The low-maintenance wonder of succulents

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Succulents are more popular than ever right now — and with good reason.

Beyond their bizarre and beautiful shapes, textures and forms is the succulent’s utilitarian value. Succulents are some of the lowest maintenance plants. They save water and thrive in some of the hotter, more challenging spots on a patio or in a yard. Low-maintenance succulents are a must for the gardener who wants bright, colorful plants while saving water and time without sacrificing aesthetics.

Making a succulent container for a yard or patio is an easy way to enjoy these jewels of the plant kingdom. Outlined here is a crash course in creating a beautiful, thriving, low-maintenance conversation piece for your home.

But first, two important considerations: Choose between cold hardy or tender plants. Don’t mix the two types. One thing to remember is you will need to bring tender plants inside before the first frost to enjoy them in your home for the winter months.

Second, and perhaps most important, do not overwater your containers. Let them dry fully between watering, and you’re good to go. By using a small wood dowel or a chopstick, it is easy to test for soil moisture at all levels of soil in the container.

To begin, pick a pot. Terracotta bowls are great and allow the soil to dry uniformly. Glazed pottery is fine as well, but the soil may take longer to dry. If you tend to be an aggressive waterer, start with unglazed terracotta. Bowl shaped containers are the best for aesthetic and ease, but you’re not limited to them.

Next, pick your plants. Decide between hardy and tender plants, or segregate hardy and tender plants to different pots. Local garden centers have a plethora of choices for great succulents. Choose what stands out to you, but some that I recommend include: Echeveria, aloes, fire sticks and Kalanchoe to get started. Look for tall, medium and short plants to combine. Some of the colorful thin-leafed Dracaena make great complement plants.

Now, it’s time to plant!

Be sure to have a quickly draining soil ready for potting up your plants. Cactus and succulents soil mixes are easily found pre-bagged or you can mix your own, just be sure it’s well draining. Create your succulent arrangement any way you like, trying to include tall, medium and short plants. Water your container thoroughly after planting. After watering, add a top dressing of your choosing to cover the soil. This will aid in water retention, and helping to make water run away from the bases of the plants. You can top dress with anything — some examples are scoria (crushed volcanic rock), glass beads, aquarium rock and polished stones.

As far as maintenance is concerned, it’s time to sit back and relax. Succulents are low maintenance and don’t need a lot of attention. Cold hardy pots can be kept outside for the winter, but need a somewhat protected location, especially terracotta or thin ceramic pots. Enjoy your new containers.

Nick Daniel is a horticultural specialist with the Denver Botanic Gardens. He can be reached at horticulture@denverbotanicgardens.org.

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