How to Liven Up Outdoor Living Spaces with Succulent Containers

succulent container pots on a paver patio

There’s no better way to liven up an existing paver or concrete patio than with colorful container gardens. Succulent containers are an extremely popular choice in Southern California because of their water-wise characteristics, colors and architectural interest.

Like any plant, succulents definitely have preferences. We’ll cover how to plant them in containers using purchased succulents or cuttings from plants that you already have in the garden.

Choosing Succulents

Succulent Containers

Group succulents that have similar light needs together in the pot. Contrary to popular belief, succulents can suffer in constant direct sunlight especially if you purchased them in a low light environment and didn’t acclimate them to your sunny patio. Most do need a few hours of sunlight per day but there are succulents that can do well in the shade.

Easy succulents to start with include sempervivums (otherwise known as hens and chicks) and sedums. The good news is that there are hundreds of different types of each to choose from. Though adding in aeoniums, echeverias and more for height and additional color is definitely doable.

Choosing the Right Container

Though you can use any container, succulents have a shallow root system that really only need a few inches of depth unless you want to achieve height. Taller succulents like some aeoniums will need deeper pots.

Because low-growing succulents grow in shallow containers, it’s common to use these pretty arrangements as outdoor table centerpieces or as interest features on retaining walls, to name a few.

Also, there’s no reason to use boring containers. The sky is the limit these days when it comes to shape and color options. San Diego residents should stop into Canyon Pottery in Mission Valley where they have over 100,000 pots on display.

Succulent Ideas
Make sure that the container has a drainage hole or that it’s possible to drill one in. If there’s one thing that succulents can’t handle, it’s being water-logged.

How to Plant the Container

Succulents require fast-draining soil so it’s easiest to buy succulent mix unless you’d like to add builder’s sand or perlite to your own soil. Martha Stewart’s gardener uses equal parts perlite, vermiculite and sand. Here are things that you need:

— Succulents to fill the container

— A container

— Plastic screening or newspaper to cover the drain hole

— Cactus mix

— Mulch such as pebbles, stones or glass to hold in moisture

— A soft brush (optional)

The process is very easy:

— Cover the drainage hole with the plastic screening (metal will rust) or newspaper in order to prevent dirt from falling out while allowing water to drain properly.

— Fill the container with soil but plan to leave about an inch or so of room between the lip of the container and the soil once the succulents are planted.

— Gently remove the succulents from their pots and arrange them on top of the container until you reach a design that you like.

— Start planting while making sure the soil is compact around the plants.

— Brush dirt off the leaves and container rim with a soft brush. The firmer nature of succulent leaves makes this pretty easy to do.

— Water the container to compact the dirt.

— Add decorative mulch.

In lieu of mulch, some people use compact-growing sedums. The mulch can virtually be any color you like as long as the material isn’t porous.

Watering Your Succulents

Potted succulents do require regular watering as the sunlight and heat generated by the container itself dries out the soil rather quickly. During the spring and summer growing season, plan to water twice a week or more depending on how quickly the soil dries out.

Indoor pots can take much more time between watering. The soil should be moist, not soggy, though it’s OK to let it completely dry out.

Using Succulent Cuttings

 A number of enthusiasts take great care when transplanting succulents. If you’re the careful type, here’s what you might consider doing:

— Cut the succulent that you’d like to transplant so there is a few inches of plantable stems. A clean cut is definitely preferred and if you sterilize the cutters first by pouring rubbing or any kind of white alcohol over them, that would be even better.

— Let the cut air dry for a day or two in order for it to callous over.

— Apply a rooting hormone to stimulate root growth and prevent the growth of damaging fungi.

— Plant and water per usual.

However, I think you’ll find that most people in Southern California cut succulents however they cut them and then plant them back into the ground immediately without too much fuss. In my experience, this lack of technique works well with aeoniums, agaves and echeverias.

Succulent Design Ideas

Root the Extra Leaves

Did you know that if you have a healthy succulent leaf, with care you can propagate it into an entirely new succulent plant? Here is how you do it:

— Dedicate a shallow tray, perhaps even a cake pan, to the effort as a big pot will just require more watering.  You must keep the soil moist.

— Plant the leaf upright in the soil, so that about 1/2″ of the  cut portion (where it was detached from the plant) is in the soil.

— Wait for the leaf to root.

— Once the leaf roots, you can treat it like a regular plant though keep in mind it may be fragile. I’d probably let it grow in the tray for a while until it starts to form an attractive shape.

This technique also works if you need to transplant or root a succulent that doesn’t have much of a stem. In this case, try to remove a few layers of leaves so that 1/2″ is visible and then plant it in the tray until it roots.

Find Succulents that Are Trailing or Weeping

Though it’s quite common for echeverias and other succulents to keep their shapes and remain more or less compact, some create a dramatic effect (especially if the pot is hanging) by trailing or weeping over the sides of the container. Like this:

Succulent Design
Types of common succulents that will trail include (though there are truly hundreds):

— Senecio radicans (pictured above)

— Hatiora gaertneri (Easter Cactus)

— Crassula perforatas (Necklace Vine)

— A number of ice plants

— Graptopetalum paraguayense (Ghost Plant)

— Pachyphytum oviferum (Moonstones)

— Sedum makinoi ‘Ogun’ (Golden Japanese Stonecrop)

— Senecio mandraliscae ‘Kleinia’ (Blue Senecio or Blue Finger)

— Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’ (Purple Wandering Jew)

— Senecio rowleyanus (String of Pearls Plant)

When You Have Cracks to Fill

Look at what this brilliant homeowner did. What a cool way to liven up a stone wall!

Outdoor Design with Succulents
One would have to assume that the soil behind the wall is continuously moist or that there are sprinklers hitting these succulents. Either way… wow.

Your Turn…

Are there succulents you prefer to use in containers?