Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
June, 2009
Regional Report

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Container gardening with succulents is a low-maintenance way to have summer-long beauty while conserving water.

Succulents for Summer Pots

They're quite the promising mouthful. Senecio 'Kilimanjaro', Echeveria 'Black Prince', Echeveria 'Metallica', Salvia argentea, eucalyptus, portulaca. These drought-tolerant succulents, tropicals, and a biennial are an experiment in low maintenance, low water demand for stone planters in a sunny courtyard in Society Hill, Philadelphia.

The residents appreciate colorful, flowering annuals brightening their common area. They don't like the high price of watering -- the water cost plus service fee. Even with mulch, rich soil, and water-absorbing crystals, these mostly shallow stone planters have demanded twice to thrice weekly deep watering in July and August to keep vinca, coleus, and other annual flowers alive.

My intention for 2009? Using a variety of succulents with fascinating textures and colors will be an attractive, budget-wise solution. I certainly hope the plants' higher prices will be offset by reduced labor costs due to less frequent watering. Fortunately we started with planters nearly half-full with lush Heuchera Dolce 'Black Currant' -- a new coral bell hybrid with burgundy-silver leaves -- that survived the winter.

Succulents and More
Senecio 'Kilimanjaro' quickly catches the eye scanning a nursery for unusual plant material. Any container combination benefits from a rising star, a vertical accent as anchor. Kilimanjaro looks skyward and sculptural. If it lives up to its name, this steel blue-leafed succulent could top out at 3 to 4 feet.

The burgundy-green leafed 'Black Prince' echeveria is a 6-inch succulent I paired with its cousin -- blue-green, purple-rimmed 'Metallica' echeveria. These plump-leafed shorties sit front and center for contrast.

Salvia argentea, aka silver sage, calls "come hither and touch me." Its huge, downy, undulating, silver leaves make me want to look underneath for fairies. I tucked them in the middle or on the edges of the larger, deeper containers -- for a later summer surprise.

For summer-long blooming color, I'm hoping floriferous succulent portulaca will shine. I found a unique variety, without a label (of course), with large yellow flowers and large leaves to fill nooks and crannies. They were opening beautifully as we wrapped up the afternoon's planting. Portulaca flowers close at night -- so don't mistake the closed blooms as dead heads to be pinched off.

The desert tropical 'Silver Dollar' eucalyptus (Eucalyptus cinerea) brings fragrance, unusual leaf shape, and more cool blue-green foliage. In some containers, I placed silver dollars between the edging portulacas and the salvia.

Also sans label -- a magnificent multi-petal, magenta petunia I couldn't resist. The fuller-than-double flowers resemble elegant cabbage roses. Though I know they need deadheading and won't likely survive a week without water in late July sun, they're exquisite early summer Exclamation Points.

Living Soil
Excellent garden soil is a nutritious mix of humus, organic materials, minerals, microbes and air. Container gardening soil needs to be at least, if not more, nutritious and healthy. After all, container plant roots can't reach beyond the planter's walls for more food, water, and oxygen.

For nutrients and to retain moisture, I like a container mix of 2 parts high quality soilless mix, 1 part humus or top grade soil, 1 part compost, and 1 part leaf mold. Mix in slow-release mineral fertilizer, kelp meal, aged or processed manure according to package directions. Water the container plants well (twice or thrice) to settle soil mix around the roots. Mulch with shredded bark or decorative, long-fiber sphagnum.

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