First look: revamped Corten succulent planter

When we took out the front lawn in February 2016 and built succulent mounds, we also added a Corten steel trough from Nice Planter to grow vegetables. This is what it looked like shortly after installation:

February 2016, Corten planter with winter vegetables. I can’t get over how small the plants were in the succulent mound on the left. Agave ‘Blue Glow’, Yucca queretaroensis, Agave vilmoriniana ‘Stained Glass’, and Ferocactus herrerae are still there, just much larger.

For a variety of reasons, the veggie thing didn’t really pan out, mainly because we didn’t give it the attention required—growing vegetables is not as easy as growing succulents!

For a few years, the planter was dominated by an African basil that thrived:

The African basil more than thrived, it took over

Unfortunately, when I cut the basil back, I removed too much, and it never recovered. After dilly-dallying for a while, I finally decided to convert the Corten trough into what it probably was always destined to be: a succulent planter.

Inspired by crevice gardens, I added a layer of rocks on top of the soil to create confined pockets, forcing the roots to go down instead of spreading out horizontally. This ensures that the roots stay cool and have access to the moisture in the soil below.

Step 1 after placing the rocks:

The trough is on drip so I don’t need to hand-water

Here’s the trough after planting:

I planted a mixture of small cacti and agaves:

There’s room for more plants, but I’m taking my time until I’ve found the perfect plants that will remain small.

Here are some of the cacti and agaves I chose:

Agave utahensis, a purchase from the recent San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society sale. The tag simply says Agave utahensis, but based on the location info handwritten, it’s var. nevadensis, in spite of the bluish leaves more typical of var. eborispina.

Agave utahensis var. nevadensis, purchased at a retail nursery, not removed from the wild

Agave utahensis var. nevadensis, purchased at a retail nursery, not removed from the wild

Agave pintilla, purchased from Grow Nursery at the San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society sale

Agave pintilla, purchased from Grow Nursery at the San Francisco Cactus & Succulent Society sale

Agave polianthiflora from Ethical Desert

Parodia microsperma

Echinocactus horizonthalonius

Here’s a list of what I’ve planted so far:
  • Agave pintilla
  • Agave polianthiflora
  • Agave utahensis var. nevadensis (2x)
  • Echinocactus horizonthalonius
  • Echinocereus pulchellus var. acanthosetus
  • Notocactus herteri ssp. roseoluteus
  • Parodia microsperma
Look for updates as the plantings evolve.

© Gerhard Bock, 2022. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Nicely done, Gerhard! It IS surprising to see how quickly the succulents in your mounded area have grown. I think I should have raised the mound in my front garden higher than I did. Are your mounds also on drip irrigation?

    1. Somebody told me once to expect mounds to settle by 10-30%, depending on the amount of inorganic materials.

      Yes, the mounds are on drip. It runs ever 10 days.

  2. What a difference from the installation of your garden to now and in such a short period of time. The new planter looks great. Crevice gardens are all the rage and the plants really seem to enjoy the deep root runs. Have always wondered about Corten steel and the potential of heating the interior too much?

    1. The brand of Corten planters I usually buy (Veradek) comes with Styroform panels for the walls, providing insulation against the heat and cold.

      This planter didn't come with panels, but I lined it with Styrofoam before I added soil.

  3. Wow, amazing how much everything has filled out since it was first planted - an inspiring reminder that new gardens can establish fast! What kind of soil mix did you use for the succulent mound?

    The Corten steel planter is a great way to display your smaller growing plants and your choice of rocks and pebbles really accentuate the rusty finish. It looks great.

    I missed commenting on your Flora Grubb post in time, but wondered if you knew what the bright green mossy looking plant in the green wall is? Could it be Scleranthus biflorus? Thanks

    1. The soil mix I used was 60% garden soil mixed with 40% rock fines. Small pea gravel, pumice, lava rock, etc. would work, too.

      Unfortunately, I don't know what the bright green mossy thing is in Flora Grubb's vertical wall. Mosses are a whole world I knew virtually nothing about :-(

    2. Thanks for the soil info, Gerhard, that’s really helpful.
      - Horticat


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