Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
November, 2009
Regional Report

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These drought-tolerant succulents and coral bells proved to be excellent seasonal container plants, looking good into November.

Thumbs Up for Enduring Succulents

We arrived to put the courtyard garden to bed for winter -- remove dead annuals, rake and bag leaves, flame-weed between bricks, sweep, cut back perennials. Surprised, we momentarily put down our tools and admired the audacious sedums and coral bells in the decorative containers. The billow of plump, string bean-like, green-blue leaves on a Senecio 'Kilimanjaro' nearly filled the stoneware and concrete pots. A single, succulent stem of red flowers arched over echeveria rosettes. The two-year-old, burgundy-silver coral bells (heuchera) were double their spring size.

Most container plantings here look dreary by mid-November. The colorful flowering annuals have suffered from drying out in the summer heat. Though they recover half-heartedly after substantial watering, they're increasingly stressed. To conserve water AND create beautiful, low-maintenance containers, in May I shopped for showy succulents.

Fortunately this week, the summer's experiment with succulents and other low water-demand plants shows success.

The summer stars are textural and colorful echeverias, with fascinating foliage flared in picturesque rosettes; Senecio 'Kilimanjaro'; Salvia argentea; eucalyptus; and large, yellow-flowering portulaca. Echeveria 'Black Prince' has an artichoke-like form of smooth, waxy, maroon leaves, green at the base. Echeveria 'Metallica' resembles a fully open artichoke with petal-shaped, blue-green leaves edged in pink.

Echeverias are Latin American natives. Most don't tolerate frost or cold weather but do thrive in high temperatures and well-drained soil.

Echeverias resemble but are not hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum spp). Both are members of the Crassulaceae family. However, sempervivums are hardy alpine succulents from Europe. They survive frost; most will make it through winter's freezing temperatures and snow. We enjoy growing them in rock gardens, stone walls, planters, troughs, sidewalk cracks. They're the preferred plants for rooftop gardens.

Raised Bed for Spring Bulbs
One autumn project is to create an array of spring bulbs to enjoy from a kitchen window. The location: a bramble and weed patch beyond a substantial wave of country lawn. As if digging out tenacious vine roots, tree seedlings, and pesky weeds weren't enough, 2 inches below the surface is an impenetrable layer of gravel and stone that bramble and grape ivy roots have gripped ever so tightly for decades.

I am not interested in learning how to excavate with a jackhammer. The idea of building a raised bed -- about 8 inches deep, 10 feet long, and 4 feet wide -- popped quickly to mind though. To the good, I already had brick edging.

The best aspect of this approach is NOT digging in the bulbs. For a natural look, we tossed 100 deer-resistant, 'Dutch Master' daffodil bulbs around the bed edge to create an 18-inch tall golden ribbon from March into May. We filled the middle with 100 mixed daffodils. Then we adjusted each bulb with roots down and twisted gently to anchor it upright in the two inches of native soil.

Next we topped the bulbs with 6 inches of equal parts humus and topsoil plus chopped leaves for aeration. We sprinkled on Bulb Booster. All must have pleased Mother Nature because a drizzle began as we drove away. Rain is just what bulbs need to hydrate and establish live roots before winter's freeze.

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