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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

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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.

Related info on this site:

Related videos on my YouTube channel:

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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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Succulents, Fibonacci and Spiral Phyllotaxis

Many cacti and succulents form geometric spirals similar to those of sunflowers, pine cones and nautilus shells. Spiral leaf arrangements funnel rain to roots, and keep upper leaves from shading lower ones.

The arrangement of a plant’s leaves along the stem is phyllotaxis (from ancient Greek, phýllon “leaf” and táxis “arrangement”). Mathematically, spiral phyllotaxis follows a Fibonacci sequence, such as 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. Each subsequent number is the sum of the two preceding ones.

There’s a hypnotic beauty about spiral phyllotaxis, not to mention it’s a great phrase to impress friends with. As is the puzzling-to-pronounce Fibonacci (fee-bo-NACH-ee), the name of a 12th-century Italian mathematician.

Perhaps the best known succulent to do this is aptly name spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla). Unfortunately it’s devilishly tricky to grow, making it the Holy Grail of succulents. (If you can grow a spiral aloe, you can grow anything.)

Aloe polyphylla, also known as Spiral Aloe

I’m fond of spherical cacti because of how their spines spiral—in fact, I almost prefer the plants out of bloom. These are mammillarias. I show a cool way to display them in another article, Create a Cactus Curio Box. And I describe the growing popularity of these photogenic plants in Is Cactus the New Black?

mammillaria

Sempervivum arachnoideum, cactus spiral

Sempervivum arachnoideum, cactus spiral

Sempervivums (hens-and-chicks) also spiral beautifully. Squint at this photo and you’ll see how similar it is to the center of a sunflower.

Sempervivum arachnoideum, cactus spiral

IMG_4277

Medusa euphorbias, known for their craggy, snakelike stems, each has a spiral at its center. No two are the same, and seldom do you find one that’s perfect.

Medusa euphorbia

Have you noticed spiral phyllotaxis in your own garden? Do look for it. You may be surprised at how it jumps out at you, once you’re aware of it. For example, this common succulent (Graptopetalum paraguayense) exhibits spiraling, albeit more subtly than the examples above.

You may even see it on nonorganic items, like book bags. 

Related Info

On this site —

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]
 
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]


 

Debra Lee Baldwin, Garden Photojournalist, Author and Succulent Expert

Learn more about Debra Lee Baldwin, garden photojournalist, author and succulent expert

 


 

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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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Seven Ways to Make Money with Succulents

Dec., 2017

Whenever I’m asked how to find certain succulents or services that are in short supply, I wonder why so few offer them. After all, there’s clearly money to be made! If you or others who might make these happen are merely unaware, hang on, I’m about to remedy that.  Btw, I’m happy to help get the word out about anyone who offers the services I’ve listed here.

Note: Most involve in-ground succulent gardening and therefore are limited to southern and coastal CA from the Bay Area south. Those that are mail-order will probably require a greenhouse. 

#1: Succulent garden maintenance. Unlike mow-and-blow yards, succulent gardens need maintaining seasonally (three or four times a year). How to make $$$: It’s the same as a gardening service, but with many more clients, much less often. Because it’s an in-demand specialization needed infrequently, charge at least 2x the hourly rate of lawn-mowing, hedge-trimming services. All you need: A thorough, hand’s-on understanding of all sorts of in-ground succulents and their care and cultivation, plus a truck, physical strength and tools. Note: You might combine this with #2 and #3.

UPDATE Sept., 2018: I’m working on a list of professionals skilled in succulent garden maintenance that I can share with homeowners throughout CA. In order to be included, candidates must have a business license or work for an established garden-related business. They need knowledge of general gardening and succulents in particular, and can provide at least three referrals from clients whose gardens they’ve tended for a year or more. If this interests you, email me photos of “your” gardens, the region or city you specialize in, how much you charge, and anything else that prospective clients might need or want to know. 

#2: Free succulents, trimming and installation. People with large succulent gardens have loads of trimmings and pups. Because it seems a shame to haul them to the dump, they’re happy to give them away. How to make $$$: Arrange to pick up cuttings from overflowing gardens and deliver them to sparse ones. Charge for hauling, trimming and digging, and/or preparing the soil and planting. All you need: a small truck, physical strength, and garden tools.

#3: Succulent firebreak specialist. Because the plants don’t catch fire but rather cook and collapse, wide swaths of succulents have been shown to halt the progression of wildfire. (Not to mention being beautiful and supremely sensible.) How to make $$$: Charge the going rate for garden design and installation. If you’re already a landscape designer, or are already doing #1 and #2, offer this to your clients. All you need: Common succulents obtained as cuttings (jade, aloes, agaves, elephant’s food, firesticks) or customers willing to pay for quantities of nursery plants; a truck and tools.

#4: Spineless opuntia supplier.  I can’t say enough good things about this smooth-leaved succulent, which at present is in short supply. It makes a good backdrop, offers pleasing repetitions of form (those oval pads), gets by on rainfall alone (if there is any, sigh), thrives in poor soils, is a good firebreak (pads are as thick as oven mitts), can serve as a hedge or security fence (although not at all treacherous, trespassers assume it is), is edible (nopales), and is high in nutrients (including cancer-fighting antioxidants). How to make $$$: Cultivate the plants and combine them with suggestion #3. All you need: A source of the pads (Google Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’), growing grounds, and time for the plants to mature (three years).

Note: It seems easy enough to plant spineless opuntia as a firebreak, and after its spring growth spurt, slice off and sell the fresh new pads. But how to become a vendor? In order to have customers come to your home, you need to be zoned for it. You might arrange to deliver the pads to clients, or set up a booth at garden events and farmer’s markets. Or, if you own acreage zoned for commercial crops (traditionally, citrus or avocado orchards), contract with a company that’ll handle harvesting and sales. (Granted, I’m not aware of any, but it’s early days yet. Maybe start one?)

Opuntia cacanapa ‘Ellisiana’

#5: Cactus boutique owner. As succulent aficionados gain sophistication, they appreciate simpler, geometric shapes as well as spines that glow beautifully when backlit. Small cacti are highly collectible. How to make $$$: Cultivate and sell specimens (especially spherical ones) online and at farmer’s markets and garden shows; come up with cool new design concepts; host workshops. All you need: A good eye, creativity, a wholesale source within driving distance, a lathe house or greenhouse and shipping materials. Note: Read more about this trend in my post, “Is Cactus the New Black?” 

#6: Echeveria grower-specialist. This is the yin to the yang of cacti. These rosette succulents are popular because they resemble fleshy flowers, and interest will boom as even more jaw-dropping varieties become available. How to make $$$: Grow your own fancy ruffled varieties (by beheading; it’s easy) and sell them online, to florists and nurseries, and at farmer’s markets and garden shows. Speak at clubs and offer workshops in echeveria care, cultivation, propagation and design. Aim to become known as “the echeveria expert.” All you need: An initial investment in starter plants, a lathe house or greenhouse, time for offsets to reach maturity, soil, pots, tools, and shipping materials.

#7: Skilled rockscaping. Boulders, decomposed granite and crushed rock need no irrigation or maintenance, look great forever (especially when artfully arranged), don’t catch fire, and create a practical, beautiful environment for plants. How to make $$$: While working on your degree in ornamental horticulture, get a job with a major rock supplier (in the San Diego area: KRC, RCP or SW Boulder). Apprentice yourself to a landscape contractor. After several years, launch your own business. All you need: Time, energy, physical strength, design ability, and the ability to prepare a site and transport and position rocks of all sizes.

P.S. If the above info helps someone find their calling, I’d love to know! ~ Debra

Related Info ~

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]
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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How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Immediately after the Lilac Fire, Dr. Camille Newton of Bonsall, CA, texted me that eight homes on her street had been destroyed, yet hers was unharmed. “Succulents saved the day,” she said. 

Such reports aren’t unprecedented. Suzy Schaefer’s succulent garden in Rancho Santa Fe “saved our home,” she told me (and national media) after the Witch Creek Fire. I had heard of others as well. Even so, I was skeptical. True, succulents tend to cook rather than burn and don’t transmit flames. But wildfire is so intense it melts metal and glass. What chance does any plant have?

Moreover, wildfires are wind-driven. A barricade of fleshy plants might halt a brush fire, but what about flying, flaming embers? And isn’t it possible that what appears to be salvation-by-succulents is merely the capricious way wildfire skips houses?

Even so, Dr. Newton, a geriatrician who often deals with life-and-death situations, is no sensationalist. She was calm, matter-of-fact, and had photos for proof.

Doubtless you know that I’m a big champion of succulents, but what you may not know is I’m also a journalist. I’m aware of how emotion and wishful thinking can cloud a reporter’s judgment. Yet what I saw when I went to Camille’s truly amazed me.

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Above: News photo of the house next door to Camille’s during last week’s Lilac Fire in Bonsall, CA. Below: Same property after the fire. 

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Next door, where a home had been reduced to ash and charred appliances, the only green left in the yard was an Agave vilmoriniana with singed leaves. Along the driveway were a former fence of cylindrical wooden posts that had burned down into the ground, and black sticks—former ornamental shrubs—flattened by fire and wind.

So, what IS it about succulents that makes them…dare I say it…fireproof?

Clearly more research is needed, and YOU can help: If you know of a wildfire-burned home that had succulents planted so densely (like Camille’s) that they should have served as a firebreak, yet they didn’t, please tell me. Tens of thousands of hopeful California homeowners (myself among them) need to know: Are Camille’s and Suzy’s experiences merely luck, or did succulents really save their homes?

What I can say with certainty is that planting a swath of moisture-rich, fleshy-leaved plants is smart if you live in a mild, arid region plagued by drought and wildfire. Readily available agaves, aeoniums, elephant’s food, aloes, jade, and ironically-named ‘Sticks on Fire’ propagate easily from pups and cuttings, are low-water and low-maintenance, and when combined, create a gorgeous garden. If it also serves as a firebreak, well—as I told a KFMB-TV reporter—that’s certainly icing on the cake.

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

Above: Camille and I talked about firescaping on CBS. 

Five days after the Lilac Fire ripped through her neighborhood, I visited Camille and documented her story with my camera and camcorder. Of all the videos I’ve made (my YouTube channel now has 200+ with over 3,000,000 views) this one is, IMHO, by far the most important.

How Succulents Protected a Home from Wildfire

There’s plenty more that homeowners need to know in order to create a firewise landscape. Topics I’ll address in future newsletters, YouTube videos, and articles include: How to create a succulent garden like Camille’s that’s broad and dense enough to serve as a firebreak. How to obtain my Top Six Firewise Succulents and start them from cuttings. Also, why Camille’s succulents are especially lush and vibrant. (I suspect it’s her free-and-abundant soil amendment, composted horse manure, atop a substrate of decomposed granite.)

I urge you to watch my two videos in which Camille shares her story and garden. Also in my video, Do Succulents Burn? I test jade plant, aeoniums, paddle cactus and more by tossing them in a gas fire pit. Even if you don’t live with the threat of wildfire or where succulents can grow outdoors year-round, I promise you’ll be entertained, fascinated…and, like me, amazed.

Ten years earlier, in Oct. 2007, the succulent garden on the cover of Designing with Succulents (first edition) also “saved” a Rancho Santa Fe home. As in Camille’s situation, neighboring houses burned to the ground. [Read more]

The garden on the cover of the first edition of Designing with Succulents helped protect the home in 2007. [Read more] 

Related info on this site:

View my 6-minute video: Do Succulents Burn? Compare the combustibility of jade, aloe, aeonium, firesticks, elephant’s food and paddle cactus to branches cut from bamboo and oak trees. 

Note: The horrific CA wildfires of 2017 are a vivid reminder of when my husband and I and our two dogs were evacuated in 2007. During three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. Using succulents as firebreak plants can help protect properties in wildfire-prone areas, but in no way do I want to imply that succulents are THE answer, nor (God forbid) do I want to try to capitalize on others’ suffering. My sympathy and prayers are with the victims. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

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DIY Floral-Style Succulent Centerpiece

This lush and colorful succulent combo in a pedestal pot looks difficult, but it’s simple once you know how. With the help of the step-by-step instructions and photos that follow, you’ll soon be making your own lovely DIY floral-style succulent centerpieces, gift arrangements, and more. DIY Floral-Style Succulent Centerpiece

To create this floral-style centerpiece, the designer chose a white-painted wooden urn 12 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall, with a basin 3 inches deep. Plants include ‘Sunburst’ aeonium, Echeveria ‘Perle von Nurnberg’, burro tail sedum, assorted blue echeverias, lithops (living stones), and Senecio radicans (fish hooks).

DIY Floral-Style Succulent Centerpiece

  1. Cut a circle from heavy mil plastic (such as a trash bag) and use it to line the basin. Fill with potting mix and press down on the soil with your palms to compact it. Form a mound several inches high in the middle that slopes to just below the rim.

DIY Floral-Style Succulent Centerpiece

2. In the center, plant an upright cluster of the largest rosettes.

 

3. Tuck smaller plants or cuttings around the center grouping, facing outward at a slight angle.

DIY Floral-Style Succulent Centerpiece

4. When the arrangement is nearly finished but still has some gaps, use a chopstick to push roots of remaining plants into the soil, and to tuck and conceal the edge of the plastic below the rim.

DIY Floral-Style Succulent Centerpiece

  1. Gently brush spilled soil off the leaves, then water the completed arrangement lightly to settle the roots. Because there’s no drainage, water it minimally, about once a week, to moisten the soil, but not so much that the roots are sitting in a puddle of water.

Design by Fresh Chic, a division of CW Design & Landscaping For more Fresh Chic designs, see my article, Tips from a Top Container Garden Designer

Also find DIY floral-style succulent centerpieces in my books, Succulent Container Gardens and Succulents Simplified, and learn how to make them in my online Craftsy class, Stunning Succulent Arrangements. Also visit my YouTube channel for more great ideas for using and designing with succulents!

Related info on this site: 

Where and How to Order Succulents Online

The succulents in my YouTube videos and design projects mostly come from the largest grower of cacti and succulents in the US: Altman Plants—specifically [Continue reading]

Succulent Desk Buddies DIY

“Desk buddies” are succulents that look good on your desk and require almost no care. They’re cute and classy, and visitors invariably ask… [Continue reading]

Succulent Basics, Must-Do’s and FAQs

Here are the essentials for growing succulents successfully. If all this is new to you, you’ll want to refer to this page often. And even if you’re experienced…[Continue reading] 

 

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How to Propagate Succulents

How to propagate succulents: Aaron Ryan shows how to take a cutting from a stacked crassula

Ever wondered how to propagate a certain succulent? For example, lithops (living stones)…is it possible to take cuttings from those thick, molar-shaped leaves? How about ruffled echeverias…can a solitary rosette be made to offset? And stacked crassulas…what do you do when stems are tightly lined with leaves? 

Most succulents can be propagated vegetatively—via stem cuttings, pulling apart offsets, or rooting leaves. To the novice, of course, such tasks are mystifying. How deep, for example, does one plant a leaf? 

Even more challenging are succulents that make propagators pull out a power drill, coffee grinder, or tub of roofing gravel—all tools routinely used by nurseryman-grower Aaron Ryan of Petaluma, CA. 

Aaron is down-to-earth in more ways than one. At past Succulent Extravaganzas at Succulent Gardens Nursery, he graciously showed standing-room-only audiences a half dozen ways to propagate a variety of succulents. 

Somehow watching Aaron grind seed pods, guillotine a frilly echeveria, or snip a stacked crassula is soothing. You know those babies are gonna make it. You also know that with Aaron’s methods, you’ll soon have plenty of new plants to play with. 

Impressed by his teaching skills, I’ve made several videos that feature Aaron. They’re short (4 to 6 min.), fun to watch, and easy to follow. You’ll find them on my YouTube channelplaylist “Succulent Propagation.” Or click below.

To be notified when I release a new video, subscribe to my YouTube channel. 

Find “How to Propagate Succulents” in my books ~

Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed., pp. 148-154

Succulent Container Gardens, pp. 232-235

Succulents Simplified, pp. 58-61

Related info on this site:

Succulent Basics, How-To and FAQs

Below are succulent basics, must-do’s and answers to FAQs—the essentials for growing succulents successfully. If all this is new to you, you’ll want to refer to this page often. And even if you’re experienced [Continue reading]


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