Look for variety in succulent gardens

August 22, 2016

Succulents in a do-it-yourself concrete pot

The beauty of nature is often seen in the almost infinite variety of plants. One way to experience that variety, says Brian Kemble, curator at the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, Calif., is through experimentation and discovery.

Kemble says no one knew for certain whether some of the succulents and cactuses at the Ruth Bancroft Garden could be grown in this climate. But through experimentation, including some failures, the garden world has learned just how adaptable plants can be.

For example, Kemble says, Bancroft is fond of gasterias, which are native to the coast of South Africa, where it is never subjected to freezing temperatures.

But Bancroft wanted to try them and in doing so, learned the gasterias, also known as tongue plants, do very well in our colder climate. They thrive in the shade, but when they were planted in partial sun, they produced different colors ó red, purples and oranges.

"You donít learn without trying," Kemble says.

Here are some tips for your succulent garden:

ó Donít think you know all about a plant because you have one variety. For an interesting garden, branch out.

ó Learn all you can about a plant to improve your chances of growing it successfully. Plant information ó soil, sun and water requirements ó are included with plants sold at Ruth Bancroft Garden and other botanic gardens.

ó There is great joy and excitement that comes from planting a small plant and seeing it grow. Succulents are slow growers, but they are worth the wait as they reveal themselves over time.

ó You canít generalize about succulents. To diagnose problems, such as too much water or not enough, you have to consider the specific plant and species, and its individual needs. The plant will tell you what it needs.

ó Itís important to preserve plants in native habitats. Some are so rare and grow in such a small area that should disaster befall them, they would be lost forever. Botanic gardens help preserve plants by propagating outside those areas, and we can help by growing them in our gardens and supporting their continuance.

ó Gardens are not static. They grow and create their own changing conditions, meaning that we need to consider those changes and adjust when we can.

ó If you need to move a plant in your garden, be aware of what that might mean to the plant. If you move it from shade to sun, it may sunburn, and you may be moving from its protection against frost.

ó If you need to move a plant to a sunnier area, do so in degrees by draping it with three pieces of shade cloth, removing one layer every week. This will give the plant a chance to adjust to the new site.

ó Most of our soils are heavy clay, which is not the right conditions for succulents and cactuses. If youíre planting in native soil, amend it with mulch and compost, and add in rocks to improve drainage. You also can build mounds using well-draining soil and rocks, and plant in those. The mounds also will add visual interest to your garden.

ó Succulents are slower growers and are not heavy feeders. You probably donít need to fertilize, but if you do, use a diluted amount, about half of what is recommended for other plants.



McClatchy-Tribune Information Services