Q: I’ve seen some beautiful photographs of a variety of succulents grown in pots but need some advice on how to best arrange and grow succulents in a container garden. Can you help?
Succulents are a great choice for container growing. Most are tough, drought tolerant, and will grow like gangbusters in a tight space with very little after-care. They’re also gorgeous plants with a sleek, modern, and architectural look that you can play up or down using different container styles and plantings. And as a bonus, succulents tend to come in colors that aren’t typical of many other garden plants.
Black or dark containers act as a nice background to variegated, golden, deep red leaves. Bright red containers contrast beautifully with blue-green or silver foliage. Old, weather-beaten terracotta sets a more rustic, lived-in cottage garden tone.
I’ve outlined a few simple, fail-safe options below that you can follow like a recipe or use as a jumping off point once you’re feeling more confident and have your creative juices flowing.
- The Single Specimen: This is the simplest way to go, but I
find it is best reserved for very odd plants that are decorative and unique all
on their own. The goal here is to highlight the uniqueness of the plant by
pairing it with a simple pot that doesn’t compete with its charms. Plant a bunch
in individual pots and cluster them together. Done and done.
- Sardines in a Can: Pack a container tightly, right to the
edges with lots of one plant to create a repeating pattern. Hens and chicks,
aka sempervivums are the perfect choice; their spiky
texture and tightly formed, circular growth habit creates a pattern within the
pot that is mesmerizing. They come in a wide range of colors and sizes, and some
varieties even grow long, cobweb-like hairs across their surface.
- One of Everything: This method works well when growing in a
shallow container with a wide surface area: vintage wine crates, terracotta
window boxes, and old enamel tubs are great examples. You can go wild with
plants of all shapes and sizes or create a sense of visual harmony by choosing
different plants with similar hues or textures.
- Toy Story: When done right, old kids toys make fun and whimsical containers. Most succulents can withstand drought so it doesn’t take any extra effort to convert the toys into a functioning vessel. Stuff the windows of an old truck full of kalanchoe, or burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum). Fill up the bed of a broken wagon with unkillable golden stonecrop (Sedum acre ‘Aureum’). Simple and stunning.
Mulch the surface of succulent containers with hard objects that do not retain moisture: small pebbles, chipped gravel, river stone, marbles, clay balls, and beach glass are a few accessible options. Mulch tightens up the look of a planting and really brings it all together. It also serves to prevent the soil splashing up when watering, and keeps squirrels and other critters from digging.
Container Growing Tips
The key to growing happy succulents is good soil drainage. Use soil that is specially made for cactus and succulent plants as it has more grit than usual. No matter what, always add holes to objects that you plan to convert into pots, before planting.
Garden authority Gayla Trail is the creator of YouGrowGirl.com.