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Five Signs You’re A Slave to Succulents

I’ve been growing succulents for over 30 years now. Though I haven’t logged the exact number of hours, sometimes I feel like a plant slave or horticulture zombie because I spend so much of my time caring for them and moving them around. I started Serra Gardens Landscape Succulents because I had so many plants. I either had to sell them or throw them away.

Why do I do it? Plants can be very persuasive. Though I’d like to tell you it’s not against my will, there is a possibility I’m laboring under some kind of botanical Stockholm Syndrome — that I’ve fallen in love with my captors!

However it happens, succulents have me under their spell. I’m simply drawn to them. I seem to have a mysterious line of communication with them. It’s a relationship…I care for them and they reveal their secrets.

How do you know if succulents have taken over your life? Here are five tell-tale signs

  1. You have more succulents than you have space for (and you keep buying or propagating more).
  2. If you run out of potting soil, you can always scoop some up from the floor of your car.
  3. You can’t pass a nursery without going in (just for a minute).
  4. You turn down invitations from humans because your plants really need some attention.
  5. When you’re not caring for actual plants, you spend time on plant-related social media, websites and blogs like this one.

Question: We live in a high fire area and I’ve heard about fire safe landscaping. What should I plant around our property? C.H. Rainbow, CA

Succulents, unlike native chaparral plants, are 80 percent water, which makes them truly fire-resistant. I recommend planting large, landscape-sized succulent plants and succulent groundcover around and along fire-zone perimeters. Here are four tough, attractive and fire-resistant succulents you can add to your existing landscaping to create a fire barrier.

  • Aloe kedongensis has a growth habit somewhat like bamboo, with canes that grow to about 12 feet and cluster densely and makes a good fire barrier.
  • Portulacaria afra, also known as Elephant’s Food, is an upright-growing plant (8-12 feet tall) with reddish brown stems and emerald green leaves.
  • Senecio mandraliscae, also known as blue chalk sticks, is a fast-growing groundcover known for its beautiful blue color. Extremely fire resistant, this low-maintenance plant works well under larger plantings and helps prevent erosion.
  • Agave franzosinii can reach dimensions of more than 25 feet. Grown for its foliage, this succulent has powder blue leaves with leaf-printing marks.

See CalFire’s article about the importance of defensible space in protecting your property at www.readyforwildfire.org/defensible_space/.


Question: Are there any soft succulents that will tolerate below freezing temperature or snow? L.S., Bloomington, IL

Although most succulents must be protected from freezing, there are a few species of soft succulents that can tolerate freezing temperatures, including many varieties sempervivums and some sedums. On a recent visit to Goshen, Indiana, I was fascinated to see a host of these plants growing and thriving between rocks and along walkways in my sister-in-law’s garden. Though these images of Sempervivum tectorum and Sedum anglicum were shot in July, we are assured they survived quite nicely one of the Midwest’s snowiest winters on record. Sempervivum arachnoideum is available for sale.

Sempervivum arachnoideum


Plants Are Ambassadors

Growing up, I was kind of a strange little kid. I wasn’t drawn to the usual activities of other boys growing up in Southern California. While the other guys at school were out surfing, I was puttering around in the canyons, looking at plants and rocks. My dad and I argued all the time in those days. Then one day I discovered some books on succulents in his library and I found out we actually had something in common − an interest in plants. He began to take me with him to meetings of plant enthusiasts such as the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society. Sometimes, I was the only person under the age of 50 in the room, but I didn’t mind. I was hooked.

Today, I think of plants as ambassadors. I was reminded of that recently when we attended a San Diego Horticultural Society meeting. The room was full of people from so many different backgrounds, in another setting, they might have nothing in common, might otherwise have been arguing about politics or religion. But instead, they were united in a state of wonder because of their interest in plants. There are horticultural societies and plant groups all over the world uniting people.

Don Newcomer’s Favorite Cactus