I always think I’ll get my containers planted by Memorial Day, but that doesn’t happen often, so I shoot for the Fourth of July. My goal each season is to come up with fresh combinations that are easy care and will still be looking sweet in September. Of course, I use a lot of succulents because they always deliver. Here are the end of June images. Check back for the end of September shots.
It usually happens sometime in mid October in southeastern MA, when a cloudless night will allow temperatures to drop into the low 30’s and a light frost nips unprotected tender plantings (yep, that’s what happened here). If a frost catches you by surprise, your plants may only have suffered slight foliage damage which can easily be trimmed off.
Small containers can simply be moved inside, but you’re probably not going to want to move a big heavy pot. The only thing to do to preserve your plants in this case is to dismantle your planting. Carefully pry loose the root balls to get at the plants. (Thanks Peter Tracey for acting as our model!)
Have a wheelbarrow nearby to transfer your unearthed roots.
Prepare a very well drained planting medium suitable for succulents. We use a barky perennial mix with added perlite and coarse sand. It is important that your plants don’t spend the winter in soil which stays moist all the time. Try to transplant into pots that are just big enough to contain the root ball. (This will help keep the pots on the dry side and will not take up much space.)
Place your pots near the sunniest windows in your home. The days are getting shorter and low light levels may can cause your plants to stretch towards the window. Rotate your pots to compensate. We water only when the pots are dry, and wait until late winter or early spring to fertilize.
See the Rehabbing Succulents Post for spring care.
When planning container combos to display throughout our gardens and nursery, I want each planter to showcase unusual selections and color combos, have a beautiful rhythm, be easy to care for and still look terrific at the end of the season! Of course with our unpredictable summer weather (some years too wet, others too dry) some combinations hold up better than others. Above are my five favorite ensembles, and below are the dozen pots shown in the early summer “Before Shots” blog post , ( the end of September shot is right beside it).
Tall Cylinder Pot…The Verbena bonariensis, Tradescantia and Lantana exploded! The Melianthus held its own, but the Lemon Coral Sedum lost its battle with the Pale Puma Tradescantia, and the Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ has wimped out. Note that the Lantana montevidensis has never needed deadheading and shows no signs of stopping flower production.
The California Hydrangea Pot has aged gracefully. While the Ornamental Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ had a great showing all through July into August, it finally allowed the ‘Gold Wings’ Tradescantia to take over spilling, while the slower growing Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ is now dazzling into fall.
The Cast Iron Urns have retained a subtle beauty all season. (The purple cast to the September shot demonstrates how the end of day light is changing. ) A super easy combo that required only an occasional cutting back of the Pelargonium sidoides flowering stems, the plant selections of Beschorneria, Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea Tradescantia Pale Puma’ and variegated Ivy held its scale well for the past 3 months.
Hummer’s Pot. Perhaps the least impressive pot at the beginning of the season but with real staying power as the plants aged beautifully. The Cuphea ‘David Verity’ has only asked to be watered regularly, and has never needed deadheading, the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ did need a cut back once this summer, and the Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’ continues to shine with its dark foliage and tiny yellow flowers. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is working well here. Hummingbirds loved visiting, and this is still an impressive planting for autumn.
The white form of Lantana montevidensis began to overwhelm the other plants in the White Bean Pot , even after being cut back several times….Oh well, too much of a good thing has its drawbacks.
Charcoal Urn... I wasn’t surprised that this combination of Phormium and Succulents would be easy care and would age well. It needed only occasional watering, and cutting back the Silver Falls Dichondra when it dripped onto the pathway.
Can you notice any difference in the Living Wreath of Mini Spider Plants (left–June, right–late September)? This is the perfect vertical garden for a shady door, needing only twice a week watering, even during the hot dry summer we just experienced.
This ensemble spoke quietly at first but became more memorable as the summer continued. The Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’ became more floriferous, the Heuchera ‘Beaujolais’ is taking on fall appropriate tawny tones, and I just adore the little Rosary Vine, Ceropegia woodii, dangling over the sides, with its peculiar pink and charcoal gray flowers.
This shady pot grouping was an experimental mix of similarly colored foliage…the tall Amorophophallis konjac(Voodoo Lily) never put out a spathe, but looked okay until early September when it very quickly began to go dormant. I was left with a nice full pot of Begonia ‘Wild Pony’ and little B. bowerae.
The Zen Bowl of succulents hardly needed any care so we didn’t pay attention until it became overwhelmed with Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ in early August, which completely smothered its shorter neighbors. A harsh cut back helped, but it was a little too late for the buried plants to put on much growth. We’ve had such a warm September that the succulents have yet to take on their fall tones…will try to get another image now that we are starting to get cooler nights.
The Succulent Martini Pot was the hit of the summer…we sold this combination of plants over and over again. Notice how the rosy red flowers of little Crassula schmidtii add that perfect zing.
Our classic Seashell Pot with Succulents has aged beautifully,wouldn’t you agree? The September image shows how different the end of the day light is three months later.
Which combination ideas might you borrow for your containers next year?
Previous years results:
In early summer, I take “before” images of my containers and then “after” shots in September to document how well the compositions fared over the season. The plant selection for each arrangement is based on great foliage and unique forms. Flowering plants must be long blooming but without the constant need of deadheading. Here are a dozen “before” pics.
For sunny and partial sunny areas….
Closeup of the Hydrangea, which influenced color selection. This hydrangea, purchased on a trip to CA a couple of years ago, (don’t think it’s ‘Pistachio’), is not flower bud hardy for us outdoors in zone 6A, but makes a great container specimen.
Detail, showing Cuphea and Pelargonium sidoides
And for more shady spots…
A living wreath (sort of a vertical container) for shade: Mini Spider Plant (Chlorophytum ‘Bonnie’ )
And of course: Succulents…I’ll try not to bore you with too many!
A new succulent combination for the 32″ black zen bowl…(there are too many plants to list).
Succulent Martini anyone?
Fan favorite Succulent Clam Shell.
Which container planting can you see in your garden?
PS…Check back in September to see which containers till look fabulous.
Most of us select our ‘tender” succulents by virtue of their unique forms or foliage in desert tints of sage green, blue gray, dusty rose, plum, khaki gold. A few put out flowers during our northern hemisphere summers, but many warm winter succulents bloom when the day length is shorter…mid-late fall, winter, and early spring. These succulents add astonishing color to a windowsill display while we wait for spring to really settle in.
I’ve been collecting “tender succulents” for more than 15 years, and one of the frustrating things I constantly come across are mislabeled plants. We now have an excuse to visit southern CA more frequently as one of our sons is living there, and since this is where more succulents are grown than anywhere else, I have made it my mission to visit botanical gardens and nurseries from Santa Barbara to San Diego in search of proper names. The most common succulent genera are Aloe, Crassula, Echeveria, Gasteria, Graptopetalum, Kalanchoe, Pachyphytum and Sedum.
What makes things very curious is that there’s been a lot of inter breeding going on, and by that I mean crossing one genus with another. For example, Echeveria crossed with Sedum becomes Sedeveria. Because these genera are so closely related (many are in the Crassulaceae family) this works, and some interesting new plants have been introduced. This does however complicate identifying misnamed plants. The foliage isn’t always the tell tale sign; the flower formation can give better clues, but even then…take for example Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’, a cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria.
The flowers of Echeveria tend to be bell shaped with many variations: tightly closed, flared, chunky, narrow and are held on short or even tall stems that can be terminated with a few blossoms or multi branched. Graptopetalum blossoms are star shaped with prominent stamens and are held on upright stems in branches of a few to many flowers. The flowers of Sedum are held in terminating clusters of star shaped inflorescences. The intergeneric crosses display a mix of these flower formations, and here is where further research is required. I plan to continue to study the differences.
Photo documentation is essential in keying identity. I now have a set up for plant portrait taking, and will continue to photograph the various flower forms as plants continue to open bud. Here are a few photos of various succulents in flower.
I have yet to find an authoritative source, online or in print, documenting and clarifying information on succulents. It is a challenging task, for sure. Do you have a resource or guide you refer to? Please share if you do.
Each year I take pictures of container combinations in June (see post) and then again in late September, to document and evaluate for good looks and ease of care. No two growing seasons are alike here in New England, so it’s difficult to say for sure that plants that showed off this year will do so next. What started off being a moist summer ended up quite dry here in Dartmouth, MA. We haven’t had measurable rain now for 6 weeks or more, and August was particularly cool. A few of the containers in the June post did sell, and I’m hoping they fared well. I added a few combos planted with late summer and early autumn in mind.
How did your containers do? What were your favorite combinations?
New England’s weather challenges even the most experienced gardener. The summer of 2013 certainly gave this gardener a dose of humble pie. Spring arrived late but was quite lovely for several weeks. June was cool and adequately moist (some folks in western New England were deluged with rain, but we were happy here with what we received. July was tropical. Hot, humid, humid, did I say humid? And there are plants that loved the tropical weather: Colocasia, Coleus Papyrus, Canna. Unfortunatley I hadn’t planned on hot humid weather, so I didn’t plant many of them this year. No this year I couldn’t plant enough succulents; in the ground, in containers, in vertical gardens. It could have been a better summer for growing them, but they managed to carry on sullenly and perked up when August proved to be cool and dry. And now we are here, at the end of the season, to judge which of the containers held up the best over the 3 month period. (See the June article: The Before Pictures for evidence of how containers transformed.)
Coleus ‘Odalisque’ dominated this planter, Begonia thurstonii has held its own, but can’t say the same for the Begonia ‘Elegance’ (there is a glimpse of what’s left of it). Our Begonia boliviensis hybrids and and most of our Fuchsia really pooped out early this year.
This partial shade planter wasn’t shown in the June post, but it has been quite lovely all summer. Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ is really starting to bloom now. Why don’t people grow more of the interesting trailing ivies?
Once the Eucomis bloomed, that was that, and then the Lantana montevidensis with its profusion of lavender flowers on wiry stems took over. Oxalis triangularis never disappoints, and Tradescantia ‘Blue Sue‘ filled in nicely.
We have planted this classic stone bowl with succulents for the past few years, but this year’s growth was the least impressive. Not bad, but look what it did last year.
Only the Senecio cylindricus put on growth. I think all the other succulents just sat there. At least they didn’t melt.
This bowl was planted around the 4th of July, with a mix of hardy and tender plants. The Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’ is beginning to bloom with it’s bright orange buttons. I like the hardy Sedum ‘Turkish Delight’ but next time would leave out the Sedum ‘Xenox’.
We moved our famous River Pot to a more prominent spot. What wouldn’t look great in this pot?
The vertical garden is still looking sweet. The Crassula schmidtii has been in bloom for weeks, and the Echeveria ‘Atlantis’ continues to want to send up flowers. I made several versions of these vertical gardens, experimenting with just hardy plants and mixing lots of different tender succulents. Some succulents grew well despite the weather, others were more temperamental.
What was your summer weather like and how did your containers fare this year?
Over the past few years there has been a lot of buzz about vertical gardens. Patrick Blanc, the French botanist, has created some amazing spaces on a large scale, using a wide variety of plants to transform whole buildings. Of course there is more to his vertical gardens than meets the eye. His crews construct huge freestanding armatures with built in irrigation systems, which is a necessity for the types of plants he uses. A big concern for me concerning his designs is plant hardiness. This is not a problem with his indoor or tropical climate gardens, but how does one sustain these plantings in northern climates without huge plant losses?
We considered how we could turn this concept of using vertical space into something more practical that most gardeners could implement on their own. What type of plantings would not need an irrigation system built in? Chris and I decided we could create sustainable vertical gardens using rot resistant wood for the boxes and plant them with drought tolerant succulents which will survive quite well without lots of water. They hold up well the entire growing season on a sun filled south facing wall, and could be taken down for the winter. The boxes could either be brought indoors if they were planted with tender succulents, or if planted with hardy succulents, laid on the ground, covered with a winter mulch. Here?s a quick how to:
Rot resistant wood such as cedar or mahogany.We used 1 x 4’s for the box and frame, and 1 x 8’s for the backing.
Wire mesh with 1-2″ openings
Well drained succulent potting soil and assorted low growing succulents
Decide what your dimensions will be and build your box. Fill with a well-drained succulent potting soil.
Lay a wire grid over the soil. This will help secure plants in place while they root in.
I always start by first placing the showiest plants. You may need to cut wider openings in the wire mesh to allow for bigger roots.
I then fill in around my focal point plants with other low growing succulents. Be careful not to select plants that tend to grow tall.
Your best choices are plants which are going to stay under 4″, especially ones that stay under 2″.
After the planting is done, you can attach the frame.
Plants will establish good root systems in 6-8 weeks, or even more quickly in warm weather. Some plants may overtake their neighbors, so a little trimming back could be necessary. You may also want to tuck in a cutting here and there to refine your “painting” as it grows out.
Watering can be done by spraying the plants with a hose early in the day (be careful not to water when the sun is strong or you will get water scars on the foliage). Or, remove the box from its mount, lie flat and give a good soak. Succulents are not plants that need a lot of fertilization, but if you think it’s necessary you can use a diluted fish emulsion to give them an occasional boost.
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Each year we play with new combinations using the many lovely pots we have here at Avant Gardens .Then, in late September, we evaluate to see which ones still look fabulous and were easy to care for. Here is the starting lineup.
What do you think? Want to see more?
Remember when Coleus was disdained by “serious gardeners” just 20 years ago? Until recently Succulents also seemed to get a bum rap. Perhaps it was because of the silly little dish gardens offered in discount stores, featuring a ubiquitous strawflower glued onto a poor little cactus. We decided quite some time ago to treat succulents with dignity. Their foliage offers an array of subtle and strong desert colors and textures which inspire us with ideas for endless combinations. And, they couldn’t be easier to take care of– perfect container plans for the summer weekend home, since so little water is required.
Begin your ensemble by selecting a handsome container. Break the rules…why not use a fancy bowl or urn that you would use for traditional annuals? Shallow pots are always fine and suitable, but deeper pots can certainly be used if you fill them with a very sandy, fast draining soil. Do not use a moisture retentive peaty potting mix, for it will easily become water logged if we have extended wet weather. You can use a light dose of fertilizer in your soil mix, but don’t over do it.
Select a variety of foliage shapes and plant forms, such as the rosettes of Echeveria, the trailing stems of Delosperma and the fine texture of tiny Sedum. We always find that packing the container with plants gives immediate gratification, and the plants will not suffer as they require little nutrition. Early autumn will bring changes to your composition, as the fall foliage colors intensify and many succulents begin to flower. Before a freeze, bring your succulents indoors. They winter over easily on a sunny window sill.