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How to Propagate Succulents

Aaron Ryan takes 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

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My Top Five Firewise Succulents

The horrific wildfires and loss of life in the CA wine country are a reminder of what we experienced here in San Diego County in 2007. My own home was blanketed with ash when I returned from being evacuated, and during three awful days, we didn’t know if we’d have a home to return to. This post is timely for fall, 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 by suggesting you buy a book. My sympathy and prayers are with the victims. Debra Lee Baldwin

Whether you live nearby or on the other side of the country, Sunset offers a few ways you can help. Go to http://www.sunset.com/syndication/california-napa-fires-how-to-help

 

It’s been a decade since wildfires devastated much of San Diego county. In Designing with Succulents (2nd edition, p. 107), I tell how my husband and I were evacuated, and how the succulent garden on the cover of the book’s first edition “saved” a home in Rancho Santa Fe.

From my Los Angeles Times article, “Did Succulents Save Her Home?” ~ “SUCCULENTS have soared in popularity recently because they’re drought-tolerant, easy-care and just plain cool to look at, and now there’s another compelling reason to grow them: They’re fire-retardant. During last month’s wildfires, succulents — which by definition store water in plump leaves and stems — apparently stopped a blaze in its tracks…” [Read more]

My top five firewise succulents are quite common and start easily from cuttings. If you live in a fire-prone, backcountry area, consider them one more weapon in your arsenal against wildfire and plant them around your property’s perimeter. As you can see, they combine to make a beautiful, low-water landscape. This garden originated entirely from cuttings:

  • Opuntia (paddle cactus), the thicker the better. If you wince at the thought of having cactus in your garden, look for spineless or near-spineless varieties. They do exist, and they don’t draw blood. Those rounded, upright pads make a nice counterpoint to more finely textured plants, succulent and otherwise.
  • Aloes. Mound-forming Aloe arborescens is the heroic succulent that “saved” the home of Rob and Suzy Schaefer during the devastating wildfires of 2007. It sends up orange-red, torchlike flower spikes in midwinter.
  • Aeoniums. There are numerous varieties of these rosette succulents. The best ones for fire resistance are multi-branching.
  • Crassulas. Plain old green jade didn’t burn during the wildfire that threatened the Schaefer home, but rather it cooked, and like the aloes, its leaves turned putty-colored and collapsed. If you think jade is boring, you may not be aware of its many cultivars. Some are striped cream-and-green; turn yellow-orange-red when grown in full sun; have silvery-gray leaves rimmed with red; or have intriguing tubular or wavy leaves.
  • Portulacaria afra (elephant’s food) is shrub-like, and yes, elephants really do eat it in South Africa. In fact, the plant benefits from being stomped on because pieces root readily. The variegated variety is less vigorous and more ornamental than the common green species.

 

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Seen at Succulent Extravaganza ’17

Members of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook Group take advantage of a hanging frame planted with sempervivums and echeverias. A perfect photo-op!

The 7th annual Succulent Extravaganza (Fri-Sat, Sept. 29-30) at Succulent Gardens Nursery in Castroville, CA drew about 1,000 visitors a day. Not bad for a relatively small wholesale/retail nursery out in the boonies 100 miles south of San Francisco. There’s an energy there, some might say a vortex, that whirls visitors into a state of enchantment.

Debra Lee Baldwin and Hannah Eubanks

Hannah Eubanks, designer Laura Eubanks‘ daughter, was my assistant and took lots of footage of event highlights and my presentations. During the Extravaganza, Hannah posted short videos on my Instagram and Facebook pages. I’ll soon release longer, edited versions on YouTube. To be notified of new releases, subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Although the greenhouses themselves, viewed from outside, are about as pretty as quonset huts (which they resemble) there’s true magic inside—rows and rows of perfectly grown echeverias, aloes, kalanchoes, haworthias, sedums, sempervivums and more.

Much of the fun of returning year after year is seeing old friends and making new ones. The staff is friendly and welcoming, plant enthusiasts come from near and far, stellar speakers like Brian Kemble of the Ruth Bancroft Garden share their knowledge. Nursery founder and fellow book author Robin Stockwell was there, as were many delightful members of the Facebook group “Succulent Fanatics 2” founded by San Jose designer Laura Balaoro.

Laura Balaoro of the Succulent Fanatics 2 Facebook group, with her snorkeling-themed succulent display

Laura’s also known for her stunning succulent decorated hats. (See my article about her in Country Gardens.) I think she outdid herself on this one, don’t you?

Laura Balaoro’s sea-themed, succulent decorated hat

 

A barn door’s peeling paint makes a great backdrop for this sempervivum-planted square

All sizes and shapes of containers suitable for planting are available at the nursery. They seem to have the best selection of wooden ones anywhere.

 

IMHO, the nursery’s potted succulent gardens were better than ever this year

Also at the 2017 Extravaganza, I launched my new book, the completely revised and updated second edition of Designing with Succulents. We sold out the first day.

Audiences for my presentations were enthusiastic and engaged.

A speaker’s dream! SRO!

When it seemed the Extravaganza couldn’t get any better, my book’s publisher Timber Press provided a succulent-decorated cake!

The cake, by Sweet Reba’s of Carmel, CA, combines succulents with books

For more, I recommend Gerhard Bock’s “Succulents and More” blog posts about the Extravaganza.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified of new releases. Those filmed at the event will show clever uses of topdressings, a bouquet of echeveria flowers, how to compose a perfect plant-pot combo, growing succulents in nondraining containers, how to keep aeoniums looking good, agaves for your garden, Brian Kemble on in-ground succulents, Aaron Ryan on succulent propagation, how to refresh a tired container garden, and much more!

Find out more about what I’m up to! 

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Ten Reasons Why You Really Need Rock

My new YouTube video

Remember when crushed-rock front yards were a ’60s retirement-community cliche? Not any longer! Nowadays smart designers cover bare soil with rocks to create gardens that are as sophisticated and good-looking as they are practical.

“Before” photo of driveway planting

 

Driveway garden, “after” (newly installed)

In my latest video, Van Liew Garden Redo, San Diego landscape designer Steve McDearmon explains how he installs succulents amid swaths of warm-toned Mojave Gold gravel, Hickory Creek rubble rock, and Honey Quartz boulders. Though subtle, the rocks are as important as the plants.

Reasons for rocks:

— They need no maintenance and look the same forever.

— They contrast texturally with walls, pavement, and plants.

— They add color and cohesion to a landscape.

— They moderate soil temperature, keeping it warmer in winter and cooler in summer.

— They hold moisture in the soil and inhibit evaporation.

— They prevent erosion by diffusing the impact of rain.

— They give a garden a finished look. (Doubtless you already know that topdressing is important for containers. The same is true of gardens.)

— They’re visually intriguing, especially when several sizes combine.

— When used to create flowing lines in the landscape, they lend design interest and emphasize focal points.

— By shading the soil, they prevent weeds from germinating. (And any that do pop up are easier to pull.)

Your (fun) homework:  Browse my newly released, second edition of Designing with Succulents and notice how rocks enhance many of the gardens. 

Aloe glauca

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Gerhard Bock’s Q & A with Debra Lee Baldwin

Gerhard Bock

Davis, CA garden blogger Gerhard Bock has the precise mind of a scientist, the sweet demeanor of a teddy bear, the photo skills of a magazine photographer, the wit of a TV show host, and a love of succulents comparable to mine. His “Succulents and More” blog is one of the few I subscribe to, and I recommend it highly.

I asked my publisher, Timber Press, to send Gerhard a review copy of my new book, the celebratory 10th anniversary, completely revised and updated, second edition of Designing with Succulents. Naturally I hoped he’d blog about it, and boy howdy, did he. Read Gerhard’s review.

Gerhard also asked if I’d do a Q&A interview. I happily agreed. It’s below in its entirety. If it reads like a conversation between friends, well that’s exactly what it is.


Spanish Blogger Discusses Designing with Succulents

I’ve long been a fan of El Blog de La Tabla, a daily garden blog out of Spain written and researched by Maria Jose Holguin. A bonus is that it’s written in Spanish that is not difficult to understand, which provides daily practice that I enjoy. But you can always click on the “English” option.

I’m thrilled that Maria honored the second edition of Designing with Succulents with such a thorough and comprehensive review. Below is an excerpt. Read the entire post. While you’re there, do subscribe. Her writing is wonderful, but Maria’s curated photos of gardens worldwide alone are worth it.

Read more of Maria’s review.
Visit El Blog de la Tabla’s Facebook page.
Order the second edition of Designing with Succulents. 

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Gerhard Bock’s Review of Designing with Succulents

It’s a thrill for an author when a reviewer “gets” what a book’s all about. But succulent expert/blogger/photographer Gerhard Bock frankly floored me with his insights and evaluation of the second edition of Designing with Succulents. 

Excerpt:

Sometimes the second edition of a popular book is little more than a cosmetic update, maybe featuring a new foreword, a different page design, and some new photos. Not so here. The second edition of Designing with Succulents may share the same basic organization as the first edition—the first half covering design principles, the second half showcasing the best plants for a variety of applications—but the nuts and bolts of the book have been completely reworked. In the preface,

Debra says:

The world of succulent design has advanced so significantly since the first edition of Designing with Succulentswas released in 2007 that this second edition is a complete rewrite—in effect a new book. It showcases the cleverness and creativity of numerous designers and gardening enthusiasts, many of whom used the first edition as a starting point.

Let’s talk a closer look at the book. Beyond the preface and introduction, it consists of six major sections. “Succulent Landscape Essentials: Plan and Design Your Dream Garden” covers basics such as site selection and soil preparation; design principles such as scale and proportion, repetition, contrast, emphasis, shape and texture, and color; hardscape elements such as walls, raised beds, pathways, and terraces; as well as outdoor art.

“Specialty Gardens That Showcase Succulents” shows how succulents can be used in a variety of specific garden styles, including boulder and rock gardens, seaside and sea-themed gardens, desert gardens, firewise gardens, green roofs, container gardens, tapestry gardens, and miniature landscapes.

“Success Secrets for Succulents” covers the basics of planting, watering and fertilizing, pest, damage and weed control as well as growing succulents in challenging climates—everything from hot and dry, rainy and humid, to cold climates. This chapters also touches on various propagation techniques.

“Succulents A to Z” contains Debra’s “favorite foolhardy succulents for gardens large and small.” Organized in alphabetical order, this section describes the best species and cultivars from all common succulent genera—from aeoniums to yuccas.

“A Designer’s Palette: Plant Lists for Succulents” builds on the previous section, listing popular succulents according to characteristics such as size (tall, midsize, small), leaf variegation, leaf color, and “dramatic blooms.”

“Top Fifty Waterwise Companion Plants for Succulents” showcases a selection of trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses that not only look good in combination with succulents but also share similar cultivation requirements.

My favorite addition to the second edition are the Featured Gardens. At the beginning of each section, Debra introduces us to a very special succulent-centric garden. For example, she describes the evolution of her own ½ acre garden over the last ten years—in her words, “a giant editing job”—and takes us to other gardens in San Diego, on the Central Coast, and in Northern California. All these examples illustrate how harmoniously succulents blend into just about any garden style.

What I noticed immediately when I received my copy of the book was its visual elegance. The superb page design, combined with arguably the best succulent photographs ever to to appear in a mainstream title, make the second edition of Designing with Succulents the most handsome commercially published gardening book I’ve ever seen.

As a photographer, Debra does know that one well-chosen photo often stirs a reader’s imagination more than a page of even the most evocative prose. Still, without words to back up the images, visual beauty is just skin-deep. So while it’s possible to enjoy the second edition of Designing with Succulents as a lavish photo book, its real value is the wealth of information contained in its pages. Debra’s writing is clear as a bell and conveys even complex information without going over their heads. It simply is a joy to read.

Read the rest of the review. 

 

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Is Cactus the New Black?

Dish garden by Matthew Maggio

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.

Golden barrels backlit by the sun

Succulent aficionados initially drawn to echeverias and other rosette succulents are gaining appreciation for those with streamlined, sculptural forms. There’s a surging interest in succulent oddities as well, resulting in windowsill gardens with a vaguely extraterrestrial look.

Collectible crested cacti on display at a nursery

Membership in the Cactus & Succulent Society of America (CSSA), founded in 1929, is at an all-time high. Longtime members of CSSA clubs nationwide seem bemused by the surging interest in succulents as landscape plants. But then, members are collectors. Clubs host shows and award trophies to rare, perfectly grown potted specimens. These widespread events are open to the public and free, so they’re often where people see exotic succulents first and in the flesh.

Large cacti that are spherical, cylindrical or jointed are popping up far from their native desert Southwest. Forward-thinking California landscape designers are creating focal-point beds consisting of rocks of all sizes (another trend) and dramatic succulents with translucent spines. These living sculptures, breathtaking when haloed by early morning or late afternoon sun, require no irrigation other than rainfall.

You needn’t live in a hot climate to grow cacti in-ground. On page 112 of the second edition of Designing with Succulents, I share this good news: “More than fifty types of Opuntia and a dozen varieties of Echinocereus will grow where temperatures drop below 0 degrees F, according to members of the Ottawa Cactus Club, who have grown and tested them in their gardens.”

My makeshift cactus tools include grippers with pieces of foam rubber attached to the tips with rubber bands and rubber gloves wrapped with duct tape

 

Whoever introduces flexible gardening gloves impervious to spines and glochids will likely make a fortune. Regardless, if they haven’t already, manufacturers of medical tools will see an uptick of interest in long-handled tweezers, calipers, hemostats, narrow-bladed scissors, and other items that enable gardeners to groom and handle cacti without actually touching them.

Not that I expect garden-club ladies to ever be enthralled by cacti. This edgy subsection of succulents appeals to a new generation of gardeners: people in their twenties and thirties who have the gardening gene (they’re fascinated by plants and their cultivation) but who want to do it their own way. Look for young green-thumbers to take an interest in formerly ignored fat plants, reveling in the eye-of-the-beholder beauty of mammillarias, euphorbias and more. (The more treacherous, the better, especially those with eyebrow-raising names and forms.)

Can spineless cacti help world hunger?

I’ve saved the best for last: It’s likely that research begun by famed hybridizer Luther Burbank (1849-1926) on spineless varieties of Opuntia (paddle cacti) will start up again in earnest, with the goal of creating a dependably smooth-leaved hybrid that’ll grow nearly anywhere. Many in this large genus have pads as thick as oven mitts, and juicy tissues capable of sustaining the plants during prolonged dry spells. Tender young pads, a dietary staple in Latin America (nopales), are notably high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients.

Burbank envisioned spineless opuntia as an economical alternative to cattle feed. Despite harsh conditions, the plants grow from fallen pads. They thrive in poor soils and need far less labor than grains. Forget silos; simply leave pads on the plants until needed. But never mind cattle. Call me crazy, but I think spineless opuntia offers a significant way to combat world hunger. And due to its wealth of antioxidants, possibly cancer too.

Cacti are just one direction in which succulents are trending. With 400 photos and entirely revised and updated text, the celebratory, tenth anniversary, second edition of Designing with Succulents presents hundreds of innovative, practical, and eye-catching ways to use and enjoy these appealing and remarkable plants. Learn more at www.debraleebaldwin.com and www.timberpress.com.

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Watch How You Water!

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.

I suggest that you ~

— Check your automatic irrigation system. Trust me, it needs it, and maintaining it can mean life or death to prized plants. Watch for leafy growth blocking sprayers, clogged riser heads, and plugged drip lines.

— Pay keen attention to soil moisture during heat waves and desiccating winds.

— If the root zone goes dry, supplement auto irrigation with hose watering. (See my canary-in-the-mineshaft way to evaluate evaporation in my latest video, Succulents, Sun and Summer.)

— Water early in the morning or late in the day. Note to desert gardeners: Watering in midday heat can literally cook roots. (Eek!)

— HOWEVER, aeoniums, dudleyas and other succulents that have closed their rosettes should be watered minimally or not at all, lest dormant roots rot. The plants will revive when the rains return. (They may not make it until then, though, if in full sun. So, shade them.)

— If the ground is concrete-hard, leave a hose dripping overnight to create an underground cone of moist soil.

— Trees and shrubs want water where their canopies would naturally direct rainfall: around the perimeter of the plant.

— Add gravel topdressing around succulents (or use organic mulch for woody plants) to help hold moisture in the soil.

— Take the opportunity, when hose-watering, to blast pests, fallen leaves and dirt out of leaf axils and the centers of rosettes.

— Use a hose-end sprayer—ideally one with multiple settings—to direct water where you want it.

— A hose lying in summer sun may contain scalding water. You already know this, but your house-sitter may not, so be sure to mention it.

— If you have a hose-full of hot water, aim a fine spray skyward. Droplets will cool by the time they hit leaves.

What about potted succulents?

From my website’s FAQ’s:  Aim to keep soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. About once a week should do it. Water thoroughly to soak the roots and flush salts. Let common sense prevail: Water more during hot, dry spells and less or not at all during periods of high humidity, cool temperatures and rain.

ALSO SEE: Page 56 of Succulents Simplified, pp. 219-222 of Succulent Container Gardens, and pp. 134-135 of Designing with Succulents (second edition). 

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Summer Care for Your Succulents

Don’t let midsummer heat, sun and dryness damage your succulents! 

If you live in an arid climate and grow succulents in the open garden (as I do), I recommend you ~

— Watch and enjoy my latest video: Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day I give a tour of my garden, noting what’s in bloom, lookin’ good (or dreadful), and checking the health of succulents small and large.

— Move sun-sensitive potted succulents into the shade: haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, echeverias, and anything light-colored or variegated.

— Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn bright colors but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn.

— Shade horizontal stems of trailing aloes, senecios, othonna and the like. Sunburn hinders stems’ ability to transmit moisture from roots to leaves.

— Create temporary shade structures from old window screens.

— Or use leafy branches trimmed from trees (insert in the ground next to a plant you want to protect, on the side that gets the most sun).

— Evaluate garden areas in need of shade, and plant trees when the weather cools in the fall. And for that (drum roll) I have another new video: Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.