Succulents are one of the most popular plant groups in contemporary gardens, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re easy to grow, tough, drought tolerant and child’s play to propagate. And succulents are the perfect plant for containers, courtyards and roof gardens as they take intense sunlight and wind exposure in their stride.
But like all plants, they still need the right growing conditions and care to put on their best performance. Pay a little attention to their needs and the succulents in your garden will reward you with sculptural style and year-round performance. Here are a few rules of green thumb to get you started.
Protect them from cold
Although some succulents will cope with cold temperatures if their soil and leaves are kept dry, most do best if they’re sheltered from frost. Planting against a north-facing wall is a good option in cooler regions. If in containers, move succulents under the eaves of the house, a tree or onto the verandah if frosts are likely in your area. Stonecrops (Sedum) and houseleeks (Sempervivum) are some of the least frost-tender succulents while some yucca, Echeveria and Haworthia will tolerate light frosts.
Keep out of the rain
Prolonged exposure to rain during cold winter months is anathema to most succulents. If their leaves are allowed to take up too much moisture, succulents become more vulnerable to frost damage. And the leaves of some low-growing species such as echeveria are liable to rot in very rainy weather.
Choose a planting spot under the eaves or close to a wall for your succulents, or erect a temporary cover for winter protection. Super porous soil mixes will also help succulents survive in rainy regions.
Get the soil right
Very free-draining, aerated soil is key to growing succulents well, both in the ground and in containers. If your soil is heavy clay you are better off growing succulents in pots.
There are a variety of commercial potting mixes for succulents available now, or you can make your own by mixing a light potting mix with coarse sand, crushed pumice, gravel or perlite (4 parts potting mix to one of sand etc). A gravel mulch will also help prevent rotting in the stem of the plant. You can plant succulents into garden beds, provided the soil is well drained and doesn’t become too cold during winter.
BONUS TIP: Adding sand or gravel to the soil will help drainage, and mounding plants above soil level is also a good idea. Don’t forget that north-facing, sloping sites are ideal for succulents too.
Succulents are xerophytes, which means they have adapted naturally to very little rainfall by storing water in their stems and leaves. However, they still do need to be watered, especially if they are growing in pots. Check the soil is reasonably dry before watering, as waterlogged soil is fatal to succulents. Soak well as you would other plants, but do it less often and always check for dryness beforehand.
BONUS TIP: If the leaves look wrinkled it’s likely your succulent is too dry.
Some gardeners never feed succulents, but the occasional feed can improve their growth and looks considerably. With potted succulents particularly, rain will leach out the nutrients in container mixes and these need to be replaced.
Use a cacti and succulent fertiliser – or a quarter to half of the recommended amount of an all-purpose fertiliser – 3-4 times a year, but not during your succulent’s winter dormancy.
Keep an eye out for pests
Succulents may be tough but they are not immune to pests. If soil conditions are good and they are well fed and watered, this should not happen too often.
Aphids can be a problem with flowers and new growth, while mealy bugs will often set up shop in between leaves. In rainy weather, powdery mildew can also attack succulents, and in very warm weather ants like to invade potted plants. Although these pests and diseases may not kill your succulents, infestations need to be controlled as you would with any plant, to ensure their health and good performance. Try organic sprays such as neem oil on aphids and mealy bugs.
Propagate new plants
Most plants look better in large groups, and succulents are no exception. Propagating most succulents is quite easy. Some will produce ‘pups’ around their base like these echeveria, many sempervivums and aloes do. Others, such as Gasteria and widow’s-thrill (Kalanchoe), will grow new plants from leaves and stems. Use a coarse medium such as pumice when propagating leaf or stem cuttings.
Plant in containers
Succulents are ideal container specimens, many happy to grow in the same pot for years without needing to be repotted. Some succulent species will tolerate less light than others, so if you choose the right species you can grow succulents outside and indoors in pots. Getting the potting mix right (see above) is crucial, and you need to
check drainage holes regularly to avoid wet soil rotting plants.
Group with like-minded plants
The sculptural form of succulents can make a wonderful contrast with grasses and perennials. Always choose plants that tolerate the same free-draining, dry conditions as this makes maintenance easier and works better aesthetically. Combining larger succulents such as Agave and yucca with ground covers like stonecrops and echeveria is also very effective.
This article is thanks to Houz.
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