In the world of landscaping succulent gardens occupy a special position. The general term “succulents” represents a large group of plants and species families that are not even related to each other. Succulent plants are the true children of the desert. Distinguished by a variety of forms and colors, the plants from this group have perfectly adapted to surviving in the harsh conditions of the desert. Nowadays, almost all representatives of succulents can be found on the windowsills of city apartments. These plants add natural beauty and vitality to any space with their “juicy” leaves and stems.
Succulents form an extensive and diverse group of plants that do not require special care and look great both singly and in compositions. In this article, you will not only get to know them better, but also learn how they can serve as a beautiful and unpretentious element of your landscape.
What is a succulent? As we mentioned, this plant group includes a huge variety of species and when you want to grow them in your garden, there is a good chance that you may not be sure what exactly to look for. Succulents are often characterized as plants with fleshy, juicy or thick leaves, stems and even roots, in which water is easily stored. Many succulents come from dry regions, such as deserts and semi-deserts. The most famous plants of the desert are cacti which are also classified as succulents. Maybe you have heard the saying – “All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti”.
The impressive appearance and stunning adaptability have made succulent plants one of the favorites of landscape designers. Nowadays, they are experiencing a peak of popularity and are actively used in a variety of designs – you can see them in alpine hills, rockeries, along garden paths, in drought tolerant gardens and in original compositions from succulents in pots, terrariums and various planters.
Succulent gardens – combining beautiful colors in landscape designs
When we talk about Nature as a landscape designer, then we mean that it takes decades for its creations and they can only be destroyed by natural disasters or incompetent human intervention. Man has long ago appreciated the decorative value of succulents as a material for landscape design. Practically, in every botanical garden in the world one can find rockeries, where different kinds of succulents are planted in a picturesque combination.
Following their aesthetic taste and design abilities, many amateur gardeners who collect succulents are involved in creating such compositions. If Nature spontaneously, without thinking about the results, sometimes creates her own masterpieces of landscape, then a person must always follow certain rules to achieve the goal and mimic Nature in the best possible and visually pleasing way.
The selection of plants depends on the level of light. For sun-exposed locations, apart from the decorative properties, one needs to consider the ability of species to withstand direct sunlight, the lack of protection from precipitation, strong winds or nighttime frost. Practically, all succulents need well draining soils and experts advise to add sand and gravel to the native soil when the soil in your garden is not draining well. Beginners need to realize that despite the fact that some species prefer regular moisture and others will survive weeks without water, standing water is not beneficial to succulents. So, what is the right place to plant your succulents? When we talk about landscape designs, your succulent garden shoud be located on a place which receives a good amount of sunlight, moderate watering and sandy soil.
When planting succulents, you need to leave some space between them for free expansion. Fill in the empty places with pebbles, driftwood, etc.
Group the species with similar needs for lighting and watering in different flower beds. Remember that these plants do not need fertile soil.
One of the most naturally looking landscape designs with succulents are the rockeries which are especially suitable for slopes or terraced areas. In addition, the plants are a great choice for retaining walls as they will visibly revive the design of the terraces and help the hill area become a focal point in the landscape.
What are the advantages of succulent gardens? What do you need to know when buying succulents? How to choose the right species for your garden? Having in mind that the group includes thousands of species, the decorative possibilities of these plants are practically unlimited. The main advanatges are:
Colorful appearance – succulents come in so many colors that you may have difficulties to choose just a few;
Texture – this is one huge advantage, as each variety comes with its own unique texture and add exceptional charm to your indoor or outdoor garden appearance;
Low maintenance – your succulents can survive weeks without water;
Easy reproduction and transplantation;
You can use them to create a variety of compositions – rockeries, living walls, miniature-gardens, terrariums, wall panels, table centerpieces, etc.
How to choose succulents for your garden and care for them? Succulent gardens can be designed in many different ways but one of the main rules is to use plants with similar requirements for lighting and watering. When choosing species for your landscape design you need to remember some of the main characteristics of succulents and depending on your idea, garden plot, personal taste and preferences, a visit to a local nursery will be a pleasant trip.
Succulents vary in size which means they will require different care and will also vary in price. Bigger species (or plant in a large container) usually require less care.
Always choose healthy plants. For example, the leaves of overwatered plants fall off easily if you bump them slightly. Healthy plants have firm leaves and bright colors.
Very often you will find more than one plant in a pot, which is normal. Not all succulents come as a single plant.
Replant all the species that you bought as soon as possible.
Despite the fact that succulents are unpretentious and can be grown even by a child, there are certain rules that you need to know and follow to make sure your plants are healthy.
Moderate temperate is an important factor. Succulents do not love big differences in daytime and night time temperature – they will feel comfortable when the difference is not more than 4-5 degrees. Keep in mind that many species go into hibernation during winter peiof – from about October to March – and the optimal temperature for this perios is between 5 °C and 12 °C.
Most succulents prefer bright light, but there are species that need a partial shade, so make sure you know the needs of your species and group them in the right way.
Irrigation needs to be in accordance with the particular conditions and soil type. It is well known that succulents, left unattended indoors for a week or two, perfectly survive the lack of moisture, because by nature they are ready for this. The general rule for succulent gardens is to water the plants when they are dry during summer months and reduce watering to once a month during winter.
Planting and reproduction – Propagation of succulents can be done with stem cuttings and leaves. The separated stalk can not be put in water, it is necessary to allow it to dry for two days, and then plant immediately into the soil. The leaves are simply placed on wet ground without any cover. The best time for breeding is from April to August.
A variety of species often serve as a kind of “living colors” for landscape designers who create amazing decorative compositions.
Succulents are one of the most popular plants for vertical gardening as well. You can start with a small panel, and then, having mastered the technology, build a real living wall or a green wall in the garden or on the balcony, even indoors.
Dry waterfalls – succulent plants are often used to imitate moving water. There are many examples of creative designs which mimic a small lake or waterfall. Usually, such designs are done with species which have blue-ish colors.
Rockeries are the most popular type of succulent gardens. You can hardly find more suitable plants for rock gardens because succulents can survive in the most severe conditions while more demanding plants will die from drought or a lack of food or water. The visual appeal of the combination bwteen succulents and stones is amazingly harmonious and refined.
Which succulent species are suitable to grow outdoors?
Succulent gardens can be planted with a variety of species. Landscape designers seldom choose just one variety. Most often you will see combinations of different species, some of them chosen for the texture, others for the color. Here are some of the top 10 succulent varieties to grow outdoors:
Hens-and-Chicks (Sempervivum Tectorum) is a succulent variety that propgates exceptionally quickly with multiple offspring, hence the name “chicks”. Sempervivum species include more than 3000 varieties which come in a huge array of colors and you can mix and match them in numerous ways in your garden. Sempervums do quite well in colder climates and will thrive in rock gardens or when planted among stones or gravel. The lifetime of Hens-and-Chicks is about three years, but due to its quick propagation, it practically “lives forever” which is the exact meaning of “Sempervivum”.
Sunburst (Aeonium Davidbramwellii) is a magnificent succulent from the Aeonium genus which numbers more than 30 varieties. For the yellow leaves that grow in a circle around its center, Sunburst is also known as copper pinwheel. It branches out with rosettes which bloom in white during the simmer period. This is a hybrid variety that can grow op to 60 cm.
Moonstone (Pachyphytum oviferum), also known as sugaralmond plant, belongs to the Pachyphytum genus. The meaning of the name of this amazing succulent is “thick plant bearing eggs”. It is ideal for extremely dry conditions as it stores water in its leaves. That is why you should water Moonstone with extra caution.
Jade plant (Crassula ovate) is a succulent variety suitable for outdoor and indoor. It has thick and shiny leaves and the colors vary from green and grey, sometimes with beautiful red or yellow edges. Jade plant blooms in cute clusters of pink or white.
String of buttons (Crassula perforate), also called necklace vine is a relative of the Jade plant. This is a fast growing succulent and the name comes from the stems and leaves that look as if stacked atop each other. It has short, triangular leaves which form opposite pairs and grow in a spiral around the stem. The color is gray green with pink edges. String of buttons will grow up to 1-2 ft. tall (30-60 cm) and 2-3 ft. wide (60-90 cm) and will thrive in well-drained soils in full sun or light shade.
Agave genus is represented by several popular species – Whale’s Tongue Agave (agave ovatifolia), Agave tequiliana which is theone for producing tequila, ornamental artichoke agave (Agave parriya), Agave attenuatta, etc. These are tall species which meay reach a height between two and five feet and width of about three to six feet. Their architectural shapes are especially valued for draught tolerlscape designs for the beautiful silhouettes. Do not place them near garden paths as they have long spikes.
Ball cactus (Parodia Magnifica) is a unique succulent which may reach a height up to two feet. Its perfect round shape is an immediate focal point and the spikes around it add to the striking appearance. If you are looking for a desert like visual aesthetics in your garden, the ball cactus will be a great addition to the landscape.
Echeveria succulents have many varieties, colors, shapes and sizes but the most popular varieties are shaped like rosettes. Colors range from pastels to deeper shades of pink, blue, orange, green, etc. Echeveria species differ in texture as well – smooth, bumpy, powdery – so you can combine shapes and textures for a better visual appeal. The Plush plant (Echeveria Pulvinata) has amazingly beautiful orange-yellow blooms and due to the fine white hairs that cover the leaves, it appears silvery.
Dudleyas are from the same Echeveria genus and come in more than 40 varieties. They also form a rosette and their leaves have tender rounded edges. Some of the most popular species are Dudleya (Echeveria spp.), Dudleya brittonii, Dudleya farinose, Dudleya virens, etc.
Ice plants also come in different varieties which are suitable for both indoor and outdoors. Some of the most popular species are White Nugget Ice Plant (Delosperma basuticum ‘White Nugget’), Blue Stone Plants (Argyroderma patens), Royal Dewflower (Drosanthemum speciosum), Pink Vygie (Lampranthus blandus), Corpuscularia lehmannii, Hottentot Fig, Giant Pigface (Carpobrotus acinaciformis), Trailing Iceplant (Hardy Iceplant or Pink Carpet, Delosperma cooperi), etc. These are drought and heat tolerant succulents and the name “Ice plants” comes from the varieties which produce calcium crystals on their leaves that resemble frost.
We shall also mention varieties like Euphorbia (Euphorbia characias Dwarf), Graptopetalum (Graptopetalum paraguayense,Ghost Plant, Mother-Of-Pearl Plant), Haworthia (Haworthia fasciata Zebra Plant), Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe longiflora), Stonecrop (sedum spp.), Pig’s Ear (cotyledon orbiculata), Torch Plant (aloe aristata), Zwartkop (aeonium arboreum) which enjoy great popularity among gardeners.
You can safely experiment with a combination of succulents in shape, color and texture of the leaves. Easy in transplantation and reproduction, succulents will allow you to use your imagination and create spectacular flowerbeds. Here are some ideas for you:
Succulents that do not require much illumination:
Gasteria with green cover
Succulents suitable for sunny areas:
Opuntia (Prickly pear cactus)
Succulents are perfect for vertical landscaping. They can decorate arches and pergolas or living walls. You can use some species of ragwort, Epiphyllum, Rhipsalis, Schlumbergera, Sedum morganianum, which creates magnificent cascades on fences and facades.