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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 in-ground gardens.

Succulent Landscape Colorful (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

A streetside garden in San Diego is a jewel box of succulents. Design by Michael Buckner and homeowner Lila Yee. 

 

Lawn to Succulent Garden

OK, you've let your lawn die. (Insert applause emoji.) Here's how savvy, succulent-loving homeowners went from turf to terrific.

Nancy Dalton's front yard succulent garden in Carmel Valley, CA won a waterwise award. See the video. 

 

Succulent Landscape Front Yard (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

This front yard succulent garden, by homeowner Deana Rae McMillion of Carpinteria, CA, illustrates Ten Succulent Front Yard Essentials. 

 

Smart Design and layout

If you're overwhelmed by the complex task of redoing a large yard, consider hiring a landscape designer. She or he can help you with part or all of the process: lawn removal, irrigation (yes, succulents need some water), hardscape, plant selection and placement.

A garden should be practical, inviting and beautiful. Important considerations include climate, orientation to the sun, soil quality, grade changes, and---most importantly---what you hope to achieve: a backyard retreat, perhaps, or curb appeal that increases the value of your home.

Videos

Patrick Anderson's Succulent Garden: It All Started with Aloes (6:07) How a well-designed succulent garden looks two decades after installation.

Find out how celebrity designer Laura Eubanks creates a Succulent Pocket Garden (12:37) and learn her Succulent Garden Design Secrets (3:40).

Succulent Landscape Design

This landscape by Linda Bresler of Living Designs by Linda, is in Poway, CA. From Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.  Photo by Ed Gohlich. 

 

Design Essentials: Rocks and Topdressing

In 2007, San Diego plantsman Michael Buckner, one of the first designers to specialize in succulent gardens, told me, "You can never have too many rocks." It was an ah-ha! moment. Ever since, I've noticed the many subtle and important ways rocks enhance succulent gardens of every size.

Rocks and topdressing (gravel) moderate soil temperature, keep weeds from germinating, need no maintenance, and look good year-round. Find out more about this essential design element in my videos:

Videos

Why You Really Need Rocks (5:32). Succulent landscape designer Steve McDearmon uses warm-toned boulders, rubble and gravel.

A Succulent Boulder Garden (4:06). Why you should be very glad if you have huge rocks.

Succulent Design Ideas from Sherman Gardens (4:18). A small garden with big ideas includes rivers of rock and mosaic.

Succulent Landscape Rocks

In this front yard landscape by Michael Buckner is a dry creek bed of rounded river rock. Do you see several other kinds of rock as well?

 

Trees and non-succulent companion plants

Succulent Landscape Companion Plants

Palo verde tree

There are indeed succulent trees, such as Aloe 'Hercules', Dracaena draco, and Beaucarnea recurvata. As it happens, they resemble those in children's books by Dr. Seuss.

Succulent trees may have great personality, but they provide minimal shade unless large, which takes forever. And even when small, they tend to be expensive. A smart alternative is to provide shade by planting lovely, non-succulent trees that once established, need minimal water.

Palo verde is a desert tree that does fine closer to the ocean. It gets by on rainfall, blooms for months, and provides a lacy canopy. How much do I love this green-barked beauty? I have seven palo verde trees in my half-acre, Zone 9b garden.

Trees, btw, are the first things to plant. Don't start with the small stuff. Most gardens need shade ASAP, and even a relatively fast-growing tree---like Acacia longifolia---can take three to five years to provide it.

Videos

Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes (6:31). These shade and protect understory plants from heat, cold and searing sun.

In the Companion Plants chapter of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed) you'll find lovely, low-water, nonsucculent trees, shrubs and ground covers.

 

Select the Right Succulents

You'll find an entire chapter of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed) about suitable succulents. The key is to select those that you enjoy looking at, and to prepare beforehand for their care requirements and possible drawbacks.

For example, rather than put up with the feral-cat characteristics of century plants (Agave americana), select Agave cultivars that stay reasonably small, don't produce invasive pups, take a long time to bloom (a good thing), and are truly beautiful.

Of course you can have a century plant if you want one...they're usually free for the asking (that pupping thing). In fact, the only plant in my garden I've truly mourned was "Big Blue," an Agave americana I'd planted as a pup and that bloomed and died at 23.

Where to Buy Landscape Succulents

In the San Diego area 

Reader recommendations

Bay Area: Succulent Gardens

Online -- Altman Plants, Succulent Gardens Nursery, and Mountain Crest Gardens' Rock Garden Succulents.

 

Videos

A Colorful Succulent Garden For You to Copy (3:51) You could easily duplicate this showcase of succulents suited to mild, frost-free regions. See the corresponding post on this site. 

What You MUST Know About Century Plants (2:50). Big Blue's last starring role. Sniff.

Six Great Agaves for Your Garden with Kelly Griffin (4:53). They are: A. ovatifolia, A. 'Blue Glow', A. victoria-reginae, A. titanota, A. impressa, and A. guiengola. 

Critique: Newport Beach's Grand Succulent Garden (6:23) Find out what this public installation does right, and---perhaps more importantly---what it doesn't.

Succulent Landscape What Not to Do (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Large, spiny plants have their place, but not where children play. This impressive public garden in coastal Orange County does a lot right...but also includes OMG mistakes. 

 

Succulent Landscape with rocks (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Succulent Landscaping Trends

As the author of two editions of Designing with Succulents ten years apart, I’m sort of obsessed with the evolution of succulent landscaping. Here’s what designers and homeowners are discovering that works and (perhaps more importantly) what doesn’t. These top six trends—call them preferences, if you like—may surprise you. 1. About as many rocks as plants. Designers bring in boulders, create cobbled riverbeds, fill gaps with gravel,…

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