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Great Plants, Great Prices, at the Master Gardener Plant Sale June 18 in Balboa Park
Autumn in the Garden Tour & Market
Meet Our Garden Tour Sponsors
Summer  Succulent

Hot, Hot, Hot
Horseradish, 2011 Herb of the Year, Has Roots in History, Gardens and Bold Kitchens

Are Bugs Driving
You Crazy?

The ERGO Gardener:
A Series of Ergonomic Gardening Tips

Hungry Sticks Invade Landscapes
The Warm-Season Vegetable Garden:
String Beans

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Summer  Succulent

Story and photos by Laura Starr

Summer can be an ideal season in many of our gardens. However, even the hardiest, drought tolerant plants – including succulents - will benefit greatly from a small amount of added care in the hot days ahead.

Whether your succulents are in containers or in the ground, here are some summer care tips and techniques to help keep your collection looking its best all season long.

WATERING: The majority of succulents are NOT desert plants. Almost all need some water year round. In general, water in-ground plants every 10 days to two weeks, especially if Santa Ana conditions exist or the temperature goes above 80 degrees. More frequent watering is needed for container-planted succulents. The smaller the container, the more frequent the need for water. Succulents in the 2-inch pots found in many nurseries need water almost every other day. In general, based on the container size and its location, water container succulent gardens once a week.

Remember that black plastic nursery pots significantly increase heat around the plant’s root zone and the need for water. That’s why it’s wise to remove your succulents from those containers and plant them into the ground or a more hospitable container.

Water early in the day to allow the plants to dry off to prevent rotting and sunburn. (More on both below.) And never allow succulent containers to sit in water.

Succulents at the nursery in partial shade

SUN EXPOSURE: Because most are NOT desert plants, succulents in containers will not appreciate a south-facing location in direct summer sun, especially if your garden is in an inland microclimate. When shopping for succulents at a nursery, you’ll notice that most are displayed under light shade cloth. At home, locate container succulents in dappled shade on south and west-facing exposures and in full sun on north and east exposures. Remember, plants in the sunniest areas will require a bit more water.

If you do plan on putting succulents in an area that receives strong summer sun, be sure to acclimatize them gradually or else the leaves will sunburn. These large white, brown or black patches of sunburn cannot be reversed.

Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ with sunburn

If plants start to ‘stretch’ out towards the sun and become leggy, they likely need more sun than they are getting. Move them if possible to a sunnier site.

Rosette-form succulents like aeoniums and echeverias that become leggy can be “beheaded” now to allow propagation of the head possible new growth of plants along the stem. Suspend the cut head on the edges of an empty flower pot, stem side down, put it in a shady spot and in a few weeks, you will see tiny root hairs on the stem. Then just plant in a good quality succulent mix.

A leggy or stretched out stem

PESTS: Succulents are bothered by few pests, but those can be annoying, unsightly and sometimes destructive.  Among the most common are mites, mealy bugs, snails, birds and rodents.   Birds and rodents find healthy succulents to be a good source of water especially during very dry periods. Snails love the tender new growth.  These pests can be deterred by exclusion or repellants.  Bird netting is a good choice if the majority of your plants are in one area.  

Mealy bugs are the most common succulent pest. They resemble small white fluff balls, sometimes under the pot rim or at the base of the plants. They can be hosed them off, manually removed, or killed with an application of insecticidal soap. Also, check plant roots as there are root mealy bugs too.   
Distorted leaves May mean a plant is infested with spider mites, the second most common pest of succulents. Details for dealing with them are available at www.ipm.ucdavis.edu.  

spider m ites
Mealy bugs (left) and spider mites (right)

SOME GOOD THINGS TO KNOW: Keep the area around succulents, especially rosette forms, free of built up mulch, leaf debris and anything that might hold moisture next to the base of the plant. A wet crown will lead to rotting and also attract snails. Overwatering also can cause rotting, especially if there’s a series of cloudy cool days.

Warmer weather causes rapid evaporation. Check your container plants for white salts buildup on the sides and bottoms of pots. Remove it with a brush.

Most succulents do well inside during the summer; just don’t put them too close to a window that gets a lot of sun.  Water only when the soil is dry

‘Low care’ doesn’t mean ‘no care’. Check on the condition of your succulents regularly to prevent or correct many of the things that keep them from looking their best.

Some succulents are winter growers and may appear ailing or dead during summer months when they are dormant. Winter growers include senecios, kalanchoes and dudleyas. Avoid excessive watering for these three – especially California native dudleyas. For the majority of the succulent family, early summer is a good time to take cuttings and start propagation. Many varieties will come into flower and hummingbirds are attracted to their tubular shaped blossoms.

Aeonium in summer dormancy Dudleya at end of winter growth

Did you know hummingbird babies don’t eat nectar but instead require insect material in order to grow up and leave the nest? Mother hummers provide this insect “soup,” so if you can tolerate some pests on your plants during the brief hummingbird nesting season, you’ll be helping them. Enjoy the show!

Laura Starr has been a Master Gardener since 2001. She has also been UC Trained as a Sustainable Landscape Expert. She and her husband own Starr Succulents in North Park andthey have given classes on succulent care, collecting, propagation and planting methods. She writes about succulentcare in the "Now is the Time" column for California Garden Magazine. You can contact her at thegratefulshed@aol.com.