Brie Arthur is a Soil3 team member and author of "The Foodscape Revolution" and "Gardening With Grains." With a background in ornamental plant production, Brie is revolutionizing the backyard gardening movement by her work across the US and the globe promoting sustainability and community gardening in urban Foodscapes. Brie's website: https://www.briegrows.com/
August 20, 2019
6 minute read
The “dog days” are upon us and if you are anything like me you are ready to put the garden hose to bed! Hi y’all, its Brie the Plant Lady guest posting for Soil3. This month I am going to cover succulents! You know, those beautiful plants that don’t need daily irrigation?
Succulents are all the rage these days and for good reason: they are beautiful and easy! They have a wide array of colors and forms and are an ideal addition to warm season containers. Most importantly, they require very little maintenance through the growing season.
What are Succulents?
Sedum rubrotinctum (Jelly Bean Plant)
To get started let’s identify a few distinguishing factors about succulents. First, I am not talking about cacti! Personally, I do not like to get injured by the plants in my garden, and after a short indulgence of growing Agave and Opuntia (prickly pear) I have totally sworn off those hardy beasts. In this blog I will not be addressing any plants that have spikes because I want to save you from a potential trip to the doctor!
Succulents are a group of plants that store water in their leaves. There are many different genus and species that fit into this category, including common varieties of Sedum,Echeveria, and Graptopetalum. They all prefer to grow in full sun, or at least more sun than shade, and they appreciate well drained soil. Though they will tolerate dry conditions, succulents prefer to be watered through the heat of the summer which will allow them to grow robustly and flourish. *Pro Tip: I water my succulent pots every other day.
Unlike many other active summer plants, succulents have low fertilizer needs. No need to water with the blue stuff, as they prefer to grow in neutral soil without a lot of additional NPK. (Fertilizers contain the macro-nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) needed by many plants.) *Pro Tip: I usually fertilize my succulents with fish emulsion once a month from May-September.
Store water in their leaves
Best grown in full or part sun
Actively grow in heat of summer
Prefer WELL DRAINED soil - not dry
Low fertility requirements
Succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate. They make great gifts or decorations for events.
Are Succulents Hardy in Your Growing Zone?
Hardy succulents are drought-tolerant, heat and cold-tolerant, carefree - and visually stunning!
Many succulent species are hardy in zones 7-8 on the East Coast (depending on the winter) and can be grown in the ground as perennials. They will do best if you amend your clay soils with loose organic matter like Soil3organic humus compost. The addition of PermaTill is also recommended as that will increase drainage and store heat!
With hundreds, if not thousands of selections to choose from, you can be creative in weaving hardy succulents throughout your landscape. There are a few that truly rise above the rest in their performance for our region providing seasonal color, texture, and low maintenance needs.
These wonderful Chick Charms® Sempervivums cultivated by Chris Hansen are some of my favorite hardy succulents. I love the wide variety of colors and textures that are can be grown outside and add interest to my beds.
Tender Succulents are My Favorite
Most of my favorite succulent varieties are not hardy here in Wake County, NC. “Tropical” selections of Crassula, Echeveria and so many others are well worth growing, even as “annual” additions to your summer displays. In fact, I depend on these succulents to fill my hard-to-water window boxes and containers. Their lush foliage and brightly colored flowers add dynamic design appeal with no fuss!
Colorful, high impact, low maintenance, tender succulents like this Crassula ovata 'Crosby's Compact' (Dwarf Jade Plant) can be planted outdoors as "annuals".
Brie's Favorite Tender Succulents
Any variety of Echeveria
Any variety of Graptopetalum
Graptosedum 'California Sunset'
Graptoveria 'Fred Ives'
Kalanchoe sexangularis, K. tomentosa, K. thyrsifolia
Sedeveria 'Jet Beads'
My favorite place to shop for succulents is Malone's Greenhouse in Charlotte, NC. Explore your local nurseries!
Since these tender varieties are frost sensitive, they are best planted outside in our region between April-November. They can be overwintered by bringing them into your house or stashed in a well-lit garage or shed that stays above freezing.
The key to successful overwintering is to not water them - no matter how dry they may get. That can be difficult when you have them placed decoratively around your house, which is why I opt to keep mine in a heated shed. I store them out of reach, which results in my leaving them alone!
If you decide not to overwinter them, have no fear! We are fortunate to have one of the very best sources for succulents in the southeast here in North Carolina. Malone’s Greenhouse in Charlotte carries every variety you can imagine! It is well worth the drive to peruse the greenhouse and fill your vehicle with succulent treasures of every color and size. They sell it all, from small pots to large mixed containers and offer a great selection of both hardy and tender specimens.
Brie's Favorite Succulent Source: Malone’s Greenhouse 100 Radio Rd, Charlotte, NC 28216 Call for hours: 980-859-7447
How to Grow Succulents in Containers
Get creative with your containers and plant selections - you are going to fall in love with these versatile beauties. Just make sure your containers have drainage holes.
When planting succulents, the sky is the limit for creativity! Of course, you can plant them in the ground, but I prefer to grow mine in unique containers so they can really show off. Drainage and exposure are the two most important aspects of successful growing. Be sure to place your vessel in bright exposure and make sure there are ample drainage holes. Succulents will not tolerate bog conditions.
I have seen succulents grown in the holes of bricks placed to line a walkway and even in the rise of a staircase! They are well suited for vertical growing and make a huge statement planted in a wreath, a living picture frame or an address marker.
This "succulent table" on my back deck features a trough in the middle that is replanted with tender succulents each year. We love eating at this table!
We even have a succulent table, which my husband David built after visiting the amazing Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. This bar height table has a 4” deep trough built into the middle which gets planted with tender succulents through the summer. He drilled a lot of holes to ensure sharp drainage and I plant using a growing medium mixed with PermaTill. (Sharp drainage refers to a method of planting that requires both constant moisture and excellent drainage, especially during the winter months.) I like to top dress with tumbled glass to add extra sparkle. In the winter I simply remove the tender succulents and replace with leaf lettuce which looks pretty and supplies salad greens through the cool season.
Vertical planters are all the rage - and colorful, low-maintenance succulents are the perfect choice for these beautiful displays.
Window boxes are my favorite thing to grow succulents in. If you have a window box, it is likely you have experienced how quickly they dry out. They aren’t very large, so they don’t have much soil volume to retain moisture and usually they are sited under the eave of your roof, so you can’t even count on rain to supplement your irrigation.
After a few years of struggling to keep traditional annuals alive in my window boxes I turned to mixed succulents to provide a solution. Four years ago, I planted the box that hangs in front of my bedroom window. I see it everyday from the inside and was so discouraged by all the wilting plants. After a trip to Malone’s, I filled it with a wide variety of tender succulents including Echeveria, Graptopetalum, and Kalanchoe. It instantly looked great and to my relief required NO EFFORT ALL SUMMER! When the threat of frost came, I took the box into the shed and that was it.
My window box full of tender succulents is still looking good after 4 years - and it requires very little care from me!
Fast forward to 2019 and that same window box planted in 2015 still looks amazing! Each spring I bring it outside and clean up any dead leaves, top dress it with some fresh soil, and water it well. Then it gets hung back in place and does its job without any assistance from me.
The Best Soil Mix for Growing Succulents
Like all things plant related, the most important part is soil. If you use a mix that is too light, your plants may suffer. The same goes for a mix that is too dense. That is why I like to create my own using equal parts Soil3, ground pine bark and perlite. Simply mix these ingredients in a wheelbarrow and use for all your container and in-ground succulent plantings.
1 cubic foot ground pine bark (sold as soil conditioner)
1 cubic foot perlite (a non-organic additive used to aerate the media)
Give Succulents a Try
If you are looking for a high impact, low maintenance approach to gardening, succulents are the answer! Especially as the summer heat lingers well into the coming months, you will thank me for suggesting you replace your thirsty summer plantings with a few easy-going succulent collections. I promise, you can never have just one, so get creative and discover the joy that succulents offer!
Be sure to follow my Soil3 Instagram Takeover on Friday, August 30, 2019. I will share insights from my experience as a home succulent grower!