What I Wish I Knew Before Planting My Succulent Garden
Go ahead, think beyond houseplants when it comes to these gorgeous, drought-tolerant plants. Follow just a few simple care tips and you’ll have a thriving landscape in no time.
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Succulents offer eye-catching blooms, tall spires and soothing shades of green with a variety of surfaces and textures. They’re also fairly self-sufficient—but that doesn’t mean a succulent garden requires no prep. Here are a few things I’ve learned through trial and error when it comes to taking care of succulents in the garden.
Psst—here’s how to propagate succulents (for more free plants!)
First Steps for Planting a Succulent Garden
Prepare for a succulent garden by doing an evaluation of your hardiness zone, soil, drainage conditions and irrigation.
Depending on where you live, certain succulents may be better off in pots that can be brought indoors during winter temperatures.
It’s important to understand your soil beforehand, because it may need to be amended. Dig up a small amount, hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze. When you open your hand, does it hold together? That might mean you have clay soil, which could require amendments.
Are there a large number of small rocks? Is the soil grainy or soft? I have good results making adjustments to the soil with a succulent and cactus soil mix, which improves drainage to avoid potential water retention.
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Check the absorption rate for the area where you plan to grow succulents. If the water doesn’t drain well, it can lead to soggy conditions— which spells disaster for succulent roots. The easiest way is by digging a hole, about 12 inches deep and wide, where you want to plant. Fill the hole’s bottom with water and allow the water to drain naturally.
Does the soil absorb the water fairly quickly, or does the water pool and slowly drain? If it drains too slowly, you may need to amend with a product that promotes drainage in garden soils.
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Many people assume that succulents are extremely drought tolerant and don’t have any particular watering concerns. This is true, to a certain extent—the fastest way to harm a succulent is overwatering. But you should choose a location that gets occasional natural rainfall or is close enough to a water source, such as a garden hose, for manual watering.
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Plan Your Succulent Garden Layout
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Giving plants space is important. Allow for enough space around each succulent to fully accommodate its growing habit. Research whether the plant will spread out horizontally, form tall stalks or create broad leaf shapes. The size of a succulent when it’s planted will change as it gets established.
Consider the Scale of Your Succulents
When planning for visual interest, take the height and width of each succulent into consideration. If your garden space will have a backdrop, such as a fence or the foundation of a house, look at the scale in perspective to the background. I like to arrange the plants while they are still in the pots and look at the design from various angles before putting anything in the ground.
Mix up the height of the plants, too. Select space for shorter varieties toward the front and place taller succulents in the middle or back. My garden has done well with a tall succulent known as Palmer’s agave and a snake plant in a place where nothing else grew, and I’ve had success with echeveria and hens-and-chicks when I want something with a low profile for the front.
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Pick Plants With a Purpose
If you’re strolling through the garden center and searching for succulents, you may see many plants simply marked as “succulents.” How do you know what you’re even looking at? Ask the staff at the garden center for help. They’ll be able to answer questions and offer guidance when you’re making selections.
You’ll want to plant a variety of succulents that will provide visual interest all season long, with buds, flowers and changes in leaf color. Plant early bloomers such as aloes and hoyas for spring. And nothing beats sedum for getting the garden to the finish line at the end of the growing season. My sedum has slowly taken over blank spaces in the garden, adding late-season interest.
And don’t forget about pollinators that will hopefully buzz by. Look into succulent options that attract bees, butterflies and more.
Track Your Succulent Garden Success
Throughout the growing season, make notes in a garden journal about what seems to be working, and what needs a little extra help.
Remember, a healthy garden is always a work in progress. Just ask the gardeners who find joy in tending to a garden— they’ll tell you it is never finished. There’s always something new to discover!
Next, check out pretty pink succulents for your home.