Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Blue chalk fingers getting chopped off

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that there is a mounded succulent bed next to our front door. It’s in its fifth year old now and has turned out better than we’d ever hoped. But as with any garden bed, occasional maintenance is required to keep it looking neat. If you take a close look at the first two photos, you’ll see inquisitive blue fingers crawling through the plantings.

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Here’s a view of the rear of the bed…

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…a close-up of a particularly nosy tentacle…

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…and a view of the front left of the succulent bed.

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By now you’ve probably recognized the culprit: blue chalk fingers aka Senecio mandraliscae (or, according to some sources, Senecio talinoides var. mandraliscae). There are few, if any, plants this blue!

This spreading succulent from South Africa produces stems that crawl along the ground and eventually form fairly dense mats. It’s very drought-tolerant but grows more quickly with regular irrigation. Senecio mandraliscae is perfect for larger areas but in our relatively confined succulent bed, it was getting just a tad out of hand. Fortunately, removal is quick and easy. All you need to do is grab and pull; the stems snap off quite readily.

Here is a “before” and “after” comparison:

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And a close-up of this area after removing 2/3 of the stems:

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I separated the stems I’d taken off into two piles: The top portions (on the right in the next photo) were saved as cuttings for propagation, and the mostly leafless stems went in the yard waste.

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Like so many succulents, Senecio mandraliscae is extremely easy to propagate. Simply stick a cutting in well-draining soil and it will begin to root within a week.

The cuttings you see below went to my friend Sue for her project at Woodland High School.

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26 comments:

  1. That was 5 years of spreading? Not too invasive then. I do think a removal was needed. Too bad you don't have the space for a nice massed planting of this!

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  2. A little over four years. The original cuttings were part of a mixed succulent bowl I bought at Walmart.

    I agree, massed plantings of S. mandraliscae are stunning. I like this.

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  3. Good to see that the cutting went into good use as well. The bed's looking really good btw!

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    1. I hate to toss out perfectly healty plants (or cuttings). Luckily, I usually find takers.

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  4. Yes we have to clean up sometimes that is for sure! I love the blue also and love how easy they are to propagate. Before you know it they will fill in that space again. LOL

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    1. No problem, there are always takers for succulent cuttings. If you need any, let me know!

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  5. A gripping title for this post! The bed looks great all cleaned up. Blue fingers is pretty tame here and if we want to get rid of it we just leave it outside and voila, no more.

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    1. Don't get me wrong, I do love my Senecio mandraliscae but it needed a bit of a haircut to keep it in check.

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  6. I dream of a blue sea of chalk fingers like I've seen in Venice, CA. Instead I make do with a handful of plants I overwinter and regrow each summer. Glad you found a worthy recipient of your cast-offs!

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    1. A sea of Senecio mandraliscae sounds dreamy indeed. I should really plant more of it in the front yard. Next time I have cuttings!

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  7. They've found their way into some of my featherstone planters, and the rest are tucked into flats to await further projects... but I am tempted by those pictures to pop them into the outside bed to recreate a sea of blue... decisions, decisions- LOL Sue

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    1. Since you have some left, you should plant them outside. They could become a show stopper.

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  8. Some succulents just have the tendencies to take over the whole place :) I love your friends project and am dreaming of doing something similar myself one day, but probably on much smaller scale :) It is nice that you are helping her!

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    1. Sue will be very happy to hear that she might have inspired others :-).

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  9. Hi I have ONE of these buggers and it is getting creepy tall - almost 21 inches High. For a small NYC apartment, I am starting to think he needs to be trimmed. He is very healthy but I want to be sure that if I just cut off half his stem and repot it, he will be ok afterwards. After I cut it, do I need to do anything to the exposed top? Any help is appreciated! thanks!

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    1. Erika, this is one tough plant. I would have no worries about cutting off the top half. Just stick it in dry soil and wait a couple of weeks before watering. You don't need to do anything special to the exposed top. It'll callus over.

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    2. Thanks so much for your help!!!! :D Your garden is beautiful!

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  10. What fun to find your blog post when I googled "senecio propagation" Gerhardt! I have some Blue Chalk Sticks that I need to keep and hopefully multiply over winter here in Portland. Thanks for the easy primer! I'm going to try propagating from a "leaf" part, too, just for kicks.

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    1. LOL. It's great to see an old post have a life of its own. Glad the tips I gave were helpful

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  11. Is the blue chalk medicinal?

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    1. No, as far as I'm aware, it has no medicinal properties.

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    2. Can it be left outside in the winter in zone 6-8?

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    3. Norma, no, it's only hard to the high twenties (°F), or -2°C. It's a solid zone 9b plant. I'm sorry...

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    4. i have a hard time propagating them, they either dry up or rot.

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    5. Try laying the cuttings on top of dry succulent mix and then use bottom heat (like a heat mat for starting seeds) to encourage the formation of new roots.

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