Ann Wright: The charm of succulents | TheUnion.com

Ann Wright: The charm of succulents

Ann Wright
Columnist

Succulents are an interesting group of plants generally characterized by their ability to withstand drought by storing water in thick, fleshy leaves, stems or in root structures. Leaves of succulents are covered with a waxy-like material that further reduces evaporation from the plant surface.

Cactus plants are considered succulents — but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are typically depicted as "spikey" plants with areoles which produce spines, hairs, leaves and/or flowers from the flesh of the plant.

Succulents are found in a variety of colors, shapes, textures and sizes.

Many require full sun while others do best with several hours of morning or late afternoon sun or filtered shade in the hottest part of the day. Some are frost-tender, meaning they may require covering on the winter's coldest nights.

Succulents require soil with good drainage — the addition of coarse perlite, or crushed lava to landscape or container soil will facilitate good drainage. Cactus potting mix can be purchased for container gardens — some of the packaged soil mixes are too heavy for succulents as the soil retains too much water.

Of the thousands of species found, many succulents come from desert or semi-desert areas of the world, but some thrive in colder mountainous climates and some in wet rain forests.

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Succulents require regular watering in the summer, but allow them to dry out between watering. Never allow succulents to sit in water — watch container gardens for signs of pooling.

A few succulents are doing well in my rock garden — Echeveria and Sedum. With many hours of bright morning sun and filtered shade in the summer, these gems add color and interest to the lower part of the garden where drainage is best.

The Echeveria has grey-green leaves in rosettes that develop smaller new plants in clusters around the parent plant, hence the common name, "hen and chicks."

The low-growing perennial Sedum is a sort of lime green color and looks like a soft bottle-brush.

To learn more about growing these interesting plants, the Nevada County Master Gardeners workshop today is "Succulents Add Charm to Your Garden" from 10 a.m. to noon at the Demonstration Garden at the Nevada Irrigation District Business complex, 1036 W. Main Street in Grass Valley.

Summer tips

As spring turns to summer here are some other garden tips for June:

Summer color ornamentals such as scabiosa, ageratum, coreopsis, dahlia, gaillardia, impatiens, marigolds, penstemon and others can be still planted. Sunflowers are also available in many different sizes and will add color and variety to the garden bed.

Encourage blooms on roses — On hybrid tea roses and grandifloras, cut 1/4 of an inch above the topmost leaf with five leaflets, remove faded flowers and feed plants with a complete fertilizer.

Complete fertilizer is one that contains all three of the plant's major nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Look carefully at labels for directions on use of commercial fertilizers.

For home compost, turn the pile as outside temperatures heat up. Consider the "big four": browns, greens, air and water.

Browns (carbons) are things like chopped, woody prunings, dry leaves, newspaper or torn up cardboard. Alfalfa pellets, used tea bags, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps are good sources of nitrogen (greens) for the pile.

Keep the pile moist and turn to add air. The Master Gardener website is a good source for information about composting (http://www.ncmg.ucanr.org).

And mark the calendar for the compost workshop on Aug. 18.

Remember that a thick layer of mulch around vegetable and ornamentals will help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Mulch should be at least three inches deep and three to four inches away from the trunk or base of the plant.

When fruit reaches the size of marbles, thin apples, Asian pears, nectarines and peaches for good fruit development.

Remove fire hazards by mowing grassy areas and clearing brush from around the house. Cut branches back to at least 15 to 20 feet from the house.

The Nevada County Master Gardeners are available from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Hotline office at the Veteran's Building, 255 South Auburn in Grass Valley, or call 530-273-0919 anytime — leave a message.

Call us or come visit with your questions about home gardening. Join us at the Grower's Market at the North Star House from 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.