Succulent Gardens for Small Spaces
The best thing about succulent gardens is that they require little maintenance and look wonderful with almost no effort. If you’re wondering how to brighten your place up and have a small garden all year round, then creating one of these is ideal.
If you live in a particularly small space, then a garden of cacti and succulents is perfect as you don’t need to buy much gardening equipment and weeding is minimal. A big plus is that you can recycle items from around the house for planters.
Add some plant life both indoors and out and show off your collection in a gorgeous display. Not only are succulents fairly hardy, but care is easy and they’ll live even if you forget to water them from time to time!
General Method For Potting
Use this method to plant your succulent garden. The initial setup takes a little bit of effort, but after that it’s just easy maintenance.
You will need:
- A pot with a hole in it
- Fresh damp garden soil
- Fertiliser (of any kind)
- River pebbles, rocks, glass pebbles or gravel
- Sand (optional)
- Make sure the pot has a hole in the bottom and can drain water away easily. If your pot doesn’t have one, create one. Succulents like well drained soil to prevent stem rot and they don’t require a bowl or plate of water to sit in, unless it is shallow.
- Fill about 1/3 of the bottom of the pot with pebbles, rocks or gravel, spaced out a bit. I recommend that you use these larger rocks as they help water drain away more easily and protect plant roots from rotting. Next, make the soil mixture...
- Mix some fertiliser into the soil (instructions about how much and where to put it are usually on the packet). Whether in the form of slow-release capsules on the top of the soil, a bag of blood and bone mixed in with the soil or some other type of fertiliser is up to you. They all work to promote growth, just like plant vitamins!
- Add sand to the soil. Sand is not essential, but does help to make succulents have a more natural environment. I have successfully grown succulents with and without sand, but with sand is slightly better in terms of assisting drainage and providing a good consistency for the roots. The soil mixture should be light and fluffy, or crumbly, with lots of oxygen mixed in.
- Put the soil mixture into the pot, on top of the rock/pebble/gravel formation and make a hole deep enough for your succulent to be planted. The plant should sit about 1cm above where the roots begin.
- Take the succulent out of its existing container or garden and “tickle” its roots to stimulate them. A small bit of soil from the previous container can be left on.
- Plant the succulent in the hole and put the soil around the plant. Pat down somewhat firmly. Add any decorative sand/river pebbles/glass pebbles/rocks if you like, although these aren’t essential, on the top of the soil. Decorative rocks can be useful in helping control soil erosion through over watering, so if you are a bit keen, use them on top as well as the bottom of the pot. Pebbles and rocks can also add some great contrasting colours to the design.
- Water the succulent on the leaves/petals and check that after dampening the soil (with a pretend “rain”), there is enough soil left to cover 1cm of the stem. Do not water directly onto the stem or soil as this causes soil erosion around the root system and can be devastating. Always water from the top onto the leaves/petals or alternatively, spray the whole plant that is above ground using a spray bottle. You should water enough that the soil under the plant is wet, but not floating in puddles. Soil should absorb the water well (if not, soil needs to be crumbled and mixed with fertiliser and sand).
- Your succulent garden is now finished! Find a nice place that has a little to a lot of sunlight and position the potted plant suitably. For best results, water once a day for the next 3 days (this is called “watering in”) although its not important as long as you water when you first plant. For more information about maintaining succulent gardens, read the maintenance section below.
Succulents in Pots & Pans
Succulents will grow well in pots and pans, even kettles and glasses!
Choosing a nice pot is an essential part of planting a succulent garden and is almost a kind of feng shui in itself – for example, you can make lots of decisions about which area of the balcony, deck, verandah/porch, terrace or windowsill to put them in, or which pot/succulent combination looks best.
Protect succulents in pots from extreme heat and cold. There should be no frosts, hurricanes, extreme summer temperatures or other disasters for them to face alone, otherwise, they will not thrive.
Having said that, I came home to my succulent collection after a small cyclone had gone through it, and although the leaves were torn off, the succulent regrew successfully within about 2 months after I picked off the petals. It was a one meter high succulent though, and I think it was pleased with the rain, because I’m a bit of a “if it can make it in my garden, it can stay there” type of gardener.
You don’t have to worry about pests and diseases much—you might get a few discoloured/eaten/ripped leaves like I do (which you remove to promote new growth) but anything else can be taken care of with a spray from a hardware store, a water or repotting.
Some ideas for growing succulent gardens in pots and pans and other exciting containers include:
- Using a kettle as a container
- Planting in gumboots
- Planting in teacups
- Hollowing out bricks as planters
- Finding old pottery at op shops and converting them to planters
- Using wooden crates to grow them in
- Using tier pots, or even cake tiers
- Placing smaller pots within larger pots for layering
- Using old tyres for garden beds
- Planting in mugs
- Planting in terrarium glasses
- Planting on plates and square pots
- Planting in recycled food tins
- Driftwood planters
- Mini eggshell planters
- Hanging seashell planters
- Hanging knitted bags/sacks
- Nailing planters to a fence
Miniature Succulent Gardens
Miniature succulent gardens planted outdoors are particularly beautiful when planted in bricks, old containers and vintage ware. By miniature succulent gardens I’m referring to less then 1m x 1m gardens in pots or beds.
I’ve seen wheelbarrows of succulents looking splendid in the grass, as well as half-teacups embedded with cement into a wall on an inner city garden.
The idea behind making successful miniature gardens is to vary the colours and containers. I’ve often found that using blue and white Mediterranean pots is a good starting point if you’re not sure about colours. Almost ANY succulent looks great in white and blue pots and it gives the whole garden a Mediterranean sort of appearance.
Another hot tip is to use natural looking materials/colors for the planters, while contrasting these with bright succulents. For example, using driftwood for planters is a great idea if you can get your hands on some, or maybe try using stone-looking planters for outdoors if you want a minimalist design approach.
Remember that the smaller the pot is and the less soil the succulent has, the quicker you need to repot in order to replace the soil.
For Indoor Display
Indoor succulent gardens are a little more work than outdoor ones. You need to water more often, as there is no rainfall, and repot a bit more often, due to the soil being depleted of nutrients (and also because succulents are generally placed in smaller containers when indoors).
Have a think about indoor displays and what you want to use them for. If you want a permanent indoor garden put it near a window with lots of natural light. If you want something for guests only, then you can create any type of novelty garden and replant it later.
The best types of plants to use for an indoor succulent garden are “babies” from other succulents. Pick the baby sproutings off the stem of larger succulents and let them dry for a few days before planting. This seals the new stems so they can reinvigorate on their own.
Caring For & Maintaining Your Succulent Garden
Do not water your succulent garden in winter if you get any rainfall, as this will rot the plant.
Protect your succulents from frost. Larger succulents will be fine for a day or two of frost, with only a few discoloured leaves to show for it.
Seedling sized succulents need protection or they will die.
Bring them inside for a few days, or put them near other vegetation or a compost heap (which give off warming gases).
In summer, take care to move the succulents to a shady area if it is over 35 degrees celsius (95 degrees fahrenheit) on consecutive days. Especially if they are kept near bricks or concrete, which reflect heat onto the plant.
The best way to do this in a low maintenance way is to move your collection somewhere a bit shadier for the summer.
Mornings in the sun tend to be OK, but afternoons should be shaded as this is when the heat of the day will burn your plants. You’ll be able to tell because the succulent leaves will turn black and die.
If succulents are kept outdoors, watering is minimal, depending on the rainfall of your climate. Obviously, if plants look thirsty or sick, water them!
I live in Melbourne, Australia, and I don’t water my outdoor plants at all because there is sufficient rainfall year round.
Indoor plants do well if lightly watered once a week to once a month, depending on the size of the plant.
You’ll figure it out because they’ll look thirsty and sick without water.
Spraying the leaves with a spray bottle of water is a great way to keep the leaves colourful.
Weeding & Clearing
If weeds grow, pull them out. If you don’t like weeding at all, invest in some rocks, pebbles, gravel or sand to put on the topsoil to prevent weeds from growing.
Every few months, check your succulent and remove the dead petals/leaves on the underside of the plant.
Doing this helps to keep the plant’s vital energies directed into producing new leaves instead of wasting nutrients in the dying ones.
The main part of maintenance besides weather protection and watering is repotting the succulents.
Timing varies depending on the size of the pot relative to the size of the plant, how much soil the plant is living in and how quickly the soil compacts and loses its nutrients.
You’ll know it’s time to repot if any of the following occur:
- The succulent looks droopy and doesn’t seem to grow at all.
- he succulent gets dry and crisp and watering doesn’t help.
- The succulent grows too big for its pot, has “babies” and overhangs the sides while the middle starts going “bald”.
To repot, mix up another batch of fresh soil/sand/fertiliser. Empty the pot of old soil (put the old soil onto a garden or throw out) and recycle the old pebbles/rocks in the bottom of the container, shifting them around a bit.
Follow the original procedure for planting (eg., pebbles/rocks on bottom, soil on top, “tickling” the roots, watering in, etc).
Make sure you have combined the new soil mixture with plenty of oxygen, by mixing it or simply stirring it up with your fingers (succulents love getting more oxygen in the soil).
Over the next few days, watch your succulents perk up and show that they are enjoying the fresh soil!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Suzanne Day