Every three or four years I redo this succulent garden outside my office window. Last time was 1-1/2 years ago when I added the fountain. It’s an important view area because I spend so much time…uh…gazing outside instead of working. (I can’t help it. The fountain doubles as a bird bath.)
In my YouTube video, How to Refresh an Overgrown Succulent Garden, I show this area’s transformations, starting with how it looked 6-1/2 years ago (below). Shocking, isn’t it? It goes to show that succulents—all plants for that matter—grow when you’re not looking.
Ratty to lovely in 12 steps
Keep in mind: The window, pathway or sitting area from which you’ll view a space is where you’ll stand back and evaluate it as you redesign it.
1. Off with their heads: Snip succulent rosettes, leaving one to two inches of stem to anchor each cutting. Yank out the old plant, roots and all, and discard it.
2. Create a blank slate: Remove weeds and anything overgrown and untidy. Prune remaining plants as needed. Get rid of pots and other clutter. (I know, I have it too.)
3. Shop for statement plants: These might be agaves (ideally non-pupping), an aloe that gets tall, a plump-trunked ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata)—whatever lends drama, fits the area, and that you’ve been longing for.
4. Create a staging area. Since succulents come in every hue, I like to sort them by color and size. Keep in mind that anything without roots needs to be kept in shade or it’ll sunburn.
5. Know your microclimates and plant accordingly. I delve into this in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.) The entire book—which (ahem) happens to be my proudest achievement—is about creating beautiful succulent gardens.
6. Check or install irrigation: It’s a pain to add pipes and risers once a garden is planted. Don’t skip this not-fun step—unless you enjoy hose-watering on hot days.
7. Rework the soil: Spade and turn it, remove rocks and clumps of roots, and mix in compost and pumice. If the ground is hard to dig, simply top it with planting mix.
Mound the soil: Use more than you think because mounds settle over time. Pack firmly and arrange rocks around the base to retain the soil.
Add a dry creek bed or path (optional): Have it meander between mounds and—on the practical side—give access into the garden so you won’t squash plants.
Plant cuttings: Cluster and combine them in ribbons and vignettes, with larger in back, smaller in front. Set cacti atop mounds and thirstier succulents lower down. Use green in the background. Position aloes and crassulas in sunny spots so they’ll redden.
Apply topdressing: Use crushed rock or decomposed granite to inhibit weed growth, moderate soil temperature, conserve moisture, and give your redone garden a finished look.
Learn more on my site and YouTube Channel
— Great Ideas from Patrick Anderson’s Garden. This renowned garden in Fallbrook, CA is an outdoor gallery of sculptural plants and art pieces.
— Ten Succulent Front Yard Essentials. Find out how homeowner/designer Deana Rae McMillion orchestrated her lawn-to-succulents transformation.
— Succulent Design Essentials. An award-winning garden by Michael Buckner has beautiful mounds and a small but impressive dry creek bed.
— Succulent Garden Design, with Laura Eubanks A video that Laura and I made together shows how this celebrity designer tackles an overgrown garden.
— Jim Gardner’s Succulent Showcase Get ideas from a Los Angeles garden owned by a retired MD who is also a plant collector and ceramic artist.
— Why You Really Need Rocks, with Steve McDearmon A landscape contractor explains how he selects rocks and irrigation for succulent gardens.