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Succulents in the Landscape

Succulents are one of the best choices around for multi-seasons of interest in the landscape. Succulent lovers avoid some landscaping mistakes that we often see.

One of the most common errors is relying mostly on flowering perennials and bedding plants for color. As a result, the yards may look beautiful during the spring and summer. But then they typically get a bad case of the summer blahs from which they often do not recover. If it weren’t for nature’s generous hand in giving us gorgeous fall foliage in rich hues, such gardens would offer almost no interest in autumn.

Garden designs with succulents provide a point of interest throughout the different seasons through their exquisite foliage, beautiful flowers, and shapely forms. Succulents can be used to fulfill all the different basic principles of landscape design, such as contrast, repetition, and texture.

Let’s look at some of the individual hardy succulents, and see how they can contribute appropriately to garden designs. First, consider texture as it relates to plants. Plant texture is determined by the size and appearance of the foliage. For example, the hardy ice plants (Delosperma spp.) provide a soft texture. On the other hand, the hardy yuccas have a coarser texture in comparison to fine-textured species.

A properly designed landscape will have some element of repetition. It may be that the plants repeat a recurring factor, such as a color, a texture, or a growth habit. For example, it could be having several species of sedums with ground-hugging growth habits.

Balance is important in the landscape. This doesn’t imply that everything has to be symmetrical. What it does mean is that there should be an overall balancing of visual weight. For example, a tall yucca could be balanced by an en masse planting of some spurges.

By nature, humans are attracted to contrast or focal points. For a succulent garden, such a focal point could be several highly-colored plants grouped together. For instance, we could use a group of variegated Adam’s needle planted alongside or in front of a gray stone wall for contrast.

In addition to garden beds, there are other ways we can incorporate succulents into the landscape to provide multi-seasons of interest. Trough gardens are becoming very popular. If you look around in local garden centers, chances are you will find a variety of these planters in various shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Some are very low to the ground, and would be perfect for landscaping a patio. Others are large and substantial enough to serve as dividers in creating outdoor garden rooms.

Some of the ones I have seen look like plain cement, while others are more decorative in nature. This is all just a matter of taste, and depends on what goes best in your garden setting. What really matters is that there must be sufficient drainage holes in the bottom of the container to ensure the soil is well drained.

The placement of the plants and their visual relationship to each other is important. The goal is to have the eye move visually through the landscape in a smooth curve. Zigzagging up and down is very undesirable. This mistake is illustrated by a common landscape error that everyone has probably seen—planting a tall evergreen planted at the two front corners of a house. A better approach is to group your taller plants together in the center of the bed. Then choose gradually shorter ones as you move to the end so that the eye ends up at the ground level.

Mass plantings of the same kind of plant generally look better than single specimens. Naturally there are some exceptions, particularly if you are creating a focal point. Otherwise, the idea is to have an odd number of plants, such as three, five, or seven. Odd numbers look more natural to the eye. Also, avoid planting in straight rows. This never happens in nature. Group them into irregular circular patterns.

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