Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Love those succulents

Hen and chicks nestled in a rock garden 

Flowering succulents

Easy to grow and tolerant of dry conditions, what is there not to like about succulents? Some are even nicknamed "life forever". Succulents are especially a great ground cover in a dry climate. Part of the definition of succulent plants, is that they store water in their leaves. Although succulents include cacti, I mainly use the term to refer to those non-spiny types that typically have leaves, which are plump and shiny during the summer. In the winter, the entire plant may seem to shrink and may even appear dead. Some succulents lose their leaves during the winter and regrow them in the spring. The blossoms are often small and not particularly showy.

One of the most common and prolific succulents is called hen and chickens. A friend gave me several to start my rock garden and now a few years later, I also have plenty to share with other gardeners. The "hen" plant grows larger and larger and then sends out runners, each with a "chick" plant which roots down and soon sends out runners of its own. Some are reddish or have other interesting leaves. Since they do not root deeply, they can overgrow stones, walkways and other obstacles, sometimes creating a problem. Of course they don’t actually root into rocks and cement, so they can be peeled off these and transplanted or shared with others. Breaking the runner from the mother "hen" plant almost always results in a viable plant that can be placed elsewhere. Hens and chickens occasionally bloom, sending up a flower stalk with multiple flowers at the top. However, I notice that blooming usually leads to the demise of the mother plant. I am experiment with removing the flower stalks before the blooms actually emerge to see if this keeps the plant alive and thus avoids a bare spot. Conversely, if one plant dies out in a cluster, I can certainly depend upon the surrounding plants soon growing into the space.

Sedums are another group of succulents that are versatile and colorful. Some have interesting leaves with and exotic names as "dragons blood". For others, the flowers are the attraction. While the flowers are small, they tend to form in large masses providing an easy way to have color in your summer yard. They also bloom over a long time period.

Stonecrops are another group that is mainly valued for their texture. In Colorado, they can be found growing wild in the mountains in some areas. Stonecrops tend to stay small, topping out a few inches. A variety of leaf forms provides the textures.

What these all have in common is shallow roots, making for easy transplanting, low water usage and hardiness, being able to survive with little care. Occasionally aphids are attracted to succulents. Otherwise, almost nothing bothers them and they are usually disease free. About the only problem you might have is the over proliferation, such as in the hens and chickens.

If you are having trouble keeping flowers alive, either due to challenging growing conditions or perhaps not enough time for watering and care, consider some succulents. Gardening challenges resolved!

roland small
6/18/2012 1:31:48 PM

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nebraska dave
5/25/2012 1:44:59 PM

Minnie, my Mom was big on the hen and chics. Every place we lived she brought some with us to be planted at the new place. As for me, I'm just not much of a succulent person. Cacti are just not my thing. I can appreciate what it takes to grow them but even I have a limit to my patience. I have to see something happen a little faster than waiting for a cactus to grow. :0) My farm DNA just can't wrap around growing a desert plant. I'm certainly glad to see there are folks like yourself that love the plants that I'm not crazy about cause they need love too, don't you think? Have a great succulent growing day.