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, minimizing 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 hard for us to imagine potting more than two or three planter arrangements without using at least one spiller. They do especially well in 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. Hence, we know that adding greenery at home can have a rejuvenating effect. Imagine coming home absolutely un-fabulously frazzled from work or emerging from your home office space, 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/blue-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.
Treat the Sedum version well and you just might get pink-red blossoms on the ends of those “locks.”
Senecio rowleyanus has pendant stems to 3 feet or more with unusual round leaves that give 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 on a protected patio. Consider hanging several to create a sense of verdant greenery. Unless you’re on the coast, keep this one out of direct sun (and even there, keep exposure to only morning 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). Bone dry for long isn’t good either, however.
When its round leaves are backlit by bright light, the translucent narrow little “windows” (there for aiding in photosynthesis) light up like little lasers. The same goes for the next two “string of” plants.
Senecio radicans (string of bananas)
The stems of Senecio radicans have 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. The flowers are like tiny white pom-poms and are fragrant (cinnamon-y or clove-like). Quickly forms plush hanging baskets. Hang a bunch to create a sense of lush (succulent) greenery. Consider pairing the plant in separate pots or even together with other trailing succulents. Thrives in a bright room or with morning sun on a patio.
Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’ (rainbow elephant bush) grows more laterally compared to the prior three, but it’s still an excellent choice for hanging baskets. Its creamy yellow/green leaves play off the trailing green senecios quite nicely. It’s known in part as rainbow elephant bush because elephants munch on it, and other forms of the species, 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, and it’s 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 the past few years…or by pod. And that is the plant 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 little pods of dolphins.
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. Lovely in 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.
Other wonderful trailing succulents include Cotyledon pendens, Sedum morganianum (possibly a parent of Sedum ‘Burrito’), Senecio ‘String of Raindrops’ (believed to be a string of pearls hybrid), Senecio herreianus (string of beads, among other names), Dischidia nummularia (string of nickels), and Othonna capensis (little pickles).
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! Soda cans!) to classic planter bowls filled 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 from growers in 2″ or smaller pots. Your own cuttings and babies (offsets/pups) can count as well, unless we’re talking about, say, a foot-long “sprig” from a 10′ landscape cactus.
Check out our video about inspirational DIY ideas with 2″ succulents, including adorable burlap wraps and car planters.
We turned to mini succulents to create our Flight of Succulents — six 1.75″ succulent plants in a planter reminiscent of paddle-shaped samplers that are popular at, um, craft beverage establishments.
“Next door” is a 2″ succulent in burlap wrap. Other ways to have a ball with juicy little 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, respectively, below.
A holiday succulent wreath would count as a mini-succulent project too. Here’s one that a succulent-loving creative designed for our 2018 holiday contest.
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.
May 28, 2019
Cacti are like all the unique people you know.
Many are tall and thin. Others are short and fat. Some are even bald. And if provoked, all can sting with those prickly spines!
The spunky shapes, sizes and spines lure me into the cacti world.
Many thanks to Altman Plants for providing the cacti and succulents for this post. Altman Plants are dreamy.
Now you want to know about the googly eyes. Okay, that’s all my mom. Who else is gonna find you goggly eyes with eyelashes?
But I digress. Pardon all my silliness.
So saddle up your horses, let’s go all wild west today and slash into some cacti facts!
Just a little bit about Altman Plants before we get started….
I appreciate how Altman Plants sends you a plant even nicer than the one shown in the “stock” images used on their website. Altman Plants do not disappoint.
And they won’t be dead in a week either because they are weak plants!
So to answer your question; yes…they will survive!
Altman Plants sent me a variety of succulents and cacti for my reclaimed driftwood planters last year and those plants are still thriving.
Especially the two cacti! And we’ve had a very harsh winter.
The size of the 3.5 inch pots is pretty sweet, too. You are getting a good sized plant considering just how slow cacti tend to grow!
Located in Vista, California, Altman Plants were shipped straight across the country to Buffalo, NY. Talk about a long journey.
On the day of delivery we were slammed with a massive snow storm. White-out driving conditions. Zero visibility. Frigid temps.
And the plants arrived in pristine condition. Way to go Altman Plants!
And kudos to that poor UPS guy who nearly blew away delivering the package. In retrospect, I wish I sent him on his way with a cup of hot cocoa. He earned it!
1.) All cactus are succulents & succulents are hot now
So you can’t use the term cacti and succulent interchangeably.
Succulents are plants that store water and nutrients in their leaves, stems and even roots. Sixty different plant families boast ties to this succulent group including aloe, haworthia, sedum, sempervivum and cacti.
Cacti are fleshy plants that store water making them a succulent. But they usually do not have branches or true leaves.
Cactuses ability to retain water helps them survive periods of drought. The spongy tissues of their thick, fleshy stems can hold water during the rainy season.
It forces the water down into the roots.
So cactus spines are actually modified “leaves” and it is the stalk that performs photosynthesis.
But for a succulent to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles.
2.) Speaking of those areoles…
Areoles are small, round, cushion-like mounds of plant flesh where spines, hair, leaves, flowers, and more grow from the cactus. Areoles are only present on cacti, not all succulents.
To the human eye, areoles look like a tiny patch of cotton. The areoles are arranged in clusters separated by areas of spineless skin. Each areole usually bears multiple spines.
Sometimes these spine clusters are arranged in rows along raised ridges, as in barrel cacti and saguaro.
A few succulents get mistaken for cacti because they have thorns or spines, but these traits do not automatically qualify a succulent as a cactus.
All cacti have areoles. No other plant besides cacti have areoles. So checking a plant to see whether the plant has areoles is the only real way to distinguish a cactus from other succulents.
The ‘Christmas Sleigh’ aloe succulent in the below left bottom photo shows great spines but no areoles. Their spines grow directly out of the plant tissue, therefore aloe is not a cactus.
To the bottom right is a ‘Hens and Chicks’ succulent plant. Again, if you squint, you can see those fun spikes at the tip of the “leaves”. No areole though. So not a cactus either.
The back plant is an echeveria ‘Neon Breakers’ succulent. Tough to see those spiny spikes but I assure you they exist! But no areoles, so again, not a cactus.
So it’s the areoles that are the defining feature. Without areoles, the succulent can’t be a cactus.
The size of the spines on the areoles vary from species to species but can be as long as 15 cm. Yikes! Don’t touch.
Spines help protect the plant from the sun while reducing evaporation. They also provide a multitude of surfaces where dew can condense at night, supplying extra water.
Spines can even condense moisture in the air so that it drips onto the ground, providing the plant with water.
Some cactus spines are light in color which help them reflect the most sunlight all the while keeping the plant cool in the desert.
Spines also protect the plant from birds and other predators who only go after the cactus for water!
3.) How do you make cactus plural or it is plural already?
Cacti is the Latin plural of cactus. Cactuses is the English plural. But most dictionaries give the green light to both spellings so neither is right or wrong.
Latin is given lots of leeway on biological nomenclature. So Latin plurals are not considered out of place in botany and other scientific fields.
But are you ready for this one? Like other names of plants, sometimes cactusis can be considered the plural.
Fungus is like cactus and becomes fungi when made plural. Funguses sounds silly but is also grammatically correct.
But then again no one says octopi instead of octopuses. And you never hear viri instead of viruses. So why is it cacti instead of cactuses?
It’s a matter of preference. And right now the trend is to make it cacti, that’s why! So cacti has edged out cactuses as the plural.
4.) All cacti bloom and the blossom is breathtaking!
When I was researching this article, I thought to myself….could this possibly be true? That all cacti bloom?
Then I had to accept that just because not all my cacti have bloomed doesn’t mean they won’t bloom or can’t bloom.
In fact, when I got my order from Altman Plants, the Mammillaria elegans (above photo) was in bloom.
Blooms do fade quickly, but when another magenta flower emerges on this globular cactus with dense white spines and white wool, your heart will flutter.
I get a new bloom or two nearly every day!
Just below shows off the satiny creamy yellow flowers on a Mammillaria gracilis fragilis, or more aptly named “Thimble cactus.”
Tiny globular bodies are densely covered with white radial spines resembling…you guessed it, a thimble. Very sharp too!
Blooming Fast Fact!
When I acquired a ‘Rose Quartz’ “Peanut Cactus” (shown in the below photo) I had no idea it would bloom for me. So when five blooms appeared one day as shown in the below photo, I nearly fainted with joy.
Magnificent, bright red blooms with feminine petals will steal the show.
Overall the blooms are short-lived, but when they appear you feel like you won the lottery. And if you think I’m referring to the lottery that I never play you would be correct.
But it is the colors of the flowers that will boggle your mind the most. Bright reds, yellows and pinks burst in size. Many are humongous in comparison to the size of the plant making the display that more eye-popping!
It’s possible for some cactus flowers to bloom for a few days, but in my experience most come and go within a 24 hour period passing their prime.
Other cacti bloom only at night and these nocturnal special get pollinated by bats (eek) and other nocturnal insects and animals.
5.) The real deal on water & cacti
The natural water reservoir is the most famous feature of the cactus plant. I read that a cactus devotes over 90% of its inside body parts to handling, circulating and building up supplies of water. Whoa.
As a kid, I still have all these memories of cacti in cartoons getting slashed open and the hero being miraculously saved by drinking the water within.
And while it’s true this fluid has saved several lives of a few individuals in dire, desert regions, it’s a thick substance; not clear.
Just like those old wild west movies, the hero gains access to the liquid by scratching the cactus or creating a hole with a handy ax. The water gushes out! Nope. Not reality.
But due to the way cacti carry out photosynthesis, the water in a cactus is generally not potable. Moisture within the pulp of a cactus is acidic and many cacti contain toxic alkaloids.
So if you find yourself stranded in the desert without water, drinking the cactus water may save your life but it could also make you sick and cause additional dehydration, and that alone will kill you.
Stick with your coconut water!
“Old Man of the Andes” hysterical Fast Fact
Groom woolly hairs on your “Old Man of the Andes” cactus like you would your own! Providing that you have wooly hair to groom.
When hair becomes matted, carefully “shampoo” it in weak, soapy water (not detergent) solution and rinse thoroughly, combing out any excess soap.
Maybe while shampooing you could provide your senior citizen cactus the latest AARP edition for a little distraction? Just saying….
6.) Cacti are literally showing their spunky, spiny selves everywhere!
Clothing, cupcakes, cards and on all the covers of magazines….we are being bombarded with cacti. And why not?
It’s the year of the cactus. Time for the spine to shine.
While feverishly checking out at the grocery store this week, the cupcakes featured on a magazine cover distracted me and contributed to my tying up the line.
Not to mention the succulent/cacti Valentine’s Day card my mom sent me. Not throwing that one away!
My son’s clothes. Yep. They have cacti on them! Wild little man.
Cacti salt and pepper shakers? Tell me you have a set!
And surely you have seen all the cacti bedding? As long as the sheets don’t come with thorns attached, I’m all in!
You want to ride this trend while it’s hot, hot, hot.
And please don’t tell me that you’ve never sampled cactus candy? Okay, how about cactus jelly?
7.) Long live the cactus!
If treated right, cactus can live anywhere from decades to well over 300 years. So you better have a name in mind in your will! Who gets you cacti plants?
To encourage more blooms, you need to foster periods of blossom and rest in your cactus.
In its growing phase, the cactus wants direct sunlight, high temps, high humidity, and proper watering for growth to occur.
When in dormancy, keep cacti in a place with lower temperature and humidity and water no more than once a week. Likely less!
Your basement is actually a good spot in winter providing you have one and it doesn’t get too cold (50-55 degrees.)
Tallest cactus? 66 feet. Shortest cactus? One centimeter.
You want the truth? I don’t care how black you think your thumb is: anyone can grow a cactus as long as you don’t overwater it.
Depending on where you live, they can be grown indoors or out. I grow mine indoors and let them bask in the summer sun when May hits all through September on my patio.
The “Peruvian Old Lady” is a unique and interesting cactus. Aptly named, this cactus appears to be covered in gray hair, but underneath it all are some very stiff thorns!
Since I’m growing my “Peruvian Old Lady” cactus indoors, I can only expect it to grow about 10 inches in a ten year period. But if grown in the wild, some can grow 7 feet tall.
The nocturnal, white flowers are rare and stretch about two inches wide. Berry-like fruits are produced with edible dull black seeds inside. Who’s hungry?
It seems simple enough. Put plant in ground. Water plant when it’s thirsty. Watch plant, and your smiles, grow wider and taller. Hooray for plant!
When it comes to when and how much to water, however, what would seem like an elementary exercise inevitably turns out to be more involved. But don’t fret. You got this; we know it! A good place to start is to water thoroughly when the soil is completely dry to the touch, and not just at the surface but down by the roots. This is especially true for a plant during its active growing season (more on that below). When in doubt, procure a water meter.
As a rule of thumb, figure on watering your succulents at least once every two weeks. While that rule is rather pliable, subject to factors we’ll run down in a bit, we can’t stress enough that it’s better to underwater succulents than to overwater them. They will more easily rebound from lack of nourishment than from too much. You will learn a lot about your succulents and what they want simply by observing them and their responses to weather and watering.
- Firm, plump leaves indicate a happy plant.
- Squishy, mushy leaves likely mean it has received too much water. Discoloration might even be noticeable, such as black spots on the leaves or stem. In those cases, something may definitely be rotten in the garden.
- Shriveled, wrinkled leaves tell you it’s time to fill up the watering can. However, if it’s only the very bottom (oldest) leaves that are thin and shriveled, and the rest look good, then that is completely, totally normal. In the case of a dehydrated aloe, the leaves will fold, or curve, up. The rosettes of drought-stressed echeverias may be appear closed up.
- A caveat related to dormancy: Succulents, some more than others, anticipate a resting period of little to no growth, thus little water and zero plant food required from you. For example, aeoniums and dudleyas are especially known for snoozing during summer. Hence, they may appear rather tired, but that doesn’t mean you should water them like crazy to wake them up. Let them chill during dormancy, with very occasional waterings. Other winter growers/summer resters include aloes, crassulas, cotyledons, gasterias, graptopetalums, kalanchoes, haworthias, portulacarias, and sedums. Summer growers/winter resters include agaves, echeverias, euphorbias, lithops, and sempervivums.
- Whereas succulents rotting from too much H2O may not be salvageable, parched plants should perk back up after one or two good drinks.
Sometimes, though, your succulent could be thirsty not because it hasn’t received any water in ages but because it’s poorly rooted or has lost its roots to rot, preventing water from getting to the leaves. If that happens to you, you’re going to need to cut the rotted section off and go about trying to re-establish new roots.
Now back to that rule of thumb, because a friend or neighbor or online acquaintance will inevitably swear by a different schedule. The frequency of watering (or infrequency, as it were) is awash in considerations other than active growth/rest periods, such as:
- in the ground or container
- pot size
- soil mix
- recent rain
- slope or flat grade, or something in between
- organic mulch or inorganic mulch, or no mulch at all
- proximity to hardscape or inorganic elements such as boulders or water fountains.
Not to mention the plant varieties themselves. Like us humans, they don’t share a uniform metabolism rate. Their native habitats don’t all receive the same amount of precipitation or experience an equivalent temperature range.
Indoor plants, insulated from the withering effects of excessive direct sun, can go longer between waterings than their outdoor counterparts. All other things being equal, the same holds for plants in the ground versus those in containers. The former, their roots being underground and better insulated from heat, require less frequent waterings than plants in pots. Indoor plants, especially those that are established, will be fine with dry soil for several days. You might even say many days. Again, get a good look at the leaves. If they are taut to the touch, you can wait another day.
This whole watering thing may now seem to resemble something complicated rather than simple. Like springing open a can of worms, and we’d rather those worms stay under the soil. As noted earlier, becoming a skilled plant steward starts with becoming a good observer. With experience, you’ll be able to confidently incorporate all those various factors into a successful plant care plan, with nary a bead of sweat. Or buy a water meter. If after doing so, your plants appear overwatered, adjust the period between soakings.
Below, watch our CAN DO! Plant Parenting video on watering.
Ah, summertime. It’s almost here. If you’re hunting for ideas on what to plant from the succulent & cactus world, we’re here to help. You may know from magazine photos, or from Instagram, or from your own garden that the sheer number of plants to choose from can be overwhelming. So many good ones!
As the largest grower of succulents & cacti in the world, we at Altman Plants know this all too well. Below we present five succulents of summer that sing in temperate gardens or year-round in pots.
Before we get to our summerific five, let’s briefly touch on some plant design principles. It’s pretty much always a #winning idea to avoid creating planters or garden beds that resemble a “I gotta have that one too; I don’t care where it goes” mindset. While fun in the moment, that can lead to jarring, juicy messes.
- Plant to scale: Don’t fill a huge yard with only ground covers or shoehorn a century plant agave into a tiny porch.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat: Repetition encourages harmonious flow and drama.
- Contrast colors, in an appealing way: Get comfy with a color wheel!
- Spread harmony through textures & shapes: Find varieties with similar attributes as well as spots for contrasting plant forms.
- Color. Be judicious: You don’t need to spotlight every shade. Massing color (pockets of reds here, yellows there) is visually appealing.
Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ US PP29,584
The colors that this gorgeously opalescent icy star picks up are something else — pinks, purples, blues. Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ US PP29,584 is a patented Altman Plants original hybrid. Park this hen-and-chicks star near succulents exhibiting those colors and even oranges. Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ produces concentric, “snowball”-style rosettes of chunky, fleshy, lightly colored leaves.
Flowers hang from gracefully arching stalks in later winter to spring. A robust, clustering grower, it’s an excellent choice for use in a dish garden or as a potted plant on the patio. Not only those, but would also serve superbly in a summer wedding bouquet or centerpiece. We’re also thinking moonlight gardens — ooh, that soft nighttime glow.
Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ would be a stellar fit for a celestial decor theme or as the ornamental living treasure in a decorative crystal or stone planter. As far as the daytime scene goes, it can put up with a reasonable amount of heat — we’ve seen it flaunt its sun-tolerating magic — but protect the plant from frost. Rosettes can reach 6 inches in diameter.
We humans prefer not to be blue, but it’s quite a spiffy look for cacti. Hailing from Brazil, Melocactus azureus sports a globular, noticeably ribbed frosty blue body that’s protected by variably colored spines — silvery white to reddish brown.
When the cactus reaches maturity, which could take more than a decade, fetching little pink flowers emerge from its cephalium. Its what? A cephalium is a peculiar woolly mass associated with Melocactus species that forms a distinctive cap of sorts on top of the plant. Far out (or far up, as it were)!
While you wait for that, enjoy its beautiful blue epidermis and symmetry. Even without the funky, woolly “cap,” the view of Melocactus azureus from above is rather attractive. Even a little mesmerizing. Go ahead, try it.
Native to semitropical environs, Melocactus azureus really loves life (best growth & appearance) when the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of that, we recommend this one in its own container on the patio or a sunny windowsill. For nifty pairings, locate it near plants expressing shades of orange, coral, or light pink. Or, thanks to its spines, tie it into plants with darker reds like burgundy.
Its growing season runs from April to October. Watch the water during the cooler months. Stems will grow to 8″ in diameter and to 12 to 18″ tall.
Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrel Cactus)
Thank Mother Nature that not all living things are as delicate as us humans. In summer, we pine for anything that cools us off — beaches, pools, lakes, and all manner of covered, artificially cooled rooms. Not golden barrel.
There’s not a whole lot of mellow about the golden-yellow sphere officially known as Echinocactus grusonii, which belongs in the orbit of any plant geek who desires a space light on fuss but deep with dramatic appeal. The color, texture, and shape of golden barrel lend interest, definition, and contrast to any composition.
Comb through a magazine full of professionally designed desert or waterwise gardens and you’re going to see plenty of golden barrel. For maximum effect, group it in threes.
Sunshine, occasional soaks, and room to grow are about all it desires. It can even tolerate some frost for a brief spell. Golden barrel can be kept smaller by being housed in a container, for those without room to let plants stretch their proverbial legs.
Growing to 3 feet in a diameter in the ground, this eye-popping, spiny orb belongs to the barrel cactus family. Curiously, it also goes by the monikers of “mother-in-law’s chair” and “mother-in-law’s cushion.” We can’t recommend repurposing it as a sitting device, though. Water it when the soil is thoroughly dry to the touch.
Euphorbia anoplia (Tanzanian Zipper Plant)
So named because of the zipper-like patterns along the margins of its angled columns, Euphorbia anoplia looks something like a spineless, underwater cactus. But it’s not a cactus! Euphorbia anoplia forms a colony of leafless ribbed columns, which are green to light green, with the zipper markings a darker green. The plant produces small dark burgundy flowers at the column tips, as if the columns are bespeckled by quirky little berries.
Euphorbia anoplia is a summer lover, responding well to warmth, with its active growth period in the late spring and summer months. It wants bright light for best appearance, and should be allowed to rest during the coldest, wettest part of winter, with less water given.
Tanzanian zipper plant is perfect for an underwater theme in a rock garden. It will also thrive in all sorts of pots…maybe even a cute ceramic mug. Columns can rise to around a foot tall and spread 1 to 2 feet.
But do take some precaution around it. All euphorbias contain a white sap that can be irritating to eyes and mucous membranes. If contact is made with this white sap, take care to not touch face or eyes before washing hands with soap and water.
Agave ‘Blue Glow’
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a sharp-as-can-be sword plant standout. It’s one of those stunners that prompts people to say, “OMG, I didn’t know agaves could rule this much!” The blue-green leaves are outlined by yellow and red, with red tips. This moderately sized hybrid grows to just two feet high and three feet wide, making it a super choice for smaller spaces.
A key point, ha, about Agave ‘Blue Glow’: It’s a solitary grower, so there’s no need to fret about the possibility of having to dig up a bunch of pups in the future. Just make sure you leave some wiggle room around the plant site or container. You don’t want someone’s shins encountering the stiff leaves as he or she turns a corner.
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a star, so treat it like one, as a focal specimen in areas where height or girth is not desired or needed. This could be a landscape bank surrounded by yellow, gold, or orange soft ground-cover succulents. You could also mass it in a grouping, especially as a complement to a taller and wider agave or other plant.
Give it full sun near the coast or in temperate zones to part sun in hot areas.
Look for Agave ‘Blue ‘Glow’ at Altman retail partners such as the Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart, as well as at independent retailers that carry Altman Plants-grown succulents. Possible container sizes range from 8″ to 15 gallons.
April 29, 2019
Story by Janeen Wright
Altman Plants, based in Vista, CA, is 10 weeks into integrating the recently acquired Color Spot Nurseries assets into its operation after acquiring them near the end of December 2018. It’s an undertaking of massive proportions as the two companies, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on Greenhouse Grower’s list of Top 100 Growers in 2018, work to become one company under the Altman Plants name. What happens when the big get bigger? The way this merger is coming together proves that the big get better, but the real test begins as the newly united companies head into the busy spring season.
“We’ve shared with the team the key goals for the company,” says Co-President Ken Altman. “We want to produce high-quality plants and satisfy our customers. And we want the two companies to feel like one team with an interest in helping one another. Decisions are measured against those goals. To this point, it seems like the team is on the same page. Now it is about executing this spring. There is a lot to do in a very short time.”
New Locations Bring Advantages
Altman Plants gained 11 million square feet of environmentally controlled space and 1,500 acres of outdoor space, spread across Color Spot Nurseries’ facilities in Fallbrook, Salinas, and Lodi, CA, and in Troup and San Antonio, TX, plus three locations in Waco, Walnut Springs, and Fort Davis, TX, that were closed and will remain closed for now. The increased production capacity leaves the company in a good spot to supply the ornamental bedding plants, container perennials, woody ornamentals, potted foliage, and succulents it produces for its customers.
“The facilities are well-positioned geographically,” says Co-President Matt Altman. “We are well located to serve the Southern part of the country, and we have the capacity to do so. When needed, we can share plants between sites to be sure that all customers’ needs are satisfied.”
Altman Plants has two major business units in addition to the Altman Plants organization. One is Plug Connection (No. 63 on the 2019 Top 100 Grower list), which is a young plant company that serves both Altman Plants and other growers. Plug Connection grows plugs, roots liners, and grafted vegetables. They also grow tissue culture plants. The operation just opened a new tissue culture facility with a modern 10,000 square foot lab. The lab is used primarily to do rapid build-up and production of new plants bred by Altman. With the purchase of Color Spot, 20 acres of young plant greenhouses in Lodi are being added to Plug Connection.
The other unit will be known as Lone Star Growers and will focus on production of woody ornamentals and flowering tropicals from its San Antonio, TX, location. There will be little separation between Lone Star Growers and Altman Plants, with a lot of sharing between merchandising and transportation activities. Lone Star has a history of high-quality plant production, and Ken says Altman Plants intends to invest appropriately to earn that reputation going forward.
The first decision made by the company relating to the integration was regarding which computer operating system to use. Management made a decision to stick with the Altman system and cutover from the Color Spot SAP software system. California facilities are successfully converted and Texas facilities will be tackled in June.
Working Together Opens the Way for a Successful Transition
Marriage is hard enough for two people. Marrying two large companies with distinct management styles, different operating systems, and hundreds of staff members would seem like a recipe for a disaster in comparison. But like all strong marriages, unity has been key to the two companies becoming one.
“We’ve placed a strong focus on being one company with the development plan,” Matt says. “The staff on both sides have been receptive and embraced the change, which allows us all to move forward together.”
The management team also played a key role in smoothing the transition. With the acquisition of Color Spot Nurseries, Altman Plants gained around 1,600 employees, and five facilities, creating what would seem a logistics and human resources nightmare.
“We felt confident taking this project on because we have a strong management team,” Ken says. “The team is engaged and collaborative. They’re very capable of making things happen to get the job done.”
Extra hands also means extra minds, which Altman Plants has applied to problem solving, innovation, and process improvement during the integration. The management team has held on-site meetings with growers to look at growing operations to determine what best practices they are using that could be leveraged across the entire company. This has kept the staff engaged and led to some processes implemented for the future. Ken says having new people with a fresh set of eyes analyzing processes, sharing ideas, and brainstorming to solve problems and improve efficiencies is a big advantage.
Matt echoes that sentiment, adding another benefit of a larger staff.
“There will always be challenges such as environmental regulations and labor availability,” he says. “When presented with those challenges, we now have more people to bring to bear on finding solutions. We get further along faster.”
Investment Drives Innovation
Opinions vary in the floriculture industry about whether consolidation on the grower side and the breeder side is healthy for the industry. The Altmans point out that company acquisitions can be beneficial for the industry when done right, saying they keep people employed and allow for best practices to be put to use across a larger enterprise.
“It’s true we have gained more resources to use to help our customers,” Ken says. “But we recognize that there is a place in the market for all sizes of growers. The growers in this industry are friendly. We share information with each other and wish each other well.”
Larger companies also make substantial investments in new and developing automation equipment and other technologies that keep the industry sustainable by supporting other companies, Matt adds. The resulting innovations benefit other growers who want to adopt new technology.
For example, Altman Plants is currently helping a company develop and trial an autonomous vehicle that it will eventually use in its greenhouses. The vehicle is basically a cart that can find its way from the greenhouse to a loading dock and back on its own. This type of technology saves growers time and labor during the shipping season.
“Family-run companies are investing back into their businesses, and everyone benefits from those dollars coming into the industry,” Ken says.
Strong Research Focus Benefits All Growers
Altman Plants’ strong commitment to research and education is one way it shows leadership and gives back to the industry. In 2008, Ken and his wife Deena Altman founded the Center for Applied Horticultural Research, a nonprofit organization that addresses, through research, the practical issues the nursery and floriculture industry face on a regular basis. At the time, Ken felt there was no shortage of issues that needed solving, but the funds to find solutions were limited. He and Deena decided to do something about it. The center supports industry researchers and opens its doors for all types of growers to participate.
Altman Plants also invests heavily in research and development through its multiple breeding programs. A current introduction is True Bloom roses, a new line of disease-resistant garden roses with a shrub-type habit and hybrid-tea-like blooms. The development of these roses has been a lifetime work for the breeder. Altman Plants will roll this program out soon to its customers on a limited run, with more production in 2020 to supply other growers. Ken says the company is also working on a compact hibiscus and has more breeding projects in the works for the future.
“The rose breeding project has been a large-scale investment for us,” Ken says. “We can invest in these types of projects and continue to invest in things for the long run because of our larger scale and volume. It is a big endeavor and a benefit for the industry and our customers.”
Matt recently spent time in Washington, DC, at the Society of American Florists’ Congressional Action Days, lobbying with other members for the support of the Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative and the continuation of the USDA Floriculture Crop Survey. He says it was important to fight for maintenance of the initiative because floriculture crops represent 15% of the crops in the country, yet the industry gets less than 1% of the research dollars.
“Our industry is easily forgotten by our legislators, and these initiatives provide visibility and important research dollars to university programs,” Matt says. “However, ultimately it falls on growers to invest in the industry to keep it going strong.”
Whether a gift for the person who’s been there for you from the very beginning or something peaceful to herald the awakening of spring, we have you taken care of this season
Mom dropped us some juicy hints. Imagine being wrapped in warm, comforting hugs, like the ones from Mom herself. The cuties in our Love Grows Rosette Succulent Collection arrive in wood-design-wrapped 2.5″ pots. Their larger cousins live in lovingly stickered 3.5″ digs. Both come with an Altman-designed to/from card.
Remind her on Mother’s Day and every day after of what she means to you with our Love Grows Rosette Succulents Collection.
Whichever complementary match of adorable easy-care succulents arrive, they will make a heartwarming gift that lasts long after the sun sets on Mom’s special day.
Wild about your wife? Well, duh! Treat her to our wildly colorful Tie Dye Modern Hippie Rosette Succulent duo, available in mere days at shopaltmanplants.com. Tell the kids you got this one. Of course, this sweet pair should appeal to the free spirit in all of us. Did you follow our six-panel reveal on Instagram? If not, there it is, relaxing above some fleshy kindred spirits.
View our Gift Collection of succulents at shopaltmanplants.com.
“We just survived winter and you wanna gush about an echeveria named ‘Arctic Ice’?” You betcha! This opalescent white beauty will freeze you and other succulent seekers in their tracks…in the best possible way, like the sight of a fluffy arctic fox would.
While no fluff ball, the hen-and-chicks standout — one of our newer patented hybrids — produces concentric, snowball-esque rosettes in lovely mounding style. Its luminous white foliage is liable to throw off soft undertones of icy blue or soft, light purple, depending on factors such as lighting.
Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ would make a superb choice for a wedding bouquet or table centerpiece. Click on the linked video below to watch our succulent whisperer Tom “shiver” with delight about this icy gem.