Here's expert advice to help you grow echeverias perfectly, followed by photos of 100+ beautiful, noteworthy Echeveria species and cultivars.
Echeverias are native to remote, mountainous terrain between 1,000 and 4,000 feet elevation. They range from Mexico to Argentina and grow in rock faces and ledges on near-vertical cliffs. Many of the 150 recognized species have been crossed to make new cultivars, of which there are well over a thousand. Most echeverias that are cabbage-like, ruffled, crinkly or bumpy are hybrids (names are in single quotes).
Protect echeverias from frost, intense summer sun, hail, and excessive rain and humidity. Grow them in pots. With few exceptions (notably 'Sahara'), echeverias are too easily damaged in the garden, and pots let you move them when conditions change. They'll grow in the direction of greatest light. If sun hits your echeverias only on one side, rotate the pots 180 degrees weekly.
Echeverias look good in spring due to fresh new growth, but autumn is when they attain best color. In summer the leaves can be weak and brittle. In winter, plants go dormant and crisp lower leaves protect the stem from cold. In spring, remove dry leaves to tidy the plant. Check for pests.
Echeverias prefer dry air and don’t thrive in high humidity. Good air circulation also keeps pests from settling in.
Ideal daytime temps are in the 70s F; nighttime, 40-60 F. They can’t handle soil temps above 100 F or below 32 F. “They like to cool off at night,” says expert Dick Wright, adding that similar day and night temps are one reason echeverias don’t do well in Florida and Hawaii (that, and high humidity). In his greenhouses, on cold winter nights, Dick uses heat mats to warm the soil. “Warm roots keep plants from freezing,” he says.
Within a week, echeverias grown without sun will flatten to expose more of their surface to available light, stems will stretch, and leaves will blanche. Reintroduce such “etiolated" plants to greater sun gradually, lest they burn.
To bloom, echeverias need both intensity and duration of light—two separate things, Dick notes. "In summer the light is intense, so plants need only two hours of full, south-facing sun a day.” In his greenhouses during long winter nights, he increases the duration of light with 7-watt bulbs.
Echeveria blooms make lovely, long-lasting bouquets. The main flowering time is spring, but some species bloom at other times of the year. Nurseries and collectors may remove flower stalks because they make the plants lean toward light and drain their vitality.
As with most succulents, drench soil and then let it dry between waterings. When echeverias are actively growing, keep soil moist. When they’re dormant, keep it on the dry side (in winter, water sparingly every two weeks).
These cliff-dwellers need superb drainage lest roots and stems rot, and they like rich soil. Repot every year or two (less often when plants are mature).
Dick Wright’s soil formula:
6 parts pumice or perlite
2 parts compost
2 parts washed concrete (builders') sand
Or simply use equal parts bagged cactus mix and standard potting mix.
If you use bagged soil, don’t fertilize the first year. Feed when the plants are actively growing, but not in autumn in order to heighten color. “Don’t fertilize when they’re really pretty,” Dick advises, and “don’t use anything that’s more than 5% nitrogen, or the plants will grow awkward. Use 5-2-2 or 10-5-5 half-strength. Quit in November and don’t feed again until February."
Echeverias are prone to mealy bugs in leaf axils and aphids on flower buds. Remove dry leaves and cut off bloom stalks, and/or spray with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Crackling and scabby areas on leaves indicates mycoplasma bacteria. “It’s not worth trying to treat it,” Dick says. "It's best to discard the plants."
Echeverias attain maturity (maximum diameter) at two to three years of age. Rosettes typically end up atop stems pocked where leaves were attached. These growth nodes are capable of producing roots and new little plants. Even large rosettes can be severed from their stems (beheaded) and rooted as cuttings. Find out how.
Like aeoniums, the longer, thicker, and older an echeveria's trunk, the smaller the rosette at the tip will be.
On this site
If you're in the San Diego area, find an outstanding selection of echeverias at Oasis Nursery in Escondido.
Or order online from Mountain Crest Gardens. The family-owned nursery sells quality succulents for pots and garden beds at great prices. Echeverias are available as solo specimens ("a la carte"), bare-root, in assortments, and as cuttings.
Look for well-grown, collectible echeverias at shows and sales of the Cactus & Succulent Society of America.
Wright Nursery, located in a remote area north of San Diego near Camp Pendleton is by appointment only. The nursery ships worldwide, with a few exceptions (notably Spain, Australia and Paraguay).
Dick wants to thank everyone who has contacted him as a result of this post and my YouTube series. He’s been swamped with inquiries, so please be patient. “It’s wonderful, but I can’t keep up with them all." Also, providing a list of plants is difficult, because “I don’t know what we’ll have from week to week.” Dick turned 90 in September. He's says he's doing great, "and so are the plants."
"Echeveria Cultivars" by Australian experts Lorraine Schulz and Attila Kapitany.
"Succulent Container Gardens" by Debra Lee Baldwin
"Succulents Simplified" by Debra Lee Baldwin pp. 209-214 and throughout
"The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World" by Fred Dortort.
This gallery shows exceptionally beautiful, noteworthy Echeveria species and cultivars.
You may wonder: How can photos of the same echeveria be so different? It's not that they're Photoshopped. Any given variety's color and shape can vary depending on how old it is; the time of year; and the direction, duration and intensity of the sun's rays. This makes ID'ing echeverias difficult---especially since many cultivars look alike and may be closely related.
Photos are by me or by Kraig Wright. The goal is to show the plants at peak form and color. Accuracy, as always, is paramount; if you disagree with any IDs, please let me know. -- Debra Lee Baldwin