SHARING SECRETS: Succulents Thrive in Difficult Spots

Edited by Dayle Cheever.

Panayoti Kelaidis told us in February that succulents grow in the strangest places—like Germany and the mountain tops of Kazakhstan. What succulents are you using in a difficult spot in your garden (shade, wet, tree roots, etc.)?

Debra Lee Baldwin: A good ground cover succulent for shady spots is Crassula multicava (fairy crassula), which tends to spread prolifically. I don’t consider it invasive because it’s so easy to remove. In my shade garden I grow Sansevieria, haworthias, Gasteria, aeoniums, and variegates thereof. In an area with lots of tree roots, I arrange the plants in pots or add several inches of potting soil and plant cuttings in it.

Kathleen Voltin: My son put a Sedum pachyphyllum on the northeast side of a queen palm (see photo at left). Still alive after six months (and he forgot about it for the past three months, until now).

Al Myrick: We grow succulents everywhere. They don’t read our books, so they don’t know where they are supposed to be planted. We grow Opuntia in the shade and they flower and fruit. Shade bromeliads grow in sun in clumps without planting in soil. Donkey tails grow in gobs of Spanish moss without any other medium. Epiphyllum grow in the crotches of trees in straight sun or shade sans planting medium, except for a little palm frond hair. Agaves and relatives grow in sun or shade, in clay or in mulched areas. Dragon fruit plants snake out of pots along the ground and climb our trees, but some like to stay in shade. And… you get the idea. Ok, ok… some die; that’s why we call it the Darwinian wilderness!

Cathy Tylka: I have many that grow well on a hill getting no water, except from God!

Viv Black: I really put them wherever there is a space; I’m not worried about them because they are so adaptable. Shade, sun, corners, steps, wherever they can fit in.

Dale Rekus: My favorite succulent surprise is when a potted one, such as Agave americana or A. americana var. medio-picta ‘Alba’, grows out of the drainage hole in a container and pops up outside the base of it.

Susi Torre-Bueno: Succulents rock! There is a very steep slope that starts at the edge of our property and continues down on our neighbor’s property. It was totally bare, and I threw a few pieces of the South African succulent Jordaaniella dubia (see on bare dirt. This low-growing succulent roots as it grows, and slowly has formed long stems that are starting to cover the slope. Yes, I just threw the pieces down and walked away, and the result is delightful.

Jim Bishop: While not exactly an answer to the question, when I was in South Africa in 2015, I was excited to see a succulent I grow at home, Crassula rupestris, growing in the wild (see photo at right). On closer inspection, I saw it was mostly growing on top of large rocks with almost no soil. This got me wondering about the meaning of the word “rupestris.” So after a lot of googling, I learned that “rupestris” is Latin for “growing near rocks.” I use the plant as filler in pots and it usually blooms from February through early spring, with pink flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers smell like dirty socks.