Books by Debra
tips to help you create a beautiful succulent garden
1. Soil Succulents are not fussy about soil, providing
it drains well. Roots that sit in water may rot. Amend heavy garden soil
half-and-half with decomposed granite or crushed pumice. To further enhance drainage,
plant succulents atop mounds. 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. The rule of thumb is the fleshier the plant, the more camel-like, and the less water it requires.
Soil should go nearly dry between waterings. Keep succulents on the dry side during dormancy
(usually the winter months). Cacti in particular cannot tolerate overwatering.
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.
Some succulents also have wonderful flowers and bloom during the winter months.
In the garden shown here, aloes bloom red-orange, and aeoniums bright yellow, December through February.
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, blue babiana (a South African bulb)
and California poppies (shown here with ice plant and Agave americana).
Focal points A garden
needs focal points to anchor compositions---such as a large and dramatic aloe, agave, euphorbia or
Focal points also might be a sculpture, a bench, a large pot, or even an interesting window in a wall.
you look at a decorative object, your subconscious searchs for
something similar. You can lend pleasing continuity to your garden by repeating
shapes, colors and textures.
Succulents that work well when planted in multiples include Kalanchoe
luciae and Senecio mandraliscae, shown here. Containers, when
all the same, also are an excellent way to add repetition.
variety and interest to your garden with succulents that have different
sizes, colors, shapes and textures.
Juxtaposing complementary colors in your garden can be very appealing---for
example, a green aloe with a red kalanchoe or blue senecio with orange
Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'.
Contrast the strongly
linear, up-thrusting lines of an agave or aloe with the round
prickliness of a barrel cactus. Here, smooth boulders provide an
important element of contrast.
plants that are appropriately 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 (three to five years)---so plan for this when
choosing their location.
This rocky setting frames a columnar cactus, which is both a focal point and a living sculpture. Nearby, spiky yuccas
contrast with rounded boulders and the vertical lines of the cactus.
your garden more
interesting by introducing dynamic vertical elements.
Here, large Agave franzosinii is the star of the show.
Echoing its blue color is the groundcover, Senecio mandraliscae. A
granite boulder repeats the steely blue of the agave and the and orange
of the Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' in the background.
Euphorbia milii (a succulent shrub with red flowers) adds mid-height interest.
Mounds and clusters A natural
setting for succulents
is not flat and incorporates rocks and boulders. Succulents
If possible, vary the terrain in your yard, then plant agaves, aloes and dasylirions 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.
Containers  Enhance patios, decks,
balconies, entries and windowsills with potted succulents. Choose
intriguing, colorful and/or geometric varieties that you and your guests
will enjoy up close, such as echeverias, graptopetalums and sedums.
Succulents in pots can also be placed in your garden permanently, or seasonally if the plants need to be
My book, Succulent Container Gardens, describes numerous ways
to pair plants with pots, plus intriguing, eye-catching ways to display them.
The same design principles (repetition, contrast, scale, height) apply to
look great with rocks: Planted in front of them, behind them,
between them, or cascading over
them.....it's all good. 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 a topdressing that enhances the composition and reduces the amount of mud, erosion, and weeds, cover
paths and bare spots with
decomposed granite or a natural-looking gravel.
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.
Take photos of your garden. When it is framed through a camera lens,
certain features will jump out at you. Then use them to advantage.
Here, Agave americana contrasts with a red wall.
14. Get rid of unnatural objects  Having
utilitarian items in your garden that are clearly man-made can hinder
the illusion of peace and natural beauty.
Things to conceal or get rid of include black plastic nursery pots, tools, ladders,
blue-green garden hoses
and anything white. I spray white irrigation risers with khaki-colored
paint (available at Lowe's or Home Depot) to help them blend in.
15. Convert one small area at a time Have a master
plan for your garden that you develop in stages. You needn't do your
entire yard all at once.
Find an area that currently does not look good----or take a bite out
of that water-thirsty lawn---and add a vignette of succulents.
Live with and enjoy that new area for a while. Then convert another area or two. Try various
types of succulents and observe what works well. These are very forgiving plants
likely look good wherever you put them. As you sculpt your own personal
succulent garden, relax, have fun and enjoy the creative process!
For more about common types of succulents, see the
page. For detailed information about how to design a succulent garden
and select plants, my book,
Succulents is an excellent
resource that showcases the work of top designers.
You also might find one or more of my photo libraries helpful.
Now, as you continue to browse this website, look at the photos and see
if you can spot the design principles mentioned here!