I consider myself to be a good horticulturist and decent grower, but over the years of gardening, I have killed off a fair amount of plants. The survivors throughout the years have been my succulent collection, which have been fairly forgiving of my gardening lifestyle. After managing a nursery all day, the last think that I want to do is come home and water plants in the evening, usually putting this and other tasks off until my day off. Even I have killed many a rose at my house because it could not wait for me to have the time to water it, and I am a grower who oversees thousands of roses each day.
Succulents are great plants to use in the garden. They are easy to grow, requiring little water, fertilizer, care and maintenance. They are highly adaptable to difficult situations, such as rocky or poor soil, hillsides, crevices, small gardens and container plantings. With great foliage colors, unique textures & shapes, plus beautiful flowers, using succulents can a create true leisure landscape. I have found succulent plants to be patient with me and my lack of time for gardening. To give you an idea of how these plants can be, I planted an Agave in a container that had been sitting around the nursery on a pallet, neglected for years. This same plant sat in the same pot with no fertilizer, an occasional watering, in hot and bright sun for 25 years, becoming one of the nicest container plants in my collection. This year that same Agave finally bloomed! When I lived in a townhouse with a very small patio and extremely hot sundeck, my succulent collection grew as they are highly adaptable to container gardening and could adapt and survive the harsh exposure of the deck. My neighbor, who loves plants, had a problem keeping color bowls alive in front of her house. The exposure was full sun and they were constantly drying out. I planted her some colorful succulent bowls and her problem was solved.
Ever tried strawberries in a strawberry jar planter? I can never keep the ones alive in the side pockets. Try a succulent jar instead; it’s a lot easier. I have many a gardening friend that worry every time they go on vacation about their garden, while I can leave mine for a month and never worry!
The succulents are highly evolved plants, which have adapted to their changing environments. Succulents, including the cactus family, have a highly specialize anatomy to enable them to survive periods of drought. All are able to store moisture in fleshy tissue in their stems, roots, or leaves. Most have developed distinctive features to help reduce water loss. One of my favorites is Lithops, which “mimic” the rocks in the area they grow and therefore avoid detection. They blend in so well you may not be able to spot them unless they are in bloom. Another favorite is the Old Man cactus with his blanket of wool covering the body of the cactus, reflecting heat and intense sunlight off of the plant during the day and acting as a blanket during the cold nights. These are true survivors.
Common Succulent Varieties
These are some of my favorite succulents, which can be planted in the landscape or containers.
Aeonium Schwartzkopf, or the Black Rose, is so dark a purple it is almost black. Aoenium ‘Sunburst’ has huge variegated rosettes of cream, green and pink. The rosettes grow to 12″ wide! A smaller version with variegated foliage is Aeonium ‘Kiwi’. In addition to the excellent foliage, these succulents have a dramatic form.
For great spring blooms, I suggest Aloe Arborsences (Spider Aloe), Aloe Saponaria, Aloe Plicatilis (Finger Aloe), and Aloe Barbarensis (Aloe Vera), which is commonly used to treat sunburns.
Cotyledon Undulata, has powdery, silver leaves and beautiful bell-like flowers of orange and red. It is very easy to grow and gives fantastic results.
The Jade plant being one of the easiest plants to grow. There are over 10 different varieties of Jades, with different leaf shapes and colors. Crassula ‘Campfire’ grows a mounding cluster of leaves; with full sun, the leaves will turn a vivid red! This is excellent as a border plant.
Commonly known as Hens and Chicks, these plants form colorful rosettes. Babies grow up around the mother plant, which blooms beautifully each spring. Echeveria glauca is the old fashioned, hardy, blue-leaved variety that Grandma used to grow Echeveria elegans is a pink, silver-leaved variety, very hardy with prolific flowers that hang down like little bells.
Orchid Cactus is a hanging succulent with large beautiful flowers in white, yellow, pink, red, purple and orange or in combinations of these colors. The flower size ranges from mini to 12″ in diameter. There are both day an night blooming types. It is important to cover these “jungle succulents’ from winter frost.
Faucaria tuberculosa (Tiger Jaws) are loved by children who are fascinated by its jaw-like leaves, daring to touch, yet find it soft. This succulent produces a beautiful yellow flower and grows hardy in well-drained soil.
A great foliage plant is Kalachoe thrysifolia, with large red “Flapjack” leaves that will turn bright red with sun. A really bold pant for potted use is the Kalanchoe beharensis, which has hug velvet-like leaves. Kalanchoe tubiflora can take over as plantlet leaves drop and create new plants. The unique purple foliage is followed by orange flowers.
Oscalaria deltoids has bluish-gray, jewel-like leaves that contrast against hot pink blooms. This is a great trailer for container or hanging pots.
There are several types of Sedums, ranging from groundcovers to small trees. Sedum dendroideum is a great choice that is similar to the Jade Plant, but with yellow flowers and are extremely frost hardy. Sedum spurium (Dragon’s Breath) is a red-leaved groundcover that is also very hardy. Sedum rubrotinctum (Pork and Beans) is another groundcover with leaves that turn bright red with full sun, which is great for containers as it cascades over the edge.
The Dwarf Hen and Chicks is an extremely hardy relative of Echeverias that form low-growing and spreading rosettes. They are great for crevices and for shallow bowls.
Senecio mandraliscae (Blue Pickle Plant) is another mounding succulent with silvery blue foliage. It is striking, especially contrasted against red and green foliage. It can be used as a mounding groundcover that will spread and trail over the edge of containers.
Original Article by Don Cravlho, Regan Nursery
Originally published in The Nursery Pro
Vol. 4, No. 2 Summer 2002
Used with permission.