Savvy gardeners have picked up that succulents are the hot trend to be on right now. Not only do we find them everywhere – from wedding designs to home decorating magazines – but they’ve proven to be the dream match between versatility, aesthetic, and ease of care.
High-performance annuals will likely always have a place in our home and hearts, but contemporary styles have allowed us to repurpose some of our containers for succulents. Here’s how to take advantage of the unique elegance and low-maintenance care of succulents, which you can feature in your home and garden year after year.
Choosing a Container:
Many of us have a few extra containers sitting unoccupied at home, but they might not be the perfect pairing for your succulent garden. While those containers are an exciting but fleeting experiment with a look for only one summer, your succulents are a chance to make a statement that lasts.
Planting a container full of annuals often includes a plan to have them spill elegantly over container edges. Their natural habit of obscuring their own pot sometimes makes the design of the container secondary. Succulents are much more subtle than annuals and will replace aggressive, in-your-face blooms with cool jewel tones in stately, sculpted forms. Very few of them trail, but they all possess an exotic and dignified vibe that makes it important to choose a container that works with them to display their charms.
Pictured below: Echeveria
Choosing shape: Gravitate towards shallower pots. Not only is it important to maintain the right proportions to make your low-lying and slow-growing succulents the star of their show, but it’ll help your plants to stay healthy too. Succulents have tiny roots that spread in a fibrous web close to the surface, rather than drilling deep to find moisture. On a larger and deeper pot, the lower soil will remain untapped and possibly waterlogged, threatening to rot your succulent’s roots. Unless you choose a tall container for a specific design purpose – in which case, opt to fill the majority of the container with a substrate with better drainage than soil – a shallower container promises healthier, prettier plants that are in proportion with the entire design of the container.
Choosing for Function: The biggest choice when picking your container comes down to what you want your container to do. This requires some big-picture design ideas.
For a tabletop centerpiece, a shallow clay or ceramic dish is a great way to display some diminutive succulents like echeveria and haworthia. For the more creative and DIY types, repurposing antiques like wooden milk trays, metals dishes or shallow boxes are a fun and unique container choice. Some people have even managed to turn other everyday objects like watering cans or bird cages into containers! As long as they have good drainage, your succulents will thrive in whatever container you can dream up.
In contrast, for a pedestal top centerpiece that commands the focal point of your entire yard, something more dramatic like a cast iron urn is a great place for the more bold succulents like sword-leafed yucca with trailing burrows tail or string-of-pearls. Succulents have an amazing ability to command fun and functionality and can help you turn your backyard into a classic European design, even while adding some fun and whimsy.
Planting Your Succulent Container:
Guidelines: Your succulents will be incredibly low-maintenance, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a few guidelines for how to take care of them. The cardinal rule of succulents is simple: they cannot be left in standing water. Drainage is the biggest factor when it comes to helping your plants thrive. This means including drainage holes you are sure won’t get clogged, and even adding a bottom layer of pebbles to the bottom of anything deeper than 6 inches. Water them thoroughly, but make sure that the water is draining freely so the delicate roots don’t drown.
Make your container crowded! This might feel like breaking the rules if you’re used to gardening with aggressive annuals, but the slow-growing nature of succulents means that they won’t overwhelm each other like other plants. This is a great excuse to cram in all of the delightful shapes and colors that you want.
How to Plant: Set pebbles at the bottom of your container if it is deep enough to need the extra drainage, and then layer cactus or succulent soil on top, setting the plants in that. Be delicate with these dainty plants and don’t yank them out of their pots – tip the pots upside down, cup the soil around the plant to guide it, and gently squeeze until gravity helps you free the plant. Fortunately, you won’t have to handle their delicate roots and can plant them just as they come out of the container you buy them in.
Your plants should be crowded enough that there are only little gaps between the root balls, so you shouldn’t need too much soil to fill in your container. Gently tuck it into the grooves of your soil. The idea is to fill in the air pockets without compacting the soil into an impenetrable stone. If your soil settles after the first watering, top it up as needed.
Succulent Container Care:
If you’ve set them up to succeed, the joy of succulents is their longevity and ease of care. They’ll thrive in our heat and will be more tolerant of the sun than many of our annuals, although too much can still always give them a sunburn.
Water your succulent container garden more than you would a cactus, letting the soil dry out a little between waterings, and soaking the soil until it flows out of the bottom with every watering. This is called “flushing” and is actually a vital part of their care that helps prevent the build-up of salts or fertilizer in the soil, where it can burn the roots. If you do choose to fertilize, do so with care. Use a half-dose at most, and only every few weeks, if at all.
If you’ve never bought succulents before, individual plants could give you some sticker shock the first time you go shopping. These plants are slow growers, so they are certainly more expensive, but they are so long-living that they are a great investment for your garden. If you want to use a container that isn’t easy to bring inside for the winter, simply plant your succulents in their pots and bring them inside individually when the weather cools. Just water them less over the winter while they are dormant, and they’ll be ready to impress outside again the next year. And the year after that!
There are few things as impressive than a classic 5-year-old succulent. These plants are so uniquely beautiful they are guaranteed to catch the eye for years to come. Their unique care makes them the most welcome addition to your garden, and their contemporary aesthetic will inspire you to design not just individual containers, but eventually your whole home and garden aesthetic around them.