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Succulent Mania

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Succulent Mania

I’ll have to admit that I’m completely enchanted when I gaze into a sea of succulents at the garden center.  These plants first cast their spell on me many years ago but no plant variety has come bursting back on the scene in recent years quite like succulents.  Once a niche plant, you can now find succulents used everywhere, from office buildings to home gardens.  There are many reasons why the succulent has become such a popular plant.  First, they are extremely easy to take care of.  They are very tolerant of low water levels and often thrive in these types of environments.  Second, they are beautiful plants with a wide variety of styles, shapes and colors.

Succulents are categorized as plants that have parts that are abnormally thickened and fleshy, usually to retain water.  This is why they have the ability to survive and thrive in dry, arid conditions.  Succulents aren't cactus though, and they do require consistent moisture.  Still they are easy to care for and will be happiest in full sun, which also brings out the colors in their foliage.

Succulents lend themselves to all sorts of garden uses: in stone walls, between patio pavers, in rock gardens, and even for creating green roofs.  But one of the easiest ways to grow them is in containers, specifically small dishes or troughs made from ceramic, stone, terracotta, concrete or hypertufa.  Unless you garden in zone 8 or 9, you'll want to choose either sempervivums (also known commonly as hen and chicks) or sedums.  Both are usually hardy to zone 4 or 5.  There are hundreds of different sempervivums to choose from.  A great thing about these plants is that they create miniature versions of themselves every year (these are the "chicks").  Some sempervivums are hardier and more stress-tolerant than others and over time you'll probably settle on a few favorites that are particularly well adapted to your growing conditions.  Sempervivums have a round and sculptural shape.  Sedums make a nice complement as they usually have a finer texture and often add a cascading element which is particularly attractive in a container.  There are many sedums that are hardy to zones 4 and 5, and others that are not.  Pay attention to the hardiness ratings, or be content with treating some of the more spectacular sedum varieties as annuals.  If you are using a container get creative by adding rocks and shells, pieces of colored glass, small mirrors or sculptural features.  You’ll be amazed at what fantastic little worlds you can create inside your dish garden. 

Hardy succulents can be overwintered outside in a container as long as the soil doesn’t get soggy and they’re protected from drying winds.  The planting medium should be well drained and not overly rich.  For most succulents, add about 25% builder's sand to a good soilless mix.  There's no need for fertilizer.  Once you get started growing sempervivums and sedums, you may want to branch out and experiment with some of the tender succulents, which include echeverias, aeoniums, crassulas, pachyphytums and graptopetalums.  These species have fantastic foliage and make great conversation pieces.  If you live in a growing zone that's colder than zone 8, you will need to overwinter these plants indoors, or treat them as annuals.

If you are feeling especially creative try making a living succulent wreath.  This easy to follow visual guide takes you step by step through the process: Living Succulent Wreath.  Discover for yourself how fun it is to create artful, easy care gardening projects using succulents.

Jan Gowen, Kemper Horticulture Assistant

| Categories: Fall | Tags: succulents, container plants | View Count: (4374) | Return
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