The more we learn about and grow succulents, the more we love them. They’re compact and beautiful, with fleshy “fat leaves.” Those thick, engorged leaves come in beautiful paddles, tight rosettes, and a variety of other attractive, snaking swollen fronds. Succulents do well in arid areas and are tolerant of heat swings of the sort you might find in a desert (as long as it doesn’t freeze hard). It doesn’t take much to grow them as long as you remember a few succulent principles. Never over water; succulents carry their own. What do you think makes those fat leaves?
Give them the right growing medium. Soil can be too compact and will smother their roots. Cactus soil, with plenty of organic material works better. A combination of gravel, vermiculite, or perlite with some organic matter is ideal. Why? Succulent roots need plenty of space. That’s because the roots don’t drink water, they take it from the air. Gravel, like crushed granite, makes a good base ingredient because it doesn’t absorb water. If your planting medium provides lots of space between granules and a bit of organic matter to absorb and slowly release moisture, you’ll make your succulents happy.
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Lately, we’ve seen a lot of succulents indoors, and they are perfect for planting in pots. However, another idea is to have them as part of a living wall. We visited one home recently that devoted an entire wall near a stairwell to a vertical garden (the other name for living walls). It was crowded with hen-and-chicks.
But I think it’s best to start off small. Starting with an old picture frame (I guess it could be a new one, too, as long as it has some solid surface behind it), or building your own frame and then planting it with a variety of plump succulents can give you a beautiful wall decoration, indoors or out, to rival any good piece of art.
You may need to add some depth to an existing frame. Accomplish this by nailing one or two inch strips around the frame AFTER first attaching wire mesh to the back. Put some kind of cover on the back of the frame (the side that will go against the wall) and staple it tightly so soil and moisture can’t escape. Flip the frame over and pour your soil mix through the mesh. You may need to work it through with your fingers. Leave some space for a layer of sphagnum moss. It looks good and will help hold the soil in place.
To prepare the succulents, take cuttings from plants you or a friend already have growing. Of course you can also buy starts from a nursery. If you’ve made cuttings make sure the stems are at least a quarter to a half inch long. Let them lay exposed to the air in a cool place for a day or two to harden. When they’re ready to plant, push the stems through the mesh. Use several varieties and don’t be afraid to crowd them in. Here’s where your creative side comes in. Try to picture the established succulents together and consider their shape and texture. Sunset’s The 20-Minute Gardener suggests you may need as many as 60 cuttings in a 12 inch by 6 inch frame. What types to grow? Consider the possibilities.
Let the frame lay face up for several days until the plants take root. Don’t water during this period (your soil mix should be moist to start with). Let the rooting continue for at least a month or two before attempting to turn your frame on its side. When everything seems to be solidly in place, find an area to set your frame, say on a kitchen bookshelf, or hang it securely to a wall with fasteners that allow it to be taken down for those periodic waterings. Here’s detailed instructions and some tips about making your own succulent frame. Can you buy them in kits or even pre assembled? Of course you can. But what fun is that?
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