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Cathy Bishop: Watering worries evaporate with potted succulents

Blue-grey succulents Graptopetalum and Echeveria make a very soft combination.

Blue-grey succulents Graptopetalum and Echeveria make a very soft combination.

After last week’s column extolling the virtues of potted gardens, we had many people comment that they love the idea, but are too busy to keep the watering schedule required.

As always, there is an answer! While many of us are drawn to the lush foliage and tumble of color from flowers, I would wager there are just as many who prefer the clean lines and architectural features a potted succulent garden has to offer. After all, it is the desert.

There are two basic guidelines in making potted succulent gardens: The plants used should have similar needs for light and water.

That’s it! And remember, all cactus are succulents, but not all succulents are cactus. I mention that for those who don’t want a potted garden on their patio that has spines and stickers and other nasties that the kids or guests might walk into. There are, quite literally, thousands of water-conserving plants out there with beautiful form, awesome flowers, interesting and exotic style . . . and no spines! If you take stock of all the aloes, bulbine, crassulas, dudleyas, echeverias, faucarias, graptopetalum, haworthias and so on to zephyranthes, you will never run out of succulent plants that can make your potted gardens a delight without the rigor of daily watering.

In order to make a succulent garden as exciting as possible, use plants with different flowering times so there will almost always be something in the combination putting on a show. Also, use upright plants to form the focal point and background while keeping the clumping plants around the sides and to the front. To soften the edge, trailing succulents can billow over the edge. With the astonishing variety of pottery colors available today, this kind of garden can benefit from a brightly colored bowl or vessel to add impact.

A great place to start is with the many choices of aloes. Since the majority of aloes come from South Africa and other southern hemisphere locations, they are one plant you can find cheerfully putting up flower spikes in the middle of the winter (which is their summer). There are also many “ice plants” that start flowering early, beginning with the stunning upright Cephalophyllum “Red Spike.” For soft, draping edges, many cold-hardy species of Delosperma will put on a show for several months in the late spring or summer.

If this sounds like the kind of living, blooming art that fits your schedule, now is the time to put your creation together and to enjoy the entire season of its blooming treasures.

Cathy Bishop, co-owner of Mesquite Valley Growers Nursery, has more than 30 years of gardening experience. E-mail her at weekendplus@tucsoncitizen.com.

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