Sassy Succulents

Bonnie Nowicki, Master Gardener

Perusing through my favorite gardening books, I can’t help but marvel at the amazing variety of succulents. They are unusual; so plump and artistic looking. In my May 2019 article on cacti, I mentioned that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Succulents are plants that are able to store water in their tissue for prolonged periods. The word succulent derives from the Greek word succos, or juicy. They are found worldwide and most are slow growers. Cacti are new world in origin. I wish to focus this article on non-cactus succulents since I am always drawn to their bold and fleshy shapes.

The wonderful diversity of these plants offers striking sculptural forms, textures, and colors, greatly enhancing your landscaping. While bright light is required, most prefer light shade. The surface tissue will yellow if it’s exposed to too much sun; as I experienced with my potted Partridge Breast Aloe. Active growth is typically from April to September. Water deeply every one to two weeks during this season. Good drainage is a must. I use a moisture meter on my many container-grown succulents, and water when they are dry. Pruning and fertilizing is not necessary for in-ground succulents, and spring or autumn months are ideal for planting your water-wise specimens. Cactus mix with a bit of pumice or perlite is ideal for containers.

Besides the usual assortment of leaf succulents, such as aloes and agaves, may I suggest Echeverias, Sedum, Kiwi Aeonium, Haworthias, and ground covers such as the Copper Ice Plant (Malephora crocea). I especially like Hearts and Flowers (Aptenia cordifolia) a trailing evergreen perennial ice plant native to South Africa. The bright green, heart-shaped leaves compliment the frilly shaped red flowers. They are fast growing, sprawling, and cascading.

When you visit our local nurseries, be daring! Choose a lively succulent. Explore the many interesting options of growing one or more. Potted succulents add a dramatic architectural feature, softening your landscape. Your open-air retreat will sparkle!