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Gardening Success With
Succulents and Cactus Plants

Hot, dry, Southern California summers, dry winds, baking heat, little rainfall, heavy clay alkaline soil.  No time to fuss over prissy plants.  Yes, that's my garden.  So, I needed plants that liked the climate -- and their solitude.

Succulents (and cacti) love heat and sun, need very little water and always look green and lovely.  Small succulent plants are nice for container gardens indoors, on the patio or as ground cover.  The big succulent plants like jade (crassula ovata) are great flowering shrubs for landscape elements and also look extravagant in big pots.

I like a plant that does something; has an interesting shape, or great color.  How about a plant that changes color?  That's why I love succulents.  Here are a few of the plants I'm growing in the arid southwestern US and tips on how to grow and care for succulent plants.

Aeonium

Aeonium echeveria succulent plant photoAeonium like many other succulent plants are sometimes called Hens and Chicks.  They form green rosettes on the end of stalks, followed by lots of little  'chicks'.  The green rosettes have red edging and a hint of cream in the middle.  The leaves generally measure 1 - 2 inches across.  The creamy centers seem more pronounced in winter. 

These tough succulent plants slowly form one foot clumps with aerial roots dangling down to the soil. When these pretty succulents bloom, they form tall stalks with small yellow flowers.

Aeonium plants are easily propagated by cutting off a stalk and replanting the top sprig.  The whole sprig can be put in the ground as is, or you can break up the leaves and spread them around.

I have also seen these plants are listed as Aeonium haworthii or Pinwheel in The Complete Book of Cactus and Succulents.  Personally, I think it behaves and looks much more like an echeveria, but I'm not an expert, just an admirer!

Aloe Vera

aloe by theGardenPages copyright contentAloe Vera is also called the Healing Plant, or Medicine Plant.  Its fleshly leaves grow up to 2 feet long and about an inch thick.  The stalks can measure up to 2 feet in length.  They also have small prickly ridges along the sides; don't forget to cut the edges off! 

Perennial Aloe gets bright orange flowers on long stalks in the spring and summer.  A few hours of sun each day is plenty, it does best in light or dappled shade.  Dark brown or orange spots on the leaves is a sign of sunburn.  They need water about once a month, or when the stalks look shriveled.

Aloe is famous for its healing properties.  Peel the skin and rub the pulp on sunburns or other skin irritations.  For more info Visit theGardenPages Aloe Vera Page...

Crassula Capitella

red crassula capitella in flower theGardenPagesThis is Crassula capitella, sometimes called Crassula erosula.  This succulent has also been called Red Flames or Campfire Plant.  It has bright, lime green leaves with flaming orange red tips.  It gets tiny white flowers on upright stalks in early spring.  When grown in shade, they are bright apple green most of the year.

These crassula succulent plants can take full sun to light shade, love heat and are easy to root and grow.  They will change color depending on the amount of sunlight they get. 

The leaves on this succulent can either appear as bright apple green or flaming red.  They are drought tolerant and only want light watering.  They can take frost for a few hours, but not a hard freeze. 

Crassula capitella spread by runners and will eventually form a mat about 6 – 8 inches tall, like ice plant.  Plants form roots at their joints even before they touch the ground.  They’re great for hanging baskets!
Visit my new Crassula Capitella Page...

Crassula Ovata - Jade Plant

flowering succulent jade plant photoCrassula ovata or Jade plants are shrubby succulent plants that make excellent choices for dry gardens and houseplants.

Jades have thick, deep green leaves sometimes tinged with red on the edges. The leaf shape, like the name ovata implies, are oval from 1 - 2 inches long.  Crassula ovata develop thick, fat trunks that have an aged look and will eventually grow up to 8 feet tall. 

In late winter jade plants get 3 inch clusters of light pink to pale salmon flowers with five petals. These perennial plants are drought tolerant and only need water once a month or so. 

For jade plant care and photos drop by my new Jade Plant page...

Crassula Portulacea - Spoon Jade

crassula portulacea spoon jade photoHorseshoe or Spoon Jade is also called Gollum Fingers or ET fingers.  These plants can take full sun to light shade.  In container gardens they will remain small and are often used for bonsai. 

In the ground these succulent plants will slowly reach a height of 4 – 5”.  They are just as easy to care for as their jade cousins, Crassula ovata.  They are happy indoors or outdoors.

Crassulas are drought tolerant and only want light watering.  Let the soil dry out between watering to avoid rot.  Every year mine are able to take a light frost for a few hours.  I'd give them overhead protection in winter.

I’ve got a little corner of the garden that I’d like to look like an underwater grotto - except without the water.  Here in Los Angeles we don’t get a lot of rain, so I’m planting it with succulents.  These add a dramatic touch and look like some sort of sea plant or coral to me.  -And the ceramic fish likes hiding in them. 

For more crassula care info visit theGardenPages Spoon Jade page...

Crassula Rupestris - Rosary Plant

crassula rupestris rosary plantThis unique little succulent plant grows close to the ground and is great for hanging baskets.  Rosary Plants grow into mounds 6 to 10 inches high.  The leaves are just barely 1/4” long and arranged neatly along the stem to give it a square look.  The base of the plant's stems take on a stiffer feel and woody look with age.

Crassula rupestris can take part shade to full sun.  Extra sun seems to give a red tinge to the edges of their leaves.  These trailing plants get pale pink flower clusters in late summer and winter. 

These, like my other crassulas, take monthly watering in my hot, dry southern California garden.  If you are growing your Rosary Plants in direct sun, they may appreciate a bit more water, especially during the summer.

Crassula rupestris are unique and interesting little plants.  They’re perfect for a windowsill garden or the patio table where you can admire them.  They are great to mix and match with other succulents or cacti.  They fill in the bare spots and hang over the edge of pots for an extravagant feel. 

Visit my new Rosary Plant page for more photos...

Crassula Tetragona or
Bonsai Pine Tree

theGardenPages flowering crassula tetragonaThis is Crassula tetragona. It grows up to 4 feet tall in the ground, but stays much shorter in a pot.  -It is used in bonsai to look like pine trees.  They will branch at the tips.  In summer they get white to yellow sprays of flowers that make me think of Queen Anne's Lace. 

These crassula can take full sun to light shade, love heat and are easy to root and grow.  They are drought tolerant and only want water once a month or so.  Let the soil dry out between watering.  They can take frost for a few hours, but not a hard freeze.

Mine are growing in full sun and shade, in heavy alkaline, clay soil.  Their color  ranges from pine green to a deep bluish green.  They get watered once a month if I remember.  They’re pretty, carefree and always look green when everything else has fried.  Visit the Crassula tetragona page...

Haworthia Correcta - Window Plant

haworthia image from theGardenPagesI just love these succulent little gems and this plant seems to have developed a cult following among succulent gardeners.

Haworthia succulent plants have fat, short leafs with stripes or dots on the outside and jelly like leaf centers. 

The plants seem to glow from the inside when the sun hits them just right.  The tips of their leaves are translucent, like windows looking into the green jelly inside.  I took this photo in winter when they were all fat and happy from extra rainfall.

Care of Haworthia plants is slightly different from most succulents in that they appreciate more shade and even more water than their drought tolerant cousins.  Haworthias like shade from the hottest sun or they will get orange and burned.  They seem to do well with dappled sunlight to deep shade. 

Over watering causes rot.  Haworthia plants are able to withstand a light frost.  If you are lucky they will reward you with a single white flower on top of a 12” stalk in the winter.  The flower has just two trumpet shaped petals.  Exquisite.  These are fairly carefree – except for the snails - be sure to protect them. 

Visit the Haworthia Page...
Download the haworthia wallpaper
on our Garden Wallpaper page...

Opuntia - Prickly Pear Cactus

theGardenPages prickly pear cactus and dogNot a succulent plant, but cactus care is so similar to succulent gardening, I thought I'd include one on this page anyway. 

In spring this cactus variety gets stunning bright yellow flowers which turn into red prickly pears.  They are edible and delicious! 

Cactus pears have the texture of watermelon and a mild pear taste.  They are high in fiber too.  The seeds are black and about the size of a pea.  You can also eat the pads; raw in salads orRed Ripe Prickly Pear Cactus Pear theGardenPages salsa or cooked. Prickly pears grow up to 12 feet tall and as wide.  Most opuntia varieties are cold hardy to 30 degrees below 0.

Cactus were commonly planted around the California missions and other early structures.  They were used as a source of food, fibers and as barriers.

My cactus came from a cutting my neighbor threw over the fence for me because the pears were so good.  I let it root where it fell on the ground - without planting.  This is year five for the rooted plant and I need to cut it back before it takes over the yard.  Find out how to harvest prickly pears on the Cactus Page...


Portulacaria Afra

portulacaria succulent plantsThis succulent plant is sometimes called Baby Jade or Elephant Food.  It has small round leaves and thin branches like a miniature jade plant. 

The bright green leaves make a nice contrast to the dark brown stems. 

Some portulacaria varieties are variegated, meaning they have white or red stripes on the leaves.  In container gardens they can used for bonsai to look like trees.

In the ground Elephant Food will quickly grow to 4 – 5 feet tall and make nice informal screens or hedges.  Visit the Portulacaria Page....

theGardenPages Home
California Plants and Gardens
California Plants: Toyon
Care of Succulent Plants

 Aeonium
 Aloe Vera
 Crassula Capitella
 Crassula Ovata
 Crassula Portulacea
 Crassula Rupestris
 Crassula Tetragona
 Haworthia Correcta
 Opuntia - Cactus
 Portulacaria Afra

Acacia Trees
Aloe Vera Care
Composting
Container Gardening
Crassula Capitella: Campfire
Crassula Ovata: Jade Plants
Crassula Portulacea: Gollum
Crassula Rupestris: Rosary Plant
Crassula Tetragona
Desert Willow: chilopsis
Flower Meanings
Geraniums
Haworthia: Window Plant
Heirloom Plants
Herbs: Bay Laurel
Herbs: Lavender
Herbs: Rosemary
Herbs: Sage Plants
Herbs: Thyme
Houseplants
How to Root Succulent Plants
Kalanchoe Plants
Opuntia:  Prickly Pear Cactus
Organic Gardening
Pomegranate Trees
Portulacaria: Baby Jade
Screen Plants
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What To Do (or not) About Frost Damage or Sunburn
on Your Succulent Plants or Cacti

Frost damage usually shows up as sickly yellowish green color on leaves or whole plants.  After a few days they turn brown or black. 

Don't remove frost damaged material until all danger of frost is past, the dead leaves may help protect the rest of the plant underneath from more damage.

If the entire plant is brown, cut away a small part to see if it is still green inside.  If the stalk is still green, it should come back.   Just leave it alone and resist the temptation to over-water.

For example, on Jade plants (crassula ovata) the leaves will fall off, but if the stalk is still green inside it will sprout new leaves.  

Before you pull up a plant, make sure the base is really dead - it may still be ok!

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Water-Saving Tips
for
Lazy Gardeners

Try native plants!  They are already on your schedule.  Once established (usually by year 2), they will need little help from you.  You can also try plants native to areas with similar climates to yours.  Drop by my Plant Links Page to find native plant sources and info.

Group plants with similar water requirements together.  It's easier on you and them!

For those who live in mild winter areas, the best time to plant is in the Fall.  Let the rains water the plants for you.  Cactus and succulent plants are used to rain during the the fall and winter; this is when they work on good, deep root development.  In spring, plants use those roots to soak up every drop of moisture from the soil to support new growth and flowers. 

The first year, they'll need water every few weeks in the hot summer and fall.  By the second year, they should be fine without water from you.  But check them;  if it's 120 degrees outside they won't object to a nice deep soak.  Don't forget to mulch.

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