(c) Debra Lee Baldwin
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What You Need to Know About Dudleyas

Recently a writer with The New Yorker asked me what people need to know about dudleyas and the plants’ likelihood of survival out of the wild. She was researching the recurring thefts of Dudleya farinosa, a succulent native to the Northern CA coast.

Dudleya farinosa poachers. Photo courtesy of CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

It seems that in Korea, China and Japan, succulents are hugely popular among housewives, students, and other residents of small spaces. Dudleyas, related to echeverias (rosette succulents from Mexico) are collectible novelties that sell for up to $100 apiece. Some say their appeal is their resemblance to lotus flowers.

No plant—succulent or otherwise—is free for the taking, even from public land. Yet poachers fly into San Francisco, rent cars, and stop by Home Depot for cardboard boxes on their way to California’s rocky seaside cliffs. They slither through mud, dislodge boulders, rip silvery succulents from near-vertical perches, then scurry off to a post office.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dudleya farinosa in habitat

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dudleya farinosa grows on near-vertical rock faces.

The CA Department of Fish and Wildlife has increased its vigilance, and with the help of the CA Native Plant Society, has been keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior—like people emerging from hiking trails carrying ropes and bulging backpacks from which telltale stems and roots protrude. But by the time the poachers are caught, the damage has been done.

“It’s senseless,” I told the The New Yorker‘s “California Chronicles” columnist. “It harms our coastal ecology, makes it easier for weeds to become established, and kills beautiful plants.” Instead of flourishing where people can see them for years to come, “those stolen dudleyas will just turn squishy and rot.”

It’s not easy to replant a dudleya, even in its own habitat. Photo courtesy of CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

How to Keep Dudleyas Alive

The common name for dudleya is “liveforever” because some can live 50 to 100 years—in the right spot. Wild plants, like wild animals, do best in their native habitats.

Dudleya farinosa, like many Dudleya species, requires near-vertical rocky hillsides, plenty of sun but not too much, and no summer water. It also likes moist ocean air. Most noticeable in larger species such as D. brittonii (native to Mexico)and D. pulverulenta (Southern CA), flowers that form on the tips of long bloom spikes produce seeds that fall far enough away from the mother ship that her offspring don’t compete with her for nutrients.

By summer’s end, after months without rainfall, a dudleya’s oldest, lower leaves have dried. They still cling to the stem, protecting it from heat, sun and desiccation. The plant hunkers down, goes dormant, and folds its upper leaves over its vital core. A dudleya during the season of Santa Ana winds looks like a pile of withered foliage, maybe with a few dry flower stems sticking out. It’s tempting to try and revive a sleeping dudleya, yet if you water it, you risk it rotting.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A dudleya’s older leaves dry and cling to its stem.

Dudleyas grown by nurseries are domesticated compared to those on Cliffside’s and better suited to residential gardens. Plant them in a rock wall or at an angle in gritty, fast-draining soil like decomposed granite, so water drains away from their roots. It’s best not to grow dudleyas in pots because water can pool around their stems. Inland, protect them from hot afternoon sun in summer. The powdery coating (farina) that makes certain species silvery-white acts as a sunscreen by reflecting UV rays, so it’s best not to touch the leaves. Not to mention that doing so will leave fingerprints.

Kelly Griffin’s Dudleyas

I suggested that The New Yorker interview dudleya expert Kelly Griffin, succulent product development manager for Altman Plants, the largest grower of succulents and cacti in the US. Griffin, a renowned breeder of aloes and agaves, is also an avid dudleya hybridizer. In my recent YouTube video, he shows the Dudleya cultivars he’s testing in his own garden.

(c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Dudleyas in Kelly Griffin’s garden

They’re indeed beautiful: Large, lush, floriferous and full of vigor. Should the unthinkable happen and native dudleyas become rare, Griffin’s hybrids are certain to live on in cultivated gardens. This isn’t unprecedented, in fact it’s the case with other widely grown succulents no longer in the wild, like Aloe vera and Echinocactus grusonii (golden barrel cactus). However, it’s uncertain whether Northern CA’s plundered dudleya population will ever be the same.

There are two distinct types of dudleyas: Those that form colonies of multiple rosettes with pencil-like leaves, and those with solitary, wide-leaved rosettes. This is Dudleya greenii, native to the Channel Islands off the CA coast.

 

Roadside Dudleyas

In San Diego County where I live, dudleyas are fairly easy to spot. Steep, rocky escarpments within a few miles of the Pacific are potential habitats. After winter rains, the plants plump and produce new growth. They do best where they don’t have to compete with weeds, and they tend not to face south because it’s too hot in summer. When driving the Del Dios Highway between Escondido and Del Mar, look for silvery stars clinging to rocky outcroppings. It’s gratifying that dudleyas within sight of thousands of daily commuters are out of reach. There’s almost no place to park, and even if a poacher dared, drivers whizzing past would be witnesses.

Related Info:

Read the New Yorker article: Succulent Smugglers Descend on California. 

See my latest YouTube video: How to Keep Dudleyas Alive.

Listen to my interview on Radio New Zealand—a result of The New Yorker article.

Mangave 'Red Wing'
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Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Tony’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives, and offers more than 1,400 kinds of perennials via mail-order.

Plant Delights’ Spring ’19 catalog includes two dozen recently introduced Mangave cultivars. “The parade of amazing new mangaves hasn’t slowed,” Tony says. “Once people see and grow mangaves, they realize how fantastic they are.”

Here’s more from Tony Avent on these intriguing ManfredaAgave crosses:

Breeding Mangave

“It started back in the ’90s on a visit to Yucca-Do Nursery in Texas. They’d collected seeds from a manfreda in Mexico, and two of the seedlings were five times as big as they should be. They had spots like manfreda but were enormous, and their structure was agave-like. The blooms were just not right. Agave celsii had been growing in the next valley, and we realized, OMG, we have a Mangave!

Agave celsii

Agave celsii

“We started breeding them at Plant Delights, and after five years of crossing, we could see the potential. It’s like when Dan Heims got started with Heuchera.

We do a lot of trials, but taking on mangaves was just too much. We gave all our breeding stock to Hans Hansen, an incredible plantsman and hybridizer at Walters Gardens in Michigan. The mangaves sat unnoticed in the back of a greenhouse until the cover came off the building. When exposed to ultraviolet light, they turned all these incredible colors.

Hybridizer Hans Hansen is Director of Plant Development at Walters Gardens, Zeeland, MI.

“We send pollen off of every agave that flowers to Hans. What he’s done is create agaves with purple and red spots. They’re fast growers with hybrid vigor. A mangave plug grown from tissue culture takes 12 to 16 weeks to fill out a quart container, then another two weeks to fill a gallon. Agaves, in comparison, take 63 weeks. Hans grows a thousand seedlings, selects 100, then 50, then 25. Then he picks one or two to keep and sends us a few discards to trial. That way we have the advantage of knowing what the crosses will do.

“I’ve never felt the need to second-guess Hans. He’s very keen on what he’s created and understands what’s cool and how to use the plants—their garden value. It’s been challenging for him. He’s in Michigan breeding for the West Coast, but he realizes how good these plants are, and he’s persevered.

Mangave characteristics

Mangave 'Bloodspot'

Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

“So far we haven’t seen any mangaves that are monocarpic like their agave parents. ‘Bloodspot’ flowered and produced 50 offsets. We’ve never lost a mangave to flowering. Manfredas, if it’s too cold—upper 30s, low 40s—become deciduous. They also may go summer-dormant where temperatures are high.

“Mangave roots tend to conform to the pot size, like agaves. They may be screaming, but they’ll stay small in a small container. Leaf fragility…some are more brittle than others. Early ones were incredibly brittle. The way we solve the breakage problem when shipping them is to let them dry down. Leaves that become flaccid don’t break.

Manfreda virginica

Manfreda virginica is insanely hardy.” — Tony Avent

“Mangave cultivars are not necessarily winter hardy. It depends on their parentage. Manfredas are found in Zones 4 through 8, from the Midwest to southern Illinois, central North Carolina, Florida, central Texas and central Mexico. They’re dry-land plants, but are more tolerant of overwatering than agaves. Even in a hurricane, a mangave will keep on going. As for extreme drought, mangaves are probably not as tolerant as agaves, but again, it depends on the parent. You can’t say of any genus, ‘They’ll all do this.’

“Mangaves are fantastic in containers. They’re not great indoors—they lose their color without UV light. If need be, overwinter them inside, then take them outside in the spring.

Mangave 'Blue Mammoth'

Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ is among the most hardy.

“Mangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ has been the most hardy in our trials, to 7 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s an Agave ovatifolia hybid that forms a 2-foot-tall by 4-feet-wide rosette of jagged blue leaves with olive spots. Other mangaves that go to Zone 7 are ‘Falling Waters’ and ‘Bad Hair Day’.

Another new genus: Hansara

“We offer Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks,’ the first tri-generic hybrid, which we named after Hans. Agave, Manfreda, Polyanthes and Hosta are all closely related. So Hans started making tri-generic crosses, aiming for highly fragrant flowers, Mexican color, and hardiness. Crosses of Hosta and Agave are the most difficult to make.

Hansara 'Jumping Jacks'

Hansara ‘Jumping Jacks’ combines the genes of Agave gypsophila ssp. pablocarrilloi, Agave macroacantha, Manfreda maculosa, Polyanthus tuberosa, and Polyanthus howardii.

“‘Jumping Jacks’ forms a 14-inch-tall by 27-inch wide clump of narrow, succulent, gray-green foliage, sparsely spotted purple. When mature in 2 to 3 years, it produces a 6 foot-tall, highly branched flower spike of lovely yellow flowers but with an insignificant fragrance.

Mangaves in the stratosphere

Mangave 'Red Wing'

Mangave ‘Red Wing’

“Mangaves like ‘Red Wing’ have foliage colors that don’t look real. Variegated manfredas as parents will launch mangaves into the stratosphere. What’s been done so far is maybe 2 percent of what can and will be done. In California and Mediterranean climates this is an opportunity to rewrite what people do with their landscapes.

“Every day there’s something new and exciting with plant hybridization. It’s a great time to be alive.”

Learn more about mangaves…

Testing Mangaves in My Garden

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ in my garden

On my page, “Testing Mangaves in My Garden” you’ll learn about the Mangave cultivars I’m trialing in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago…[Continue reading] 

See the mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen on his Facebook page: “Mad About Mangave”.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well but some better than others. I evaluate their progress and consider how to help each attain its full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera.

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'
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Testing Mangaves in My Garden

I’m testing more than 30 Mangave cultivars in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago from Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens, a wholesale perennial grower in Zeeland, MI. Hans is the world’s leading breeder of mangaves, and the first to reproduce them via tissue culture.

The hard part for breeders is selecting the true champions. Like a litter of puppies, plant crosses may look terrific, but how will they behave? It may take years to find out, and reports (like this) from gardeners far and wide provide important data.

Mangave is an intergeneric cross of Manfreda and Agave, and in the list below I’ve included each cultivar’s parentage (if available). All have speckled, dotted or blotchy leaves unless otherwise noted.

A bit of horticultural backstory

Mangaves

Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’
From Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin. Garden design by Michael Buckner.

The first mangave arrived on the gardening scene 15 years ago: the cultivar ‘Macho Mocha’. According to San Marcos Growers: “…reported to be hardy to 9° F by Tony Avent in North Carolina. This 2004 Yucca Do Nursery introduction…was from seed collected by Carl Schoenfeld while on a plant exploration trip into Mexico.” It attains 2 to 3 feet in height by 4 to 6 feet in diameter.

Mangave

The best guess is that Agave macroacantha x Manfreda maculata = Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

Next came Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (2008; 1 foot high by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy to 20-25 degrees.) The origin is unclear; San Marcos Growers suspects Japan.

In my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed, 2015, pp. 224-225), I show both ‘Bloodspot’ and “Macho Mocha’ and say, “If plants can be fashionable, the latest stars are mangaves.” I still feel that way. Mangaves are new, beautiful, interesting, as easy to grow as any succulent—and as for hybridization, the sky’s the limit.

When the mangaves arrived, it was Christmas in January

I don’t grow many exotic succulents. I’m into creating a beautiful garden with those easy to come by. If common succulents don’t thrive, there’s no great loss. My few rarities are in pots where I can keep an eye on them. So when the box of mangaves arrived, into pots they went…for the most part. In hindsight, that probably protected a few of them but kept others from attaining their full potential. Regardless, two years later, I’m pleased to report all are alive and well.

I’ll never forget opening that shipment back in 2017. The plants had been greenhouse-grown, and boxing and shipping had caused broken leaves. That made me groan, but I quickly became caught up in identifying their agave parentage. I said aloud to a plant with wavy leaves that looked trimmed with pinking shears, “I’ll bet you’re from Agave gypsophila.” To the spitting image of a very common green agave that was a surprising lavender, I murmured, “Surely you’re not related to Agave attenuata?” All in all, those mangaves were the best gifts I’d ever received from someone I hadn’t met.

Manfreda cultivar

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’

I knew nothing about manfredas, the lily side of mangaves, so I was pleased that Hans had included two.

Manfreda cross

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is a variegated sport of Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chip’.

One manfreda went into a pot, the other, into the ground. The latter started out glorious and stayed that way. In fact, Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is now among my favorite plants.

I sheltered all 14 as best as I could from extremes of sun, heat and cold. As it turns out, that may not have been necessary.

How to grow mangaves

Not taking any chances, I potted and shaded my new mangaves.

That first assortment from Walters Gardens included two manfredas and 12 mangaves.

The list below describes plants from the first shipment and coincides with my January, 2019 video: “Mangaves in My Garden.” Some need repotting or a better location, which I’ve done since or soon will do.

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ (introduced 2017, photo above), has floppy, wavy, narrow leaves. It was beautiful in a pot for months, then seemed to suffer in the summer heat. A section (perhaps a separate plant) bloomed and died back. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery says the rest may have simply gone dormant after blooming and will come back. [See my mangave interview with Tony.] It also may have needed more water than I was giving it, or it wanted to be in the ground. In summer, leaves lost their sheen, and tips dried and shriveled. In fall, ants colonized the container. Above is how it looks now, revived by winter rains.

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ (photo above) looks delicate but isn’t. (Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity. Zones 7b to 9b?) It has done well in a sheltered bed alongside a wall that bounces sunlight onto it, doubtless helping its color. Spider-shaped with tapering, rippled, ribbonlike leaves, it’s fascinating, as are its red blotches and creamy white margins. I’m thinking of removing any blooms to keep the plant strong.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Carnival’ is a Mangave ‘Jaguar’ cross. Its variegation is the reverse of Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’.

Mangave ‘Carnival’ exhibits the best and worst characteristics of the new genus: Wonderful rosy-red dots blend with pink, green and cream (the best) and leaves that are too fragile for the plant to exist unscathed in the open garden. It also doesn’t like the summer heat of inland southern CA.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ in my garden (top) and as shown on the Walters Gardens website. (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave colorata

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ (2017) has languished in a too-shady spot in my garden, growing and even offsetting, but producing no color other than silvery-blue. Its leaves have elongated, and their pie-crust edges hearken to its A. gypsophila parentage. I may have to move it into greater light to get it to look more like the photo on the Walters site.

Mangave hybrid

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ has long, narrow, flexible, dark green leaves thickly dotted with inky blotches that give it a reptilian look. It’s not be a thing of beauty, but it’s interesting.

Above: Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ given the right amount of sun.

 

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

The same plant after being transplanted into an garden bed that gets too little light.

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ (2016; variegated sport of Mangave ‘Jaguar’. Sun to part shade, 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide at maturity.) ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a fast-growing, stunningly striped and mottled, large multicolored succulent that glows beautifully when backlit. I first planted it in a pot which it quickly outgrew, then transplanted it into the ground where it probably needs more sun. Rather than replanting it a third time, I’ll just trim the tree that’s shading it.

Mangave hybrid

Agave attenuata x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (2017. Sun to part shade. 12 inches tall by 20 inches wide at maturity. Frost tender.) Having grown both parents, I was truly delighted to meet their lavender-gray offspring. I’ve had it in a pink pot for two years, possibly stunting it. I’ll soon find it a place in the garden—one that’s frost-free, because this lovely cultivar lacks hardiness.

Mangave 'Man of Steel'

Agave stricta x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Man of Steel’

Mangave ‘Man of Steel’. I’m familiar with both parents, so unpacking this beauty was like a family reunion. Both ‘Bloodspot’ and A. stricta are stiff-leaved, so not surprisingly their offspring is, too. On the plus side, ‘Man of Steel’ is not as delicate as other mangaves. Its thin, silvery, downward-curving leaves offer an elegant and symmetrical—if pointy—silhouette.

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (Manfreda jaliscana x Agave lophantha) x Agave shawii.

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (2017. Anticipated to be 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity, Zones 9a to 11?). I’m unfamiliar with its manfreda parent but it must be red and soft, because its agave parents are green, gray and stiff-leaved. The hybrid’s many red blotches nearly cover any green, but in my garden some leaf tips have shriveled. What it lacks in symmetry and form it makes up for in color…pretty much. I should dig it up and see if it does better in a pot.

Mangave 'Moonglow'

Mangave ‘Moonglow’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Moonglow’. Showing the best of both parents with soft, wavy-edged and curling slender leaves, this suggests ‘Inkblot’ with more of a bluish cast. Dots are thick and maroon. I have it in a blue pot that suits it.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Mangave ‘Jaguar’) in my garden.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ on the Walters Gardens website

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’. In catalog photos this looks like the foliage atop a pineapple, only speckled. The one I planted in a pedestal pot doesn’t have a pronounced, stacked-leaf growth habit. It has stayed fountainlike and nicely dotted, but yellow-green. I’ve since removed it from the pot and expect good things from it in the ground.

Mangave 'Silver Fox'

Agave gypsophila x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Silver Fox’.

Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ (2017. Sun to part shade. Zones 9a to 11? Eleven inches tall by 22 inches wide at maturity.) Nursery photos show a compact, wavy rosette that’s distinctly silvery-purple and rosy-dotted. Mine looks more like a short-leaved gypsophila, minimally freckled. It’s happy but possibly needs more light.

Mangave 'Spotty Dotty'

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave bovicornuta.

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’. This has performed well in my garden and colored up nicely. Its gently twisting, soft, greenish-yellow leaves are well freckled with red. A favorite.

Mangave ‘Whale’s Tale’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave ovatifolia.

Mangave ‘Whale Tale’ (2018. Sun to part shade. Zones 7b to 11? Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity.) Mine has no speckles and simply looks like a nice silver agave with darker areas that lack pulverulence. It’s a lovely plant but again, it probably needs more sun to enhance its color. In my garden, that’s invariably a trade-off: More sun equals greater danger of beige sunburned patches and brown, dry leaf tips.

What is a manfreda?

If you’re into succulents, you’re well aware of agaves. But chances are you’ve never heard of the genus Manfreda. After all, it’s not in the Sunset Western Garden Book. There exist 35 species of these lilylike succulents. Like AgaveManfreda hails from Mexico, but also ranges much farther north and east. The genus is closely enough related to Agave that the plants can cross, although this rarely happens in nature.  Manfreda is also related to Polianthes. Plants in both genera are commonly referred to as tuberoses.

Tuberose leaves form rosettes from a short stem and send up fragrant flowers along slender stalks. Flowers are tubular and whitish, yellow, green, or brownish, with long stamens. Some are wonderfully fragrant. Manfredas, unlike agaves, don’t die after flowering—a nice characteristic they pass on to their intergeneric crosses, the mangaves. Leaf margins of manfredas are smooth or slightly serrated and lack spiny tips.

Manfreda maculosa

Manfreda maculosa is the progenitor of numerous crosses

Spotted manfreda, (Manfreda maculosa, commonly called Texas tuberosehas silvery-green leaves covered with purple spots. It’s the one most often seen in cultivation. 

According to Plant Delights Nursery: “Like its Agave daddy, x Mangave are evergreen (above freezing) and like its Manfreda momma, it is polycarpic (doesn’t die after flowering) and attracts hummingbirds. The agave parent contributes the evergreen nature and the form, while the manfreda parent contributes the purple spotted pigment. Both parents contribute drought-tolerance and an aversion to winter moisture.”

[See my mangave interview with Tony Avent of Plant Delights.]

Mangaves in My Garden 

Back in 2017, before my first shipment arrived, mangaves were not entirely unknown to me. I’d seen two cultivars in high-end gardens by San Diego designer Michael Buckner. I considered the plants expensive rarities and suspected they probably wouldn’t thrive in the comparatively rigorous conditions of my own garden. Located in the foothills of inland San Diego County on a steep, terraced, east-facing slope, it gets frost every winter (down to the high 20s F) and near-desert heat in late summer (into the 90s for weeks). Although I’ve been amending the soil for decades, the substrate is decomposed granite (not a bad thing, it’s well draining) and clay (never a good thing.) Fortunately there’s not a lot of clay—about enough to build an adobe dog house.

The succulents that thrive out in the open in my garden are those that aren’t picky. Full-sun, frost-prone areas are OK for agaves and cacti, and those Southwest succulents that store water in their trunks, such as dasylirions, yuccas and beaucarneas. I have every kind of aeonium in the dappled shade of native oaks and beneath lacy trees, and quite a few aloes, although it’s a balancing act to give the latter adequate protection from weather extremes yet enough sun to bloom.

Tender succulents such as jades, kalanchoes and euphorbias grow in frost-free microclimates beneath eaves, where they bask in half a day’s sun. Apart from shade succulents like sansevierias and toughies like graptoverias and Mexican sedums, others (like echeverias, haworthias and stapeliads) are in pots that I move or shelter as seasons change.

So what about your garden? 

Manfredas prefer full sun, short of scorching; well-drained soil that’s kept on the dry side; and room for their root systems to expand. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep. I’ve noticed that mangaves with established rootballs can be difficult to remove from pots. Some sources say that Mangave is a slow grower; others, that it’s much faster than Agave. So far, with the exception of ‘Kaleidoscope’—a mangave on steroids—they seem about the same.

Late spring and summer is the growth season. Like most succulents, mangaves appreciate a dose of diluted fertilizer when emerging from dormancy. They’re fine outdoors in mild climates with minimal rainfall, typical of Southern CA. Elsewhere, overwinter them indoors. Keep them cool and the soil barely moist. In spring, return them to the garden and reintroduce to full sun gradually. They’re not great indoor plants because they need ultraviolet light to color-up.

As for garden design, the aesthetic uses of mangaves are only beginning to be explored. I anticipate that they’ll become commonplace in low-water landscapes throughout the Southwest, likely with a broader range than South African succulents, but not venturing into desert gardens. I could be wrong about that, but mine don’t seem to like late-summer heat. The plants’ soft, arching leaves and interesting spotting and striping will likely make them collectible novelties, beginning in California and spreading worldwide.

By the mid-’20s, mangaves will doubtless be commonplace. The certainty of new cultivars selected for desirable colors, variegation, toughness, growth habit and size means there’s no limit to what’s possible—from upright, spiky, speckled, stiff-leaved, agave-lookalikes to ribbon-foliaged lilies that are languorous, loopy, crenellated, freckled and noodle-soft.

Mangave drawbacks

The main drawback to early Mangave cultivars, especially those bred not to “bite” (i.e. they lack the needlelike tips and barbed teeth of their Agave parents) is soft, flexible, thin and brittle foliage that’s prone to tearing or breaking, and is easily damaged by snails or impact. Place such plants out of harm’s way to avoid compromising their beautiful symmetry. Although they’ll outgrow breakage, mangaves are succulents that shouldn’t be stepped on, even by a chihuahua.

They’re also vulnerable to agave snout weevil infestation.

Find out more about mangaves…

Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves 

Mangave expert

Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Avent’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives…[Continue reading] 

Visit the Mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.

Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen by following his Facebook “Mad About Mangave” page.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well and some better than others. I evaluate the plants’ progress and how to attain their full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera!

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

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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]