Succulent plants belong in any garden or landscape, anywhere in the country. The fascinating plants, usually have fleshy leaves, plump stems, and roots that are used for storing water in dry seasons. You will find them n a wide array of shapes, sizes, colors, flowers, and often unique frills and bristles.
Thanks to Mother Nature and evolution, many can tolerate hard freezes. Gardeners worldwide use them as stunning single-use focal point plants, durable groundcover for difficult slopes, patio accents and even in ponds. These marvels are suitable for living fences, brush fire defense, and even home-grown burglar protection. In-ground succulents can be combined with container-grown species for added emphasis, especially with those which may need moving seasonally out of the adverse weather.
There are three major considerations for growing succulents outdoors: Temperatures, rainfall, duration and intensity of sunlight. The best advice on succulent gardening is choosing the right plants for your area, prepare the soil for better drainage, and protect some of the species from the hot mid-summer sun. Most of all have fun!
Many popular garden succulents will tolerate mild freezes, including certain Aloes and Senecios, golden barrel cactus, cholla (Cylindropuntia), pincushion cactus (Mammillaria). Echeveria, and Graptopetalum. Certain species of Yucca, Agave, Sempervivum, Delosperma, Opuntia, and Sedum, can easily survive being left outdoors in USDA Zone 4 or 5, which can get to -30 F. There are even a few extremely cold tolerant alpine succulents, including London Pride saxifrage which will simply melt in warm climates. Even the infamous string of pearl will not do well outdoors in Florida for much of the year.
Garden succulents are able to tolerate dry conditions for a long time, but usually grow and flower better with regular watering during the active growing season. Though quite a few, including Opuntia, Yucca, Aloe, Echinocereus, Cylindropuntia, Mammillaria, Agave, and Delosperma can survive in most arid or summer-dry parts of the country on rainfall alone, most will need watering at least every few weeks, often more in very hot areas.
Still, too much water is worse than too little. To prevent rot most gardeners keep outdoor succulents on the dry side during rainy weather. This may mean stop watering all together, covering them during rain, or keeping them in pots to be moved under a protective porch roof.
In general, MOST succulents do best in sun; many will get leggy and weak without at least six hours of sun daily, and many get more colorful and flower better in eight or more hours of direct sun. Plants with colorful foliage tend to take more intense sun than green or variegated varieties. However, some will fade, spot, or even burn in the intense heat of the full sun, especially in humid climates and when temperatures remain above 90F or so; these need to be shaded from mid-day and afternoon sun by buildings, lattice, arbors, shade cloth, or trees with light, fine-textured foliage.
You should plant your succulents as early in the season as possible to allow succulents to become established before winter. Be prepared to protect cold-hardy kinds the first winter.
You can add a little compost or other organic matter, and up to fifty percent total volume with coarse sand, pumice, grit, or kitty litter-like soil amendments used by professional turf managers to loosen soils. Till these into at least the top six or eight inches of native soil. You should use a firm soil and mix carefully as you plant, firming it as you go. Then cover the area with coarse sand or gravel. Allow them to settle in for a day or two before watering, and fertilize lightly in the spring with a low-nitrogen garden fertilizer. We suggest Miracle Grow Succulent and Cactus line of products. And again, a growers hint is to enhance your in-ground succulents with container-grown ones, plus natural accents such as small boulders, gnarly driftwood, glass sculpture, or a section of fence made of weathered wood, adobe, or stone.
You can find a large selection of succulent plants that are perfect for your garden at Crazy Critters Inc. 22921 County Road 44a, Eustis, Fl 32736. 352-589-5999. They sell crazy plants for crazy critters. Crazy Critters Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c)3, Exotic Animal Rescue and Wildlife Education Facility located in Eustis, Florida. They provide permanent homes to over 150 animals including lizards, turtles, skinks, geckos, birds, and assorted wildlife. Crazy Critters Inc. was established to provide non-domestic, non-releasable animals with a safe and permanent home.
Article by Cherrice Purvee
Photos by Tina Mundy