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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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How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region

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—especially if you’re growing them in the open garden. Indoors, you have much more control over the environment, but seasons will still affect cyclical aspects of growth such as flowering and dormancy.

This page is a launching point, so scroll down to see which page or video best answers your questions. (Please be patient, it may take a moment for the page to load fully.)

Also refer to “Seasonal Care for Succulents” on pages 74-75 of my book, Succulents Simplified.

Spring

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants.
Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through… [Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:  Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Summer

On my YouTube channel, see: Succulents, Sun and Summer (10:34)

Autumn

Winter

http://debraleebaldwin.com/caring-for-succulents/frost-damaged-succulents-heres-what-to-do/

Region: Bay Area

Region: Coastal Southern California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Succulents for Northerly Climates

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Sempervivums  Part One of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Gorgeous new cultivars and design ideas.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Sedums and More Part Two of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. More cool succulents for cold climates plus how to select, grow and design with them.


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Spring in My Succulent Garden: Flowers Wow with Bold, Hot Hues

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants. Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through mid-May. Increasing temps tend to put the kibosh on delicate spring flowers. If you live near the coast of CA, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get the sun and heat that makes many flowers blaze.

Spring is the season of flowers, so get outside and enjoy them. Soon enough, in summer, those hot colors will fade and your garden will go back to being mainly shapes and textures—which of course succulents do best. What many people  don’t realize is that flowers are ephemeral—they flash and fade, and then you’re left with foliage. (I like to say that sentence in my talks. Try it. The alliteration is luscious.)

Above: A normally uninteresting corner of my garden is stunning in spring because of all the flowers. Red ones at center are Sparaxis tricolor, a bulb from South Africa. Easy-grow shrub daisies (Euryops pectinatus) echo the yellow margins of Agave americana ‘Marginata’—which though nearly engulfed, still makes a bold statement.

California poppies pop in spring. These bright orange annuals reseed every year. Behind them is Drosanthemum floribundum (rosea ice plant). Adding contrasting form is spineless opuntia. Almost incidentally, fruit on citrus trees repeat the poppies, and elevate their color to eye level.

Scilla peruviana, returns every March. It produces large, purple-blue snowflake flowers and then disappears for nine months. It was planted by the previous owner and I don’t do a thing to keep it going. But like all bulbs, it leaves behind droopy, messy foliage which you need to leave because it feeds the bulb for the next g0-round.

And as for ice plant, don’t plant just one variety. Combine several—not curbside, though, lest they cause an accident.

Related articles:

Succulent garden design essentials

How to grow succulents

Debra’s own garden 

My succulent meditation garden

YouTube video: Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Flowering Plants in My Spring Garden: Inland Southern CA, Zone 9b

Spring (peak): mid-March to early April

Annual: California poppies

Bulbs:

Babiana stricta (baboon flower)

Scilla peruviana

         Sparaxis tricolor

Succulents:

Aeonium arboreum

         Aloe maculata

         Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’

Gasteria sp.

Ice Plants:

Delosperma congestum ‘Gold Nugget’

Drosanthemum floribundum

                  Drosanthemum speciosum

         Sedum ‘Firestorm’

Perennial shrubs:

Euryops pectinatus

Gazanias (African daisies)

Pelargoniums (geraniums)

Rose, climbing: ‘Altissimo’

Wisteria

 

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How to Make Succulents Bloom

Is there a way to make succulents bloom? Yes and no. It partly depends on a plant’s age. It may not be large or mature enough to gear up for reproduction (which is the point of flowers). But there IS something you can do to make a succulent bloom if it’s just sitting there, sulking, with no apparent reason not to produce a prized flower spike—if it’s the proper season. Most succulents bloom in spring and summer, but others (like aloes and crassulas) flower in midwinter.

So here’s the secret: Succulents (most plants for that matter) need light in order to flower. Sun is essential to photosynthesis, which creates energy and fuels new growth. All plants (actually, all living things) want to reproduce, and for plants that means being robust enough to bloom. Because most succulents come from warm, dry climates, they require a lot of light.

 If this aloe could talk, it would say, “I’m starved for light! I may not be able to bloom! Help!”

Aloe maculata (A. saponaria)

Above: A specimen of Aloe maculata growing indoors in the Seattle area. Although it’s healthy, it has flattened and elongated its leaves in order to expose as much of its surface as possible to light. The term for this is etiolation (et-ee-oh-lay-shun).

Aloe maculata (A. saponaria) in bloom

Above: This is how Aloe maculata looks with half a day of sun and half a day of bright shade. Even in these near-ideal conditions, the rosette and flower spikes are leaning in the direction of greatest light. Leaf tips have protected themselves from too much sun by turning reddish-brown. The pigment it’s similar to melanin, which causes skin to tan or freckle.
And here, in all-day sun with minimal water, a similar specimen’s leaves have shortened to reduce evaporation. (Note how those in the first photo are much longer.) Sun exposure is evidently somewhat harsh because it has reddened even more. The horticultural term for this is “stress,” which is aesthetically desirable because it enhances color and symmetry. This plant may be a bit too stressed—leaf tips have scorched and growth has slowed—but look closely: It’s in bud!
What to do if you live in an often overcast climate or grow succulents mainly inside? This is from my website page, How to Grow Succulents in Seattle (Northern Climates):
Indoors, set them near windows that face south or west. Don’t bother with north-facing windows, but if your windows face east, do collect and enjoy low-light lovers such as haworthias and gasterias. [Read more]
About Aloe maculata: Formerly known as Aloe saponaria (soap aloe) because the gel in its leaves lathers like soap, it is one of the few potentially invasive succulents, capable of sending up new plants from horizontal roots a few inches below the soil surface. Baby plants can pop up three feet or more from the mother! I have a colony of Aloe maculata in a rocky area of the garden where they can’t get into trouble, because I love the flowers, which are branching—unlike the columnar spikes of many other aloes. They don’t make good cut flowers, though, because cut stems ooze a mucilaginous gel. Aloe maculata is not often found at nurseries in Southern CA because there’s minimal demand for it (it’s a common passalong plant). A similar aloe that is better behaved, not toothed, often sold in nurseries, and much more prized in cultivation is Aloe striata (coral aloe). See it and others on my website’s Aloes page.

Related info on this site:

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…[Continue reading]

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

How to Stress Your 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: Sun and Your Succulents (1:41)

How to Fertilize Your Succulents

Time to Feed Your Succulents

Fertilize succulents when they’re emerging from dormancy and beginning their annual growth spurt, which for most is spring. A light feeding of manure tea, diluted fish emulsion, or a balanced fertilizer will help them grow lush and lovely. See my video. 

Link to video of Debra video about fertilizing succulents

What do I use?

For container-grown succulents, one Moo Poo tea bag per three gallons of water, steeped overnight.

Uh…”Moo Poo?”

Yes. Otherwise known as Authentic Haven Brand Soil Conditioner, Premium Manure Tea. (Btw, I’m not getting paid to endorse it.)

What about in-ground succulents?

I apply Ironite before a winter rainstorm (I know, it’s too late) and a balanced granular fertilizer in March.

How to apply?

Water the plants, then pour manure tea until it begins to run out the pot. In the garden, spread granular fertilizer and water it in.

What kind of granular fertilizer?

The brand doesn’t matter, but the ratio of N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous) and K (potassium) should be equal.

How much?

Succulents need about half the dose recommended on the package.

Is there an organic alternative?

Apply a topdressing of compost. I like fish emulsion, too, for both pots and in-ground plants (diluted half strength).

How often?

Once in spring when daytime temps stay above 60 degrees F. Then again in June.

What if I don’t feed my succulents?

No biggie, but they’ll look and perform better if you do.

Is it OK to fertilize more frequently?

That’s what many growers do. A little bit of fertilizer with every watering promotes rapid growth. However, such plants are considered “soft” (a nursery term) rather than “hard,” meaning tough. It’s a trade-off. I grow my succulents hard to help them endure the vicissitudes of the open garden.

Anything else?

Soils vary from region to region and even within a garden. The best way to know what your soil lacks is to have it tested, but it’s common sense that succulents growing in, say, oak leaf mulch are getting ample nutrients and don’t need fertilizing; those living in pots for years or growing in decomposed granite probably do.

No other soil amendment is as widely used by succulent growers and collectors as pumice (crushed lava rock). Here’s why. [Read more]