Succulents look gorgeous, even during drought. They’ve got their own moisture sources, says Debra Lee Baldwin, succulent expert and author of three books on the subject. Who needs water when you can fill a dry fountain with red-tinged Crassula ‘Campfire’, small frosty green C. rupestris, silvery Graptoveria ‘Opalina’, and blue-green Echeveria glauca? Seven more reasons to grow them now…
1. Succulents can create the illusion of water
We love this dry “pond”, which Debra designed as a cooling focal point in her garden in Hidden Meadows, north of Escondido. Cactus pads mimic the “lily pads”, and Graptoveria rosettes form the blooms. Othonna capensis spills from the overturned jug above. And glass marbles scattered on the gravel sparkle in sunlight, as real water would.
2. They have built-in defense systems
“These plants are all about surviving drought”, Debra says of the succulents in this rockery, designed by Laura Eubanks.
3. The variety available is astounding
“Most succulents look good all year,” Debra says. “They’re endlessly fascinating, and they come in every color and size”, as shown in this garden designed by Laura Eubanks. Among Debra’s favorites: Agaves, Aloe brevifolia (which forms colonies), and Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, with pewter-colored leaves.
4. They can take most abuse, except from gophers
The Agave americana ‘Marginata’ in the photo above was about eight years old and five feet across when a gopher ate into its core from the bottom and hollowed it out, so it rolled downhill. It looked healthy, it was unsalvageable. This is the first time that a gopher went after my agave,” Debra says. “An employee of Grangetto’s, the farm- and- agriculture supplier where I buy traps said it was likely due to the drought.” Hey, gophers get thirsty, too.
5. Cuttings can live for years without water
Debra wired this cutting of Echeveria ‘Lola’ for a bouquet in June 2012. It survived without roots, water, or soil for nearly three years. “These plants can lose their roots and live off moisture in their leaves,” Debra says.
Here’s ‘Lola’ last week. She has been growing new leaves (from the rosette’s center, while drawing moisture from old ones. At any point, ‘Lola’ could have been planted, and formed new roots where those dry leaves are attached.
6. They’re great in dry bouquets
In her workshops, Debra combines the wired rosettes and cuttings with dried flowers and greens. Colored sand anchors her succulent bouquets, a subtle reminder that this is a no-water bouquet.
These Echeveria ‘Azulita’ rosettes were wired for a bouquet six months ago. Unlike ‘Lola’, they ‘re putting their energy into producing roots (those red “threads” beneath the rosettes) rather than new growth, “hoping, like blind mole rats, that friable soil is close at hand,” Debra says.
7. They’re good mixers
Some succulents are not native to the West, but they coexist with unthirsty meadow grasses and perennials, even among oaks, and shown in Debra’s own garden. And unlike for most plants, summer is a fine time to plant them; you don’t need to water them right away to get them established. Just keep in mind that when weather is hot and dry and the plants are actively growing, they will need some water periodically.