ISSUE 52  |  Best of 2015

10 Easy Pieces: Best Succulents

September 25, 2016 2:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

Are you sick of hearing that succulents are “easy” when the only thing yours do reliably is die? The solution is to get the right succulent for the job.

For instance. If you are trying to grow succulents indoors, buy plants with bright green leaves (instead of gray, blue, or purple leaves). When you pot succulents, remember they need better drainage and soil aeration than thirstier plants; use a cactus soil mix and add a layer of gravel to the bottom of the pot. If you put succulents in the garden, dig in some sand to improve the soil’s drainage before planting.

Here are ten of our favorite succulents (and the secrets to keeping them alive):

Aeoniums

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Above: Photograph by Nancy Neil. For more of this garden, see Landscape Designer Visit: Malibu Makeover by Matthew Brown.

Native to the Canary Islands, aeoniums thrive outdoors in similar Mediterranean climates—with hot, dry summers and rainy winters. Aeoniums come many colors—including green, striped, and gray—but we particularly love the black varieties such as ‘Schwarzkopf Black Rose’ (in the front of the bed above). They create a dramatic counterpoint to blue- and gray-leafed plants in the garden.

Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ has long, delicate leaves that taper to a point; $6.50 per plant (minimum online order is four plants) at Cacti.

Burro’s Tail

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Above: Photograph by Fiona Gilsenan for Gardenista.

Aloe Vera

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Above: Photograph by Justine Hand for Gardenista.

Hardy indoors or out, aloe is your friend. Of more than 250 species of aloe, the one known as “true aloe” is aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis). Probably because of its amazing ability to cure sunburns. Aloe vera’s leaves ooze a soothing substance that makes a fine hand lotion. An Aloe Vera Medicine Succulent Plant is $8.75 from Cactus Limon via Etsy.

If you, like Justine, keep a potted aloe indoors and snip off the tips of leaves to use for medicinal purposes, you can make your supply go further by propagating the plant’s offsets. Follow Justine’s lead in DIY: Propagate the Plant of Immortality.

Pencil Cactus

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Above: We have good reasons for calling the pencil cactus The New ‘It’ Houseplant. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

Happy to be a houseplant, Euphorbia tirucalli hails from Africa and earned its Pencil Cactus nickname for the shape of its branches. Give it a sunny spot and don’t over-water it, and this hardy plant could grow as tall as 6 feet. A Euphorbia Tirucalli in a 4-inch pot is $12 from Pernell Gerver.

String of Pearls

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Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

A good choice for indoors where you can control its climate, slow-growing String of Pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) likes bright, indirect light—and to be left alone. Let the soil dry thoroughly before watering. Its trailing stems can reach lengths of up to 3 feet. A 6-inch hanging pot of String of Pearls is $12.99 from Hirt’s via Amazon.

Paddle Plant

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Above: A pink-tinged paddle plant. For more, see Steal This Look: An Indoor Succulent Garden. Photograph by Fiona Gilsenan for Gardenista

An exception to the “bright green leaves only” rule, kalanchoe will thrive indoors in indirect, bright light. One of my favorite succulents, a Kalanchoe Luciae looks like it’s wearing lipstick on the edge of its leaves. The rosy edge makes it a good candidate to combine with other red or purple-leaved succulents. A rooted cutting of Kalanchoe Luciae is $6.99 from Succulent Babies via Etsy.

Hens and Chicks

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Above: Photograph by John Merkl for Gardenista. For more, see Gardening 101: How to Plant an Open Terrarium.

Growing in tight clusters that look like rosettes, Hens and Chicks spreads quickly to fill a container or a bare, sunny spot in a dry garden. There are thousands of varieties of sempervivum with leaf colors ranging from deep green to pale blue to purple-tinged; an assortment of 11 Sempervivum Succulents is $22.40 from Rainforest Rose via Etsy.

String of Bananas, Lady Aquarius, and Perle Von Nurnberg

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Above: Three hardy succulents for a container garden. For more, see DIY Container Garden: 3 Tough Beauties That Won’t Die.  Photograph by Meredith Swinehart

For a container garden that won’t wilt in the heat, we consulted our favorite succulent expert, Robin Stockwell, who owns Succulent Gardens nursery in Castroville, California. The recommendation: combine trailing blue-green String of Bananas (Senecio radicans); the ruffled rosettes of ‘Lady Aquarius’ echeveria (Crassulaceae echeveria cv. ‘Lady Aquarius’) that are blue edged in pink, and smooth rosettes of pale lavender ‘Perle Von Nurnberg’ echeveria (Crassulaceae echeveria cv. Perle von Nurnberg).

A String of Bananas plant is $15.99 from Succulent Oasis via Etsy. An Echeveria ‘Lady Aquarius’ in a 4-inch pot is $8.95 from Annie’s Annuals. A collection of three Perle Von Nurnberg Echeveria plants is $5.95 from Exotic Succulents via Etsy.

For more, see: