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CAROLE McCRAY: Easy gardening with succulents

on August 04, 2013 1:59 AM

Looking for plants that require minimal watering, are less demanding and have more than 300 different varieties with interesting texture, shape and foliage? Try succulents.

Succulents can even look good when they do not flower. Because they need a minimal amount of soil mass, succulents are great as container plants. In traditional containers, unusual pots, vertical wall panels or recycled antiques, succulents will feel right at home. Succulents do just as nicely in containers as they do in the ground.

For gardeners who are concerned about conserving water, below par soil and coping with drought conditions, succulents can be a mainstay in the garden. A good example is cacti with few leaves or no leaves. Since little water is evaporated through their foliage, cacti can thrive without water for several days.

Because of their capacity to store water, cacti do well in areas where there is full sun. There will be no problem with their withering or drying out due to extreme bouts of heat. In the landscape where poor soil conditions exist in a dry spot, plant cacti with a variety of textures, shapes and foliage to bring an interesting and varied look to contrast with some of the brighter plants in your garden.

The prickly pear cactus, Opuntia engalmanii, is a good choice for gardening with cacti. Talking with one of the nurserymen at Mesquite Nursery in Tucson, Ariz., I was told the plant could survive cold temperatures outdoors but not for prolonged periods of time. You might want to plant it in a container and set it in the garden or on a patio or deck. Noah Donovan at Mesquite Nursery said, “If you need to bring the cactus indoors when the temperature drops below freezing, winter it over by placing it where it will receive lots of sun.” Once the severe cold weather is over, move the cactus outdoors again.

Caring for succulents means low maintenance. Since they do not require pruning or cutting back, you might want to consider planting them by spacing to give them room to grow. As perennials, succulents should give you many years of pleasure, whereas with annuals, there is the expense and care each year.

To give succulents a standout position in the garden, consider attractive mulch around the plants. Mulch is good to provide drainage. Pebbles or gravel in shades to complement the succulents will define the plants from any other plants in your garden.

Sedums are some of the best succulent plants. To start your garden off early in the season, Sedum Acre Golden Stonecrop blooms with yellow flowers in the spring atop green foliage. It hugs the ground and its foliage resembles moss.

Continue the color in the summer with Sedum spurium’s pink flowers. Covering a low, spreading mat of dense green foliage, it works well as a carpet on a sloping area or as filler in a pocket garden.

A taller, upright sedum such as Sedum spectabile Crystal Pink is a good border plant with a height of 16 inches. Soft pink flowerheads pair up nicely with blue-leafed ornamental grasses and butterflies are attracted to its pale, pink clustered flowerheads.

With a name like Sedum Cherry Truffle, this sedum sparks interest. With multi crowns of bi-color, this sedum’s warm and dark pink flowers appear in late summer or early fall, and its gray-green leaves turn to a glossy, deep purple-black in late summer. This sedum is part of the Candy series, so you might want to check out two more if you succumb to Cherry Truffle — ‘Raspberry Truffle’ and ‘Chocolate Drop.’

Lots of choice and little care are the benefits of gardening with succulents. So why not give succulents a try?

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