Overgrown succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

How to Redo an Overgrown Succulent Garden

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.)

Succulent garden with fountain (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

I'm pleased at how plants have filled in and how little maintenance it needs. (Well, maybe I should get after that ivy.) The planted clam shell at left repeats the fountain's basins, and a pot at upper right echoes the red of the aeoniums.

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.

Overgrown succulent garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

In my YouTube video, How to Refresh an Overgrown Succulent Garden, I take you through this garden's transformations. Here's how it looked in Sept., 2012

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.)

Succulent garden preparation (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Prepare the planting area by sifting out roots and rocks, then adding fresh soil.

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.

Palette of succulent cuttings (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A palette of cuttings and nursery plants ready to go into the ground.

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.

Get creative:  Include focal points and delightful discoveries such as a large pot, a water feature, an outdoor sculpture, or a mini-trail amid small cacti and euphorbias.

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.

Succulent cuttings (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Leave just enough stem to anchor the cutting. You don't need the rest.

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.

Where to buy quality succulents online:

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.

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