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by Roey Berman

The first thing I did when I bought my home 23 years ago was to buy roses.  I  still am; my next purchase will be Diamond Eyes and White Licorice. Roses are my first love and have my heart.  With garden tours and shows I have found a new “affair” with Succulents. Never to replace roses but to add variety to the garden.  Roses are to be cherished. Succulents are to have fun with.

Succulents are wonderful performers: bold, delicate, lovely, fierce, and/or rugged. So unique in architectural form and color, they trigger the imagination and instill wonder.

The multitude of shapes and sizes lend themselves to differing styles, design and they add contrast to the landscape. They make great house plants as well as dramatic container and in ground gardens. Cacti blooms are breathtaking, succulent blooms; not as dramatic. Most succulents bloom in the summer. However, some of my plants are blooming right now. Cactus is a subcategory of succulent. All cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti. Succulent are plants with thick, fleshy, water storage organs. By storing water in their leaves, stems, or roots they have adapted to survive arid conditions throughout the world. This adaptive mechanism has resulted in an incredible variety of interesting leaf forms and plant shapes. Much of the global spread is attributed to exploration and trading. Christopher Columbus is said to have introduced cacti to Europe from the West Indies.

Tequila is made from boiled and fermented hearts of the Agave plant. The flesh of the sweet and sour Ferocactus wislizeni is candied in a sugar solution. Ancient Romans and Greeks used Aloe, as we do to treat skin conditions and other health issues. Various plants are used in making cosmetics, making rope, fabric dyes and more.

BUYING + PLANTING + PROPAGATING: Most of the work I do is hands on. Succulents are delicate. If limbs fall off place them in the dirt and watch them grow. A small saw or knife is used to divide “pups”, which are babies that grow from the stem of the plant. Pups or flowerets can be twisted or cut and planted. Some plants, i.e., Kalanchoe tubiflora propagate with “plantlets” that grow around the leaf edge. They fall to the dirt and grow new plants. How cute!!!

Decapitation is used when the stem of the plant gets leggy. Cut the stem off under the flower 1 - 2 inches. I don’t callous the stem. I just pop it in the dirt. If you choose to callous, leave the plant uncovered in the garage for a week or 2, without watering for several days.

SOIL: I use succulent pre-mixed soil. I have successfully planted in regular soil. The outcome would depend on the plant and the soil. Most important is good drainage. This recipe comes from Fine Gardening:
5 parts perlite
4 parts bagged potting soil
1 part coarse sand
pinch of rock dust

PRECAUTIONS: Wear heavy gloves when working with cacti. The spines do hurt!! Some cacti have tiny “hairs” that appear harmless, they aren’t. They are difficult to remove and will sting later. Even with gloves, you may want to handle the cacti by wrapping cardboard around the plant when handling it. I have heard that some succulents are toxic. Don’t plant spiny cacti in a yard with pets or kids.

WATER + SUN + WIND: No need for irrigation. I hand water. Certain varieties need more water than others. I have Sedum Autumn Joy, it flowers beautifully, a euphorbia ground cover, and an Aloe plicatilas for example that are mixed in with western plant materials. Succulents are forgiving. If they don’t look good move to different lighting conditions or experiment with watering. If the plant curls up, it needs more water. If it opens too much, it needs less water. Rule of thumb is to water when the soil dries out. I don’t wait, I water just before the soil dries . If you see a plant you like, you may not see it again. It may not be “in cultivation”. Grab it!! It Cacti can take up to all day sun. Succulents cannot. Many succulents will suffer leaf burn if overexposed. Morning sun is advised. They will be fine with no direct sun, but will not bring out their red and purple natural color without direct sunlight. Best to cover in a freeze. I lost several plants in this last freeze; others are coming back. Watch weather damaged plants before discarding.

DESIGN: Cacti blooms are breathtaking. Succulents are not. Most succulents bloom in the summer. However, some of my plants are blooming now. They are full of surprises. Other surprises are growth pattern and flowering. What you see in a 3 inch pot may change as the plant grows.

In Container: Often I plant one dramatic variety. The pups will spread out or remove them and plant elsewhere. For a variety of plants, I tightly plant 3 or 5 varieties in one pot. Odd numbers make for good design. Use the rule “thriller, filler and spiller”. Pick a dramatic plant for focal interest: color, architectural interest, width or height. For the filler, use medium height, same variety or not, then use “spiller” plants to trail over the rim of the pot.

In Ground: Combine hardscape in the garden: rocks, fountains, small structures remembering “ the use of same scale” so they don’t overpower the plant. Use bolder size if there is enough space for large plants. Use garage sale finds. Plant In a broken pot placed on its side in the garden for interest. Use an assortment of materials. I top with small pebbles to show off the plants: light stones for dark plants, dark for the light colored plants. Find these at American Soil, OSH, and Home Depot. Use broken/beach glass as mulch for a contemporary look; color mix or solid color.

RESOURCES AND EVENTS: Purchasing: Succulent Gardens, 2133 Elkhorn Road, Castroville; Lone Pine, 6450 Lone Pine Rd., Sebastopol; Home Depot; Whole Foods
San Francisco Succulent and Cacti Society meets 3rd Tuesday of the month. Golden Gate Park
San Francisco Succulent and Cacti Society Annual Plant Sale, June 14th - 15th - This is big !
Tour Ruth Bancroft Gardens, 1552 Bancroft Rd, Walnut Creek
Tour Falkirk Gardens, San Rafael
This website describes installation of a succulent garden to resemble an under water scene. Many succulents resemble coral:
Design ideas!133&ithint=folder,.JPG&authkey=!ALrzzlQCHyGPpM8

Photo by Roey Berman









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Last Modified: 2/19/14