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Fire, Succulents and South Africa

Like the American West, Australia and elsewhere, Africa is having an increase in devastating wildfires. Numerous succulents are native to the continent, and in the south the climate is similar to that of coastal and southern California.

Recently I heard from Talfryn Harris, a fire manager in Johannesburg who was working on a presentation for their succulent society on the role of the plants in fire protection. “Last year we had very destructive fires on our south coast where many homes were lost,” he wrote. He asked permission to show my YouTube video, Do Succulents Catch Fire?
Of course I said yes, but added, “I don’t want to give the impression that succulents can serve as a wildfire barrier that guarantees a home won’t burn. Plants that store water in their leaves and are slow to catch fire serve merely as a way to lessen the threat. Succulents really do need to surround a house, as shown in my other wildfire video: Succulents as Firebreak. There are so many factors that come into play, wind especially. I compare myself to a meerkat, the way I watch the wind during fire season here in Southern CA.”
Later Mr. Harris sent me his PowerPoint presentation (below). It describes the impact that global climate change has on wildfire, gives practical tips for protecting homes, and explains why succulents are a good landscaping choice for at-risk areas.
He also suggested that “a useful fire-wise succulent that I would add for South Africa is Carpobrotus edulis (aka Mesembryanthemum edule) which is great as a fire-wise and medicinal succulent lawn.  However I believe it is invasive in Australia and California. The African people in the townships around Jo’burg call it ‘chips’ because of the resemblance to what you call french fries. One medicinal use is to infuse a flower in a jar of honey and then after 4 months use that for colds and sore throats. It is also a very useful remedy for the oral thrush that accompanies HIV/AIDS.”
I felt I had to inform him that when I was researching my article for the Los Angeles Times about how succulents helped protect the Schaefer house back in ’07, a fire fighter told me that dry plant material beneath carprobrotus leaves can smolder for days, causing flare-ups and endangering anyone who walks through it.
Have you wondered why wildfires are burning hotter than ever and causing unprecedented devastation? In his book, “Land on Fire: The New Reality of Wildfire in the West” (Timber Press), acclaimed nature writer Gary Ferguson explains why fire suppression and chronic drought have created a dire situation, and the ways nature responds in the aftermath of wildfire.

Related info on my site:

Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me immediately after the Lilac Fire to say that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said.  Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media)… [Continue reading]

DEBRA’S TOP SIX FIREWISE SUCCULENTS

My top six firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire by planting them around your property’s perimeter. View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and… [Continue reading]

FIREWISE LANDSCAPING WITH SUCCULENTS

Firewise Landscaping with Succulents Succulents have become in-demand landscape plants in California because of their beauty, ease of care, and ability to withstand drought by storing moisture in their leaves. Not surprisingly, the plants are the fastest growing segment of the nursery marketplace. And now there’s another, little-known reason for homeowners to grow these fleshy-leaved plants…[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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How to Water Succulents

Succulents—fleshy-leaved plants from hot, dry regions—are designed to live off water stored in their leaves and tissues in order to survive periods without rainfall. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t water them at all. In their native habitats, succulents can look pretty ratty during times of drought, and those that are not yet established may not survive.

Succulents do appreciate water and look best if given it regularly…up to a point. Their roots simply aren’t set up to handle too much water. They certainly won’t survive in mud. Don’t assume that adding rocks to the bottom of a nondraining pot provides drainage. This basically creates a bacteria-filled soup that can rot roots. On the other hand, don’t assume that a pot must have a drain hole in order for succulents to be healthy and happy. (I know it’s counterintuitive…but when you read why, you’ll see it makes sense.)

How to water succulents in pots and in the ground

Aim to keep soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. About once a week should do it. Water thoroughly to soak the roots and flush salts. For succulents in containers, that means until water drips out the bottom of the pot. Let common sense prevail: water more during hot, dry spells and less or not at all during periods of high humidity, cool temperatures and rain.

Do succulents need drainage? Not necessarily!

How to water succulents in non-draining containers

They’ll be fine if they’re not overwatered. It’s not drainage that’s important so much as avoiding root and stem rot, which succulents are prone to if they sit in water. When given less water than is optimal, they’ll draw on moisture stored in their leaves (which is the very definition of a succulent).

I water my terrarium succulents by dribbling water onto their centers or inserting a medicine dropper full of water at each one’s base. As soon as I see through the glass at the bottom that the sand is wet, I stop. Underwatered succulents tend to grow very little, which is a good thing because they don’t outgrow the container. You could never do this with most other plants, which when given too little water, dry out and die.

For more about growing succulents in nondraining containers, see my videos, Succulents in Silver (3:58) and Succulent Desk Buddies, DIY (4:15).

What about rain?

Succulents do best in areas of winter rainfall that falls intermittently and doesn’t exceed 20 inches a year (of course there are exceptions). When rain threatens to be excessive, move potted succulents beneath your home’s eaves. Place patio umbrellas with concrete bases for stability in the garden to keep rain from soaking your in-ground succulents. Channel runoff away from garden beds. Move and replant succulents in low-lying areas where water puddles. Topdress the soil around the plants with several inches of pumice to absorb excess moisture.

See my videos, Why Rain is Good for Potted Succulents (0:53) and Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens (3:51)

Overwatering concerns

The rule of thumb is to let the soil dry out (or nearly so) between waterings. An occasional overwatering won’t harm most succulents providing the soil is fast-draining. If water has collected in a pot saucer, remove it so roots don’t sit in water.

How to tell how much water a succulent needs

The fatter the succulent or the fleshier its leaves, the more water it stores in its tissues and the less water it needs (and will tolerate). Cacti in general are less tolerant of overwatering than smooth-leaved succulents. See my video, Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It (2:01)

The more susceptible an in-ground succulent is to rotting from excess moisture, the higher it should go on a berm or mound of soil.

Also on this site:

See my article: Watch How You Water! How to water succulents during summer heat waves. 

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Succulent Desk Buddies, DIY
“Desk buddies” are simple succulent terrariums 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…  [Continue reading]

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Cochineal Scale on Paddle Cactus, What To Do

White fuzzy lumps on paddle cactus indicate the presence of a parasite that pierces the plant’s skin and consumes its juices. A bit of cochineal (coach-en-ee-al) scale is no big deal, but it does tend to spread and may eventually kill the plant.

Your first line of defense is to blast what appears to be bits of cotton with a hose to dislodge them. However, in crevices and where a hose can’t reach, they’ll proliferate. I take preventive action and scrub my paddle (opuntia) cacti at the first sign of infestation with insecticidal soap. I also remove any badly infested pads and those growing quite close to each other (slice them off at the joints).

Then I treat the plants with Safer insecticidal soap. So named because it’s safe for the environment, it controls soft-bodied insects without harming plants like harsher soaps may. (Don’t use dishwashing liquid on succulents.) I mix 4 or 5 tablespoons of concentrated Safer soap to a gallon of water, then dip a long-handled, soft-bristle brush into the solution and scrub the pads.

This removes the insects (which are not mealybugs, a common misconception), won’t scratch the pads, and leaves a soapy residue that inhibits the pests’ regeneration. I do this “as needed”—about every six weeks in the summer. In winter, if the problem persists, I spray with Neem oil.

In my YouTube video, How to Treat Cochineal Scale, helper James squashes the bugs with his thumb.

Cochineal scale does have the odd benefit of entertaining garden visitors, especially kids. Squish a white lump and you’ll get marvelously realistic “blood.” (Use cold water to remove any stains on clothing.) Of course if the opuntia has spines—as most do—real blood also is a possibility. If so, simply use a stick to squash and smear the cottony bumps.

Insects nestled within the waxy white fuzz are rich in carminic acid, a red liquid that repels ants, birds and other predators. Used by ancient Aztecs to color woven fabric, cochineal scale was highly prized by Spanish conquistadors, who considered it second in value only to New World silver.

Cochineal insects under a microscope. Actual size: 0.2 inches (5 mm).

Because harvesting cochineal dye is labor intensive, it was replaced by synthetic dyes in the 1800s. But due to cancer-causing concerns, natural red dye is now back in favor with food and cosmetic manufacturers. Next time you pick up something that’s edible, red and packaged, read the label. If ingredients list “carmine,” “cochineal,” “E 120,” or “natural red 4,” it’s been colored—ironically, to make it more appealing—with insects.

Related info on this site:

Uh-Oh, Is My Succulent Sick? When a succulent isn’t looking quite right, you may wonder if you’ve done something wrong. Here’s what to look for [Continue reading] 

On my YouTube channel:

Go to my 6-video playlist, “Succulent Pests and Diseases.”

Watch my 2-min. YouTube video, How to Treat Cocineal Scale. Under my direction, James, 9, scrubs opuntia pads with a bathroom brush and squashes popcorn-like bugs with his fingertips.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

In my books:

Succulents Simplified, pp 76-77: “What’s Wrong with Your Succulent?”
Designing with Succulents, pp 137-143: “Pest and Damage Control.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Stress Succulents (And Why You Should)

If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents stunning. Give aloes and crassulas a bit more heat, sun or cold and less water and richer soil than they really want, and they’ll turn brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow. This doesn’t harm the plants, which I deem “well-stressed” when they show the brilliant colors they’re capable of. A case in point is Aloe nobilis, which in my garden grows in nutrient-poor decomposed granite with minimal water.

Aloe nobilis. Left: winter (cool temps, bright shade). Right: summer (full, hot sun).

In winter, the same plant reverts to green.

Such “stressed” succulents—which seal moisture in their leaves as effectively as Glad-Wrap—are fine. They perk up and send out new growth when the weather cools and the rains return.

Not all succulents turn shades of red, pink or orange when stressed, in fact, the majority don’t. But many common aloes and crassulas do, plus certain kalanchoes, euphorbias, sempervivums, sedums, aeoniums and echeverias. Agaves normally don’t; the one above is an exception. The reason is it’s post-bloom and dying, which has revealed the anthocyanin in its tissues. In the same way deciduous trees turn color in autumn, sunset hues become visible. The pigment also is found in berries and fruits—and is considered a powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins, according to Wikipedia, “are not synthesized until the plant has begun breaking down chlorophyll, it is presumed for photoprotection…” i.e. protection from excess sunlight, much the same way melanin tans skin. Wikipedia also wisely states that “plants with abnormally high anthocyanin quantities are popular as ornamental plants.”

After seeing my YouTube video, “How to Stress Your Succulents…and Why You Should,” a non-gardening friend observed, “I’d probably stress them so much, they’d croak.” Good point. How do you give a succulent the right amount of stress, but not too much? And how do you know which are worth stressing, and which aren’t?

Basically, observe the plant. If it’s leaves are margined or tipped in red, it’s a likely prospect. But if excess heat, sun or cold makes its tips shrivel and turn beigey-gray, it’s suffering. Move it to a kinder location, keep the soil moist (but not soggy), and/or repot it. Also check its roots. The problem may be that roots can’t access moisture and nutrients, as in the case of a cutting that’s sitting atop the soil instead of snugly planted.

This specimen of Crassula ovata is beautifully stressed (how’s that for an oxymoron?). Its leaves have reddened due to less water than the plant would like plus more cold than jade prefers (frost will turn the leaves to mush, but temperatures near but above freezing reddens them).

Most succulents—especially those with fat, fleshy leaves—can last weeks and sometimes months without water, even in hot sun, nipped by frost, and/or rooted solely in gravel. But eventually they need a respite, lest stress become life-threatening.

A few common succulents that redden when stressed:

Kalanchoe luciae

 

Aeonium canariense

 

Aloe dorotheae

 

Learn more in my book, Succulents Simplified“The Well-Stressed Succulent,” pp. 54-55.

Also on my YouTube channel:

Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)
How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should, my first video now with 80,000 views, gives additional examples and includes before-and-after photos.

 

 

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Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns

Don’t let summer sun and heat harm your succulents! Heat, unlike frost (temps 32 degrees F and lower), usually isn’t a concern for succulents. Although some tend not to thrive in temps above 80 or 90 degrees F, the majority can handle more than you’re personally comfortable with…as evidenced by greenhouse temperatures that soar into the triple digits on summer days. However, heat plus sun can be deadly to succulents. Unless they’re desert cacti or agaves, most smooth-leaved succulents need sun protection in summer, especially above 80 degrees.

Summer-stressed Aloe bainseii tree

If you live in an arid climate like Southern CA’s and grow succulents in the open garden (as I do) ~

— Know your property’s orientation to the sun. In North America, plants growing on your home’s north side will get the least amount of sun exposure; those on the south, the most. East-facing gardens like mine get morning sun and afternoon shade. Gardens facing west have afternoon sun and morning shade.

— “Bright shade” (no direct sun but not deep shade) is ideal for non-desert succulents in mid-afternoon when temperatures peak. Bright shade is essential for low-light succulents such as haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, echeverias, and anything light-colored or variegated. (Of course there are exceptions; for the requirements of specific plants, see the “Succulents A to Z” chapter of Designing with Succulents.)

— Whenever you buy a new plant, notice where it was located in the nursery. Was it out in the open or beneath shade cloth? Even if it’s a “full sun” succulent—like an agave—if it was growing in a sheltered area, it’ll need to be “hardened off” (shaded, especially in the afternoon) until it acclimates. Such exposure is similar to tanning: Start with half an hour of sun and increase it by an hour or so each day.

— Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn hues of red and orange but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn—at least half a day, ideally morning. (See “How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should.”)

— Because sunburned stems are less able to transmit moisture from roots to leaves, cover exposed, horizontal stems of trailing succulents (aloes, senecios, othonna and the like) with dry leaves or mulch.

— Protect newly installed plants and in-ground succulents susceptible to sun-scorch with temporary shade structures. I use old window screens secured with bricks, but you can buy shade cloth at any home improvement store. Leafy branches trimmed from trees works, too; insert branches in the ground next to the plant you want to protect, making sure it’s shaded on the side that gets the most sun.

— Plant trees and shrubs that will provide shade where needed during long, hot summer afternoons. (For low-water varieties good in succulent gardens, see the Companion Plants chapter of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.).

When it’s too late (what sunburn looks like)

Beige patches on succulents indicate sunburn. Cells have been irrevocably damaged, which turns them white or putty-colored. This looks similar to frost damage, but instead of leaf tips, you’ll see patches on leaves. An otherwise healthy plant will outgrow the damage. If marred areas are on outer leaves, so much the better; new growth from the center of the rosette will conceal sunburned areas over time. In any case, lower leaves, damaged or not, naturally wither and fall off. Depending on the succulent and the season, recovery from sunburn may take several months to a year.

More Info on this Site:

How to Water Succulents in Summer.  OK, we all know that succulents are low-water plants. But they’re not “no-water” plants. Although they may survive without irrigation during the heat of summer, they’re unlikely to be lush and healthy. Be sure you… [continue reading]

How to Stress Succulents (and Why You Should). If there’s a good thing about our too-hot Southern California summers, it’s that heat makes certain succulents turn color. A case in point is… [continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:


Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day in my garden, I show you what’s in bloom and lookin’ good (or sadly dreadful), and explain how to evaluate the health of your in-ground succulents, small and large.

Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.  I help you evaluate garden areas in need of shade and select trees to plant when the weather cools in the fall.

Sun and Your Succulents. Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)

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Where and How to Order Succulents Online

Wondering where and how to order succulents online?

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

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

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

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

1. Flowering Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 12 Pack

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

2. Flowering Succulent Collection – 3.5″ – 6 Pack

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

3. Kids Succulent Collection

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

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

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

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

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

6. Texture Succulent Collection – 2.5″ – 4 Pack 

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

7. Assorted Succulent Tray – 2.5″ – 32 Pack

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

8. Assorted Succulent Tray – 3.5″ – 18 Pack

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

9. Assorted Cacti Tray – 2.5″ – 32 Pack

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

10. Assorted Cacti Tray – 18 Pack, 3.5″

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

 

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


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Succulents + Kids = Great Summer Memories

Here’s how to make wonderful memories: This summer, introduce a child to collecting and growing succulents. The people I’ve interviewed as a garden photojournalist often credit a parent, grandparent, neighbor or friend for igniting their interest in plants and gardening.

So, who was it for you, that savvy grown-up you won’t forget? For me, it was my father, who reveled in the natural world. I assumed all dads could identify constellations, understood bugs and seeds, knew what kind of a snake we’d found, and could de-tick a dog. His knowledge of Southern California’s flora, fauna, ecology and geology significantly enriched my life. (So when my 9-year-old grandson comes this summer, Grandma’s going off the grid!)

Succulents—the closest things to plastic in the plant kingdom—are perfect for kids, and no organization understands this better than the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society. The LACSS hosts “Kids Day” every year as part of their Drought Tolerant Plant Festival (the second weekend in June at the Sepulveda Garden Center, a park in Encino). To see how fun, educational and entertaining Kids Day is, enjoy this video I made one year…or better yet, experience it yourself. Succulent-related activities include a potting bar at which children select plants, and with the help of LACSS volunteers, pot them up. “They’re so proud of what they make,” organizer Kathleen Misko told me. “They take care of their succulents all year and bring them back to show us.”

Ten ideas, projects and destinations for your kids’ succulent summer ~

— Plant a toy truck with succulents. This one, by Tom Jesch of Waterwise Botanicals nursery, suggests a four-wheeler found in the desert.

— Attend a C&SS show. Kids love goofy-looking plants, and cactus-and-succulent shows typically have hundreds on display. Here’s a cheerful example.

Also at shows, vendors sell collectible succulents and art pots to pair them with. (You may recall that, in my opinion, shopping for pots is half the fun.)

— Create a windowsill succulent garden. These small pots by Keith Kitoi Taylor of the Sacramento C&SS contain gasteraloes and Peperomia graveolens.

— Find containers with personality at second-hand shops, then head to a succulent specialty nursery to pair them with plants. For design ideas, see my book Succulent Container Gardens and watch my video, “Tips for Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings.”

— Visit the Children’s Garden at the Huntington Botanical Gardens near Pasadena. There are so many clever ideas here designed to interest kids in plants and gardening, it deserves its own post. Hm. Should we make a day trip?

— Create an album of wacky (but staged) interactions with succulents. Better yet, make a YouTube video starring your child. (It can be for private viewing if you like.) Send the link to family and friends, and re-watch the video over the years. You might even start a tradition of making a succulent video every summer! Below: Matthew Wong, star of my video series, “Succulent Matters with Matthew,” pretends to sit on a colony-forming deuterocohnia with prickly leaves.

Ages 10 and older:

— Design a dish garden of rocks and succulents that suggests a hiking trail. See my video:

— Craft a bouquet of wired succulent rosettes, and secure the faux stems in layers of colored sand in a glass jar. (No worries, it’s easier than it sounds!) This makes a great gift for Mom, Grandma or a special aunt, friend or neighbor. Watch my video, “How to Wire (Prep) Succulents for Bouquets.” Also see my earlier posts: “Use Colored Sand for Succulent Bouquets”,  “12 Succulent Bouquets to Inspire You,” and “DIY Succulent Bouquet.”

— Do a Succulent Treasure Hunt. Seal dollar bills in zip-lock bags (or use coins) and tuck beneath or near your potted succulents. Hand the child a copy of my book, Succulents Simplified, with Post-its indicating the same plants (find them in the section, “100 Easy-Care Succulents”). For plant suggestions, see the list of “Best succulents for encouraging a child’s interest in gardening” on page 186. Offer an extra dollar for each one the child remembers and can name after the treasure hunt.

Fashion succulents from Sculpey oven-bake clay. Glue dime-sized rosettes to hair clips or use them to make earrings. Watch my video: “DIY Sculpey Succulent: Striped Agave.”


Related info on this site:

LA’s Kids Day Features Succulents
One of the most popular areas of the annual Los Angeles Drought Tolerant Plant Festival is the “Kids Day” section, with fun…[Continue reading]

Make a Low-Light, “Scooped from the Garden” Succulent Arrangement
This succulent dish garden is perfect for a bright-shade location, such as indoors near a window…[Continue reading]

Perfect Succulent Art-Pot Pairings
A few simple design principles can take your potted succulents from ho-hum to WOW. Repeat and contrast colors, textures and forms—it’s as simple… [Continue reading]


 

Let me know what you think. I enjoy hearing from you! — Debra 

 


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LA’s Kids Day Features Succulents

One of the most popular areas of the annual Los Angeles Drought Tolerant Plant Festival is the “Kid’s Day” section, with fun educational exhibits and activities for children. Volunteers are members of the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society (LACSS), a community-oriented organization that’s been around 80+ years.

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The event is held the second weekend of June. Here’s how the exhibit tables looked one year before the kids poured in.

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This little girl is the granddaughter of LACSS member Kathleen Misko. When I asked Veronica what she liked best about Kid’s Day, she replied, “The videos, because I’m in them!”

I sure wish I could have gone to an event like this when I was a child. Or, for that matter, when I began learning about succulents as an adult! Below, volunteers double-check everything.IMG_7967_A_R

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IMG_7994_A_RUpon arrival, each child received a bag of items: mini wooden saguaros to paint, a pot to fill with small rooted plants, and a wine cork with a magnet on the back to hold tiny cuttings.

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IMG_7974_A_RIt was delightful to watch the volunteers—many of them grandparents—assist kids pot-up the succulents they’d selected as parents proudly looked on. See what it’s all about ~ enjoy my 2.5-min. video.

 

Related Info on This Site:

Highlights of the Los Angeles Drought Tolerant Plant Festival
At the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society Festival, I managed to smile despite sitting on a cactus cOUCH. [Continue reading]
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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]