Liberating succulents from smothering grasses
A few years ago—before I started this blog, which is why I have trouble remembering—I bought a six-pack of blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’) and planted them in the two small succulent beds in the back yard. At that time, the succulents were small and there seemed to be a lot of space between them that begged to be filled.
Fast forward to 2012. The blue fescue plugs are now clumps 12-18" across and, while attractive in their own right, are covering some of the succulents. After the recent rains, now is a great time for transplanting, and that’s exactly what I did.
Succulent bed 1
In the first set of photos, you’ll see the succulent bed in the northeast corner of the backyard. It is shaded by a row of four bay trees planted against the fence so it only receives about 2-3 hours of direct sunlight in the summer, virtually none in the winter. This is not a logical spot for succulents, but to my surprise they’ve done well—except the fescues and the variegated feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Eldorado') have done even better. Time for the grasses to go!
|Small succulent bed in the northeast corner of the backyard|
”Before” photo with fescues and variegated feather reed grass
(Calamagrostis × acutiflora 'Eldorado')
|Fescues dominating the foreground, hiding several aloes, a dyckia, an agave and a yucca|
The difference after removal of the grasses is astounding. You can see plants that were all but impossible to see before.
|Small dyckia species with many offsets|
This Agave montana ‘Baccarat’ was all but invisible. It’s easily doubled in size (it was planted from a 4" pot) but due to a lack of direct sunlight, its form is much more open than it would otherwise be. Still, beautiful coloration and nice scalloped edges.
|Agave montana ‘Baccarat’|
For comparison, here are a couple of mature specimens of Agave montana ‘Baccarat’ (photo taken from the website of Yucca Do, the nursery that introduced ‘Baccarat’ to tissue culture). If my smallish plant ends up looking like that, I’ll be very pleased.
|Mature Agave montana ‘Baccarat’|
Photo: Yucca Do Nursery
Here’s another agave that was partially covered: Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’. From the photos I’ve seen, it has an open habit like that even in full sun. More evidence that many succulents are able to handle shade remarkably well.
|Agave funkiana ‘Blue Haze’|
What did I do with the fescues I pulled up? I planted them 15 feet away in the same general area, just behind the bamboo fence. Here you can see two of them. The others (from the succulent bed described below) are to the right.
|Relocated Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’|
Succulent bed 2
In the same corner of the backyard as our Asian-inspired woodland garden there is a narrow (12” deep) planting strip that in the past proved challenging to use. A few years ago I planted a combination of aloes and agaves, and they’ve thrived in this mostly shady spot. But, as was the case with the bed above, so have the fescues.
|“Before” photo with fescues completely hiding Agave parryi ‘Truncata’|
This Agave parryi ‘Truncata’ was almost impossible to spot between the two clumps of fescue. Not surprisingly, it’s a bit etiolated but I’m hoping that it will tighten up over time and eventually form its trademark artichoke look. (This area might be too shady, resulting in a looser habit.)
|Uncovered Agave parryi ‘Truncata’|
The same thing happened to this Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’.
|Fescue hiding an Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’|
I had no idea it had grown to such a nice size—it was a pup I took off the mother plant next to our front door.
|Uncovered Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’|
While not obscured by the fescues, this Aloe cameronii × maculata hybrid has positively exploded. I love its long, strappy leaves and its rich green color.
|Aloe cameronii × maculata|
Here are two more aloes at the head of this narrow planting strip. They have thrived as well. Aloe nobilis, in the foreground, was a 1-gallon plant on special at Target, and Aloe glauca came to me as a cutting. I love how their different colors complement each other.
|BACK: Aloe glauca|
FRONT: Aloe nobilis
The next aloe, Aloe microstigma, is at the other end of this succulent bed. It think it’s one of the nicest looking smaller aloes. It used to be relatively hard to find but its availability has improved in recent years. I even saw one at Home Depot last year, and there’s nothing more mainstream than that.
And finally here is a stitched panorama of the entire bed, post fescue removal.
|Backyard succulent bed outside the dining room|