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Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'
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Testing Mangaves in My Garden

I’m testing more than 30 Mangave cultivars in my Zone 9b Southern CA garden. This is a report on the first batch of 14 that arrived two years ago from Hans Hansen of Walters Gardens, a wholesale perennial grower in Zeeland, MI. Hans is the world’s leading breeder of mangaves, and the first to reproduce them via tissue culture.

The hard part for breeders is selecting the true champions. Like a litter of puppies, plant crosses may look terrific, but how will they behave? It may take years to find out, and reports (like this) from gardeners far and wide provide important data.

Mangave is an intergeneric cross of Manfreda and Agave, and in the list below I’ve included each cultivar’s parentage (if available). All have speckled, dotted or blotchy leaves unless otherwise noted.

A bit of horticultural backstory

Mangaves

Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’
From Designing with Succulents by Debra Lee Baldwin. Garden design by Michael Buckner.

The first mangave arrived on the gardening scene 15 years ago: the cultivar ‘Macho Mocha’. According to San Marcos Growers: “…reported to be hardy to 9° F by Tony Avent in North Carolina. This 2004 Yucca Do Nursery introduction…was from seed collected by Carl Schoenfeld while on a plant exploration trip into Mexico.” It attains 2 to 3 feet in height by 4 to 6 feet in diameter.

Mangave

The best guess is that Agave macroacantha x Manfreda maculata = Mangave ‘Bloodspot’

Next came Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ (2008; 1 foot high by 1 to 2 feet wide. Hardy to 20-25 degrees.) The origin is unclear; San Marcos Growers suspects Japan.

In my book, Designing with Succulents (2nd ed, 2015, pp. 224-225), I show both ‘Bloodspot’ and “Macho Mocha’ and say, “If plants can be fashionable, the latest stars are mangaves.” I still feel that way. Mangaves are new, beautiful, interesting, as easy to grow as any succulent—and as for hybridization, the sky’s the limit.

When the mangaves arrived, it was Christmas in January

I don’t grow many exotic succulents. I’m into creating a beautiful garden with those easy to come by. If common succulents don’t thrive, there’s no great loss. My few rarities are in pots where I can keep an eye on them. So when the box of mangaves arrived, into pots they went…for the most part. In hindsight, that probably protected a few of them but kept others from attaining their full potential. Regardless, two years later, I’m pleased to report all are alive and well.

I’ll never forget opening that shipment back in 2017. The plants had been greenhouse-grown, and boxing and shipping had caused broken leaves. That made me groan, but I quickly became caught up in identifying their agave parentage. I said aloud to a plant with wavy leaves that looked trimmed with pinking shears, “I’ll bet you’re from Agave gypsophila.” To the spitting image of a very common green agave that was a surprising lavender, I murmured, “Surely you’re not related to Agave attenuata?” All in all, those mangaves were the best gifts I’d ever received from someone I hadn’t met.

Manfreda cultivar

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’

I knew nothing about manfredas, the lily side of mangaves, so I was pleased that Hans had included two.

Manfreda cross

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is a variegated sport of Manfreda undulata ‘Chocolate Chip’.

One manfreda went into a pot, the other, into the ground. The latter started out glorious and stayed that way. In fact, Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ is now among my favorite plants.

I sheltered all 14 as best as I could from extremes of sun, heat and cold. As it turns out, that may not have been necessary.

How to grow mangaves

Not taking any chances, I potted and shaded my new mangaves.

That first assortment from Walters Gardens included two manfredas and 12 mangaves.

The list below describes plants from the first shipment and coincides with my January, 2019 video: “Mangaves in My Garden.” Some need repotting or a better location, which I’ve done since or soon will do.

Manfreda ‘Mint Chocolate Chip’ (introduced 2017, photo above), has floppy, wavy, narrow leaves. It was beautiful in a pot for months, then seemed to suffer in the summer heat. A section (perhaps a separate plant) bloomed and died back. Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery says the rest may have simply gone dormant after blooming and will come back. [See my mangave interview with Tony.] It also may have needed more water than I was giving it, or it wanted to be in the ground. In summer, leaves lost their sheen, and tips dried and shriveled. In fall, ants colonized the container. Above is how it looks now, revived by winter rains.

Manfreda ‘Cherry Chocolate Chip’ (photo above) looks delicate but isn’t. (Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity. Zones 7b to 9b?) It has done well in a sheltered bed alongside a wall that bounces sunlight onto it, doubtless helping its color. Spider-shaped with tapering, rippled, ribbonlike leaves, it’s fascinating, as are its red blotches and creamy white margins. I’m thinking of removing any blooms to keep the plant strong.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Carnival’ is a Mangave ‘Jaguar’ cross. Its variegation is the reverse of Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’.

Mangave ‘Carnival’ exhibits the best and worst characteristics of the new genus: Wonderful rosy-red dots blend with pink, green and cream (the best) and leaves that are too fragile for the plant to exist unscathed in the open garden. It also doesn’t like the summer heat of inland southern CA.

Mangave

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ in my garden (top) and as shown on the Walters Gardens website. (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave colorata

Mangave ‘Catch a Wave’ (2017) has languished in a too-shady spot in my garden, growing and even offsetting, but producing no color other than silvery-blue. Its leaves have elongated, and their pie-crust edges hearken to its A. gypsophila parentage. I may have to move it into greater light to get it to look more like the photo on the Walters site.

Mangave hybrid

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Inkblot’ has long, narrow, flexible, dark green leaves thickly dotted with inky blotches that give it a reptilian look. It’s not be a thing of beauty, but it’s interesting.

Above: Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ given the right amount of sun.

 

Mangave 'Kaleidoscope'

The same plant after being transplanted into an garden bed that gets too little light.

Mangave ‘Kaleidoscope’ (2016; variegated sport of Mangave ‘Jaguar’. Sun to part shade, 18 inches tall by 2 feet wide at maturity.) ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a fast-growing, stunningly striped and mottled, large multicolored succulent that glows beautifully when backlit. I first planted it in a pot which it quickly outgrew, then transplanted it into the ground where it probably needs more sun. Rather than replanting it a third time, I’ll just trim the tree that’s shading it.

Mangave hybrid

Agave attenuata x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’

Mangave ‘Lavender Lady’ (2017. Sun to part shade. 12 inches tall by 20 inches wide at maturity. Frost tender.) Having grown both parents, I was truly delighted to meet their lavender-gray offspring. I’ve had it in a pink pot for two years, possibly stunting it. I’ll soon find it a place in the garden—one that’s frost-free, because this lovely cultivar lacks hardiness.

Mangave 'Man of Steel'

Agave stricta x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Man of Steel’

Mangave ‘Man of Steel’. I’m familiar with both parents, so unpacking this beauty was like a family reunion. Both ‘Bloodspot’ and A. stricta are stiff-leaved, so not surprisingly their offspring is, too. On the plus side, ‘Man of Steel’ is not as delicate as other mangaves. Its thin, silvery, downward-curving leaves offer an elegant and symmetrical—if pointy—silhouette.

Mangave 'Mission to Mars'

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (Manfreda jaliscana x Agave lophantha) x Agave shawii.

Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ (2017. Anticipated to be 2 feet tall and 4 feet wide at maturity, Zones 9a to 11?). I’m unfamiliar with its manfreda parent but it must be red and soft, because its agave parents are green, gray and stiff-leaved. The hybrid’s many red blotches nearly cover any green, but in my garden some leaf tips have shriveled. What it lacks in symmetry and form it makes up for in color…pretty much. I should dig it up and see if it does better in a pot.

Mangave 'Moonglow'

Mangave ‘Moonglow’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Manfreda ‘Chocolate Chip’)

Mangave ‘Moonglow’. Showing the best of both parents with soft, wavy-edged and curling slender leaves, this suggests ‘Inkblot’ with more of a bluish cast. Dots are thick and maroon. I have it in a blue pot that suits it.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ (Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ x Mangave ‘Jaguar’) in my garden.

Mangave 'Pineapple Express'

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’ on the Walters Gardens website

Mangave ‘Pineapple Express’. In catalog photos this looks like the foliage atop a pineapple, only speckled. The one I planted in a pedestal pot doesn’t have a pronounced, stacked-leaf growth habit. It has stayed fountainlike and nicely dotted, but yellow-green. I’ve since removed it from the pot and expect good things from it in the ground.

Mangave 'Silver Fox'

Agave gypsophila x Mangave ‘Bloodspot’ = Mangave ‘Silver Fox’.

Mangave ‘Silver Fox’ (2017. Sun to part shade. Zones 9a to 11? Eleven inches tall by 22 inches wide at maturity.) Nursery photos show a compact, wavy rosette that’s distinctly silvery-purple and rosy-dotted. Mine looks more like a short-leaved gypsophila, minimally freckled. It’s happy but possibly needs more light.

Mangave 'Spotty Dotty'

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave bovicornuta.

Mangave ‘Spotty Dotty’. This has performed well in my garden and colored up nicely. Its gently twisting, soft, greenish-yellow leaves are well freckled with red. A favorite.

Mangave ‘Whale’s Tale’ (Manfreda maculosa x Agave gypsophila) x Agave ovatifolia.

Mangave ‘Whale Tale’ (2018. Sun to part shade. Zones 7b to 11? Twelve inches tall by 4 feet wide at maturity.) Mine has no speckles and simply looks like a nice silver agave with darker areas that lack pulverulence. It’s a lovely plant but again, it probably needs more sun to enhance its color. In my garden, that’s invariably a trade-off: More sun equals greater danger of beige sunburned patches and brown, dry leaf tips.

What is a manfreda?

If you’re into succulents, you’re well aware of agaves. But chances are you’ve never heard of the genus Manfreda. After all, it’s not in the Sunset Western Garden Book. There exist 35 species of these lilylike succulents. Like AgaveManfreda hails from Mexico, but also ranges much farther north and east. The genus is closely enough related to Agave that the plants can cross, although this rarely happens in nature.  Manfreda is also related to Polianthes. Plants in both genera are commonly referred to as tuberoses.

Tuberose leaves form rosettes from a short stem and send up fragrant flowers along slender stalks. Flowers are tubular and whitish, yellow, green, or brownish, with long stamens. Some are wonderfully fragrant. Manfredas, unlike agaves, don’t die after flowering—a nice characteristic they pass on to their intergeneric crosses, the mangaves. Leaf margins of manfredas are smooth or slightly serrated and lack spiny tips.

Manfreda maculosa

Manfreda maculosa is the progenitor of numerous crosses

Spotted manfreda, (Manfreda maculosa, commonly called Texas tuberosehas silvery-green leaves covered with purple spots. It’s the one most often seen in cultivation. 

According to Plant Delights Nursery: “Like its Agave daddy, x Mangave are evergreen (above freezing) and like its Manfreda momma, it is polycarpic (doesn’t die after flowering) and attracts hummingbirds. The agave parent contributes the evergreen nature and the form, while the manfreda parent contributes the purple spotted pigment. Both parents contribute drought-tolerance and an aversion to winter moisture.”

[See my mangave interview with Tony Avent of Plant Delights.]

Mangaves in My Garden 

Back in 2017, before my first shipment arrived, mangaves were not entirely unknown to me. I’d seen two cultivars in high-end gardens by San Diego designer Michael Buckner. I considered the plants expensive rarities and suspected they probably wouldn’t thrive in the comparatively rigorous conditions of my own garden. Located in the foothills of inland San Diego County on a steep, terraced, east-facing slope, it gets frost every winter (down to the high 20s F) and near-desert heat in late summer (into the 90s for weeks). Although I’ve been amending the soil for decades, the substrate is decomposed granite (not a bad thing, it’s well draining) and clay (never a good thing.) Fortunately there’s not a lot of clay—about enough to build an adobe dog house.

The succulents that thrive out in the open in my garden are those that aren’t picky. Full-sun, frost-prone areas are OK for agaves and cacti, and those Southwest succulents that store water in their trunks, such as dasylirions, yuccas and beaucarneas. I have every kind of aeonium in the dappled shade of native oaks and beneath lacy trees, and quite a few aloes, although it’s a balancing act to give the latter adequate protection from weather extremes yet enough sun to bloom.

Tender succulents such as jades, kalanchoes and euphorbias grow in frost-free microclimates beneath eaves, where they bask in half a day’s sun. Apart from shade succulents like sansevierias and toughies like graptoverias and Mexican sedums, others (like echeverias, haworthias and stapeliads) are in pots that I move or shelter as seasons change.

So what about your garden? 

Manfredas prefer full sun, short of scorching; well-drained soil that’s kept on the dry side; and room for their root systems to expand. Containers should be at least 12 inches deep. I’ve noticed that mangaves with established rootballs can be difficult to remove from pots. Some sources say that Mangave is a slow grower; others, that it’s much faster than Agave. So far, with the exception of ‘Kaleidoscope’—a mangave on steroids—they seem about the same.

Late spring and summer is the growth season. Like most succulents, mangaves appreciate a dose of diluted fertilizer when emerging from dormancy. They’re fine outdoors in mild climates with minimal rainfall, typical of Southern CA. Elsewhere, overwinter them indoors. Keep them cool and the soil barely moist. In spring, return them to the garden and reintroduce to full sun gradually. They’re not great indoor plants because they need ultraviolet light to color-up.

As for garden design, the aesthetic uses of mangaves are only beginning to be explored. I anticipate that they’ll become commonplace in low-water landscapes throughout the Southwest, likely with a broader range than South African succulents, but not venturing into desert gardens. I could be wrong about that, but mine don’t seem to like late-summer heat. The plants’ soft, arching leaves and interesting spotting and striping will likely make them collectible novelties, beginning in California and spreading worldwide.

By the mid-’20s, mangaves will doubtless be commonplace. The certainty of new cultivars selected for desirable colors, variegation, toughness, growth habit and size means there’s no limit to what’s possible—from upright, spiky, speckled, stiff-leaved, agave-lookalikes to ribbon-foliaged lilies that are languorous, loopy, crenellated, freckled and noodle-soft.

Mangave drawbacks

The main drawback to early Mangave cultivars, especially those bred not to “bite” (i.e. they lack the needlelike tips and barbed teeth of their Agave parents) is soft, flexible, thin and brittle foliage that’s prone to tearing or breaking, and is easily damaged by snails or impact. Place such plants out of harm’s way to avoid compromising their beautiful symmetry. Although they’ll outgrow breakage, mangaves are succulents that shouldn’t be stepped on, even by a chihuahua.

They’re also vulnerable to agave snout weevil infestation.

Find out more about mangaves…

Plant Expert Tony Avent on Mangaves 

Mangave expert

Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC

According to plant expert Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC, “the world of mangaves is exploding. The colors and forms continue to break new barriers of previously inconceivable foliage.”  Founded in 1988, Avent’s nursery is a premier source of rarities and natives…[Continue reading] 

Visit the Mangave page on the Plant Delights Nursery website.

Mad About Mangave

Connect with hybridizer Hans Hansen by following his Facebook “Mad About Mangave” page.

Watch my Mangave videos:

Mangaves in my garden

Come on a mangave treasure hunt with me as I track down a dozen cultivars that have been in the ground and in pots for two years. All have done well and some better than others. I evaluate the plants’ progress and how to attain their full beauty and potential.

 

Mangave unboxing

Mangaves are succulents with agaves in their parentage. Many of these 21st-century hybrids are lilylike, with flexible leaves, and do well in gardens that get frost…even snow! Watch me unbox some freckled beauties never been seen before…including a rare Hansera!

 

How to Plant Mangaves

With 18 exciting new Mangave cultivars to find a place for in my garden, I design and plant my new “Mangave Terrace” and perform “C-sections” on potbound cultivars rarin’ to go.

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

Gallery of large pots of succulents
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Showcase Succulents in Large Pots

For a dramatic, memorable enhancement to a garden or patio, showcase succulents in large pots. Big containers are both sculptural and eye-catching. Add succulents and you have a dynamic, ever-changing display as plants grow and seasons shift. Examples here are from my own garden and others I admire. Find more great ideas for succulents in large pots in my books, in particular Succulent Container Gardens and Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.).

Gallery of large pots of succulents

A nonfunctioning fountain planted with string-of-pearls and Dasylirion whipplei is at the end of an entry walkway adjacent to the front door.

 

Gallery of large pots of succulents

Big red pots planted with dasylirions add height and color contrast. The trio create a centerpiece for a rectangular bed of assorted ice plants. The pots also serve to relieve the eye in the midst of a lot of fine-textured plants.

 

Gallery of large pots of succulents

A series of knee-high pots planted with Agave ferox borders a walkway and contrasts with a coral wall. Beneath the pots, a topdressing of rocks and gravel provide texture and continuity.

 

Large pots in the garden

Large pots are an investment, but well worth it. This one, planted with Sedum burrito cuttings several years ago, is a surefire conversation piece. The homeowner sees it from inside her home and whenever she uses her patio.

 

Gallery of large pots of succulents

A sloped poolside planting includes succulents in large pots that stand out and add interest to a colorful assortment of succulents.

 

Gallery of large pots of succulents

Big pots needn’t be upright. This one, spilling Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, lends whimsy to a garden and a suggestion of motion. This is also a great way to utilize a cracked or damaged pot.

 

Large pots in the garden

Red glaze on a pot in my garden repeats the upthrusting lines of a red aloe nearby.

 

Gallery of large pots of succulents

A rectangular pot fills wall space and adds a welcoming presence at the entry to Jeanne Meadow’s garden. She planted it with aeoniums, aloes and trailing Portulacaria afra ‘Minima’.

 

Gallery of large succulent pots

A red pot containing a variegated sansevieria makes a clean-lined statement in the side garden of a contemporary home. Rounded river rock covers bare dirt and provides contrasting texture.

 

Gallery of large succulent pots

A pot in my garden adds height and interest to a terrace overflowing with succulents. I planted the pot with lampranthus, sedum, Othonna capensis and a variegated yucca.

 

Gallery of large succulent pots

In a patio in downtown Carmel, CA, a large pot with overgrown Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ creates a photo op and focal point.

 

Large pots in the garden

This large unplanted pot serves as a sculptural element in Patrick Anderson’s garden. Its rounded lines contrast with spiky agaves nearby, and their orange leaf margins repeat its terra-cotta color.

Related Info on This Site:

Use plastic bottles for lighter pots

On My YouTube Channel:

Video how to make large pots lighter

 

Books by Debra Lee Baldwin

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Creative Bird Feeder Materials & How-To 

If you’d like to make lovely bird feeders similar to those in my video, Eight Creative Bird Feeders for Your Garden, you’ll find materials, suggestions and how-to here.

Depending on the time of year, I’ll have as many as 20 birds of a dozen different species at feeders I’ve positioned outside my office, kitchen and dining room windows. I’m in the foothills northeast of San Diego where native plants such as oaks and fan palms provide nesting sites. The second-floor deck where most of my feeders are located is adjacent to trees with limbs for perching and hiding, is high enough to be safe from cats, and isn’t easy for squirrels or nocturnal varmints to access.

It’s helpful to have:
— A dozen rustproof heavy-duty steel S-hooks, each about 3 inches long
— About 15 feet of soft, flexible, rustproof wire. 
— A 6-foot-tall wrought-iron free-standing plant stand designed for hanging baskets.

If you’ll be hanging feeders from your home’s eaves, you’ll also need a hammer and nails, several feet of chain, and a stepladder.

Optional: Spray-paint for metal. I paint my repurposed metal and wire feeders with Rust-Oleum so they’re all the same color (to match my home’s trim).

Essential: Keep them clean! It’s better to not put food out than to let feeders get dirty. Feeding birds is messy. Every evening, I hose the area, bring in the feeders, and clean them with hot water and dish soap. I don’t let food come into contact with bird droppings, which can spread diseases. And if I see a sick bird at a feeder, I stop putting out food for several days.

I found this ornamental bird cage and glass dish—both candleholders—at a thrift store. About $6 total. The goldfinch was gratis.

Metal drink holders (aka “beverage stakes”) are designed to go next to lawn chairs to hold bottles or soda cans. They’re perfect for suet cylinders, providing you set each in a plastic lid that keeps the suet from crumbling away. (I give my birds suet year-round, even though I live in a mild climate, because the extra fat and protein encourages brood production. It also attracts woodpeckers, grosbeaks and jays.) Each holder has a long vertical bar for staking into the ground. I placed this one, being enjoyed by a male grosbeak, in the same 5-gallon plant container shown below.

Small dishes and votive cups are handy for peanuts and seeds. But once they get wet, birds won’t eat out of them, so clean and refill them daily. The bird is a spotted towhee.

The hanging candleholders (“tea light lanterns”) are available at Cost Plus World Market and Amazon. In them are 2.5-inch-diameter glass tea light holders (“votive holders”) that contain grape jelly (from any supermarket) and sugar water (1 cup sugar to 4 cups water, boil and let cool). You don’t want to fill the entire candleholder with food because it’s too much, will likely get wet or go to waste, and is hard to clean. You also may have to unhook the feeders to bring them inside for cleaning, which means getting out a stepladder. Tea light holders, on the other hand, can easily be removed, washed and dropped back into the candleholders. Even though they’re stable enough that their contents won’t splash onto birds, like the Anna’s hummingbird at lower right, it’s best not fill them to the brim.

The flower pot that the oriole is sitting on is by Fallbrook, CA artist-potter Alicia Iraclides, who also fashions the lovely copper loops that her pots hang from. The glass dish came from a thrift store (or possibly my kitchen cupboard). Regardless, at 5 inches in diameter, it’s a perfect fit. It doesn’t slide around, is shallow enough (1-1/2 inches) for birds to easily access, yet also is deep and wide enough to hold the right amount of food (1/4 cup of grape jelly or 1/2 cup of seed mix).

This 14-inch diameter metal bird cage came from Home Goods—a seasonal item. Here’s a similar one on Amazon. Also this “lantern.” The bars are about an inch apart, which is perfect for letting in small birds (like finches) and keeping out large ones (like jays and doves). If bars in your ornamental bird cage/bird feeder are closer together, prop the door open or bend and spread the wires so that little birds can come and go. I lined the cage with a paper towel and placed a glass saucer atop it, full of seed mix. This makes it easy to clean and helps elevate the birds for better viewing.

Both this stylized metal “nest” (16 inches in diameter) and bowl-like platter (10 inches) were thrift-store finds. I used coated, rustproof wire to secure the nest to the corner of the metal deck railing. I decided not to spray-paint it beige because it’s the same color of the railing. In the dish is Wild Birds Unlimited’s No Mess Blend which includes millet (which doves and quail like) and sunflower and nut bits that other birds enjoy. I also buy raw peanuts and sunflower seeds in bulk at Sprouts. Jays and titmice eat peanuts; finches prefer sunflower seeds—and nyger, but that’s too messy, perishable and expensive. There’s a grosbeak at left and oak titmouse at top.

This spherical candleholder came from a second-hand shop that specializes in utilitarian antiques. It originally was black, so I spray-painted it beige. Items like this are fun to hunt for and not difficult to find (hint: they’re often hanging from the ceiling, so look up). The best ones have an open design that lets you easily view birds that visit. Yes, birds will use feeders made of wood, plastic and other non-transparent materials, but isn’t getting a good look at these flitting, fleeting creatures what birdwatching is all about?

Related info on this site:

On my YouTube channel, check out my playlist: Debra’s Bird Feeders.

 

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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]

Aloe nobilis, in bright shade on left, in full sun on right

How to Stress Succulents (and Why You Should). Plenty of sun brings out brilliant reds and yellows in certain succulents, but how much to “stress” the plants varies depending on… [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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Eight Bold-Hued California Classics

Certain low-water annuals and perennials are “nostalgia plants,” because they remind me of my SoCA childhood. These California classics are as popular now as 40 years ago, for good reason: they’re easy-care, readily available, inexpensive, and add great texture and interest to Southwest gardens. The plants’ bold hues are reminiscent of a Mexican serape: purple, orange, yellow, red and white. All blend beautifully with large-leaved succulents, especially agaves, aloes and aeoniums. Look for more “Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” in my book, Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 250-285.

In my garden, California poppies are annuals that return every spring. I love how their vivid orange contrasts with the silvery blue of Agave franzosinii. Surrounding the agave are fragrant white alyssum, which some people consider a weed because it reseeds so prolifically. I don’t know about you, but in my garden, that’s a plus.

Purple is the complement of yellow, and few combos are easier than euryops daisies and statice. The shrubs get leggy over time; keep them compact by cutting back in fall.

Also pretty in purple is pride of Madiera. Here it contrasts with orange-and-yellow African daisies, a red rose, and yellow-leaved euonymous. Once the flower show is over, the succulents at lower left (an aloe and an aeonium) become more prominent, because their sculptural shapes stand out against finer-texture foliage.

Rosea ice plant, a succulent from South Africa, has become as much of a California classic as the state’s flower. The poppies die back and the ice plant goes out of bloom, leaving a green mound for most of the year. But when they bloom together in spring…wow!

In my own garden, African daisies, rosea ice plant, red ivy geraniums (another classic) and euonymous surround several types of agaves.

Related Info on this Site:

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Did I Find the Perfect Succulent Pillow?

Recently I embarked on an intensive, two-day hunt for the perfect succulent pillow. I wanted it for the love seat in my home’s 5×5 entry, where I keep 40 small, low-light succulents in a dozen containers. These are shades of green, bronze, brown, terra-cotta, and rose.

Small euphorbias, gasterias and haworthias thrive in the entry, out of direct sun.

Little did I realize how many succulent pillows are out there. Stores such as Pier One, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, Joanne’s and Cost Plus World Market have more than fulfilled my 2016 prediction that items themed with succulents would soon be commonplace.

From Pier One’s website.

I bought seven pillows and two area rugs, and charged about $500 on my credit card. No biggie, I was going to return all but one pillow and one rug, right? Well, yes, but an embroidered and beaded cactus pillow from Pier One was a keeper regardless. Only $40!  (I have a thing for throw pillows.)

I figured just about any multicolored succulent pillow would work. The walls are tan, the trim cream, the floor concrete gray, the door and wrought iron brown, and the seat cushion dark blue-green. Hoping that a rug would add punch and help pull everything together, I bought a 3×5 one striped in brown, green, blue and beige. But—I should have known this, being a Pier One fan—the colors were so crisp, they made everything else look shabby. Also, when I saw it in situ, I realized it really needed some orange-red.

The first go-round: The pillow is a bit too small for the love seat. The rug, though the right size and a nice texture, lacks colors necessary to unify the design.

So back the rug went. Next stop: Cost Plus World Market, where colorful cacti greeted me from Melamine plates, shower curtains, and even nifty metal buckets. Watch the 50-second video I made while there.

I model a fabric shower curtain at World Market.

I found a pillow with a watercolor of a cactus garden that seemed the right shape and size: rectangular (“lumbar”) and bigger than Pier One’s for less money. Score! Or so I thought.

Cactus pillow and rug at World Market.

Back home. Aargh. No pillow with a white background looked right. There’s no white in the entry, and they all screamed “bedroom.” Yet while at World Market I’d also bought an orangey-red rag rug trimmed in blue-green. It looked great! All along it wasn’t the pillow that mattered most, it was the rug.

My Dorothy-in-Oz moment: I had the perfect pillow all along.

I quickly went shopping in my own home, grabbing a pillow with the right colors from the living room sofa and two stretched canvas prints of agaves from the hallway. (Both prints are from my online Zazzle store.) None of the succulent pillows ended up in the entry. But I did keep two. One is now on my bed, the other on an armchair. The entry pillow has a bird on it, but hey, I’m into birds.

Cost: Two pillows that I kept despite not needing either one: $60. Rag rug from World Market: $40. Total: $100. Plus a day and a half of my time, but it was fun, so I can’t complain.

Do you, like me, need to hunt, gather and try things on before everything clicks? If so, you probably agree that the hard part—and hopefully you’re better at this than I am—is taking things back.

Now (drum roll) my pup Lucky would like to show you “his” new entryway.

Lucky demonstrates “downward dog” on his new yoga mat.

He’s probably meditating on his breakfast.

The love seat is ideal for cat-watching.

Lucky resembles the entry’s whimsical metal watchdog. At left are a pair of Talavera “shoes” and a frog pot atop a larger container. In the square pot are ‘Pink Blush’ aloes.

Items opposite the love seat include Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ in bloom.

Gasteria sp.

Related Info and links:

My stretched canvas agave prints:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See more of my succulent art pieces at my online Zazzle store.

Articles on this site:

April 13, 2018 — Cactus as a design element is trending, popping up on pajamas, place mats, wallpaper and more. As awareness of the plants grows, cliche images of “cactus” as saguaros and prickly-pear will give way to… [Continue reading]

Succulent Art, Decor and Gift Items
May 29, 2016 ~ We’ll see stylized succulents used more and more in art, home decor, clothing and gift items. The way succulents are trending, they’ll soon become the “new florals” for…[Continue reading]

If you enjoy gardening, you’ve no doubt experienced how it can be a form of meditation and a treat for all the senses. But have you considered how simply looking at certain plants induces a feeling of serenity? You can discover this simply by enhancing a sitting area with succulents that incorporate geometric patterns and spirals…[Continue reading]
Dec. 27, 2017 ~ Long a pariah plant, cactus is becoming cool. The first edition of my book, Designing with Succulents (Timber Press, 2007) showed few cacti—mainly golden barrels. A decade later, the completely revised second edition devotes 15 pages to numerous varieties of spiny succulents in gardens large and small. [Continue reading]
 

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Your Succulent Garden After a Rainstorm, Checklist

Rain at last!

Could the California drought finally be over? Well, no. It’ll take hundreds of years for underground aquifers to refill. The snowpack isn’t adequate for our future water supply. On the bright side, our gardens are looking glorious…even those with mainly drought-tolerant plants. Perfect conditions for succulents are good drainage, annual rainfall less than 20 or 25 inches, low humidity, and temperatures above freezing.

Check for:

Succulents with rotted leaves. Remove mushy leaves before rot spreads to the plant’s stem or crown. 

Drainage issues. If soil stays sodden and muddy areas remain long after a storm, roots may drown. Move plants to high ground, and install French drains.

Slope erosion. Create dams of rocks and diversion channels, and add gravel or mulch to diffuse the rain’s impact.

Stagnant water. Check pots, bins and barrels. If they’ve filled, dump the water before mosquitos find it and breed.

Weeds. Wherever soil is exposed to sun, weeds WILL sprout. Get them when small. All too soon they’ll have deep roots, go to seed, and look you in the eye.

Seepage. Check your home’s basement. Mine used to have an inch or two of standing water whenever the ground became saturated during storms. A few years ago, a friend suggested a simple solution: Coat the concrete blocks that form the basement’s walls with a special paint that prevents seepage. Works great. Any home improvement store carries it.

Shop for plants.  Now’s a good time to accumulate plants you want to add to your garden. Rain-soaked ground is soft and easy to dig. Early spring is the best time to establish new plants, after all danger of frost has passed (here in Southern CA, that’s mid-March). Plants will take off in spring and won’t have to contend with summer heat while putting down roots. Don’t delay; if your garden is like mine, when the soil dries, it’ll be as hard as concrete.

Take photos as what-to-do reminders. When the weather clears, such issues are easy to forget.

The bottom line: Succulents are opportunistic when it comes to rain. Given adequate drainage, they absolutely love it!

 

Related info

On this site:

How to Water Succulents These 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…[Continue reading]

Prepare Your Succulents for Rainstorms  Succulents, which come from arid climates, may rot. Stems or trunks turn squishy and collapse. It may be possible to… [Continue reading]

Learn about pumice. No other soil amendment is as widely used by succulent growers and collectors as pumice (crushed lava rock). Here’s why…[Continue reading]

Succulents and Too Much Rain, A French Solution Want to protect your succulents from too much rain? Here’s how the Jardin Zoologique Tropical in southeastern France…[Continue reading]

Oh, No, My Succulents Froze!  Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s how frost-tender succulents looked before temps dropped into the mid-20s F, and after…[Continue reading]

Winter Protection for Succulents: Products  Soggy soil, dim light, high humidity and freezing temperatures can be death to succulents native to warm, arid climates. These items will help you get your succulents through cold, wet North American winters…[Continue reading]

On My YouTube channel: 

Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It

Why Rain is Good for Potted Succulents

Post-Rain Must-Do’s for Succulent Gardens

 

Debra's post-rain must-do's video


All the info you need, all in one place: