Embrace the Succulents!
OCTOBER 7, 2022
You're probably expecting us to make a lame play on words here: "Succulents are perfect for the sucky gardener", or something like that. While succulents can take lots of abuse, we're not going to insult you—even if you can't even keep a garden gnome from going belly up.
Instead, we'll inspire you to try these low-maintenance, hardy plants in your outdoor garden, and give you tips for growing succulents from seed. If you pull it off (and we're pretty sure that, if you can read this post, you can manage) you can propagate them for cheap and dirty gifts, or get creative with indoor hanging displays and other Instagram-worthy crafts.
If you live in growing zones 4-10, you'll probably have no problem finding succulent varieties that will do well in your landscape. The trick is finding the right place to plant them. While some prefer shade, the majority require at least 2-3 hours of sunlight to thrive. All succulents require well-drained soil, even if it's of poor quality. Succulents are happiest at the margins of your irrigation system, as most established plants don't like consistent moisture.
Container-grown succulents do well in small pots—too much space can cause root rot. As with succulents grown in the ground, let the soil dry out in between watering.
What (besides you) can kill your succulents
As long as the roots remain healthy and your succulents' sunlight needs are met, they'll resist most attacks from pests and diseases. Still, you want to watch out for snails and slugs, thrips, and weevils. Rust and powdery mildew can be a problem, as well as some soil-borne bacterial diseases.
Direct-sowing succulent seeds
If you're going for a ground cover effect, 500 seeds will be enough to scatter over 10 square feet. Otherwise, for smaller plantings, gently press seeds into the soil where you want them.
Most succulents germinate best at daytime temperatures around 60° to 70° (down to about 45° at night) which makes them a good candidate for late spring and very early fall planting. Be sure to read the instructions on your seed packet, though, for specific germination requirements. And choose your succulents wisely; some only take a couple of weeks to sprout, while others can take months!
Tips for starting (and keeping) succulents in containers
We recommend using equal parts potting soil and cactus mix for your succulents, and covering the pots with plastic wrap during the germination process. This will keep the soil consistently damp. Remove the plastic as soon as the seedlings emerge, and gently water with a spray bottle until the plants have established themselves.
How to use succulents in your landscape
Succulents add color and texture to xeriscapes if you're in an area with severe water restrictions, but you can fit them into lush garden settings if their particular needs are met. Succulents are excellent rock garden plants, and they look great along the tops of retaining walls. Both these environments allow for water drainage and provide the perfect structure for cascades of matting varieties or rosette-type succulents. You can also try them along stone or concrete paths, or in their own low-lying contained beds of fine gravel and sand along foundations and around patios.
Are you thinking of creating a living roof on your home or an outbuilding? Succulents are ideal candidates. Living roofs require the loose, light, quick-to-drain soils that these plants love. Succulents also thrive in indoor or outdoor living wall arrangements.
Grow succulents indoors
Do you live in a colder or wetter region? Accent your garden with potted succulents, and at the end of summer, bring them indoors. Or give them a permanent space in your home, either in a living wall arrangement or in shallow containers. Make sure you can give your plants a sunny spot, or look for varieties that do better in lower-light conditions.
Need some inspiration?
Succulents, given their varied textures, colors, and sizes, and their affinity for small growing spaces, might be the best plants to use in garden designs that require precision planting. Or, you can just plant them willy-nilly and see what happens.
Grab a pencil, paper, and your favorite creativity-inducing adult beverage and come up with ideas that group together visually complimentary succulents with similar needs. There are thousands of varieties and cultivars to choose from!
Five must-have succulents
It's impossible to choose favorites, but we've tried anyway. These varieties are good for novice gardeners, and offer a pretty palette of color and texture:
- Dragon's blood sedum (Sedum coccineum or Sedum spurium "Dragon's Blood): These produce clusters of 1/4" stunning, star-shaped red-pink flowers among rounded green leaves.
- Blue spruce sedum (Sedum reflexum "Blue Spruce"): Thick, spreading mats of 6" to 8" upright, blue-green conifer-looking plants, these give the appearance of a drone flight over an Alpine forest. Great for larger areas needing coverage.
- Ice plant (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis): An annual that easily reseeds, this sprawling variety bursts with pink, yellow, and white aster-like flowers over plump, deep green oblong leaves.
- Mexican snowball (Echeveria elegans): A rosette-type succulent that grows about 12" wide and up to 8" tall, with blue-green silvery leaves.
- Hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum: Another rosette-type similar to Mexican snowball, but with a magenta tinge to the edges of the bottom-most leaves.
You've got this... and we've got you!
Hopefully, this article made you feel more confident about keeping succulents in the home or garden without killing the poor things. If you get stuck, you can always contact us, and if you have questions about caring for your plants, you'll often find answers in our blog!