Appeal of succulents is blossoming because they are low maintenance and water-wise with unique charm
Gardeners of today value succulents for their water-wise qualities outdoors and as low maintenance container plants for indoors. Their popularity can be seen in the increasing number of visitors to succulent nurseries.
Succulents are also appreciated for their unique charm. They decorate patios and balconies, windowsills and coffee tables; they can be used in door wreaths, as “pictures” in frames, and gifts for hostesses. They are popular in miniature rock landscapes and fairy gardens, and are trendy as wedding table centrepieces and in bridal bouquets.
Low-maintenance succulents in containers create year-round interest on patios, indoors and in the workplace. Whether creating a desert landscape, a miniature sink garden or a specialist pot collection, there are indigenous and exotic succulents to suit all tastes.
From clay pots to modern planters and classical urns, birdbaths, stone troughs, wooden crates and recycled pieces, the choice of containers is limitless, provided they have drainage holes. Succulents rot in wet soil. Clay pots are porous and ideal for succulents, and because many succulents don’t need a great depth of soil, shallow bowls also work well.
The same variety of succulent in single pots is effective for decorating place settings at a dining table. On a larger scale, aloes in contemporary containers are striking against a wall. Weathered rocks with cavities that hold sufficient soil for plants are also appealing.
Where containers are positioned will determine the type and size of the display. For a mini landscape, to prevent delicate roots being damaged, place plants while still in their individual nursery pots in the container you intend using, and move them around until you are pleased with the effect.
Pots with compact succulents are best appreciated at table top level. A large urn, a dish on a pedestal, or an old bird cage will let you display cascading succulents, like stonecrops such as Sedum morganianum, or string-of-pearls, S rowleyanus, to soften the edges. Large containers must be weighted to prevent them blowing over.
Some succulents need bright, indirect light and others are frost tender so read plant labels when buying. Too much sun will result in shrivelled leaves. Too little sun and the plant will stretch towards the light.
Succulents come in varying heights, textures and colours and a mix of upright, fillers and trailing succulents create a good balance in a container. They can also be displayed as a single variety to show off their fascinating geometric forms and sculptural shapes.
What varieties can you use in your garden?
Pinwheels (Aeonium haworthii) are rosettes of blue-green leaves with red edgings, A decorum “Sunburst” variegated green and cream, A arboreum “Zwartkop” purple-black.
Pigs ear (Cotyledon orbiculata): grey leaves, hanging tubular orange-red flowers.
Jade plant (Crassula ovata): oval green leaves and pink flowers in winter and spring, C ovata variegata, cream and green leaves, C ovata “Hummel’s Sunset” green, red and yellow, and pagoda plant C capitella subsp thyrsiflora triangular leaves.
Blue chalk sticks (Senecio talinoides var mandraliscae previously Senecio mandraliscae) look like their common name with upward curving leaves of blue.
Desert rose, Echeveria species and cultivars: rosettes of grey, blue-grey, green, pink or mauve leaves.
Mother of pearl plant (Graptopetalum paraguayensis): rosettes of fleshy grey leaves with pink overtones.
Zebra plant (Haworthiopsis attenuata formerly Haworthia attenuata): pointed leaves banded with white stripes.
Panda plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora): rosettes of grey-green leaves with red margins, K tomentosa furry grey leaves with brown edges.
Stonecrop plants (Sedum nussbaumerianum): yellow-green to orange thick leaves, S pachyphyllum (jelly bean plant) stumpy green leaves often tipped with red.
Make a drought-proof gift for mom
Are you looking for a unique Mother’s Day gift for a gardening mom? Consider a collection of small succulents.
You will need: a larger container or several smaller ones; commercial succulent mix; fine gravel/small pebbles; and a variety of succulents
● Container ideas: a stone or cement trough; hollowed-out logs or stones; an old teapot; tin cans in different sizes; metal mugs; or an old square cake tin.
● Choose small succulents like desert roses (Echeveria), jade plants (Crassula ovata), stonecrops (Sedum spp) for planting along the edges, Sempervivum spp pinwheels (Aeonium spp) and cacti.
● Use a commercial potting mix for succulents because it drains quickly and is not too rich. Good drainage (with drainage holes) is essential to prevent rotting. ● Plan your container design. Place taller plants at the back or to the side of the container.
● You can also plant smaller containers and display them as a collection. Use containers in similar colours or themes to link the display.
● To remove the plant from its container, support the base of the plant with your fingers, hold the pot upside-down, then squeeze or tap the pot and the plant will slide out.
● Water after planting, or if you need to transport the gift, remind mom to water it.
● Small pebbles placed around the base of plants look attractive and help suppress weeds. Depending on the size, consider driftwood or shells for added interest.