Monday, January 23, 2017

Sucessful Succulent Gardening


Succulents seem to be the new big plant trend. They are brightly colored, easy to grow, and very forgiving plants -- why not!  Visit any greenhouse or big box store, and you will find a large display of succulents in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.   It is very hard to walk past them without placing a few in my cart. Actually more than a few make it home to my garden.  After much trial and much more error (resulting in a few dead plants),  I am sharing what has worked for me.


Succulents grow best in well draining soil. Packaged potting soil(less) mix contains mostly peat moss and not my first choice.  Many of the less expensive bagged potting soils typically  hold too much water for good succulent root growth.  One alternative is to purchase Cactus and Succulent mix or a Bonsai mix, containing a grittier list of ingredients.  A little more expensive,  but a good soil mix is the first step to healthy plants. If you have a large number of containers and do not mind mixing the ingredients, my preference  is AL's Gritty Mix. You cannot buy this bagged in a garden center, rather the ingredients are purchased and mixed.  Details can be found on the main page of my blog or search the Garden Web Forum - Container Gardening .  The main ingredients are:  pine bark fines,  Gran-it-grit (grower size chicken grit), Turface MVP (used for baseball fields).  Al provides a great deal of information on why this mix works so well in the many posts he has written on the forum.
Using one of these soil mixes requires that initially you monitor your watering more closely until you  find the best schedule for your plants in your location.


Sometimes called the flapjack plant -  Kalanchoe luciae

If you use  a well draining  soil mix,  watering will be easy.  There is a common misconception that succulents do not need to be watered much.  Most succulents will tolerate occasional neglect, however most do not  "thrive" in a drought-like situation. On the other hand, if you are too attentive, and tend to water frequently,  the roots will stay too wet, roots will rot and you will eventually have a new addition to the compost pile.   The best approach is to water well and then allow to dry for a short time, and then water well again. 
Sunlight, containers and soil mix can impact the time in between watering. Clay pots are a great choice, because tend to dry out little faster than a ceramic or a plastic pot.  Because many of my succulents are outside during the summer, I like to use hypertufa pots. Not sure what that is - read about them on this blog.   Using containers with a drainage hole(s)  lets the water drain better, and is my preference when selecting a container. Planting succulents in tea cups, mason jars and old shoes is not a good choice for a long term container, however they will work if you add a layer of gravel and are cautious not to over water.

Container of succulents growing in a small garden center in California.

Succulents display at Longwood Gardens

Succulents can be placed in two categories Hardy (zones 5,4,and 3)  and Soft (Non Hardy zones 9,10,and 11).  Much of what is written here can apply to both, however my focus will be on those more tender plants that we are growing indoors. 
Succulents like a growing environment that has good quality sunlight.  Just like any group of plants not all in that group  require the same amount of light. Succulents tolerate  conditions ranging from bright filtered light to full sun.    I have  had the best success with placing my plants at a window facing  south, east and west ( in that order)  getting  about 5- 6 hours  of sunlight. If your plant does  not get enough sun,  they will demonstrate their displeasure by stretching their stems for more light.  As the temperature outside warm , I will  move my containers outdoors. In my garden - zone 6b Pennsylvania,  I place my succulents in a location with morning sun, or afternoon sun, and hopefully some mid day shade.  Making the transition to outdoor sun should be gradual, ( maybe on the porch first). This will prevent any leaf burn as you move them to their final outdoor location.  It should be understood that you may  have different light challenges and requirements for other parts of the country.

Many Soft or Non Hardy Succulents ( i.e Echeveria), can also be taken out of the container and planted directly in the ground.  Not a new thing for those gardening in Southern California, but I encourage anyone in colder zones to try it out. For years I have planted Echeveria in my garden next to my perennials and annuals. They are extremely tough plants, will tolerate lots of sun and occasional neglect, and  the plants push out lots of babies increasing my count each year.  They are very easy to dig up in the fall and move indoors as the temps begin to fall. 

In the fall as the temperature drops below 45degrees Fahrenheit potted non hardy succulents must be moved inside.  

A single Echeveria planted in Hypertufa container. .
Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’

In most growing situations we will grow succulents in containers with a soilless mix that provides little or no nutrients.  It's not unusual for gardeners to over fertilize their container plants.  We are sold super fertilizers to stimulate growth and  grow enormous flowers.  More is not better with succulents. Too much fertilizer, especially high-nitrogen blends, increase leaf and root rot problems. It also builds up in the soil interfering with the uptake of water.  Succulents are efficient growing plants, they will grow well will less fertilizer. Begin by using a fertilizer  that has low N-P-K . If your mixing a water based fertilizer, mix it at 1/4 to 1/3  of the  manufacturers recommended  strength.   Frequent watering with very diluted fertilizer is preferred.
Repurposing a fire pit bowl as a planter with some paint and a few drainage holes drilled. 

I have recently tried a  new technique for growing these tough plants.  Below is a photo of  succulent moss ball I recently made.  It is called Kokadama, and is made using soil,  a sheet of  green moss and twine.  The plants were taken from cuttings, and I expect with proper care will root easily in the ball of soil and moss.

Succulent cuttings planted in a moss ball.

I still have lots to learn.  Like many gardeners I do this best by trial and error. However I do love to search the internet for great photos and  easy to read information. I found this site to be very helpful, and easy to navigate.
One final thing, you are welcome to share my photos, please link back to my blog, do not however copy and use for your site without my permission.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Concrete Containers for Plants or Fruit

Making plant containers and garden art has been a passion of mine for years. I have crafted a variety of hypertufa and concrete containers for use indoors and in the landscape. Some examples  of those   containers are posted here in my blog.  I must admit creating your own container can be as much fun as planting them.

The main ingredient when making these containers is Portland cement. Working with portland cement can be challenging at times. When making  hypertufa pots (photo below) , you must carefully add perlite, peat moss and just the right about of water. Then apply the mix to the mold .  

You can see the 3 ingredients, portland cement, perlite, peat moss,  in the hypertufa pot above.
The goal with hypertufa is to make a rough, stone like container.

 I have recently used a new product called ShapeCrete to create this irregular shaped container or bowl. ShapeCrete  has properties that allows the ingredients, when mixed with water, to be formed over or inside molds much easier that I have experienced when making other hypertufa or portland and sand containers. 

Once mixed with water, ShapeCrete can be molded with your hands and then formed into a thin layer and applied over the rubber ball to create a unique container.  If mixed properly, the ShapeCrete does not run down the side of the mold.
Remove from the mold the next day and then keep moist in garbage bag for about 1-2 weeks to allow it to properly cure. I mixed a little black cement dye with this batch, to make the color a little darker. Not sure I added enough to make a big change in the color.
Although not a necessary step, I will eventually apply a cement our grout sealer for mainly aesthetic reasons to see if it brings out more color in this container.

I eventually removed the fruit and created a planter with a variety of succulents. 

If you like succulent container gardens, check out this article in Penn Live

If you have questions  you can post to the blog and I will reply. 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Visiting Beautiful Gardens

I  enjoy visiting gardens. Going to a public or private garden,  is a great excuse to spend the day outside.  I like to look for new  ideas for my own garden design  but  often it is just a great way to relax and enjoy someones elses' hard work.  Recently I attended a plant conference, with the American Conifer Society (ACS),  held in eastern Pennsylvania.  Like others in the group,  I  have a certain passion for plants that have needles and cones.  I also enjoy seeing those conifers integrated creatively throughout a landscape.  One of the benefits of being a member of the ACS is the opportunity to visit gardens.   This recent ACS event included visits to a few fabulous gardens.

Chanticleer Gardens, located in Wayne PA., was the first stop for the two buses of ACS members .  Conifers are carefully planted throughout this garden, however this garden is also full of textures and color, where foliage is just as prevalent as flowers.  It is often refered to as a  "pleasure garden".  There are no plant labels to distract your view and there are plenty of comfortable chairs to relax and enjoy the beauty.

It in not hard to understand why Chanticleer, was such a big hit with the members.

The Ruin Garden, sits high on the hill over looking the  Gravel Garden and a nicely planted Pond Garden. It is one of the more interesting and creative gardens at Chanticleer. A  roofless mansion, the Ruin Garden was rebuilt to resemble the house where the son of the previous owner lived.  Entering  each room, you will see a enchanting variety of plants carefully planted. It appears that are taking over the old block walls of the foundation.   


A 24-foot-long sarcophagus-like table of polished black granite holds a pool of water beneath the fireplace "chimney." Succulents are creatively planted in the  mantel.   

The main entrance pavilion is located in front of one of the two mansions on the property.  The Teacup Garden is located behind the mansion, planted with many tropicals and many very beautiful containers.    

Texture and foliage are key elements in many of the containers and planting beds. 
A wonderful radio interview about Chanticleer  Gardens
Tyler Arboretum

The second stop on the tour, was lunch at Tyler Arboretum. One of the oldest and largest arboreta in the northeastern United States, Tyler Arboretum‘s heritage dates to 1681.  The land that makes up Tyler was acquired from William Penn by Thomas Minshall


One of the original trees planted at the Tyler Arboretum. Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) planted between 1830 and 1875.

 Fox Hollow - Inta Krombolz

Frequently private gardens are included on ACS Conference tour. Fox Hollow is a very creative garden  crafted and maintained at the home of Inta Krombolz.  Our large  group  enjoyed walking through her 3 1/2-acre garden  which features a wonderful array of plants, unique welded garden art, and beautifully planted containers.



Two bus loads of conifer lovers converge on  the garden called Fox Hollow. This  gorgeous garden is located outside of West Chester. The property, has many  mature trees, scores of unusual plants, and abundance of texture and color. It is not a surprise that this garden was featured in an issue Fine Gardening magazine

When I see other gardeners that have hypertufa containers, I am always interested in how they are planted and displayed in their garden. This garden had many unique rusted metal stands that were created by Inta.   In fact welded garden art  and bold foliage is very prevalent throughout this garden.




A shed that any gardener would be envious of, is accented by a  bottle tree created by this gardener and artist. .

Visiting beautiful  gardens is very beneficial, especially with a group of people with similar passions. Belonging to a garden club has afforded me many opportunities that I would have otherwise missed.   We live in a very fast passed world, with little time to appreciate the beauty that is all around us. Take time to stop and smell the roses.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gardening in Containers

Lack of space in the garden should not stop your passion for purchase.  Your patio, deck or porch are perfect homes for beautiful container gardens.  Pots can be purchased in many sizes, shapes and materials and can be wonderful places for growing anything from vegetables to conifers or perennials.  Best of all you can grow plants that aren't hardy in your zone, because you can move pots to a sheltered location during cold weather

Below are just a few container Garden Design Ideas that have caught my eye.

Longwood Gardens Kennet Square PA

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square PA

Longwood Gardens Kennett Square PA

In the Conservatory at Longwood Gardens


Denver Botanical Gardens

Container success starts with good soil.

Soil (Soilless mix) I use in every container 
Good container soil is critical to successful root growth in containers. I  always use a good quality soilless mix in my containers. Don't use a cheap brand or regular garden soil because they will compress and make root growth difficult over time.  
I typically make my own mix. It works extremely well and the same soil can be used for a few years in the same pot.  Most important this mix allows for the best drainage and root growth.   Al’s Gritty Mix  is in my opinion the best soilless mix you can use.  Information on how to make it and why it works so well can be found on the from the Garden Web Forum (Houze).  You will need to assemble this fantastic mix.  (and yes it is worth the extra time and effort) .
Al's Gritty Mix - Equal parts by volume: Pine or fir bark in 1/8 - 3/8" size (no fines), Turface MVP, Crushed granite (Gran-I-Grit, in grower size) or #2 cherrystone  and gypsum.

My favorite Hypertufa container. Planted with a mini Hynoki Cypress, sempervirums  and Elfin Thyme.


Something new - Succulents in Concrete and Hypertufa containers  hanging in my sunroom.


Container of dwarf conifers and a sedum on my deck.


Dwarf Hynoki , Weigela Fine Wine and Coleus on my deck

 One last container tip -

"Its a myth that a layer of gravel or foam peanuts (inside the bottom of an individual pot) beneath the soil improves container drainage. Instead of extra water draining immediately into the gravel, the water "perches" or gathers in the soil just above the gravel. The water gathers until no air space is left. Once all the available soil air space fills up, then excess water drains into the gravel below. So gravel in the bottom does little to keep soil above is being saturated by overwatering."   

the University Of Illinois Extension

One of my Hypertufa container which featured in garden article by George Weigel, for the Patriot News, Harrisburg.

Bonsai at Longwood Gardens


Unique planting on a slate at the Kral Garden in Rochester NY

Container full of succulents

Hosta at Carolyn's Shade Garden  


Swathmore College, Swathmore PA


David Culp's Garden Brandywine


Enjoy your patio, deck or porch this summer by planting a few containers, and don't let lack of space dampen you  passion for purchase.