Succulent gardens are among the easiest ways to enjoy wonderfully diverse plants in difficult, dry sites, on small patios, and indoors. Learning to make a succulent garden can become a cool hobby that won’t require a lot of time or maintenance.
Garden succulents are fleshy plants that store water in leaves and stems, and provide a fascinating assortment of shapes, sizes, and colors, and often have unique frills, spines, and beautiful flowers.
Succulents can be native to arid deserts, cold mountainsides, or steamy jungle. Some will freeze easily, while some are cold hardy to well below zero, even in the harsh winters of our northern states.
Commonly-grown succulent garden plants include many unique species of Agave, Crassula, Sedum, Euphorbia, Kalanchoe, Sansevieria, Aloe, Sempervivum, Yucca, and more.
How to Plant a Succulent Garden
Succulent gardening involves not only choosing the right plants for your site, but also making sure they get bright light and that their roots don’t stay wet for very long – the plants have the ability to tolerate prolonged drought, sometimes going for months without rain in their native lands, and will rot if kept too wet.
A DIY succulent garden is not hard to get started. Many are grown in small or shallow containers, or in raised beds or hillsides, and in succulent rock gardens. In xeric (dry) climates, they are often used in foundation plantings and shrub beds, and even as lawn substitutes.
First, select a garden spot or window that gets a few hours of direct sun; with few exceptions such as Sansevieria, most succulents get leggy and weak if not given bright light, and will develop better foliage color with a direct sun. However, many will scorch when exposed to more than a few hours of hot summer sun, particularly in humid climates. Provide shade from mid-day sun, or a sheer curtain if grown in a south- or west-facing window.
Shallow-rooted succulents can grow perfectly well for many years in small well-drained areas, terraced hillsides, or shallow containers. Next, add coarse sand or grit to your native soil, at least six or eight inches deep to provide drainage during heavy rains. For container gardens, choose a cactus mix or make your own well-drained soil using organic matter such as peat moss or compost plus coarse sand and either crunchy perlite or garden grit.
How to Plant a Succulent
Plant succulents carefully, with soil covering their roots and firm enough with your hand to support the lower stems of larger plants. Don’t be tempted to crowd them – depending on the type, give them room to grow taller or to spread. Allow them to settle in for a day or two before watering, to allow broken roots to heal. And avoid watering succulents in mid-day sun.
If possible, protect from hot sun for a week or two. And though a lot of succulents grow best when soil is moist, none want to be kept wet; in general, water often enough to keep plants from shriveling.
Our expert shares her secrets for growing and selecting succulents.