometrizans, crested

I associate this with Jeff Moore of Solana Succulents nursery and the undersea garden he designed at the San Diego Botanic Garden. Jeff, a lifelong resident of Solana Beach, CA, is fond of snorkeling. As a nurseryman specializing in succulents, plants like these reminded him of what he saw underwater, and voila: a trend was born.

Bizarre succulents

Boweia volubis (pregnant onion)

Here’s another succulent that polarizes collectors: Do you love pregnant onions or hate them? The bulbs, which sit atop the soil, have peeling skin and a hole at the top from which frizzy stems emerge. These twine around whatever they can find, then die back. Interesting? Definitely. Beautiful? Uh…perhaps not.

Bizarre succulents

Astrophytum ornatum, crested

You may have noticed that many bizarre plants are crested. As I explain on page 199 of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.), “cresting happens when new growth emerges from a line rather than a point…Odd lumpy forms, sometimes but not always caused by cresting, are monstrose.” The fang-like spines on this crested astrophytum are icing on the cake.

Bizarre succulents

Aloe vanbalenii (Van Balen’s aloe)

Aloe vanbalenii is a fairly common landscape succulent, but it’s seldom this red and compact. As with many succulents that stress to colors of red and orange, this colony has tightened up, creating what looks like a multiheaded squid.

Bizarre succulents

Wooly filaments provide this high-elevation cactus with warmth in winter and sun-protection in summer. And if that weren’t off-putting enough, it’s armed with spines too. Those odd scaly protrusions are flower buds.

 

Related Info on This Site:

 

 

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

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The Secret to Happy Succulents

A happy saguaro in Arizona

Can you grow saguaros in Tucson? You bet! In California, probably not.

The secret to happy succulents is to duplicate their native growing conditions as much as possible. The more you know about where a succulent comes from, the easier you can do this…up to a point. Occasionally (not often) it’s nearly impossible. No matter what you do, saguaros don’t thrive beyond the Sonoran Desert, where they grow like weeds. But most other succulents, regardless of origin, can be accommodated anywhere.

There’s a reason jade (Crassula ovata) is in everyone’s collection.

Some are super easy. Jade, for example, survives under- or over-watering, starts readily from cuttings, seldom gets pests, loves sun but tolerates shade, and will grow indoors or out if protected from freezing temps.

Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’ doesn’t mind desert heat or high humidity.

This may surprise you, but a succulent I’ve seen in gardens from Miami to Honolulu and everywhere in-between—including Phoenix—is from South Africa: elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra).

Sempervivum heuffelii hybrids, largely considered cold-climate succulents, do fine when grown in bright shade in the Southwest. Mine are happy as pot plants.

Haworthias (related to aloes) make terrific terrarium succulents.  This one, from my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online Craftsy class, features Haworthia attenuata ‘Variegata’. (Yes you can grow succulents in nondraining containers. This one, on my kitchen counter near a window, gets a mere 1/4 cup of water monthly.)

Windowsill succulents in my office.

Nearly any succulent when small will bask happily on a bright windowsill.

The mild temperatures and drought-rainfall cycles of southern CA replicate regions of Africa, Madagascar and the Canary Islands, where many desirable succulents originate.

Florida and Hawaii may seem to have climates similar to southern CA’s, but succulents see it differently. Where there’s high humidity and summer rainstorms, it can be challenging to grow aeoniumsagavesaloes, dudleyas, echeverias, euphorbias and senecios.

Think about it: Succulents by definition survive dry spells by storing water in fleshy leaves and stems. They’re not set up to handle continually moist conditions. Add cold to that, and the buzzer goes off. The farther north and east you go from coastal CA, the fewer types of succulents you can grow effortlessly in your garden. Read about those you can grow in colder, wetter climates.

Echeverias, from high elevations in Mexico, top the popularity list in terms of resembling roses that never fade. Their rosette forms serve a practical purpose: they funnel rainwater to roots.

From the Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World:

Other succulents from Mexico and Central America such as graptopetalums, pachyphytums, and large-leaved sedums have leaves that pop easily off stems. These tumble down and take root far enough from the parent plant that they don’t compete with it for nutrients.

Like the plump bodies of tadpoles, fat leaves feed juvenile succulents, enabling them to grow and develop without water. The leaf slowly withers as the baby plant drains moisture and nutrients to form its own leaves and roots.

Succulents with ever-lengthening, pendant stems may become bearded with roots as they sniff out soil pockets.

So, how do you make echeverias and their nook-and-cranny relatives happy? Tuck them into niches in rock walls, and let them cascade from terraces, pedestal pots and hanging baskets. Place any fat, fallen leaves atop the soil out of direct sun. (Don’t bury or water them lest they rot.)

Not surprisingly, the easiest succulents to grow throughout the arid Southwest, and that survive with no irrigation other than rainfall once established, are those native to the region: cacti, agaves, dasylirions, yuccas, hesperaloes and beaucarneas. (Those last four don’t have fleshy leaves, but rather store moisture in their stems or cores.)

Consult my books for the best succulents for your area and how to keep them happy. You’ll discover how to use them in all sorts of design applications, from pots and projects to in-ground gardens and landscapes.

Related info on this site:

Succulents for Coastal Southern California Gardens
These thrive in frost-free, low-rainfall regions within several miles of the ocean (i.e. coastal CA from San Diego to Santa Barbara)…[Continue reading]

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…[Continue reading]

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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
This is the perfect place to start if you’re at all uncertain about succulents: Debra’s dozen favorites, all hand-selected for skittish beginners. These easy-grow varieties are… [Continue reading] 
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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Buy and Shop for Succulents Online

Wondering how to buy and shop for succulents online?

For sempervivums, haworthias and other cold-climate or indoor succulents, I recommend Mountain Crest Gardens. Update: They recently introduced a highly competitive “Ultimate Succulent Sampler Tray” with 50 varieties in 2-inch containers.

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.

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]