Books by Debra
Succulent plants: An overview
Succulents are surging in popularity because
they are low-maintenance, low-water and cool to
look at and collect. They grow well in containers and add year-round color and interest to frost-free gardens. Neglect them, and chances are they'll be fine. But your succulents will be more lush and will grow faster if you give them regular water, good soil, and bright but not harsh sunlight.
Common types of succulents
The succulents listed here are popular with designers and readily available
(or becoming so).
The photo that accompanies each is one example; others in the genus will look
-- Rosettes typically resemble big, fleshy-petalled daisies. Colors include green,
yellow and garnet. Leaves of Aeonium 'Sunburst' are striped with yellow or cream.
Aeonium 'Zwartkop', another show-stopper, is magenta-black. There
exist many hybrids (like the Aeonium canariense hybrid shown
here). Some species are shrub-forming; all produce rosettes at the tips of ever-lengthening stems. Frost tender.
-- These rosette-shaped succulents are native to the Americas. There are dozens of species of agaves, many
small and beautifully suited to pot culture. Agave victoria-reginae is a favorite;
it grows to the size of a soccer ball over time. With the notable exception of Agave attenuata,
most agaves tolerate temperatures into the teens; some---such as Agave parryi 'Truncata' shown here---go much lower.
-- Dramatic flower spikes, mid-winter through spring, are hot hues of orange or yellow. This photo
shows aloes at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in January.
Gel-filled, tapered and serrated leaves of many aloes form starfish-like rosettes.
Species range from a few inches in diameter to tall trees. Aloe arborescens, a common garden plant throughout Southern California,
is an excellent fire-retardant succulent for wildfire-prone areas. Frost tender.
Cactus -- This general category refers to succulents---usually from desert climates---with spines, which are
modified leaves that radiate from central points (aureoles). Some are columnar, others round or have pads. Small cacti suitable for pots have a huge following with collectors.
Do consider using golden barrels (shown here) in
your succulent garden; they are an unmatched textural enhancement. Many but not all cacti are frost tolerant.
-- There are two main forms: jade types and stacked. I chose a stacked
crassula (Crassula perforata) to show here, but there are many lovely and unusual jades.
Plain jade (Crassula ovata) is quite common; others are silvery gray, bright yellow, and variegated
cream-and-green---often with red margins. Use jades as mounding shrubs
and grow stacked crassulas, which are great cascaders, in terraces
and hanging baskets. Frost tender.
-- Those with tight rosettes tend to form hen-and-chicks clusters. Echeverias that
resemble cabbages usually grow atop ever-lengthening stalks. Ruffled
varieties like those in the photo are among the showiest of succulents. All are ideal for
containers, in fact, I discourage people from growing echeverias in garden
beds as the leaves are easily marred. Will tolerate a few degrees below freezing.
-- This immense genus includes many nonsucculent plants; all have in
common a milky sap that can be irritating, even toxic. Columnar species
such as Euphorbia ingens suggest statuesque cacti. Cacti have satiny flowers, those of euphorbias are
beadlike. Designers adore Euphorbia tirucalli
'Sticks on Fire' (shown here) which turns brilliant sunset hues. Droll
Euphorbia obesa is a spherical succulent with subtle herringbone
stripes. Frost tender.
-- These windowsill succulents, which seldom get larger than a softball,
thrive indoors and do well in pots. I don't recommend growing them in
the garden as they readily sunburn and might be stepped on. Besides,
it's a shame not to enjoy them close-up. Haworthias are easily
hybridized---a hobby enjoyed by enthusiasts worldwide.
-- These groundcover succulents have brilliant blooms; few
sights can compare to a hillside massed with iceplant flowers. Ice plants need no mowing, require very little
maintenance, and once established keep weeds at bay. Ice plants would
make ideal lawn substitutes if they could tolerate foot traffic.
But you can grow ice plants on steep, rocky slopes, something not possible
with a lawn.
-- These succulents are prized for their colorful or felted leaves and their flowers.
Plants come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most common is Kalanchoe blossfeldiana
(shown here), which is sold in supermarkets; numerous hybrids produce long-lasting
blooms in crayon colors. Surging in popularity is Kalanchoe luciae;
its paddle-like leaves are sometimes wavy, and turn from teal to bright
red when grown in full sun. Frost tender.
Sedum (stonecrop) -- These trailing succulents with
stacked and concentric or bean-shaped leaves produce masses of
star-shaped blooms in summer. Plant sedums in rock gardens and use them as fillers for containers and as ground covers.
Unlike other genera of succulents, most sedums (especially smaller ones)
prefer cool summers and winters
and tolerate temperatures below freezing.
Sempervivum (hen and chicks) -- Like sedums, sempervivums are cold-climate succulents; they do not do well outdoors in the heat of
a Southwest summer. Semps resemble echeverias but rosettes have thinner, pointed leaves and
a more compact, spherical form. Most produce offsets that create lovely clusters. Tuck sempervivums into the niches of a rock wall and let them overflow the
openings of a strawberry jar. Frost-tolerant.
-- Groundcovers Senecio mandraliscae and Senecio serpens form
drifts of blue and are striking juxtaposed with red- and orange-leaved
succulents (such as Aloe cameronii or Euphorbia tirucalli
'Sticks on Fire'). Let Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls), which has
pea-like leaves, cascade from a dry fountain or birdbath; it'll suggest
droplets of water. Most senecios will tolerate a few
degrees below freezing.