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Xeriscaping your property with succulents

August 30, 2013
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze


Low maintenance plants that need little water and lots of light are the perfect type of plant for gardening in our southwest climate.

The gardener who is hot and tired at the end of the summer season and wants to plant something, but does not want to dig and amend a lot of soil anymore needs to check out the large amount of available succulents.

They are very tidy, will be great in a rock garden, or even around and over just one rock or in a strawberry jar.

You can tuck a couple under your rose bush or around a pineapple plant that can look kind of lonely with all of its spread out legs. A hanging basket or a tabletop collection, mixed with a couple of contrasting cactus is great.

I always had hen and chicks all around in a garden space up north, however they do not do as well here in our heat. I buy some every time I see them and try to tuck them in under the devils back bone clumps but they do not last through the summer - it's just too hot and not enough air circulation. They are not the only plants hat do not last long for me, so I just enjoy them as an annual.

We would all need a couple of acres to live on if everything we planted lasted forever.

I always look everywhere I shop to see who might have something I have never tried and a couple days ago a large supermarket in the city had this lovely succulent looking plant that I had never seen before.

I try to keep plant buying in the grocery store under $10, this plant just barely made it. Some plants you can eat a little and list under groceries, I have been there and done that.

It is indeed a succulent, an Escheveria "Red Velvet." It has many wonderful soft fat, pointy, velvet leaves. The colors are fat green stems with the alternating leaves being tipped in a beautiful dark, almost black crimson color.

Each stem of the plant is loaded with flowers that are just budding and many that are open. The open ones are held horizontal and look like a tiny tulip bloom. There are 11 stems with approximately 10 blooms in various stages of opening. The colors are a bright orange.

This tall plant is not the usual rosette style I am used to.

I am a little confused that it is being sold in a plastic pot of solid soil it does not seem like it will be able to drain freely. The instruction tag says water plant sparingly, I would agree with that. The soil does feel damp so will check for a drainage opening, on the bottom in a couple of days. It is in a very attractive pot paper and bow and I want to leave it that way for a few days.

When you buy plants you need to understand that they may not be in the most healthy soil or container. The bottom of many pots do not have an opening and you just cannot keep watering if there is not adequate drainage.

I have had to reject plants just because of the way they are being marketed. I do however relent if something is on sale and then put it in a correct container or outside in the soil. It is a choice rule that happy gardeners abide by.

Checking the computer I note that I have an Echeveria Harmsii plant.

The genus Echeveria is named after the 18th century Spanish botanist Atanasio Echeverria Codoy. Native to Mexico, the Echeveria Harmsii is a shrub-like plant with lanceolate green leaves covered densely with hairs.

In its natural habitat, it grows on rocky outcroppings in full sun and water drains quickly from its roots.

In cultivation it is essential to be grown in porous soil for quick drainage.

I do have a rock in the sun so guess I better get it out there.

Succulents are bothered by aphids or mealy bugs during the summer months. It is recommended to use an organic pesticide such as NEEM. Not a problem for me, I use it all the time on my rose bush. Just once in a while I have to do a few squirts of something especially useful for roses. The bush is 12 years old and still blooming all year long. It does look older nowadays, but then so do I. I use some NEEM products for me also, however I never look as good as the roses on that bush.

Thanks to Estee Lauder, I do have a nice scent though.

Check out succulents on the computer, there are a lot, some of them you will recognize, a lot of the most beautiful ones I have never seen in the market place.

Some of the best ones I consider a little too expensive, mainly because I do not have a nice rock garden space anywhere here.

Did you know that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti?

I do have an ancient turtle out poolside with a back full of soil and a mini collection of succulents and a very interesting 2-foot cactus that you do not want to even get close to. He does not even get moved when a hurricane comes through.

He is much too heavy for any of us to move. I do turn him this way and that just for fun. The grandkids used to wonder how he managed to move around. Those were the good days.

Speaking of hurricanes, where are they? Who cares? We certainly cannot complain about a shortage of rainfall. The first few storms and the sound of thunder was a nice change but it is getting pretty old now. Still, not having to fill the pool every week, which is usually a summer chore, is a good thing.

The last words about the succulents: Some of the popular ones are Blue Curls, a very fluffy type with silver blue leaves edged in a pink frill it is a beautiful rosette style. The Black Knight is also a rosette shape with very pointy leaves of dark chocolate shaded to black and will bloom in autumn and winter.

Most of the plants bloom in the summer. They do want full sun but our hot, hot summer sun can cause them to decline a bit. You have to know you're too hot areas or experiment a little. They need loose well draining soil and love a nice organic mix. Do not plant deeply. Most of them will spread. All garden centers have them as well as grocery stores. Have not seen any in a dollar store as yet but they may show up at any time. That would be a good bargain.

Keep emptying all containers holding water, a couple of days without a heavy rain will let the breeding start. They may be babies coming out of the water but they sure can bite. Sunscreen still very necessary, something with zinc is the best protection.

Watch the weather, we may be lucky this year and not have a hurricane but it is important to keep dead branches and palm fronds cleaned up. We have still had several windy storms coming through and water backing up is bad enough, no sense in having the swales full of clutter to make it worse. I still see lawns being watered during the day, not as much as usual, but it is happening. If you have an established lawn shut, off the sprinkler for a time or two. Even I can do that. Just do not touch anything but the off and on switch.

I have seen, twice this summer, a disaster waiting to happen. Nice middle age men mowing their lawns with flip-flops on?? One was seated and one was standing on the back of his machine mowing a slight slope. No way guys! How do you explain that to your wife and kids?

Happy and safe gardening till we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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