by PAT KNELL
With the popularity of succulents these days, it is interesting to see the several ways they may be used in our local climate.
Succulents are low maintenance carefree plants that are sold in many local nurseries and box stores such as Lowes. You can choose particular species for purchase on the internet especially through Etsy, as well as complete kits with containers, plants, and special soil. You can also order them in a variety of cuttings in bulk from places such as the Succulent Market, the Succulent Source, Mountain Crest Gardens, and other on-line sources.
The shapes, patterns, and textures as well as the subtle hues of greys, greens, to reds and purples make arrangements fascinating combinations. Many rosettes resemble flowers in differing scales and are now popularly used in wedding bouquets. Some lend height and some are trailing creating exciting and dynamic compositions. Let the container you choose dictate the scale and colors of your choices with the same intensity as the pot. Just as in an annual container, select tall, medium, and trailing plants that contrast and repeat patterns. Fill the container to 3” – 4” below the rim and build from the middle out, with the tallest first and the trailing last, placing rosettes along the edge angled at 45*. Root balls may be set on top of one another. The addition of decorative or natural pebbles and rocks hold warmth and moisture as well as lend interest to compositions. Shallow containers are often better used as the roots grow laterally.
You can go on vacation and not worry about watering them in their containers as they will revive once you water them upon your return (except hanging wreaths or vertical boxes that need watered regularly). Always water until it runs out the bottom. They cannot be left in scorching sun or freezing temperatures, and prefer dry environments to those that are rainy and humid. You can of course bring their containers indoors during these times. They require 3 – 4 hours of direct sun daily.
The suggested potting mix is a combination of 1/3 good potting soil, 1/3 coarse sand and perlite (not fine play sand), 1/3 crushed pumice such as ”Dry Stall” found at farmer’s supply stores. You can also buy small bags of premixed cactus mix at box stores. Many growers cite a variety of mediums all of which contain pumice. However lightweight wreaths and topiaries use packed sphagnum moss. Avoid peat moss in the mix.
Succulents are watered less often than other plants. The larger and fatter species need less water, and will indicate a need to be watered when shriveling. Once a week watering is normal depending on the container type and location.
These plants may be potted in all types of non-draining containers. If the container is porous, line with plastic. Always add a layer of gravel, then the special potting mix 2” below the rim. Water lightly to settle the planting, then tuck the plastic if used under the edges. Do not water for several weeks, and if outdoors, situate the container out of the rain to prevent it from accumulating and drowning the plant.
Most succulents are frost tender and will need to be brought indoors for the winter. They will go into dormancy which is necessary for flowering and will need a cooler indoor temperature of 55* with indirect lighting in a garage or basement with constant air movement. Let soil dry out then water sparingly every 10 – 15 days.
The following container plant choices are some of the suggestions made by Debra Lee Baldwin in her books “Succulent Container Gardens” and “Succulents Simplified” :
- Aenonium - “Sunburst” rosette pinwheels striped with yellow
- Calandrinia – rock purslane gray/green rosettes with magenta flowers
- Cotyledon – thick pancake like leaves
- Crassula – jades, perforata – string of buttons, baby’s necklace
- Crested succulents – convoluted cacti specimens
- Dudleya – powdery white rosette leaves
- Echeveria – ruffled rosettes
- Euphorbia – tirucalli is stick form
- Faucaria – fat wedge rosette leaves, Tiger’s Jaw, ice plant flower
- Gasteria – thick skinned sword shaped
- Graptopetalum – cascading rosettes
- Haworthia - small patterned swords or truncated rosettes
- Kalanchoe – dainty bright pastel flowers
- Pachyphytum – soft grey thick leaved on dropping stems
- Portulaca – bright variety of colors and petal patterns good in combination baskets
- Sanseveria – lend verticality to compositions
- Sedum – stonecrops used as ground covers
- Sempervivums – variety of rosettes grown in zones 4 – 7 preferring cold wet environments to colonize
- Senecio – string of pearls or bananas
- Assorted blooming tropical cacti including rope cactus and Christmas cactus
- Bromiliads - complimentary to succulent arrangements
One interesting design approach is creating a vertical composition in a picture frames. Paint the 1” deep frame first, then staple hardware mesh to the back of the open frame. Sandwich a dense pillow of moss compressing it under a piece of equally sized plywood or acrylic screwed to the back of the frame. Using succulent cuttings, insert the short stems through the front of the moss covered screen with a knitting needle, making an interesting pattern with color variation and scale change repeated throughout. Water/spray lightly once a week and display flat for 2 – 4 weeks until the roots have taken hold then hang in a location with 3- 4 hours of direct sunlight. Always water horizontally then let drain.
A similar design is a living wreath. A 24” wire wreath shell is available from Kinsman Company. Not to be confused with wire wreath frames for artificial mesh wreaths, succulent frames are designed in scale to hold the plants securely. Opening like a clamshell, fill ½ with tightly packed moist spaghnum moss covering a little of the special potting mix tightly inserting the plants into the moss creating your specially selected design. Clamp and wire the other top half of the frame over the plants securing in place. Water and keep horizontal until rooted before hanging.
Topiary wire shapes in many forms such as cones, spheres, and animals filled with moist spaghnum moss can be covered in succulents and displayed in weighted bases. These will need sprayed and drained more frequently and require sufficient light.
Enjoy this unusual and popular combination of succulents in your containers and home landscape!