Autumn has arrived at last. It feels good to be a succulent geek right about now, especially if you have a bunch of plants exiting summer dormancy. Nothing like looking forward to seeing your aeoniums, your senecios, your sempervivums, get a little wild in wintertime. Of course, for those in colder areas, that festival of life will have to be held indoors, in a space blessed with light.
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But our treasured succulents don’t have to unduly suffer
We are fond of referring to succulents as the ultimate easy-care plants but many species can suffer serious damage or death if exposed to elements they aren’t predisposed to tolerate.
Succulents have a rep for being waterwise, easy-care, easy-to-love plants. While all are easy to love, some are certainly easier to have looking their best than others.
Pick up your beginner-friendly succulents at shopaltmanplants.com.
July 26, 2019
Article by Dr. Debra Kawahara, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs & Distinguished Professor at California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP)
As CSPP celebrates its 50th anniversary, I had the fortunate pleasure of connecting with Dr. Ken Altman. Dr. Altman is a CSPP alumnus from the founding class in Los Angeles. Born in Los Angeles, he went to UC Berkeley and then started at CSPP (pre-Alliant days) in 1970 and continued until 1976 when he received his PhD in Clinical Psychology. While in graduate school, he and his wife, Deena, started collecting and selling plants, eventually filling their backyard with mostly succulents and cacti. Once he graduated, he interviewed for a few jobs, but he soon realized that he really wanted to work for himself in the plant business. So, he focused and spent more time selling succulents through a truck route and a mail order catalog.
From these humble beginnings of selling plants from the back of a truck, Ken and Deena Altman have grown this one-time hobby and avid interest in plants to a wholesale nursery business that has more than 3,800 acres in 6 states. Altman Plants is now the nation’s largest horticultural grower and it specializes in drought-tolerant and water-efficient plants.
DK: What made you choose the field of clinical psychology?
KA: I was always interested in understanding how people think and I have interest in people’s stories.
DK: As CSPP was only in its beginning and you were a graduate in the first class, what made you choose CSPP in those founding years?
KA: I liked the emphasis on clinical studies, so it seemed like a good match.
DK: You then went on to become the largest succulent grower in the world. How did your career path lead you to become “The King of Succulents”?
KA: My wife and I have a tremendous passion for plants. A big work ethic combined with the patience to reinvest everything back into the business led to continuous business growth. We were not trained in the field of horticulture, so some things came with more difficulty. But at the same time, we were in position to create our own solutions, many of which were quite unique and creative and led to success. In addition to being the largest succulent grower in the world, we also grow annuals, perennials, and shrubs. Altman Plants is the largest horticulture business in the US now, with over 30 million square feet of greenhouse and over 6,000 employees.
DK: In reflecting back on your career, what are important qualities in being successful?
KA: Honesty, respect at all times for employees, vendors, and customers, a genuine interest in their success, work ethic, creativity in solving the problems our customers have, and a love of our product.
DK: What advice would you give anyone wanting to “go on their own”?
KA: Make sure you have a product that you stand behind and that has value to others. If you don’t have business experience, it wouldn’t hurt to read up or get mentorship. Make sure you have enough capital to support your life needs and to run your business. It generally takes three years to get a new business or business division to support itself well.
DK: Describe one of the most impactful/significant events in your career.
KA: Target stores was our biggest customer, representing around 35% of our business at the time. They decided to go out of the garden business. Things looked grim, but we were able to keep employees engaged. In the end, we replaced all the business, plus 15% more, and we were able to maintain everybody’s job. This was important because it was during one of the bigger recessions and people were very worried about whether they could find new jobs.
DK: Do you have any other thoughts to share?
KA: My dissertation was on Sexual Satisfaction in Couples. I compared an educational approach to an open free form “encounter group” approach. The educational structured approach showed more effect in helping couples. If I had stayed in the field, my interest in business would have led me to creating educational programs to help in many of the common problems for individuals, couples and families. I think that would have been very successful, but in the end, I am happy that I chose the nursery business and the enjoyment I have had in this field.
In closing, what is amazing to me, as Dr. Altman reminded me, is that when he began in the 1970’s, succulents were not as popular as they are now, but the Altmans stuck with it and they were able to gradually grow the business. Dr. Altman’s journey from clinical psychology graduate student to entrepreneur parallels the pioneering and innovative spirit of CSPP to the perseverance and persistence of excellence in professional psychology.
We’re daydreaming about an endless summer day on a secluded beach. Gentle waves lapping near our feet. Seabirds carrying on delightful conversation. A pod of dolphins frolicking just beyond the surf.
Enticing aromas emanating from the grill. Sunscreen dutifully lathered on. And an umbrella placed to shade our succulent friends from afternoon rays. In this perfect world, our succulents are definitely coming with.
Embrace the summertime succulent vibes at shopaltmanplants.com.
Mesquite trees are tough plants that survive and thrive in some of the driest and least fertile/saline habitats worldwide, sharing space with cacti and other tenacious, water-thrifty species.
They are also incredibly useful. Mesquites (Prosopis spp.), nitrogen-fixing trees to tall shrubs with thin, feathery, fern-like leaves, have long been valued as a resource for food, medicine, firewood, furniture, and other uses.
While considered problematic weeds in some areas, mesquites are useful for soil enrichment via nitrogen fixation, their bean pods are edible (by humans, wildlife, and livestock), and their wood is an excellent source for firewood as well as lumber for furniture. Other commercial income opportunities exist as well, including from intercropping, pod production and grazing. Planting thornless varieties, which we’re going to talk about in a bit, addresses one of the traditional issues ranchers have had with mesquites being located on lands used for grazing.
When it comes to lumber, wood shrinkages are probably the best measure of wood stability, and because wood stability is one of the most important characteristics in furniture manufacture, Prosopis species belong in the company of the world’s finest indoor furniture species. This is especially so when Prosopis lumber’s stability is combined with its attractive reddish-brown wood color and above-average specific gravity and hardness.
Apart from their considerable commercial utility, mesquites are habitat promoters, producing wildlife-attracting beans and providing perches and nesting sites for flying friends, including hummingbirds.
All the benefits outlined above provide the basis for breeding research that builds upon what mesquite trees already contribute to the environments around them. With that, we’re excited to highlight two very promising mesquite hybrids that are close to being ready for everything from serving as cash crops on cattle grazing land to shading residential landscapes. These are drought-hardy, deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing mesquite trees that have been bred to grow straight, fast, and without thorns. Did you know that mesquite trees are known to send taproots down almost 200 feet to locate moisture? Crazy, right?
Both plants are hybrids of a thornless, erect Texas native mesquite and a cold-hardy thornless Argentine mesquite. At 10 years old, under good tree parent care, they will sport a trunk diameter of 6 to 8 inches and rise to 20 to 25 feet in height.
Among the several specimens that resulted from this hybridization, ‘Mojave’ PPAF has the most finely divided lush foliage (more shade) and the fewest thorns (none). Compared to the other clones, it has a more compact canopy and less height potential.
The clone ‘Sonoran’ PPAF boasts greater height growth than ‘Mojave’, with more widely spaced leaflets. It would be desirable as an ornamental variety where a more airy, open canopy is desired. It has small spines (3/16 inch).
Both trees are summer lovers, handling heat up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. At the other end of the temperature spectrum, they are considered hardy to USDA Zone 8b (average minimum temperature of 15 to 20 degrees). This includes all of Southern California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Austin, Texas.
Oh, and speaking (again) of food, the pods of dried beans can be ground into a flour. Roasted pods can be milled into an aromatic flour smelling of cream, coconut and chocolate. And that is just a limited taste of mesquite trees’ value as a food source, to say nothing of the wood’s prized utility as a flavoring agent in the smoking of meats.
Perhaps in the not too distant future you’ll have yourself an airy, dappled shade-providing, heat-loving, thorn-free mesquite tree that will lend a distinctive twist to your homemade pancakes, pastries, and, yes, cookies!
The trees are available wholesale by contract. Please contact Bruce Gibson for ordering information at email@example.com.
The mimicry plants known as mesembs are the thespians of the succulent world, mind-blowingly adaptable actors often accustomed to harsh, sun-blasted habitats that receive only a few inches of rain a year. They grow in coarse sand with just their translucent tops showing, enabling sunlight to reach the interior of each plant. The rest is underground, which minimizes exposure to extreme elements.
Cascading succulents should be on anyone’s list for living home & patio decor.
Gardeners often focus on planting things in the ground or in pots that rest well below eye level, yet there is a wide (tall?) world of verdant, pendant possibility that lives above us in the form of hanging plants.
Particular varieties thrive from lofty perches, succulent plants such as string of bananas and Sedum ‘Burrito’. It’s enough to make one hungry! Hanging succulents also excel as “spiller” plants in dish gardens. It’s really hard to imagine potting more than one or two planters without having at least one. They do especially well in bright (but not necessarily super bright) kitchens, sun rooms, and other living spaces, making them some of the best succulents to treat as houseplants.
Many of these cascading gems are green. Green is an emotionally invigorating hue said to embody the rebirth and renewal of spring. That’s a lot to put on a color’s shoulders, but we garden enthusiasts of emerald hearts can’t help but feel an abiding affection for a color so intrinsically linked to a love of nature. Having seen brown landscapes perk up of late, we know that adding greenery at home can have a rejuvenating effect. Imagine coming home absolutely un-fabulously frazzled from work, only to lay your eyes on lush succulent leafy greenery. Ahh. We feel refreshed already.
With cascading, dreadlock-like stems that can reach 3 feet and plump, densely packed foliage, this ‘Burrito’ has powdery-green leaves that turn brighter with sunlight. Mmm — part of that description has us thinking about a different kind of burrito. (Appetite is strong with this one.) The precise origins of Sedum ‘Burrito’ are a mystery … ooh, intrigue! … as it is said to have never been documented in the wild. But, boy, it sure is adored in human habitats. Just don’t involve it in a game of flag football or use it as a base in softball.
Treat the Sedum version well and you just might get pink-red blossoms on the ends of those “locks.”
Senecio rowleyanus, native to Namibia, Africa, has pendant stems to 3 feet or more with unusual round leaves giving the impression of beads, peas, or pearls. String of pearls is a superb subject for a hanging basket, and can be in the house in a bright airy room, or outside in a protected patio. Consider hanging several to create a sense of verdant greenery. Unless you’re on the coast, try to keep this one out of direct sun. But also watch that its soil doesn’t get soggy. If so, you’ll have rotten pearls on your hands. Or hair (if it’s hanging from above, that is).
When its round leaves are backlit by bright light, the translucent narrow little windows (there for aiding in photosynthesis) light up like little lasers.
Senecio radicans (string of bananas)
The stems of Senecio radicans have curious banana-shaped emerald-green leaves with fascinating translucent “windows” that aid in photosynthesis too. Those windows are to photosynthesis what the flux capacitor is to time travel. We’re pretty sure Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown would agree with us. Flowers are like pom-poms of many tiny white flowers and are fragrant (cinnamon-y). Quickly forms plush hanging baskets. Hang a bunch to create a sense of lush (succulent) greenery, even mixing with Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls) and Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’. Thrives in a bright room or with morning sun on a patio in temperate areas.
Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’ (rainbow elephant bush) grows more laterally compared to the first two, but is still an excellent choice for hanging baskets. Its variegated creamy yellow/green leaves play off the green pendant senecios quite nicely. It’s known as rainbow elephant bush because elephants munch on it in habitat, even aiding in propagation when they trample on and break the mahogany red stems. Like with hanging baskets, it’s a must-have as a dish garden spiller or filler…one of the classiest succulent plants we’ve come across. Hang it by a sunny window or slider where the incoming light will provide a nice glow effect on the foliage.
We’re going back to the Senecio genus to talk a bit about a variety that’s taken the succulent world by storm…or by pod. And that is the variety known as string of dolphins or dolphin necklace. Believe it or not (and you should!), the leaves resemble dolphins. Stem after stem of playful dolphins, the undisputed greatest living marine mammal…well, they’re dolphinately up there. (We’ll be here all week.) Give this one bright, indirect light and don’t let it dry out too much. Use a container that is just a bit larger than the plant, as dolphin plants thrive in slightly crowded conditions…like lovely, tiny, little, pods of dolphins!
At Altman Plants, in July we are planning to release our very first pod, er, batch of string of dolphins. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in preordering one.
So far we’ve focused on green hanging succulents, but here’s one that expresses beautiful pinks, roses, and purples, especially when given plenty of bright (but not punishing) light. The green, lemony cream and pink leaves of calico kitten blush a beautiful rose-lilac in drought or cold. This multicolored creeper is a go-to accent for hanging baskets and dish gardens, serving as an eye-catching contrast to rose-shaped succulents such as echeverias as well as upright growers. Excellent as a hanging basket or for spilling over the sides of a rock wall or along a dry creek bed. Tuck into the nooks and crannies of a waterwise garden where frost is not a concern.
Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’ (keepsake hearts or string of hearts)
Staying on the “not just green” tip, the cream, green & pink-margined Ceropegia woodii ‘Variegata’ is an incredibly beloved form. Easy to be when your leaves are shaped like hearts, right? If you can find one, you can grow it indoors near a window. The stems sport a purply hue. Another interesting facet is the production of tubers under the ground and at the base, giving it another nickname, this one “rosary vine.”
Other wonderful cascading succulent varieties include Cotyledon pendens, Sedum morganianum (thought to be a parent of Sedum ‘Burrito’), Senecio herreianus (string of beads, among others), Dischidia nummularia (string of nickels), and Othonna capensis (little pickles).
View the hanging succulents collection at shopaltmanplants.com here: http://ow.ly/CLBE30p0pII. For wholesale, visit cactusshop.com: http://ow.ly/gZMZ30p0pKA.
We plant obsessives may not have as much room to garden as our parents and grandparents did. The millennials among us, especially, are said to be sticking to tighter quarters these days — condos, apartments, small houses very close to their neighbors’ small houses. If that is more or less on the money, it’s no wonder that mini succulents seem to be all the rage. They fit in so many spaces, in all manner of planters, from funky novelty ones (so many that it’s hard to pick an example…children’s cowboy boots! toy cars!!) to classic planter bowls stuffed with a dozen or more. While there doesn’t seem to be any published standard for what constitutes a “mini succulent,” we generally go with plants in 2″ or smaller pots. Cuttings count as well, unless we’re talking about, say, a 2′ “sprig” from a 10′ landscape cactus or something.
Check out our recent video about inspirational DIY ideas with 2″ succulents, including adorable burlap wraps and car planters.
We recently turned to mini succulents to create our Flight of Succulents — six 1.75″ succulent plants in a cardboard-based planter reminiscent of a paddle-shaped sampler popular at certain, um, craft establishments.
“Next door” is a 2″ succulent in burlap wrap. Others ways to have a ball with little juicy buddies: turning toy animal figurines into novelty planters and creating fairy gardens. True, you can create a fairy garden with larger succulents, but with miniature ones, you can more easily create detailed, dense living dioramas for tight spaces like windowsills.
Watch our DIY videos for the toy planter and fairy garden gnome pool party (Christmas in July!), respectively, below.
Check out our 2″ Assorted Succulent Packs at shopaltmanplants.com.
For wholesale, visit cactusshop.com.
At Altman Plants, we happily trace our history back more than 40 years ago to the backyard of two cactus & succulent geeks (you can probably guess their last name), but we know well that this incredible journey has not been one embarked on alone. There’s no 40-some years of collecting, growing, and selling unique, weird, and not-so-weird plants without there being plenty of others right there with us. Customers and fellow plant fanatics, from nationwide retailers at the tip of everyone’s tongue to Main Street plant shops that help form the backbone of their communities.
We’d like to introduce you to a business that helped make the Altman Plants dream a reality. It wasn’t enough that two enthusiastic collectors had amassed a group of plants so great that their backyard was bursting at the proverbial seams. People had to come along in some way and say, “Hey, I’d love to buy those fat, funky plants from you.”
Meet Billy Welter, Owner/Grower of Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses. His family-owned business has been serving the community in and around Winnetka, Illinois, for four generations, since 1924. Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses is one of the characters in this plant-driven story.
Billy’s dad, Bill Welter Sr., discovered Altman Plants in the ’70s.
“I believe he found out about the nursery from a trade magazine ad or word of mouth. After receiving some of the plants, in one of his early vacation trips, he stopped in to see the nursery,” Bill said. “My parents were very impressed by the young person that they talked with at the nursery. My mom told me that he knew every botanical name of every plant that he showed my mom & dad! Sounds like an Altman!”
Ha; we reckon so.
It makes sense that a plant business hip to succulents in the ’70s would have as owners people with a fondness for the lovable weirdoes — mimicry succulents, aka mesembs.
“I think one of his favorite succulents….and mine are the living stones, or what I call living rocks: the Lithops and Pleiospilos,” Billy said of he and his father. “The Lithops come in so many different patterns and colors. Both are just cool! We even grew some from seed.”
It wasn’t just about the odd. Quality was paramount.
“My grandfather’s father, Frank, started with having the best quality of whatever he had in the greenhouses and he started to carry many unusual plants as well.”
This carried on to his son Victor, my grandfather, to my mom, Grace — Victor’s daughter — and now to my brother and me, Grace’s two sons. Bill Welter Sr. and Grace Hlavacek Welter were the third generation.”
There will be a quiz at the end of this post.
“Our customers from days old to the present have known or have heard that we carry the best quality and still try to carry many unusual plants and hard goods. It’s just something that is in our family genetics as well as ‘drilled’ into us when we were young!”
” ‘Don’t ever skimp on quality,’ we were told. And we haven’t, as we always hear, ‘You guys have the best plants.’
“I never get tired of hearing that!”
Billy was predisposed to digging plants, but it wasn’t just a family business-based interest for him.
“I have always liked nature, so working with plants, even though it was in the family, kind of came naturally. I learned a lot from my dad and a grower that was here, but what I didn’t know I taught myself. I still teach myself today. If I don’t know something, I look it up to educate myself, either on a plant, the growth habits, or a pest issue.”
While Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses has always carried some cacti and succulents, the last few years have gone bonkers. Don’t we know it!
“The last few years have just exploded with succulents and orchids…our two biggest repeat sellers. We have even incorporated Echeveria and orchids together. Being the orchids are in moss, they only require watering every couple of weeks. That works OK for the Echeveria too. It is a unique look.”
As much as Billy enjoys parting with cool plants, there are some that don’t quite make it out to the customer area.
“We have had a few requests of customers wanting to purchase the larger plants that are past an ’employee only’ chain. Those are my ‘personal’ collection of plants that I select when the plants come in and I get to pick my favorites! Sometimes I will ‘let go’ of one of my favorites to a good customer.”
Fortunate customer! From our conversation, it sounds like Billy is just where he wants to be.
“The thing I like best about being in this business is that the plants tell me if I am doing a good job or not. There’s no question…no yelling…no conversation needed. The plant either looks great, or it doesn’t. That’s my best reward!”
Next time you’re in Winnetka, 20 miles north in Chicago, pay a visit to Victor Hlavacek Florist and Greenhouses, 746 Green Bay Road. You might wanna take a peek past the “employee only” chain. No promises of great rewards, though. That’s up to Billy.