Most succulents have their origins in dry climates and in order to tolerate these arid conditions their structures have adapted to store water in various parts, including in their roots, stems or leaves.
Succulent is derived from the Latin word ‘sucus’ which means juice, moisture or sap. While succulents are often mentioned alongside cacti, all cacti are actually succulents. Cacti commonly have thick, fleshy stems where the water is stored and modified leaves in the form of spines, which have a very small surface area so they transpire less water.
There are so many benefits to having some succulents in your garden:
- Many succulents are very easy to propagate. This means you can fill garden beds and pots for free or next-to-nothing, just by taking a few cuttings. I have read about the need to take the cuttings then let the cutting dry and form a callus on the wound before placing them in potting mix. But I’ve never done this and the ones I’ve propagated seem to grow roots just fine as long as I don’t overwater them.
- They tolerate neglect. So, if you travel a lot or are just forgetful when it comes to looking after your plants, many succulents will continue to grow just fine without regular watering or fertiliser. I know if the succulents in my garden are getting the right amount of water because their leaves are plump and fleshy. If the potting mix or soil they are planted in is too dry, the leaves or stems of the succulents normally get a ‘wrinkly’ appearance. If they have too much water the leaves/stems start to get a wilted appearance then the leaves start browning and falling off. To avoid overwatering potted succulents, I normally let the potting mix get fairly dry between each watering. I also plant succulents in areas of the garden that are well-drained.
- There is so much colour variation. There is grey-green, blue-green, lime green, dark green, grey, purple, burgundy, red, pink, green with pink tips, orange, yellow and just about any colour in the rainbow. I read an article the other day that said a hot new hair trend is ‘succulent-inspired’ (you have to google it and take a look!).
- Amazing textures and shapes. If you are looking for a soft, low growing groundcover or a spiky feature plant, there is a succulent for almost any design. Sometimes the word succulent conjures up images of barren landscapes with cacti and gravel mulch, but you will notice many contemporary landscape designers and landscape architects in Australia will incorporate succulents somewhere in their designs.
- They grow well in pots. If you buy a well-draining potting mix you can grow succulents in almost any container, including quite shallow ones. Because they store water and don’t require high levels of soil water available around their roots, they can also tolerate being planted closely together which means you can get a great display in the pot instantly.
My favourite succulents include Stonecrop (Hylotelephium spectabile formerly named Sedum spectabile), Queen Victoria Agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) (see photo above), Agave (Agave attenuata), Blue Chalk Sticks (Senecio mandraliscae), Flapjacks (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora), Spurge (Euphorbia characias), Tree Aeonium (Aeonium arboreum), Lace Aloe (Aloe aristata) and the multi-headed Pinwheel Aeonium (Aeonium haworthii).
Lace Aloe (Aloe aristata)
Pinwheel Aeonium (Aeonium haworthii)
Growing tip: Make sure if you choose succulents that are frost tender, such as Agave attenuata, they are positioned in a protected spot where they won’t cop the full brunt of the frost. One of my large Agave’s was under a house eave, but the frost was bad enough to cause the leaves to be damaged and get some dieback in the tips. It took a few months for it to recover to its former glory.