Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The Year of the Succulent: Tips for creating a succulent garden
This year my garden club is studying succulents and I though I’d look into how to better incorporate these great plants into my landscape. My soil is mostly clay even though I been amending my flowerbeds for years with compost. So I had very little success growing them in my yard. I mostly stuck to planting my succulents in pots. Here are some tips I discovered for working succulents into a landscape. I plan to hold onto these tips and maybe I’ll start a succulent rock garden in an area of my landscape in the near future.
1. Soil Succulents are not fussy about soil, providing it drains well (mine doesn't). Roots that sit in water may rot. My Autumn Joy died and was replaced several times before I started growing it in a pot. Now I have 3! Amend heavy garden soil half-and-half with decomposed granite or crushed pumice. Planting plants above mounds can further improve drainage. For containers, use "cactus mix," or add pumice or perlite to regular potting soil.
2. Water Succulents are low-water plants but they are not no-water plants. They look best when given regular water especially in the hottest part of the summer. The rule of thumb is the fleshier the plant, the less water it requires. Soil should go nearly dry before watering again. Keep succulents on the dry side during dormancy (usually the winter months). Cacti in particular cannot tolerate too much water! I lost some Hens and Chicks this summer in a pot that received too much water and had too heavy potting soil.
3. Add color to your garden Leaves and stems of succulents come in a wide variety of colors, including dark magenta, and shades of red, orange, green, yellow, tan, and even blue. Experiment and see what best suits your landscape.
4. Companion plants Plant low-water; non-succulent perennials and annuals amid your succulents for spectacular floral color in spring. Companions that work well include orange African daisies, purple statice, and California poppies.
5. Focal points A garden needs focal points to anchor compositions---such as a large and dramatic aloe, agave or columnar cactus. Focal points also might be a sculpture, a bench, a large pot, or even an interesting window in a wall.
6. Repetition When you look at a decorative object, your subconscious searches for something similar. You can lend a pleasing connection to your garden by repeating shapes, colors and textures. Containers, when all the same, also are an excellent way to add repetition.
8. Scale Choose plants that are suitably sized for the space they fill. Consider the width and height of the area when determining how far apart the plants should be. Certain cacti, aloes, yuccas and agaves can get quite large at maturity; so be sure to plan for this when choosing a location. A columnar cactus can be both a focal point and a living sculpture.
9. Height Make your garden more interesting by introducing dynamic vertical elements. Make a large Agave franzosinii the star of the show. Repeat its blue color in the ground cover and a granite boulder. Use Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' in the background; Euphorbia milii 'Crown of Thorns' will add mid-height interest.
10. Mounds and clusters A natural setting for succulents is not a flat landscape and incorporate rocks and boulders. Succulents generally look best clustered. If doable, vary the terrain in your yard, then plant on mounds and ridges. This places the plants at eye level and also helps water to drain away from the roots. A valley might be a pathway leading into the garden or perhaps a dry creek bed. The varied terrain of my Georgia would have been perfect for this; it had boulders and even had a valley that would have made a great dry creek bed. The soil however was still heavy clay.
11. Containers Enhance patios, decks, balconies, entries and windowsills with potted succulents. Choose interesting, colorful and/or geometric varieties that you and your guests will enjoy up close. They can be individual plants or several grouped in a single container. Succulents in pots can also be placed in your garden permanently or seasonally if the plants need to be over wintered indoors. My “Autumn Joy” stays in pots outdoors year round. Use the same design principles (repetition, contrast, scale, height) apply to container arrangements.
12. Rocks Succulents look great with rocks: Planted in front of them, behind them, between them, or cascading over them. Add boulders with colors that match or complement the oranges, grays and blues of succulent foliage. Or choose plants that repeat or contrast with rocks already in your garden.
For topdressing that enhances the composition and reduces the amount of mud, use decomposed granite or natural-looking gravel to cover paths and bare spots..
13. Background Connect the garden to your house and whatever else is in the background---such as a pool, wall, fence, hedges or trees---by having matching (or contrasting) colors, textures or shapes. Try taking photos of your garden. When it is framed through a camera lens, certain features will jump out at you. Then use them to advantage.
14. Get rid of unnatural objects Utilitarian items in your garden that are clearly man-made can hinder the illusion of peace and natural beauty. Things to conceal or remove include black plastic nursery pots, tools, ladders, blue-green garden hoses and anything white
15. Convert one small area at a time Have a master plan for your garden before you begin, and then develop the landscape in stages. You needn't do your entire yard all at once. Look for an area that currently does not look good, or is dry--and add a vignette of succulents.
Live with and enjoy that new area for a while. Slowly convert another area or two. Try various types of succulents and observe what works well. These are very forgiving plants that will likely look good wherever you put them. Some gardeners are even making 'green roofs' using succulents; so be creative! As you fashion your own personal succulent garden, relax, have fun and enjoy the creative process!
I wish I had thought of using succulents when I first started planning my landscape! It would have been easier to make adjustments to my landscape terrain easier.( I’m thinking the hill behind my pond may be a good spot for succulents since it drains well and can be a bit dry!) But by using containers I can work succulents into my landscape until I can undertake converting an area for succulents.