Debra Lee Baldwin (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Twelve Common Succulent Landscape Mistakes 

As a succulent garden design consultant, I typically see about a dozen common landscape mistakes. Correcting them is often simple and makes a big difference.

12 Succulent Landscape Design Mistakes

Do any of these apply to your garden? If not, applause! Please share your own tips and suggestions in the Comments---I'd love to hear them!

1. Dead stuff

This doesn't belong in your personal Eden. Removing dead limbs and deadheading spent flowers are instant improvements.

2. White that yells "Look at me!"

No "color" stands out in a garden more than white. Something plastic and utilitarian is often the offender. If there's no way to remove it, spray-paint it. Ever noticed? Over time, dead limbs and foliage turn white.

Succulent garden eyesore, before and after (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Five-second solution: I made the white irrigation cap disappear with brown spray paint.

3. Cute crap

I feel mean mentioning this, but faded flags, platitudinous signs, chipped plaster squirrels, and garlanded bunnies are ghastly. The only excuse is if a sweet child gave them to you. Or they're made by Meissen.

4. Unsheltered dining areas

If a table is out in the open, chances are you won't use it. IMHO, the best "roof" is a tree canopy. Next best: sun sails.

Sun/shade sail

Inexpensive sun/shade sails are available from Amazon (affiliate link).

5. Contempt for jade

Hey, there's a reason Crassula ovata is so common. It's a great low-maintenance, low-water shrub. See my live video: Debra Defends Jade Plant (4:04). It's a fave. Comments include, "You do stand-up comedy?!"

6. Not enough repetition

We gardeners want one of everything, but the most soothing aspect of any landscape is repetition. Without it the eye moves jerkily throughout the area.

Contrast and repetition (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Play up the powder blue of certain succulents by repeating their startling color with blue fescue (Festuca glauca). Notice contrast here too: the wispy grass contrasts with the bold, dynamic shape of Agave parryi 'Truncata'. 

7. Lack of contrast

Good design needs contrast for interest and drama. Colors, sure, but also texture---hard and soft, smooth vs. nubby. For example, contrast agaves or aloes with feathery ornamental grasses.

Repetition in design (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Pots in Hannah Jarson's garden illustrate the design principles of scale, repetition and contrast.

8. Eyesores

Due to familiarity blindness, you may no longer notice a neighbor's junk (or for that matter your own). However, guests do---at least subliminally.  I know you've been meaning to plant a hedge or install a screen.

9. Too many too-small pots

It's all about scale. Areas like your home's entry need big pots, not a cacophony of wee ones. Consider large planters as an investment that enhances your architecture. What to do with all those small pots? See my video: How to Group and Display Potted Succulents (9:46).

Contrast Red pots, green agaves (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A large red pot contrasts in form and color with Agave attenuata in Patrick Anderson's garden.

10. Pancake-flat plantings

Great, your lawn's gone! You needn't make the new garden level. Bring in soil and create mounds and swales. And boulders! See my video: Why you Really Need Rocks (5:32).

Succulent design mistakes (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Above: Could this be any flatter? One wonders if a steamroller were involved. Below: A newly planted mounded succulent garden. Design by Michael Buckner for Carolyn Schaer. 

Succulent landscape mounds (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

11. No nursery/potting area

Most of us need a holding place for new plants, cuttings, tools, containers, fertilizer, bags of soil, etc. An underutilized side yard with a hose is ideal. Add a potting bench, shelves and shade.

Succulent potting area (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

My own nursery/potting area has Texas privet along the west side pruned to create dappled shade for succulents awaiting a home in the garden.

12. Weeds

Not only do they look awful, but being pure evil, weeds WILL reseed. Pull 'em early, and spread an environmentally friendly pre-emergent herbicide before the first winter rain.

How did you do?

Is there something I should add to the list? Please leave your suggestions in the Comments below.

Find more helpful ideas on this site's Succulent Landscapes page.

Above: What do you think---did I take my own advice? See my own half-acre garden in spring.

Related Info on this Site

Succulent Landscape Rocks

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Succulent Landscapes Design ideas and must-dos for your yard’s transformation Want to transform your yard into a low-maintenance, low-water succulent garden? This page guides you to helpful info on this site and on my YouTube channel. Before you purchase plants or pick up a shovel, do obtain my book Designing with Succulents (2nd ed). It’s mainly about…

Colorful Succulent Garden (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulent Garden Design Essentials

Succulent Garden Design Essentials How to design and plant your succulent garden. To ensure your success and help you avoid mistakes, here are a dozen succulent garden design essentials to keep in mind. Many thanks to homeowner Nancy Dalton, whose award-winning succulent garden in San Diego is an example of smart landscaping for Southern California. …

Agave in wrong spot w pups (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

12 Mistakes Beginners Make with Succulents

My what-not-to-do’s are simple to avoid, but not especially easy to remedy. A smart succulent owner learns what may be expensive to fix, can cause prized plants to look dreadful, and may even kill them.

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21 Comments

  1. ellen on May 12, 2021 at 10:12 am

    Hello Debra,
    Great video. I look forward to your regular emails. Re: your list #12 – Can you suggest an ” environmentally friendly pre-emergent herbicide” ? Thank you , ellen

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 12, 2021 at 10:35 am

      Hi Ellen, yes, here’s the link: https://amzn.to/3vTV3MK

      • Cathy Schoenfeld on May 26, 2021 at 9:55 am

        That appears to be for lawns only. What about non-lawn areas?

        • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 26, 2021 at 12:22 pm

          Hi Cathy — It’s for succulent gardens. Nothing to do with lawns. Not sure I understand your question…sorry!

          • Cathy on June 10, 2021 at 10:47 am

            Hi Debra, sorry. I should have said the Amazon link you provided for weed control. The product appears to be for lawns. But if it works for succulent gardens, great! I’ll check it out.
            Thank you,
            Cathy



  2. Steve Smith on May 12, 2021 at 10:47 am

    The perfect article! Ideas and information, examples and photos/videos, and your special garden! You covered everything, and I passed your test with flying colors!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 12, 2021 at 3:57 pm

      Thank you, Steve! You’re a dependably honest critic, so I know it’s heartfelt. Plus, congratulations!

  3. Matthew Midgett on May 12, 2021 at 11:48 am

    Clever, fun, and HELPFUL article. You are wonderful at inspiring others with your knowledge and imagination. Thanks!

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 12, 2021 at 3:59 pm

      Aw, thanks, dear Matt. Remember when we did your garden for Sunset? Not a mistake in sight, in fact, you took it to the next level. One of my all-time favorites.

  4. Cynthia Adams on May 12, 2021 at 5:19 pm

    Please provide dates of Garden and Succulent Shows
    and events for your subscribers.
    Surely there are some going on now.
    Many thanks,
    Cynthia

  5. DebC on May 13, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Haha, you made me laugh! Gotta go now and move my tin owl into the garage.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on May 13, 2021 at 9:11 pm

      Aw, how bad can a tin owl be? I feel terrible.

  6. Carol Komassa on June 7, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    Great article, love it.

  7. Katja on July 6, 2021 at 4:09 am

    Love your article. I live in South Africa and started loving succulents through your and Laura Eubanks’ generous videos and articles. Thanks so much! One of my pet hates, I’m afraid, is topdressing around succulents with coloured glass – I find it so jarring and artificial – like the white plastic caps etc. I know it’s a personal taste thing, but imo, it doesn’t add anything to the design.

  8. Katja Bier on July 6, 2021 at 4:10 am

    Love your article. I live in South Africa and started loving succulents through your and Laura Eubanks’ generous videos and articles. Thanks so much! One of my pet hates, I’m afraid, is topdressing around succulents with coloured glass – I find it so jarring and artificial – like the white plastic caps etc. I know it’s a personal taste thing, but imo, it doesn’t add anything to the design.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 6, 2021 at 9:11 am

      Hi Katja — Thank you. Such design elements as colored glass are indeed subjective. I happen to like it when done well, but then, what I consider well done is not to everyone’s liking. When trying to establish my credibility as an author specializing in Designing with Succulents (the title of my first book), I credited my experience as a design writer and photographer for magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens and Sunset. I even coined the phrase, “the Sunset aesthetic.” This is not to say I’m always right—if such a word applies—merely that I recognize what might appeal to the editors and readers of such publications.

  9. Greg Sungreen on July 23, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for mentioning these landscaping mistakes here. Now that I know these mistakes, I’ll make sure that I don’t do any of these things. I want to make my landscaping design as good as possible.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on July 23, 2021 at 6:49 pm

      So nice of you to let me know, Greg! Thank you!

  10. Maya on August 4, 2021 at 5:52 pm

    Hi Debra,

    I love your site, very informative and beautiful, indeed.

    I was so glad and thankful to you for defending the Jade plant. I have a lot of succulents now, but before I lived in Topanga Cyn for over 30 years on a steep hillside with many large CA oaks trees. The only plant that could survive such shade and nearly no water was the Jade. I try, like you, to convince my friends who feel almost obliged to comment the jade plant is so common. Well, for a similar reason jeans pants are common too. Everybody has at least one pair.

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on August 4, 2021 at 6:12 pm

      Hi Maya — Thank you for the compliments. I love it: Jade is to succulents what jeans are to clothing. Or better: Jade is to your garden what jeans are to your wardrobe. Must borrow that!

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