Shady Characters – Succulents for Shade

Shade Succulents with numbersPeople often ask me which succulents do well in the shade. Unfortunately, most do not. Aloes won’t bloom. Agaves rot out. Cacti become thin and sickly. But there are a few succulents that can do well in shade. And some — such as most members of the Sansevieria family — even prefer it.

Pictured are a few of our favorite “shady characters” — succulent beauties that can thrive with minimal sun or in full or partial shade.

  1. Portulacaria afra (elephant food): Upright growing with delicate green leaves on reddish-brown stems. Can be kept almost any size with pruning. Cold tolerant to 25 degrees.
  2. Gasteria acinacifolia (giant Gasteria): Grows to 2 feet tall with a 2-foot spread and is the largest Gasteria variety. Thick, dark green leaves with attractive white spots. Three-foot, red-orange, nectar-rich flower in spring attracts hummingbirds and bees. Cold tolerant to 25 degrees.
  3. Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’: Hearty jade with interesting leaves that have suction cup-shaped tips. Named for a J.R.R. Tolkien character. Develops thick trunks with age. Great for bonsai cultivation. Cold tolerant to 25 degrees.
  4. Aeonium urbicum (saucer plant): A tender succulent that does well in sun and in partial shade. Pink flowers in late winter/early spring. Cold tolerant to 25 degrees.
  5. Agave attenuata (foxtail agave): One of the few agaves that can thrive in shade. Known for its soft leaves; makes a good landscape plant along walkways. Grows to 5 feet tall with a 6- to 8-foot spread. Cold tolerant to 35 degrees.
  6. Aloe aristata (torch plant or lace aloe): Extremely tough aloe that’s known to survive cold, wet winters. Features delicate variegated markings. Red blooms in early summer. Cold tolerant to 5 degrees.
  7. Echeveria derenbergii (painted lady): In shade, the leaves retain their pale green color; in sun, the leaves develop red margins. Red-tipped yellow flowers on stalks appear in spring. Cold tolerant to 25 degrees.
  8. Sempervivum arachnoideum (houseleek or hens and chicks): Popular in rock gardens and containers. Cobweb-like hairs hold the snow in cold climates. Cold tolerant to 10 degrees.

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.

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