Succulents for the Santa Cruz Mtns

Earlier this year I had so many deer browsing in my garden, I thought the term "deer resistant" was a cruel joke. Don’t they read those lists anymore? My succulents, however, were never victims. If you haven’t paid much attention to these old standbys for a while, it’s time for another look.

There are succulents that thrive i shade as well as sun. That’s because they originate from many different environments. Many come from the deserts of the world while others developed in the cold, windy alpine regions of Europe in poor, rocky soil. A surprising number os succulent plants are native to the Rocky Mountains and Peruvian Andes. Still others evolved on the shores of salt water lakes and oceans where they adapted to high salt concentrations. Almost any environment is suitable for growing some kind of succulent, it merely depends on choosing the right one.

Many of the gardens in this area are frosty in the winter. The common winter hardy succulent varieties most resistant to cold are sedum, sempervivum, echeveria, crassula, agave, dudleya and yucca.

To ensure success when growing succulents, make sure your soil is fast draining. Our winter rains can rot even the toughest plants when their feet sit in soggy soil. Add sand and gravel to your soil or plant on mounds to increase drainage.

Sempervivum and echeveria, both low growing ground covers, are also known as hens-and-chicks. They spread by producing identical offsets that surround the mother plant like chicks. Due to extensive breeding you can choose from more than 4,000 named varieties. Some are tightly clustered, others more open with smooth or velvety leaves in shades ranging from near black to pinks, purples, lavender, apricot and every shade of green. A metallic sheen glints off the leaves of some types, while others like Silver King and Red Ruben have leaves outlined in fuzzy, white hairs. The colors change through the seasons and in summer, starlike flowers bloom atop fat, tall stems.

While the distinct rosette forms of hens & chicks are easily recognizable, in their shape and colors. Low growing varieties include sedum makinoi Ogon, on my my favorites, for their tiny carpet-like golden foliage. Coppertone grows 12" tall with thick coppery colored leaves. Sedum tricolor makes a nice ground cover in sunny areas. Sedum Autumn Joy’s rosy pink flower clusters look beautiful in large swaths combined with pheasant tail grass and Santa Barbara daisy.

There are many other sedums to choose from that do well in our area. All are reliable perennials in our climate. They will not take foot traffic but are otherwise tough, low maintenance plants.

Succulents can be used in so many ways in the garden. Use them in pots or in the front of the border where they provide texture. They can be used to fill in between shrubs or clumps of perennials.

Every garden has a problem spot- one that is too hot, too dry, awkward or shallow for other plants. That’s where succulents come to the rescue.

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