Plant a succulent container

I’ve been playing around with decorative containers planted with succulents lately. Succulents are fun because they are easy to care for, plus they look really cool. They’re pretty fool-proof if you think you have a brown thumb. Here’s what you need to know to make your own:

Materials you will need:

  • A shallow container that has a drainage hole. You can buy one or use your creativity to come up with something clever. For example, you can use an old colander or sieve, or drill some holes in an old cake pan or vintage wooden box. Visit the thrift store or hit garage sales and see what you can find.
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I planted these succulents in a piece of an old log I found in the woods. Use your imagination while scouting for trays for your succulents!

  • Dampened sandy potting mix. You can buy bagged cactus mix or mix your own using two parts potting soil to 1 part regular sand from the home improvement store. Dampen it before using.
  • Piece of window screen large enough to fit over the hole in the container, so the soil doesn’t run out.
  • Plants. Most garden centers carry a selection of succulents in a variety of shapes, colors and patterns to choose from. If you want to place your container outdoors, make sure the plants are hardy for your area or you’ll need to bring them in for the winter. A few plants go a long way, plus they will continue to grow in the container, so you don’t need too many. It’s a good idea to plant in odd numbers—3 generally suit a small container, and 5 or 7 may fit a large container.
  • Ornaments such as stones, driftwood, marbles, etc.
  • Top dressing of gravel, pebbles, sand, or moss.

Here’s how to put your container together:

  • Use your creativity! Think about a style to enhance your décor. Succulent trays can be little vignettes that transport you to a different time and place. They can be inspired by an Asian vibe, the desert, a lake or a river, or you can go with a contemporary feel. Check Pinterest for loads of ideas.
  • Place the piece of screen in the bottom of the container.
  • Fill it about half full of soil, then smooth it out with a spoon or other small utensil. You can sculpt the soil if you want to include hills and valleys.
  • Remove each plant from its pot, shake off the soil, and trim any roots that seem excessively long. Scoop a hole in the soil, add the plant, then gently backfill the soil. Repeat until you have planted all the succulents you want to include.
  • Smooth and sculpt the soil. You may need to add or remove some.
  • Dress the soil surface with gravel, pebbles, sand, or moss for a finished look.
  • Clean any debris from the plants and edges of the container with a small, soft paintbrush.

Aftercare:

  • Place the tray in a sunny spot or somewhere that has bright light.
  • You don’t need to water your succulent tray very often, maybe once a month.

 

It’s primrose time

I’m a sucker for the colorful displays of primroses that pop up in grocery stores this time of year. Who can resist those charming flowers in the middle of winter? I usually buy several and cluster them in a basket or decorative pot for some indoor cheer. It’s a lot of joy for less than ten bucks.

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If you fall prey to their spell too, be sure to water them regularly since they like to be moist. If the soil dries out so much that the plant wilts and water runs right through the pot don’t despair. Fill a container that is taller than the pot with water and set the pot in it. If the pot bobs on top, gently push it below the surface of the water for a minute. You may see air bubbles coming out of the pot, which is ok. Let the pot sit in the container of water for a 30-60 minutes to completely moisten the soil again, then remove it and let it drain in the sink.

Place your primroses out of direct sunlight. As the flowers fade, carefully clip them off with scissors. You may notice new flower buds forming under the old flowers. Feeding occasionally with a general-purpose flowering houseplant food will keep your primroses blooming for weeks. Just be sure to follow all label directions carefully.

Amazingly, grocery store primroses can assume a second life as a garden plant if you live in USDA hardiness zones 3-8 (winter temperatures to -35 degrees F). Keep them moist indoors until the weather warms up, then plant them in the garden once frosts are passed. They like a partly shady spot and moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil.

Like fall mums, getting grocery store primroses to come back year after year is a bit of a crap shoot. I’ve had some success planting them in a partly shady patch under some shrubs. The soil here is loose and rich from years of applying bark mulch. These outdoor primroses bloom a bit later than the ones in the grocery store, since those are forced in greenhouses.

Next time you shop for groceries, look for these little cuties in the floral department. At the very least they will bring some cheer to these gray winter days.

Cool succulents

Fun and funky, strange and weird… succulents are all that, plus easy to grow. They are everywhere these days too, just hit your local garden center, nursery, or big box store. Succulents are offered in a whole range of shapes and sizes and in plain nursery pots or decorative containers to fit any décor.

Here are some I love growing:

  • I bought a Trail of Tears (top left) as an itty bitty thing. I transplanted it from a plastic nursery pot to a terra cotta pot. I mixed some sand into the potting mix (about 2/3rds potting soil and 1/3 sand) and hung it in a western-facing window. Once in a while I tuck the longest strands into the soil, where they root, because my cat plays with them when they get too long.
  • My jade plant (bottom image) is a clone of one my mother acquired in the 1950s, ro-oted from a leaf. It spends summers outdoors on the porch, where it is shaded yet gets bright light, and overwinters indoors in a sunny south-facing window.
  • The charming aloe (top right) is from a cutting I received many years ago from my Aunt Eliza. It blooms almost nonstop with small yellow nodding flowers on a long stalk. I have divided it many, many times and love sharing it with friends.
  • I love paddle kalanchoes. The one pictured at the top of this page has red edges on the leaves and was a gift from one of my garden design clients. The great thing about gifts of plants is that they remind you of the person who gave it to you!

Succulents are so easy to grow. Just plant yours in sandy soil if it didn’t come that way (see rough proportions above) and put it in a bright window—south- or west-facing is best. Go easy on watering—once a week at most but probably more like once or twice a month.

Feel free to ask a question if you have a succulent or want to grow one. I’ll cover how to re-pot and divide succulents in a future blog post. Have fun with your succulent!