By Marty Ross
The world of succulents is full of charming and beautiful plants, and Midwestern gardeners are caught in their spell. These plants, with their strange shapes, and marvelous textures and colors, are undemanding and easy to grow. They’re especially fun in pots and planters on a porch or patio, where you can enjoy them up close.
Succulents have fleshy leaves and sometimes no discernible stems. Cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. If you prefer your plants without thorns, you have a great variety of succulents to choose from. They are all highly drought tolerant.
Many — including quite a few sedums, such as the one pictured — are tough, winter-hardy plants in the Midwest. Others are tender plants that do not survive Midwestern winters outdoors. Growing these tender succulents in pots is perfect: They make striking specimens on bright windowsills in winter.
It’s fun to plant succulents of different shapes and colors together in pots. A combination of large sedums, for instance, looks great in a colorful dish garden. You could try a burgundy-color sedum with a green-leaf variety, then plant a trailing sedum as a groundcover.
Good to Know: When large sedums come into bloom in late summer, they attract butterflies and other pollinators. You’re likely to see migrating monarch butterflies stop to take nectar from your sedums.
Tender succulents usually are sold in smaller pots than hardy sedums. You can buy a mix of interesting types in a six-pack or as individual plants. When you plant them together, you create a fantastic miniature landscape.
Plant these tender succulents in a flowerpot, or in a shallow dish filled with lightweight potting mix. Add a few rocks to create a dramatic setting for succulent plants and absorb heat, which succulents love. Lithops, a succulent sometimes called the living stone plant, looks terrific in a rocky miniature landscape. A mulch of gravel helps anchor the plants in place, keeps soil from splashing up onto their leaves, and looks sharp.
Succulents also are a great choice for a large strawberry pot, which has planting pockets all around the sides. Fill the pot with potting soil, and plant a different succulent in each planting pocket. Push each plant deep into its planting pocket, firm the soil well with your fingers, and mulch with gravel.
For the top of the strawberry pot, choose a single fine specimen, or plant a piece of sedum tile (available at Lowe’s). Sedum tiles are mixtures of small succulents planted in coco-fiber mats. Cut a piece to fit the top of the strawberry pot. As the plants grow, they cascade gently over the sides. If they grow too leggy, you can just trim them with a pair of scissors.
Water generously to help your succulents settle into their pot, and place the pot in a sunny spot. You may want to water them once a week for the first month, but don’t worry if you forget a time or two. These tough little plants thrive.