An in-ground garden in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 to 11 (based on the average annual minimum winter temperature) comprised primarily of succulents needs maintaining on average four times a year. The plants may need to be thinned, deadheaded, and have old leaves or branches removed; any that aren’t thriving, replaced; weeds and pests dealt with; and trimmings not suitable for planting, hauled away. If you’re unable to do this yourself, check with landscape professionals who design and install succulent gardens to see if they offer seasonal maintenance.
As the weather cools and the days shorten, succulents start to nod off. Most will require little attention for months, other than protection from frost and excess rain. However, certain winter growers are waking up—mainly senecios, aeoniums, and sempervivums. If these are overgrown and leggy, trim them back and start cuttings. Fall is also the time to start lesser-known winter-growing succulents such as tylecodons, othonnas and certain aloes, notably Aloe plicatilis and Aloe dichotoma.
As your succulents go dormant, keep them on the dry side and don’t fertilize. If you live in zone 8 or lower, decide how to shelter the plants from excessive rain and freezing temperatures. Sempervivums and sedums (with the exception of larger-leaved sedums from Mexico) are fine outdoors in zone 5 and above. Semps prefer dry cold, so rather than leaving their containers where rain will soak them, move them beneath an eave.
As the weather warms and succulents you’ve overwintered indoors emerge from dormancy, gradually increase water and sunlight as they become acclimated to the outdoors. For best form, growth, and color, most succulents need a minimum of four hours of sun daily (except the few shade lovers). To stimulate growth of container plants, apply a liquid fertilizer diluted half-and-half with water. Fertilize garden succulents if you like, but some experts say it isn’t necessary. Cuttings taken now from spring or summer growers—the majority of succulents—will root quickly.
If you live in the Southwest, move your container-grown succulents into greater shade, reducing the number of hours they spend in hot sun. Keep in mind that the smaller the pot, the more quickly the soil is likely to dry out, especially if the container is a porous material like terracotta. Don’t be concerned if sempervivums, echeverias, dudleyas, and aeoniums close their rosettes to protect themselves from sun and heat damage. Beige patches on leaves indicate sunburn; this is seldom fatal, but sunburned leaves don’t recover and can be unsightly. If you water thoroughly before leaving on vacation, your succulents should be fine for up to two weeks, providing they’re well established, are out of broiling sun, and temperatures stay below 90 degrees F. Echeverias, kalanchoes, and small aloes are better over- than underwatered in summer (providing drainage is superb), so if possible, place them where they’ll receive automatic irrigation while you’re away.
Text and (unless noted otherwise) photos by Debra Lee Baldwin
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