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No Photos 16th Sep 2016
On Gardening: Renewing a succulent container easy, rewarding

Growing succulent plants in a large pot involves horticultural artistry and minimal effort. To grow well, succulent plants require regular sunlight (in most cases), occasional irrigation, good drainage, and access to levels of nutrition that are readily available in potting soil. Given the available range of foliage textures and colors, a combination of these plants can be quite satisfying. A fairly low container with a diameter of 18 inches or more will provide an attractive feature in the garden, or on a patio or balcony. Given room to grow, however, succulent plants will eventually fill a container, and could become overgrown relative to the intended design and the size of the container. They can easily become leggy. Their roots could also fill the container to a point that hampers irrigation, with the result that some plants in the design will struggle to survive. Its time to renew the pot. The first step is to identify plants that could be propagated. These include plants that produce offsets (or pups), or form rosettes on longish stems. The gardener should cut off the rosettes with an inch or two of stem, and separate the pups from the mother plant. Other categories of succulents also can be restarted from leaf or stem cuttings. Succulent plants are very easy to renew, so theres no need to discard plants that continue to hold the gardeners interest. Your collection of pups, offsets or cuttings should be set aside for up to a week, away from direct sunlight, and allowed to callus. This process dries the cut surface of the stem and avoids the potential to rot after planting. In a few days, cuttings will develop adventitious roots, but its generally better to plant the cuttings before such roots form. As the next step in the process, empty the container, discarding the mother plants and the soil, which presumably has been depleted of nutrients. In reality most soils could be reused, but replacing it with fresh potting soil will add to the success of the arrangement. Most potting mixes provide adequate drainage, but a cactus mix will provide excellent drainage. The middle ground, so to speak, involves adding drainage material such as pumice or vermiculite, both volcanic in origin, up to 50 percent of the planting mix. Advertisement Do not fill a container with garden soil, because it generally will not drain as well as needed for succulent plants, and because of its clay content will tend to become compacted over time. This will limit the movement of moisture through the container. Once the container has been filled with soil, install the material being propagated, along with any new plants included in the design. This is a quick an easy process, so that the gardener can attend to plant combinations and the overall design. The accompanying photograph shows a newly planted container. The centerpiece is a Red Hedgehog Agave (Agave stricta rubra), a native of Mexico, which will grow to a foot high and wide, and turn reddish. Rosette cuttings surround the centerpiece. These cuttings were harvested from an overgrown Graptosedum California Sunset, which is a cross between a Graptopetalum and a Sedum. This very simple design could be improved upon with an asymmetrical design using three or more different plants. When creating an arrangement of succulents in a large container, consider the mature sizes of the plants. This is an important factor in any landscaping decision, and container planting is less forgiving than landscape planting in this regard. Other design considerations include the color, form and texture of the plants, irrigation needs, and growth cycles, but its most important to create a succulent plant arrangement that will be pleasing to the eye and an asset to your garden. Enjoy your renewed succulent container! Tom Karwin is president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, president of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and a Lifetime UC Master Gardener (Certified 19992009). Visit for links to information on this subject, and send comments or questions to

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