Sunday, September 11, 2011

Succulent bed touchup

In January 2009 we turned the planting area to the left of our front door into a mounded succulent bed. This has been one of my favorite transformations so far, and I’m still happy with the basic structure of this succulent bed. However, some plants turned out to be less sun-tolerant than we thought. Echeverias don’t appear to enjoy being baked in the afternoon sun, and neither do crassulas. As a result, the area marked in the green in the first photo has been problematic. While this summer has been relatively mild, some plants in that area have been struggling, and a few weeks ago I decided to put them out of their misery.

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Succulent bed with problematic area highlighted in green
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The plants under the fronts of the ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) are struggling…
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…especially the string of buttons (Crassula perforata) and an echeveria (bottom left) which I believe might be ‘Perle von Nürnberg’ (normally a deep purple)

Since I’ve gotten into cacti this year, the solution seemed obvious: Why not replace the scraggly succulents with cacti that would be able to tolerate the heat and relative lack of water much better? I didn’t want to have to worry about covering them in the winter, so I opted for cold-hardy Southwest natives.

The result (next photo) seems a bit sparse, and I probably could have stuck another cactus in there, but these are clump-forming species that will eventually form extensive colonies (“eventually” meaning several years).

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Left: Escobaria vivipara var. bisbeeana
Right: Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. mojavensis

The green, slightly egg-shaped cactus in the middle and on the right is Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. mojavensis forma inermis. This is quite a mouthful. Basically, it means that it is a (nearly) spineless form of the Mojave claret cup cactus. As the name says, it’s native to the Mojave desert where it grows on gravelly and rocky soils. There are many forms of this cactus, and some are reportedly hardy into the teens. Over time, they can form colonies (called “trigs”) with hundreds of heads.

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Echinocereus triglochidiatus var. mojavensis forma inermis

One of the reasons that claret cup cacti are so popular are the flowers. I’ve seen them bloom in Joshua Tree National Park, and they really are this red (“carmine” is the word usually used to described the color). I can’t wait for ours to flower next spring!

Echinocereus triglochidiatus in flower
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The second cactus I chose for this area is Escobaria vivipara var. bisbeeana, or Bisbee spinystar. It is native to Arizona and New Mexico. The northern clones of Escobaria vivipara are among the hardiest of all cacti, growing as far north as the Dakotas and into Canada. I’ve seen reports of them surviving -30°F. Escobaria vivipara can form colonies with many dozens of heads.

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Escobaria vivipara var. bisbeeana
Escobaria vivipara in flower
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In the grand scheme of things, these are small changes, but since this area is in such a high-visibility location, I think even small changes have a big impact.

Now I need to pot up the plants I took out and pamper them until they look good again.

5 comments:

  1. I understand your predicament. This is how I learned succulent gardening. Trial and error. Our afternoon sun can be brutal to some delicate succulents. That is an area for some hardier friends like the ones you have chosen. My questions is this. The plant that you are holding back to take the picture does it grow taller so that the leaves will not cover your new beauties? Also I would suggest a couple of columnar cactus tucked in this planter. Such as a cereus or Trichocereus Pachonoi 'San Pedro'. The second one is a favorite of mine that looks beautiful and the flowers that come after a few years are incredible!

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  2. Candy, excellent points! The leaves I'm holding back belong to a ponytail palm. While it's a slooooooow grower it will someday be taller so the leaves don't cover the cacti anymore. In fact, I could already remove those leaves since they're a bit ratty, but I thought I'd leave them for now to provide a little shade while these cacti are getting used to their new environment.

    I love columnar cacti. I have four segments from a Cereus hildmannianus (quite similar to T. pachinoi) and would love to plant in this succulent bed. Still trying to find a way to make it happen.

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  3. Plant them both. If your segments have hardened off stuck them in the ground and give some water. They should root. Here is my post of the Trich. I love this plant. This guy is probably over 10 years old.
    http://sweetstuff1957.blogspot.com/2010/11/happy-cactus-mondaycrazy-last-blooms.html

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  4. Are you able to click on my site. How do you highlight your name and add a url on a comment? Duh

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  5. Candy, clicking on your name takes me to your Blogger profile and from there I can click through to your site.

    Adding a live link in a comment isn't difficult but you need to enter the HTML code with the URL manually:

    To turn this into a live link:

    Candy's blog

    Enter this:

    <a href="http://sweetstuff1957.blogspot.com">Candy's blog</a>

    I wish Blogger would recognize URLs automatically and turn them into clickable links.

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