Worry-Free Planters: Mixed Succulents

Mixed succulents in a clay planter.

Mixed succulents in a clay planter. Echeveria, (rosette form), and two kinds of crassula among others.

Why do I love succulent planters? Because, not only are they beautiful, but they are tough and worry-free: they’re the ultimate drought-resistant container planting. Succulents can thrive in the tough growing conditions that a clay planter provides, and are the only plants I grow in an unglazed terra cotta planter.

Why is a terra cotta planter so hard on plants? Because they are porous. Beware, because beautiful, decorative clay planters often seduce us at the garden centre or in photographs, but keep in mind that garden picture books may have photos taken in other climates, with different growing conditions. In rainy, old England, for example, or any Maritime climate with tons of rain and mist, you can get away with planting mixed annuals—like petunias, begonias, browallia— in clay, but I would never do it in the Toronto climate. Sunny, hot summer days dry out a clay planter in a couple of hours. All planters dry out from the top, but porous terra cotta dries out from the sides as well. It can spell certain death to most flowering annuals, they don’t stand a chance.

So save them for echeveria, sedum, aeonium, graptopetalum, and crassula, and plant to your heart’s content. You’ll be xeriscaping, meaning growing a garden with little need for water. The good news is that there are so many different succulents to choose from to make an intriguing planter full of colour and texture.Warning: succulents are almost like hostas, in that once you start appreciating them they can get a little addictive. Aeonium ‘Schwartzkopf’ is one I had to have after seeing them growing in California. Like hostas, you can share them with friends by propagating and dividing them. Choose a few succulents, get that beautiful clay planter, place it in your sunniest spot, and never fear, it will thrive. They may even flower for you. But that will probably be in the winter, when you bring those succulent containers indoors, and enjoy them as houseplants.

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