“If you can make it here”
By Deb Pavlosky
It’s July! oh boy. Do you feel my excitement? I bet not. Every ounce of my energy is going to keeping cool. I really don’t want to spend much time outside unless it’s around a pool, at the beach or in the Pacific Northwest. This is the month that I really have to just make it through. Really. I know many plants feel this way too. If you notice some of your landscape favorites wilting in the heat of the day, that’s just self preservation (well, as long as you are watering adequately anyway). No worries as long as they perk back up when the temps cool off at night.
But what about those plants that can take the heat? The ones that make me think of the Frank Sinatra song, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York, New York”. Well, I guess I need to change the lyrics a little at the end to reflect the kind of plants I am thinking about. “It’s up to you, Cac-ti, Cac-ti”. No worries, I know I’m no lyricist. And, really, I want to talk about succulents in general, not just cacti.
First of all, all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Succulents are plants that store water in their tissues (leaves and/or stems). All succulents are very drought tolerant. They need much less frequent watering than other plants because they can hold onto the water they do get for quite a long time. In fact, the mistake that most people make when they get succulents is they water too much. Watering too much is generally not a problem at my house.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some specific growing requirements for succulents, but I think their needs are far less than most other plants you can grow. The most important thing to know is that you must have VERY well draining soil (whether your succulents are in the ground or in a pot). How do you get very well draining soil here? Well, you definitely need to build your garden up high if you will be planting in the ground. You do not want to plant succulents directly in our gumbo – they will not like it! Also, mixing sand, crushed granite or expanded shale into your soil will help make the drainage better (anywhere from a 1 to 1 ratio to a 3 to 1 ratio of soil to sand, granite or shale, will work). Succulents just don’t want wet feet. Most succulents are ok getting wet (except agave – many agave really don’t like water touching them at all), but water needs to drain off pretty well and fast.
I love keeping succulent plants on my patio is because I don’t have to water them. I water succulents when I plant them, but after that, I do not usually have to water. I let the rain take care of them and so far, so good. I do have a few that are under cover, so if we get rain, I will give them a little drink too. If we get a lot of rain, I only give them a little water once and they are good. Dragon fruit and plumeria need just a little more water than other succulents, but they still like to dry out completely between waterings. Easy peasy. I’m telling you. Succulents can’t get much easier.
The other reason I love keeping succulent plants in containers on my patio is because they don’t drop leaves all the time. So, there is very little clean up involved with growing succulents. Also, because I have nosy dogs, I can keep a pot with a pointy succulent low on the ground and, guess what, my dogs don’t bother it. That’s one lesson they learn very quickly. Any other planted pot I have is fair game and, in fact, I have caught one of my dogs lying in a pot of mine on top of the plant. Wah wah wah.
So, what about freezing temperatures in winter? Well, if we have a hard freeze, your succulents should be protected with freeze cloth. If you have plumeria, you can just pull them out of the ground and put them in dry storage or if they are in pots, move the whole pot to dry storage for the winter. But, you know what? Many succulents are more cold hardy than you would think. Even though I didn’t protect any of mine last winter (I have lazy gardener syndrome), I didn’t loose any. Luck or survival of the fittest or whatever, it worked out for me.
What about fertilizing? Well, I use the same fertilizer for my succulents that I do for everything else in my landscape – Microlife 6-2-4 (spring and summer applications are more than adequate). Sometimes, if I feel like they need a little supplemental help (like when they are forming buds and blooming), I might use a little organic liquid fertilizer with a higher middle number (that’s phosphorus) to promote blooms. Microlife and Medina both make one that we sell here at the nursery.
And lastly, how much sun do they really need? The answer to that is less than you may think. Many succulents can grow in bright, indirect light, but most will perform better if they get at least some morning sun. Many succulents can adapt to take full sun, but if they have been protected by a little shade, then you need to gradually move them to more light or they may burn. Once adapted, many succulents can take our full sun and heat too– Hallelujah!
And bonus, succulents grow in many different shapes and sizes. Some can be quite large and are excellent focal points for your landscape like many agave and yucca varieties. Some are small and spreading like many sedums and hens-n-chicks. These are excellent for filling in and spilling over. Others have beautiful flowers that will be a showpiece for a container like crown of thorns, desert rose, and plumeria. There are even some that produce fruit you can eat like Dragon Fruit. And, like some people forget, not all succulents have spines. The succulents that do have spines, need them for protection or they would be eaten up for their tasty flesh and the water they store.
So, why not give succulents a try? Are the spines keeping you away? All you need to remember when planting the spiny sort is to wear long protective sleeves, gloves and wrap them in some newspaper to do the actual planting.
The following is not a complete list, but these are some of my favorite succulents that you might find at Maas Nursery.
Chocolate Ball Sedum/Stonecrop
Jelly Bean Sedum
Hens n Chicks (Sempervivum)
Blue-Chalk Sticks Senecio
Sun Sparkler Blue Pearl Sedum/Stonecrop
Flap Jack Kalanchoe
Christmas Carol Aloe
Crown of Thorns
Fire Stick Pencil
Easter Barrel Cactus
Lucky Crown Century Plant Agave
Twin Flowered Yucca
String of Hearts
Agave Americana ‘Mediopicta Alba’
Agave Americana – Century Plant
Want to know more? Register for our Cacti and Succulents class on July 25, 2015 or our Plumeria class on July 18, 2015 online at www.maasnursery.com