Summer Succulent Growing
Over the last couple of years, my succulent collection has grown. Succulents are fleshy-leaved plants that have evolved to store water in their leaves and sometimes their stems, so they can survive in their native habitats, where water can be a rare resource. Some succulents, such as sempervivums, also known as houseleeks, are hardy in the UK and can stay outdoors all year round. Still, most of my collection is tender, hailing from places such as South Africa, the Canary Islands and America, so they need protection from frost over the winter months in a greenhouse or on a windowsill indoors. It’s these tender ones, in particular, that I find so fascinating and addictive because it’s such a diverse group of plants.
From late spring to early to mid-autumn, my tender succulents sit outdoors on a vintage wirework metal chair by my back door. It's a sunny spot, and the house's stone wall absorbs the sun's warmth, making it a particularly hot spot which is perfect for these little plants. If you're trying to cut back on the amount of plants you need to water during the summer months or if you're away a lot and need plants that can cope with no one being around to water them, then these are the plants for you.
The key to growing them successfully is to remember that they need free-draining soil, so when you pot them up, use a John Innes No 2 compost mixed with horticultural grit, or you can buy specially blended cacti and succulent compost mixes from the garden centre. I like to finish off the top of the compost with a mulch of gravel or crushed shells – Shell on Earth is a by-product of the shellfish industry and is a sustainable alternative to gravel. Adding a mulch encourages any rain to drain away from the plant and provides a finishing touch and a nod to the arid conditions in which these plants would ordinarily grow.
While many succulents form low-growing rosettes of pointy leaves, others have flat, paddle-like leaves, some of which make tree-like structures. Some have hairy leaves, and others have wavy edges like a cabbage. There are spiky-leaved aloes and those with elongated finger-shaped leaves. Leaf colour varies too, from greens and greys to reds and purples, and the flowers can be quirky – those of echeveria are a striking combination of orange and pink.
Look out for:
- Aeonium – probably my favourite succulents. I like the ones that branch, so they look like little trees and those with dark purple, almost black, foliage. Some impressive mature specimens in Cornwall, at the Minack Theatre and in the Tresco Abbey Gardens on the Isles of Scilly are over a metre high. Aeonium Tabuliforme forms a large flat-topped but low-growing rosette like a dinner plate.
- Echeveria – these make great low-maintenance houseplants for a bright windowsill but can be moved outdoors during summer. They are most noted for their grey or blue-green leaves that are often tinged pink or red.
- Crassula – this is such a varied group of plants. The horn tree and ‘Gollom’ have distinctive tubular, lime green leaves. Crassula Rupestris has pointy leaves that are arranged on the stems alternately, giving the plant a geometric look.
- Aloe – these have a real exotic feel with their spiky, green, pointed leaves.
- Sedum – another varied genus. I love the ones with fleshy, jelly bean-like leaves such as Sedum Pachyphyllum.
- Haworthia – These slow-growing plants are one of the easiest to grow. I have a couple of ‘Zebrina’, with dark green leaves with pointed tips and white horizontal bands running across them.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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