Solving common garden problems with succulents

While looking good in pots, most succulents generally perform better when planted in the garden. This is because the roots are unrestricted and have access to more nutrients and water. As a result, plants grow more vigorously, producing flowers on a regular basis. In sunny locations, growth will be compact and colours will be bright.

With good drainage, many succulent plants will tolerate more water outdoors in summer than many gardeners realise, allowing them to be used in high-water areas, especially those watered by drippers or micro-sprinklers. Succulents thrive in areas not covered by water systems and will be able to compete with most weed growth. Remember that weeds grow well only when watered, and by reducing the moisture in the soil, weed growth will slow, giving slower-growing succulents an even chance of keeping up in the competition for light, space, water and food.

Succulents as low-maintenance Ground Cover

Low-maintenance grow covers are now being used to reduce the size of the lawn area and are becoming a popular alternative to lawns themselves. Lawns rarely grow well under trees and are difficult to maintain on uneven or steep slopes. Succulents are not normally thought of as suitable for ground covers. In fact, They are ideally suited to low-traffic areas if certain criteria are met.

Temporary Ground Covers

New gardens are often very bare and open areas without any trees or shade. Often the most common starting point is the introduction of a few seedling trees or large shrubs which will eventually become specimen plants giving future shade. What can be used to fill in the spaces between these plants until they grow sufficiently large to fill the space with their foliage? Succulents are the ideal ground cover, being shallow-rooted. Since the feature plants are still small, they do not require the heavy watering of mature plants, and this suits succulents.

Many traditional ground covers will compete with the feature plants or become invasive and have to be laboriously removed once the feature plants fill out their allotted spaces. On the other hand, shallow-rooted succulents can be easily removed and replanted elsewhere, saving money and work at the same time.

Succulents do not suffer stress unduly from being uprooted and will often benefit greatly from being divided and moved after a number of years. This feature allows succulents to be viewed as relocatable ground covers which increase in value as each season progresses. As an added bonus, succulents also suppress weeds.

Ground covers where large trees roots are common and exposed

Mature trees often produce such a thick surface layer of roots that most neighbouring plants are suppressed even when adequate water and sunlight are available. Succulents can survive and thrive in this environment but will need supplementary watering until well established.

Planting succulents near invasive trees can actually be an advantage, as the trees will often keep the soil from becoming too soggy, even during the winter, when many of the hardy succulents are in growth.

Succulents are the natural choice for such sites for gardeners wishing to reduce the cost and time involved in keeping up the almost constant supply of water needed to keep understorey plants thriving in these situations. Using succulents creates a harmonious balance few other plants can match.

Uneven ground with exposed tree roots, rocks or ground which cracks heavily is often difficult to cover with conventional plants. Succulents tolerate these conditions well and visually smooth out irregularities as well as cover the cracked and unsightly ground.

Borders and driveways

Usually, driveways are very neglected spaces, sometimes through frustration with gardening problems, these areas are completely concreted over. But with a little foresight and the use of containerised succulents, an interesting self-sustaining garden can be nurtured.

Why not plant low-growing succulents in the area between the concrete wheel tracks? Often the driveway is only partially used anyway and, it would greatly improve the look of unsightly driveways.

Succulents can be planted in patterns or designs which can be repeated for a tiling effect or can be totally abstract. The effect is only limited to your imagination!

Garden areas along or near fences

Almost every garden has a fence to deal with somewhere. Some are too far away from watering points and from the normal traffic flow. Fences next to where neighbours have a heavy tree population are usually hard to plant because of the root invasion from the trees.

Other difficult boundary areas include those on a slope where there is little or no soil along the fence line. Succulents can survive on as little as 50 mm of soil, which is much less than any other plant type.

Low, wire fences can also be nicely landscaped with succulents where conventional shrubs would grow too high and block the view. Walls which serve as fences and consist of loose rock are ideal for succulents as these will grow on top of and in rock crevices.

Focus and specimen succulent plants

The larger growing succulents make ideal focus plants in any garden. Because some attain considerable size, they should be placed in a position where they will not be a problem in later years. Careful research is required to find out how different species will eventually develop.

Many will attain a large size and fill a substantial space within five to ten years. Correct placement at an early stage is therefore essential unless kept potted or restricted by a small soil area.

Gardens with Shady areas

Heavily shaded locations in the city are another issue. Buildings, high fences and mature trees combine to create difficult growing conditions for most types of small plants.

Successful plant cultivation in shady environments requires careful plant selection. A few succulent groups will survive and grow well in half to full shade if the area is on the dry side. Gasterias, haworthias and some aloes can be considered.

Succulents as fire barriers

Most leaf succulents are nearly impossible to ignite. when used in broad beds or colour blocks they make excellent bushfire barriers. Unfortunately, there is a misconception that all succulents-leafed plants are equal in this regard.

Several of the mesemb group are highly flammable when old and dry or stressed by drought. For security with living with fire barriers, stick to the rosette and leaf succulent types such as echeverias, aeoniums, sedums, agaves and, small aloes.

To make a low fire-risk garden even safer, tidy up before the fire season begins, removing any dry plants, leaves and litter, including those which have blown from elsewhere.

Erosion control

Steep gardens will always be a problem. Some homeowners delay planting steep banks because they think they will eventually terrace, landscape, pave, extend, etc.. However, most of these ideas only come to fruition once enough money becomes available. In the meantime, the slope becomes covered with a thin layer of weeds or is washed away by storm rains.

The best alternative may be to quickly plant a stabilising cover of succulents which will at least hold the slope in place and protect it from weeds and erosion. The succulents can always be removed at a later date when funds are available for more permanent work. Succulents in the mesemb plant group grow well on very steep grades, including vertical walls.

Weed suppression

Weeds generally only grow well in places where they receive adequate light and moisture. Most succulents love the sun and will spread out their leaves to cover the ground fully. Succulent do not need supplementary watering once established and, in itself, suppresses the weeds. Succulents compete with weeds for moisture supplied by rain, again reducing the capacity of weeds to grow vigorously.

The key to weed suppression is a very dense covering of succulents and little or no added water and fertiliser.

If there are some difficult areas in your garden, succulents might be the solution you are looking for. These low-maintenance, drought-tolerant and, beautiful plants are perfect for many of those troublesome garden areas.