Midwinter Succulent Show: Big Aloes In Bloom

Above: Aloe ferox at Desert Theater nursery, Escondido, CA. From my video, Spectacular Aloes in Flower.

Large, sculptural aloes with brilliant, Popsicle-like flowers make striking garden plants. Midwinter is peak aloe bloom season and an excellent time to see them in nurseries and landscapes.

Aloe ferox, or Cape Aloe, might be considered a tree because of its height at maturity–6 to 8 feet with bloom spikes that add another couple of feet—but unlike true tree aloes, it’s not branching. Growth is from the center of the rosette, and old leaves dry and wither, so eventually you have a large octopus of a plant atop a columnar trunk. Although the skirt of dry leaves hugging the trunk can be removed to make the plant more tidy, it’s best to keep them on. As in the aloe’s native habit of South Africa, these wraparound leaves protect the trunk from excessive heat, sun and cold. Aloe ferox does well in Southern California except in mountain and desert areas, and is hardy to the low 20s.

Aloe marlothii in bloom

Two specimens of Aloe marlothii in bloom flank an Aloe ferox not in bloom.

Aloe marlothii is similar to Aloe ferox and hybridizes readily with it, so it’s often hard to tell which is which. A. marlothii blooms later (in early spring), flower stems branch horizontally, and leaves are prickled—sometimes heavily so.

Even if you lack space for big aloes, or live where it’s too wet, cold or hot for them, I know you’ll enjoy seeing them. These exotic, over-the-top succulents are fairly new to the horticultural scene. Surprisingly, even in Southern CA where they thrive, few people cultivate them…[Continue reading]

For sources, see my list of nurseries.

More Aloe Info

On this site ~
One of Southern CA’s in-demand landscape designers, Bill Schnetz of Schnetz Landscape, Inc., likes to use aloes of all sizes in residential gardens…[Continue reading]

Go to my Aloes page for 80+ Aloe photos and IDs
Most of my aloe photos show the plants in bloom. After all, their large, vivid flowers are… [Continue reading]

Aloes in bloom with names
Books ~

Find comprehensive info about aloes in my books Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 182-190; and Succulents Simplified, pp. 185-197.

My YouTube Videos ~

Grow Aloe ferox! Just released.

See examples of mature Aloe ferox in the landscape and learn more about this big, beautiful succulent.

Spectacular Aloes in Flower

See in-ground aloes blooming en masse at Desert Theater nursery north of San Diego.

 Hannah Jarson’s Aloe Eden

Explore a colorful, waterwise Rancho Santa Fe garden and get plenty of great designs ideas, too!

Succulent topiary tree
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Six New Holiday Designs to Inspire You

To inspire and entertain you, I’ve selected six new, never-seen-before holiday design ideas featuring succulents. Do consider each as a launching point for your creativity, and feel free to share them with friends. I’d love it if you’d post photos of what you come up with on Instagram or Facebook, and tag me @DebraLBaldwin. Regardless, have fun and enjoy!Succulent topiary tree
Sempervivum topiary tree.
This is a riff on my 2017 topiary tree. I love hens-and-chicks but only recently have grown them successfully year-round. The concept for this year’s mini-tree was one by Margee Rader in my book, Succulent Container Gardens. I used nearly 50 assorted Sempervivum heuffelii (hew-FEL-ee-eye) hybrids in 2-inch pots from Mountain Crest Gardens. When the holidays are over, they’ll join my other “heuffs” in the garden. (Most semps don’t like our hot summers here in Southern CA but so far, heuffs–which used to be classified as Jovibarba–are doing well.) See my materials list for a topiary tree. Succulent pine cone ornaments
Ready-made succulent ornaments.
Speaking of Mountain Crest Gardens, the succulent pine-cone ornaments they introduced this year are a super deal. The set of three includes six sempervivums atop sequoia cones (each 3-inches tall by 1.5-inches wide) for $10. So that means you get six semps that you can wiggle off and plant after the holidays for under $2 each! Be sure to check out MCG’s other fetching succulent ornaments too.

Crassula tetragona Christmas tree

Mini succulent Christmas tree. This desktop tree is 8 inches tall with a 4-inch-wide base. To make glass balls appear to hang from branches, I held the three-stemmed cutting upside-down, dotted the leaves with white glue, then added beads. A small, shallow container makes the cutting look proportionally large and treelike. A glass jar lid sort of looks like ice, but any container will do including a flowerpot. A small floral frog (a flower holder made of metal pins) holds the cutting upright, and white sand with blue sparkles hides the frog and suggests snow.

Succulents Lit for the Holidays
Succulent garden of lights.
Every year Sabine Hildebrand of  Weidner’s Gardens nursery in Encinitas, CA, decorates her own garden with holiday lights. In December night falls by 5:00, so Sabine and husband Rob enjoy their glowing garden for hours every evening. She keeps the design simple—no colored or twinkling lights—to showcase the plants’ shapes and colors. There’s not much difference in decorating succulents instead of shrubs, Sabine says. “Do it late in the afternoon so you can see the results as it’s getting dark. Then rearrange the strings of lights as necessary.” See more in my new YouTube video: Sabine’s Holiday Succulent Garden.

Cactus decorated with lights

Ferocactus glaucescens in a gold-painted terra-cotta pot glows with mini lights.

Barrel cactus aglow. Inspired by Sabine’s garden, I added tiny lights to a ferocactus to create a holiday centerpiece for the patio table outside my kitchen and dining room windows. The plant’s translucent spines shine, making an intriguing display. See how to make it, step-by-step, on my website and in my latest DIY video: Decorate a Cactus with Holiday Lights. I also painted the pot to match the gold of the spines, and to make the combo look good during the day as well as at night. [Continue reading]

Cactus pad Christmas tree

Cactus pad Christmas tree.  Jim Sudal’s cactus-pad holiday tree reinterprets the traditional fir, and is perfect for the dry, hot Southwest. Like Jim, many residents of Phoenix (and well beyond) have stands of prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), a succulent iconic to the region. About 250 cactus pads from Jim’s garden cover a 7-foot-tall cone that he and friend Mark Faulkner assembled on an iron frame wrapped with poultry fencing. “We wore special gloves called Thorn Armor that did their best to protect our hands,” Jim says. [Continue reading]

Wonder why I didn’t include succulent wreaths? Well, there are so many gorgeous ones, I created a Pinterest page for the best of the best! 

Related Info on This Site:

Succulent Topiary Tree


Cactus Pad Holiday Tree


Decorate a cactus w lights


Books by Debra Lee Baldwin


The Easy Way to Paint Watercolors

Is there really an easy way to paint watercolors? Yes, if you go straight to painting and don’t spend time laboriously drawing the image first. I learned the technique described here from San Diego watercolor artist Diane Palley McDonald.

The easy way to paint watercolors Step by step:

  1. Select a photo that inspires you.
  2. Print the photo on 8-1/2 by 11 paper.
  3. Put the photo on a light table or against a sunny window, and tape a piece of watercolor paper over it.
  4. Using a pencil, lightly trace the photo’s main lines onto the watercolor paper.
  5. Tape the edges of the watercolor paper to a thick rectangle of cardboard.
  6. Mask any bright white lines. (optional)
  7. Have fun painting!

This technique is a bit like painting a coloring book page. The worst that can happen is you’ll have to start over, but the hard part of any painting is the drawing, so you can skip that part. I sometimes do two or three paintings of a subject before I’m satisfied.The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors

The easy way to paint watercolors


Here’s why I prefer watercolors to any other art medium, except possibly photography: When you dilute watercolor paint with liquid light (clear water), you can create an image that’s translucent. Because the white of the paper shines through, the result suggests a sunlit moment.

Related Info on This Site:
Debra's art supplies

Go to “Debra’s Art Supplies” to find out which watercolor paints and brushes I prefer.2019 Succulent Watercolors Calendar

Sixty succulent coloring book photos

Also enjoy this YouTube video in which I share my painting method.

See more paintings from past succulent watercolor calendars still available on Zazzle. Many are are on my Succulent Watercolors Pinterest page as well.


Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Cold weather care for outdoor succulents
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Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region

Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region

Should you be worried about your outdoor succulents in winter? It depends on where you live.

It’s all about frost. The temperature at which water freezes—32 degrees F—is the Great Divide. Above that, most succulents are fine. Below that, most are at risk. See “Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know.

Hardiness Zone Map

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a good basic guideline. However, it doesn’t take into account climate variables potentially harmful to succulents.

Regional Care for Succulents, An Overview

There’s very little of North America where every kind of succulent will grow outdoors year-round. The “banana belt” is the heavily populated California coast. Of course, you can grow any succulent anywhere if you’re able to replicate the conditions it likes, either in your home or in a greenhouse. But this article is about cultivating succulents outdoors, in the garden, during the most challenging season: winter.

If you live in…

Coastal CA from the Bay Area south: You don’t get frost (at lower elevations), and humidity and rainfall are minimal, so simply make sure your succulents get good drainage during occasional rainstorms.

Cold weather care for outdoor succulents

My garden is in Southern CA inland, in the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet (Zone 9b). A freak snowfall happened on New Year’s Day, 2017. When temps rose above freezing, I hosed off the snow. The Agave attenuata at left was damaged but recovered.

Central and Southern CA inland: Frosty nights tend to follow rainy weather, December through February. Like a citrus grower, I pay attention to “frost advisories for inland valleys.” When temps are predicted to drop below 32, I drape succulents with bed sheets or commercial frost cloth made of non-woven fabric[Learn more about how I protect my garden.]

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

When a non-gardening friend noticed bedsheets draped over my plants, she asked if my dryer wasn’t working (!).

Areas of hard frost: You get temps below 32 degrees that last for hours, so it’s not adequate to merely cover your in-ground succulents or shelter potted succulents beneath eaves. Move them indoors or into a greenhouse. Depending on where you live, an inexpensive temporary shelter may be OK. [See “Four Ways to Overwinter Succulents” on this site.]

Northwest and Northeast: Protect and shelter your succulents indoors (perhaps in your basement) or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. [On this site, See “Cold-Hardy Succulents for Northern Climates” for exceptions; “How to Grow Succulents Indoors;” and “Winter Protection for Succulents: Products].

Desert Southwest: You get hard frosts, so protect and shelter tender succulents indoors or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Those that do well for you include cacti, agaves, dasylirions, yuccas and other succulents specific to your region.

South: If you get frost, see above. But even if temps stay above freezing, you’ll still contend year-round with trying to grow arid-region plants in a wet, humid climate. Find out which succulents you can grow outdoors in Florida and other states too damp and humid for most succulents.

Related info on this site:
How to grow indoors

Frost and succulents Frost damage

Learn more in my books:

Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.):
— Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens, pp. 111-113
— Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates, pp. 143-148

Succulents Simplified:
— Protection from Frost, pp. 48-50
— Frost Damage, p. 72 and p. 77

I also recommend this excellent book: Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis, photos by Saxon Holt.Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

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Four Ways to Overwinter Succulents

These four ways to overwinter succulents give you several options, depending on how cold it gets where you live. Most varieties can’t handle temps below 32 degrees F.

These common winter conditions can lead to damage or death for dormant (not actively growing) succulents:
— soggy soil (causes roots to rot)
— excess rainfall (engorges cells)
— frost (causes cell walls to burst)

Some succulents do have a built-in antifreeze. Those indigenous to the Americas, such as cacti and agaves, or to northern climates like many sedums and sempervivums, tend to fare better than those from Madagascar and South Africa (kalanchoes, aeoniums, aloes and crassulas). But no succulents want a lot of water when dormant, nor high humidity at any time of the year. All prefer well-draining soil, bright but not intense light, and good air circulation.

#1: Cover your plants

If you live where frost is occasional and lasts only a few hours (inland valleys of Southern CA), cover vulnerable, in-ground succulents with bed sheets when there’s a frost advisory for your area. Or use what nurseries do: Pellon nonwoven fabric or Agribon’s floating row cover. These are made of spun nylon, like fusible interfacing without the fusible part. It will protect about 2 to 4 degrees below freezing. For a bit of extra warmth, use C-9 Christmas light strings (the old-fashioned kind).

Ways to overwinter succulents

In my YouTube video, Frost Protection for Succulents, I show how I do this in my own garden. In the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet, it’s subject to cold air that settles in inland valleys. 

— Don’t peel away dry leaves attached to a succulent’s trunk or stem. They protect it from temperature extremes (cold and hot).
— Keep succulents on the dry side. Cells that are turgid are more likely to burst when the liquid within them freezes and expands.
— Move cold-sensitive succulents beneath a deck, tree or eaves. Such structures help to keep heat from dissipating and protect leaves from falling ice crystals.
— Or place pots against walls, hardscape, boulders and/or shrubs that absorb and slowly release the day’s heat. South- and west-facing exposures do this best.

If you live in Zones 8 or lower, grow tender succulents as annuals or in containers that you overwinter indoors. These members of my Facebook community graciously shared their winter set-ups:

#2: Outdoors, Temporary Greenhouse

Candy Suter, Roseville, CA (near Sacramento): Midwinter nights may drop into the 20s F but seldom go lower than 25 F. Candy moves her succulents into a small walk-in greenhouse (center) or a gazebo (right), which she covers with 5mm plastic to hold in warmth. She anchors the plastic along the bottom, secures the seams with duct tape, and adds a small heater with a fan on the coldest nights.

Ways to overwinter succulents

#3: Indoors, shelves with lights

Pat Enderly of Virginia Beach, VA: Midwinter lows average 32 F. Pat brings her plants indoors and tucks them into shelving units she purchased online. Each shelf has a waterproof tray, and each unit is lit by two T5 bulbs. “They do a wonderful job of keeping my succulents from etiolating (stretching),” Pat says, adding that the lights, on timers, stay on from 7 am to 7 pm daily. Pat moves her succulents indoors in Sept. and Oct. and takes them outside in April.

Ways to overwinter succulents Ways to overwinter succulents

#4: Climate-controlled greenhouse

Tenaya Capron of Buffalo, TX: Although average midwinter lows hover above freezing, occasional winter lows may drop into the single digits. Tenaya and her husband built this 24×20 free-standing greenhouse, which they outfitted with exhaust and overhead fans, an overhead heater, and double sliding barn doors on either end. I love the library ladder, don’t you?

Ways to overwinter succulents

Find more info in my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.):
— Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens, pp. 111-113
— Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates, pp. 143-148

Related Info on this Site:

Temporary greenhouse

Succulent FAQs, Basics

How to keep succulents happy

Undersea succulent clamshell planter
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Plant an Undersea Succulent Clamshell

Undersea Succulent Clamshell Planter

Succulents that resemble coral-reef flora lend themselves to containers that immerse the viewer in an undersea experience. This succulent clamshell planter sits atop lava rocks near my home’s entry. It’s semi-shaded by Texas privet, the trunks of which frame the arrangement and repeat the upright lines of Senecio anteuphorbium. Certain succulents (the senecio, the aloe at left and the Medusa euphorbia) came from the original arrangement, which I made several years ago, but most are new. Those that had outgrown the planter—notably Crassula ‘Gollum’ and other jades—found homes in the garden.

Here’s my list of plants and materials, along with my method and how to care for the arrangement once completed. This goes with my YouTube video, DIY Undersea Succulent Clamshell. Have fun!

Undersea Succulent Clamshell planter

Plants: Below are what I used, but there are so many succulents that suggest tidepool flora. Feel free to make substitutions. See “Marine Life Look-Alikes” on page 101 of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed)

Aloes that look like starfish (4 or 5, various sizes). I used Aloe maculata and in 3-inch pots, the dwarf species A. ‘Christmas Sleigh’, A. ‘Pink Blush’ and A. ‘Snow Storm’.

A Medusa euphorbia. I used E. flanaganii.

Euphorbia anoplia (Tanzanian zipper plant). Mine was in an 8-inch pot.

Fenestraria aurantiaca (baby toes), two in 3-inch pots

Crassula lycopodioides (C. muscosa, watch chain), three in 3-inch pots

Senecio anteuphorbium (swizzle sticks) for height

A tillandsia (air plant)

Materials: (links go to Amazon):

Clam shell, 25″ x 16.5″ x 8.5″ around $110 (planted ones go for $300 or more)*

Pumice, 2 qts. around $15

Potting soil, 4-qt. bag, around $10


Rocks to anchor the rootball of the tall senecio

Soft artist’s brush for removing spilled soil from plants

Chopstick for settling roots (or use the pointed end of the artist’s brush)

Joyce Chen (or similar) kitchen scissors for delicate pruning

White or gray-white sand (not beach sand)

Seashells, crushed shells, pebbles and/or lava rock

DIY Method:

Fill clamshell 1/3 full of pumice. Start with your largest plants. If you’re using a tall senecio with a small rootball, as I did, anchor the roots with rocks so it doesn’t tip over. Add potting soil and press firmly to surround and secure rootballs. As you compose the arrangement:

— Keep in mind it should look as though the succulents were undersea flora and fauna inhabiting a coral reef.

— Rotate plants outward so they’re facing the viewer.

— Place tall plants in the back. Put small ones in front and use as filler.

— Use plants and their root balls, shells, chunks of coral and/or rocks to retain soil in the clamshell’s U-shaped dips.

Caring for your composition:

To make it last and look good for years, place it in bright shade where it’ll get only a few hours of sun daily, ideally early morning or late afternoon. Water the plants lightly once a week in summer and once a month (or not at all) in winter.

Err on the dry side. This is a nondraining container, so don’t let it sit out in the rain or get watered by automatic irrigation. Although the pumice in the bottom will absorb moisture, it’s not a substitute for drainage. If the arrangement gets flooded, tip it slightly so water drains out.

Keep it tidy: Deadhead spent flowers, peel or snip off dry lower leaves, and remove debris that may fall onto or into the plants.

*How much will it cost?

Undersea-themed succulent-planted clamshell

This succulent-planted clamshell at Roger’s Gardens is priced at $300. If you DIY, expect to pay about half that—less if you use cuttings.

Related Info on This Site:

A succulent mermaid's garden

Succulent Mermaid's Garden


DIY Succulent Driftwood Designs

Related Videos on my YouTube channel:

Mermaid Succulent Garden

See how succulents combine with bromeliads and outdoor art in this undersea-themed “mermaid’s garden.” The owner/designer is Nancy Englund, president of the Laguna Beach Garden Club.


Undersea succulent planter

Succulents that resemble coral-reef flora lend themselves to containers that immerse the viewer in an undersea experience. [See story above.]

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Succulent White-Pot Pairings

White pots are a simple, effective way to display your prized succulents and cacti. Here I’ve paired colorful, geometric cacti and sculptural succulent euphorbias with an assortment of white-glazed containers. Solo or in groupings, succulent white-pot pairings would look good on your patio, deck, entryway or sunroom. Watch the 4-min. companion video: Succulent White-Pot Pairings.

#1 Euphorbia lactea variegata, crested

I usually start with a project’s largest item and work my way down, so the design flows from the biggest, most prominent element. The first plant I chose at Oasis Water Efficient Gardens (a succulent specialty nursery near me owned by Altman Plants) was a white-variegated crested euphorbia. Its coloration repeats that of the largest container, and the plant’s spiky texture contrasts with the pot’s smooth finish. The euphorbia is in scale with the pot…not too large or small. That’s important aesthetically and practically—the arrangement will look the same for years (crested plants grow slowly).

#2 Euphorbia leucodendron (cats’ tails)

I repeated the horizontal lines of the pot with the upright lines of a cylindrical cats’ tails succulent. Wherever you put it, the euphorbia provides a strong vertical element. The nursery plant had more stems than I needed, but because they were a half a dozen rooted cuttings, they easily pulled apart.

#3 Echinocereus rigidissimus rubrispius (“Red-headed Irishman”)

The pink of the crested euphorbia led me to select this magenta echinocereus (which also has white in its spines), but those at the nursery weren’t large enough to fill the bowl-shaped pot. Cross-hatching in the pot repeated patterns in the echinocereus and I liked the cactus’ clean lines, so I decided to combine several. Doing so emphasizes and repeats pleasing circles; and having five rosy, radiating starbursts creates design interest.

Compositions like these look unfinished if soil shows, so we concealed it with a topdressing of white crushed rock and white stones.

Production assistant Pat Roach pours white crushed rock

4. Melocactus azureus. 

I’d rather not put a succulent in a pot that’s deeper than the plant is tall because roots may rot in soil that stays moist. But this blue melocactus was a perfect match for our last and smallest pot. In the video you’ll see me pour pumice down the inside of the pot; that’s to absorb excess moisture. The resulting plant-pot combo showcases the plant’s geometric shape and looks good with the rest of the planted white pots, too.

Related Info on This Site:

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The Secret to Happy Succulents

A happy saguaro in Arizona

Can you grow saguaros in Tucson? You bet! In California, probably not.

The secret to happy succulents is to duplicate their native growing conditions as much as possible. The more you know about where a succulent comes from, the easier you can do this…up to a point. Occasionally (not often) it’s nearly impossible. No matter what you do, saguaros don’t thrive beyond the Sonoran Desert, where they grow like weeds. But most other succulents, regardless of origin, can be accommodated anywhere.

There’s a reason jade (Crassula ovata) is in everyone’s collection.

Some are super easy. Jade, for example, survives under- or over-watering, starts readily from cuttings, seldom gets pests, loves sun but tolerates shade, and will grow indoors or out if protected from freezing temps.

Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’ doesn’t mind desert heat or high humidity.

This may surprise you, but a succulent I’ve seen in gardens from Miami to Honolulu and everywhere in-between—including Phoenix—is from South Africa: elephant’s food (Portulacaria afra).

Sempervivum heuffelii hybrids, largely considered cold-climate succulents, do fine when grown in bright shade in the Southwest. Mine are happy as pot plants.

Haworthias (related to aloes) make terrific terrarium succulents.  This one, from my “Stunning Succulent Arrangements” online Craftsy class, features Haworthia attenuata ‘Variegata’. (Yes you can grow succulents in nondraining containers. This one, on my kitchen counter near a window, gets a mere 1/4 cup of water monthly.)

Windowsill succulents in my office.

Nearly any succulent when small will bask happily on a bright windowsill.

The mild temperatures and drought-rainfall cycles of southern CA replicate regions of Africa, Madagascar and the Canary Islands, where many desirable succulents originate.

Florida and Hawaii may seem to have climates similar to southern CA’s, but succulents see it differently. Where there’s high humidity and summer rainstorms, it can be challenging to grow aeoniumsagavesaloes, dudleyas, echeverias, euphorbias and senecios.

Think about it: Succulents by definition survive dry spells by storing water in fleshy leaves and stems. They’re not set up to handle continually moist conditions. Add cold to that, and the buzzer goes off. The farther north and east you go from coastal CA, the fewer types of succulents you can grow effortlessly in your garden. Read about those you can grow in colder, wetter climates.

Echeverias, from high elevations in Mexico, top the popularity list in terms of resembling roses that never fade. Their rosette forms serve a practical purpose: they funnel rainwater to roots.

From the Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World:

Other succulents from Mexico and Central America such as graptopetalums, pachyphytums, and large-leaved sedums have leaves that pop easily off stems. These tumble down and take root far enough from the parent plant that they don’t compete with it for nutrients.

Like the plump bodies of tadpoles, fat leaves feed juvenile succulents, enabling them to grow and develop without water. The leaf slowly withers as the baby plant drains moisture and nutrients to form its own leaves and roots.

Succulents with ever-lengthening, pendant stems may become bearded with roots as they sniff out soil pockets.

So, how do you make echeverias and their nook-and-cranny relatives happy? Tuck them into niches in rock walls, and let them cascade from terraces, pedestal pots and hanging baskets. Place any fat, fallen leaves atop the soil out of direct sun. (Don’t bury or water them lest they rot.)

Not surprisingly, the easiest succulents to grow throughout the arid Southwest, and that survive with no irrigation other than rainfall once established, are those native to the region: cacti, agaves, dasylirions, yuccas, hesperaloes and beaucarneas. (Those last four don’t have fleshy leaves, but rather store moisture in their stems or cores.)

Consult my books for the best succulents for your area and how to keep them happy. You’ll discover how to use them in all sorts of design applications, from pots and projects to in-ground gardens and landscapes.

Related info on this site:

Succulents for Coastal Southern California Gardens
These thrive in frost-free, low-rainfall regions within several miles of the ocean (i.e. coastal CA from San Diego to Santa Barbara)…[Continue reading]

How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region
Where you live and the time of year make a big difference as to how well your succulents grow and perform, and even which kinds you should choose…[Continue reading]

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It’s the Succulent Extravaganza!

It’s the Succulent Extravaganza! Every year, this fun and enriching event is the last Friday and Saturday of September, from 8 to 4, at Succulent Gardens Nursery. Location: 2133 Elkhorn Rd., Castroville, CA 95012 (in northern CA near San Francisco, between Carmel and Santa Cruz). Free.

The annual Succulent Extravaganza, started in 2010, is one of the largest succulent-themed events in the world. Attending it is a wonderful opportunity to enlarge your knowledge of succulents, view and acquire gorgeous specimen plants, tour a premier specialty nursery, learn from expert growers and top designers, and mingle with fellow enthusiasts.

Succulent Extravaganza

The Succulent Fanatics, a Facebook group founded by San Jose master gardener Laura Balaoro, host a display table with succulent-themed compositions made by members. It’s a fun gathering spot, and everyone’s welcome whether you’re in the group or not. Because it’s international and has thousands of members, you never know whom you might meet.

Succulent Extravaganza

This dish garden seen on the Succulent Fanatics table, by Danielle Romero, has a sansevieria that emphasizes a lovely red-edged aeonium. Danielle and husband Michael Romero professionally design succulent gardens in the Los Angeles area.

Every year there are new things to see and numerous photo ops…

Succulent extravaganza

For example, who could resist having their photo taken within a special succulent frame?

Succulent Extravaganza

Laura Balaoro is known for decorating her hat or visor with succulents. Discover out how she does it, and get design inspiration to make your own. 

Succulent Extravaganza

This giant succulent heart was the hit of a past Succulent Extravaganza. The event originated when succulent expert Robin Stockwell owned the nursery. He has since retired, and new owners Megan and John Rodkin have continued the Extravaganza tradition with quality plants, displays and photogenic, inspirational ideas.

Succulent Extravaganza

Horticulturist-nurseryman Aaron Ryan’s propagation demonstrations typically have standing room only. Impressed by Aaron’s knowledge, I did a post about it and show his methods in several YouTube videos.

Succulent Extravaganza

Another year, the succulent globe that Robin Stockwell made for the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show was on display. Nothing like it had been done before, and I think you’ll agree it takes vertical gardens to a whole new level! In the foreground, with Robin and wife Sanne looking on, San Diego floral designer Marialuisa Kaprielian demonstrates how to wire succulent rosettes.

Succulent Extravaganza
This may be my favorite Extravaganza photo. A young member of the Rodkin family greets visitors in front of a big succulent spiral made of sedums and sempervivums.

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How to Make a Succulent-Decorated Hat and More

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Notice how succulent rosettes contrast beautifully with Cathy Leiss’ auburn hair? She’s a little shy (ha).

Here’s how to make a succulent-decorated hat and more, with design ideas from attendees at succulent events.

Wearing succulents at succulent-themed events is a great ice-breaker. Everyone wants a photo of you. The easiest way to attach succulents to a hat brim, visor, hair ornament or bracelet is with the moss-and-glue method pioneered by San Diego garden designer Laura Eubanks, who first used it to attach succulent cuttings to pumpkins. (As seen in Succulents Simplified, pp.150-155 and the video we made.)

Succulent hair ornament

I’m wearing a butterfly hair ornament made by Laura Eubanks for a photo shoot. She used tiny sedum rosettes and string-of-pearls.

Here’s how:

1. Assemble your materials: a hot-glue gun, a hat or other wearable, dry moss (from any craft store), and succulent cuttings.
2. Glue moss to the area you’ll cover with cuttings. Like a moss-filled succulent wreath, this gives the cuttings something to root into.
3. Hot-glue cuttings to the moss. Wondering why they don’t cook? So do I! You can’t touch hot glue without getting burned, but—go figure—cuttings are fine.
4. Cuttings eventually send roots right through the glue into the moss, so treat the hat as you would a topiary or wreath: Store in bright shade and spritz occasionally.

See the video. 

Design ideas

These are from earlier events: the Succulent Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens nursery near San Francisco (this year, Sept. 28-29), and the Succulent Celebration at Waterwise Botanicals nursery near San Diego (coming up April 12-13, 2019):

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Laura Balaoro of San Jose, CA, founder of the Succulent Fanatics Facebook group, is known for her succulent chapeaux. In fact, she and I collaborated on an article for a national magazine showing how she does it. Above: Yellow-orange Sedum angelina contrasts with purple echeverias and Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’. Suggesting a ribbon is the trailing succulent: variegated rosary vine (Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’).

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Laura decorates hats to match her colorful outfits.

Above: Laura used bell-shaped cotyledon blooms to add a bright complementary color to another turquoise hat.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Laura’s sea-themed hat includes a tillandsia, shells and even some sand. Nice earrings, too.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

For friend Jeanne Eige’s ball cap, Laura used Sedum angelina to repeat embroidered poppy leaves.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Above: I added Aeonum ‘Kiwi’ rosettes to the center of a hat’s bow, echoed the orange in the rosettes with a flower from a dwarf aloe that happened to be in bloom (to go with my jacket), and added string-of-pearls as a cascader. No glue or moss—pins hold everything in place.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Los Angeles landscape designer Shirley Kost-Haskell can be counted on to decorate a hat or visor with succulents, and earrings too. Find blank earrings suitable for moss-and-gluing at craft stores and online.

Succulent decorated hats and art-to-wear

Above: Where lines intersect at the back of Nancy Pedersen’s hat, she placed a red aeonium rosette and surrounded it with smaller cuttings. Btw, try not to touch aeoniums when you design with them—they mar easily, something not evident until the next day (as I explain in a short video, “Aeonium Leaves, What You Need to Know.”)

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Above: Design by Deana Rae McMillion for Lydia Dunaway, who came to the Succulent Celebration from Florida.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Deana Rae McMillion added dried flowers and fresh succulent blooms for bright bits of color.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Candy Suter of Roseville near Sacramento does lovely hat-band bouquets. At one event, a fellow attendee asked if she could buy Candy’s hat. Surprised and flattered, she sold it to her.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Carrie Goode from Arizona placed Graptopetalum paraguayense on her hat. This is one succulent that the leaves pop off the stems easily, so working with them takes a delicate touch.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Susan Morse of Vista, CA creates lavish hats. This one features a purple-pink echeveria (E. ‘Perle von Nurnberg’) and ice plant flowers. The flowers close in dim light—which was probably the case when Susan glued them to her hat. Smart of her to know they’d open in full sun!

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

And here’s Susan wearing a succulent-decorated headband.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Succulents stay fresh without water because they draw on moisture in their leaves. The downside is this makes them heavy, but Jen Golden of Brisbane, CA, is smiling regardless. Notice her succulent pendant, too. Blank pendants suitable for moss-and-gluing are available at craft stores and online.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Designer Katie Christensen glued tiny succulent rosettes, flowers and shells to a hair clip.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

Katie also taught a class at Weidner’s Gardens on succulent art-to-wear. This is a bracelet from the class. Watch the DIY on my YouTube channel: “Fashion Wearable Succulents for Weddings, Gifts and Garden Events.” 

You probably don’t want to take the time and trouble to make a succulent lei, but I just had to show you this one, a memorable gift from the Honolulu Garden Club.

Guess what? String-of-pearls makes a miserable necklace. Its little spherical leaves each have a tiny point that’ll irritate your skin. After doing this selfie, I was happy to take it off.

Fabulous fakes

The downside to using fresh floral material—even succulents—is that they don’t last forever. If you get a couple of weeks out of them, you’re doing good. It’s not that succulent cuttings wither and die, but rather that they get leggy. New growth elongates the rosette, and lower leaves dry and fall off. Cuttings can be salvaged (even reused), but you’ll need to pull them off the decorated object and start over.

So why not use faux succulents instead?

Plastic string-of-pearls are available online for around $10. 

Sculpey succulents on a visor

For this year’s Succulent Celebration, I fashioned succulents out of oven-bake modeling clay and hot-glued them to my visor. No moss needed, and they’ll last the life of the hat. See the video: DIY Sculpey Succulent: Striped Agave (3:15).

Sculpey succulents on a headband

I glued faux succulent rosettes to a headband and added them to succulent crowns for book-table guests to wear for selfies. Below is Hannah Eubanks, Laura E’s daughter. Both will be at Succulent Extravaganza 2018, where Laura is presenting. (She’s wonderfully knowledgeable and entertaining. Watch for an interview in an upcoming newsletter.) If you’re a fan, delight Laura by wearing one of her Hot Mess ball caps or visors—with or without succulents attached.

Succulent-decorated hats and art-to-wear

I’ve yet to see a succulent buckle, nose ring, belt, or bunny ears. Maybe you’ll be the first? Send me photos!


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See my Pinterest board: Succulent Hats, Crafts and Art-to-Wear

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