Gardening With Succulents

Bring the phenomenal interest of a desert landscape to your home by adding cacti and succulents to your garden design. These plants are easy to care for and provide a wealth of intriguing shapes and stunning colors. Best of all, you don’t need a huge landscape filled with sand in order to grow these plants.

Succulents possess a unique ability to grow in some of the most unseemly of places. Sites possessing extreme weather fluctuations and those having poor soil conditions are often detrimental to plants; however, succulents thrive in these areas as well as in a variety of others. These plants are capable of storing water within their own fleshy leaves and roots, making them ideal for growing in arid conditions. They can be found growing in deserts, grasslands, mountains, and even tropical regions. Some of the most common succulent plants include sedums (Sedum) and houseleeks or hens and chicks (Sempervivum). Other well-known succulents are the snake plant (Sansevieria), the jade plant (Crassula), the burn plant (Aloe), the flowering kalanchoe (Kalanchoe), and the century plant (Agave). Many people are unaware of the fact that cacti are also considered to be succulents. Cacti come in many varieties and can be quite beautiful, providing outstanding flowers. Cacti can also give the landscape additional interest and character. While many cacti are native to hot, dry desert regions, you don’t have to reside in the desert to enjoy these types of plants or the overall beauty from which this landscape has to offer.

The first step in making a cactus or succulent garden is planning. Will the succulents be part of an existing garden or in a specific area of their own? Choose a site preferably in full sun and on an incline. Locating your succulent garden in a sloped area will allow for better drainage, which is extremely important. If you don’t have a suitable hill for your succulent garden, that’s ok; nearly any site will accommodate this type of garden. Once you have chosen a suitable location for your succulent garden, work on its design. For instance, how big do you want the garden and how will it be shaped? Make sure the site is thoroughly cleaned out and free of any debris. Beds should be at least 6-12 inches deep, depending on the plants you have selected. Most home and garden centers supply soil especially for cacti and other succulents; however, you can make your own by mixing two parts potting soil, two parts sand, and one part gravel. Suitable mulches for succulents include pebbles, rocks, and native grasses. Gravel is perfect mulch for succulents; and if you let these plants seed themselves, they will begin popping up in different locations just as they would in nature.

Although most cacti and succulents grow naturally in open, well-drained soil, these plants make outstanding landscape additions. Growing these types of plants successfully depends, more or less, on choosing the plant species that is most tolerant in your specific area as well as providing adequate drainage. Doing some research beforehand is probably the best way to learn more about individual plant requirements. Succulents exhibit a number of survival tactics which allows them to adapt easily to their particular environment. For instance, they will go dormant in times of excessive heat or dryness as well as during extreme cold spells. They also have the ability to adapt to shady sites; therefore making them excellent choices for nearly any location.

Container-grown succulents make excellent gardens as well. Growing succulents in containers will not only spruce up the garden but will also offer more flexibility. For instance, if you live in cooler climates, you can set the plants in the ground, pot and all, and safely remove them once winter arrives where they can be kept indoors until warmer temperatures return in the spring. One rule of thumb, however, for successfully growing these plants in pots is to never allow them to stand in water for extended periods. When succulents are left in waterlogged soil, their roots will rot, leading to the ultimate demise of the plant. Nearly any type of container is suitable for growing succulents as long as adequate drainage is provided. Top off your potted delights with small stones or pebbles.

As these plants are so adaptable, there are unlimited possibilities when designing your succulent garden. Be sure to include a variety of other plant combinations to your succulent garden. Different textures and heights will give the garden depth and further interest. Certain kinds of desert trees and shrubs, such as mesquite and acacia, can turn your succulent garden into a dazzling desert display. Incorporating numerous rocks and boulders will also heighten its natural appearance. Transform an embankment with a mix of sedums, aeoniums, and echeverias. Sedums are hardy and provide intense foliage colors. Agaves are excellent additions in the garden and look amazing when planted in groups. Squeeze in some senecios and crassulas with various cacti and ornamental grasses in the garden. Yucca and agave plants always look good together, especially when planted with fescue grass. Aloes and echeverias will blend well with more traditional garden plants.

A large number of shrubby succulents, such as Euphorbia, are suitable for landscape uses and provide intense flower colors in spring. Clumping varieties of aloe, such as Breviflora, look wonderful in the garden when combined with the densely branched fire stick (euphorbia tirucali) shrub. The gracilis is known for its exotic shapes and looks exceptional with a variety of plants. Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (snake plant) is a tall, multi-stalked plant that can easily adjust to shady areas. Background plants such as aloes and Euphorbiacaracius can add year-round interest to the garden. Aeonium makes an excellent background plant as well, producing impressive yellow heads during winter. Golden barrel and prickly pear cacti make outstanding additions to succulent gardens; and in bright sun, the tips of prickly pears will turn coral. Cholas are also popular cacti, making great fences or focal points within the garden. The Christmas cactus is not just a house plant anymore; they are gaining popularity as ground covers, borders, and living mulches.

Maintenance of the succulent garden is minimal and may consist only of periodic weeding and watering. Although the garden will occasionally require significant watering, especially those in containers, you’ll want to make sure that everything has dried thoroughly between watering intervals to prevent root rot.

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