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written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
published APRIL 25, 2014


Growing succulent plants has been identified as an emerging trend in gardening. Since I already have a succulent garden, does that mean I am “trendy?” More gardeners like me are becoming enamored with this interesting group of plants for both indoor and outdoor planting.

Succulents are plants native to arid areas that have adapted to a lack of precipitation by developing thick fleshy leaves, stems, or roots in which they can store water. Other adaptations that can help them conserve water include waxy leaves and stems, hairy or spiny surfaces, a reduced leaf surface area, and a compact columnar or spherical shape.

Cacti are a type of succulent with spiny needles that originate from a structure called an areole that looks like a little patch of cottony fuzz. My succulent gardening does not include cacti because I don’t like working with spiny plants. However, cacti can be interesting and beautiful plants.

I have seen some amazing succulent gardens featured in gardening magazines and books, but most are from regions with much warmer climates. Many of the plants in these gardens would not survive outdoors in our region’s cold winters.

My “succulent garden” is a collection of containers planted mostly with “hens-and-chicks” and some sedums. I would like to add more diversity to my collection, but it is difficult finding hardy succulents locally. At local garden stores I seldom find tags indicating the succulents’ hardiness. After purchasing a few without hardiness ratings and losing them over the next winter, I now assume that they are not hardy unless their tag indicates differently.

To add more color and texture to my succulent garden I will have to find mail-order sources of hardy succulents (USDA Hardiness Zones 6 and 7 or lower.) I have found two, SMG Succulents ( in Oregon and Mountain Crest Gardens ( in northern California.

Growing hardy succulents is easy. You need a site with full sun, good drainage, and a well-drained soil. Because my succulent garden is in pots, the plants are planted with the same quality potting mix that I use for all my container gardens. I did try a special mix for cactus that contained more sand and perlite, but it did not retain enough moisture in the very hot and sunny spot where my succulents are located.

If you are planting directly in the ground and you have a soil that is not fine or coarse sand, add enough builder’s sand to the bed so that it makes up about 25 per cent of the top several inches of soil. Also, add enough compost or coconut coir so that the soil is about 10 per cent organic matter.

There are two major groups of hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum sp.) that can be grown outdoors in our region. One is the Sempervivum tectorum genus that has mostly fleshy-leaved plants. The other is the Sempervivum arachnoideum genus with smaller, almost spherical plants that are covered with spider web-like hair. Jovibarba species, closely resembling hens-and-chicks, are another group of hardy succulents

Hardy sedums come in a variety of forms and are nice additions to a succulent garden. Sedums can be big or small, upright or trailing, depending on the species and cultivar. I like having bright green trailing sedums to complement the more structured grayish hens-and-chicks.

If you have a spot in your garden that is too hot for most other plants, follow the trend and try some hardy succulents.

Published: 4/25/2014 11:45 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

As a youngster, I never appreciated the Hen-and-Chicks (Sempervivum sp.), also known as house leeks, that my mother grew in the garden. She thought them quaint, but I found them downright ugly. Strangely, my capricious garden tastes have changed with time and this year I’ve fallen in love with the unique beauty of these cute succulents. I’ve also become enamored of other succulents that are well adapted to our arid climate and hot summer conditions. This coming week I hope you’ll visit the WSU Extension Master Gardeners’ exhibit at the Benton-Franklin County Fair where succulents are being featured.

Hen-and-Chicks are just one type of plant known as “succulents.” Succulents are plants that have adapted to arid conditions by retaining water in their leaves, stems, or roots. Many have thick fleshy leaves and stems in which they store water. They may also have other characteristics that help them conserve moisture. This includes waxy leaves and stems; fewer stomata (These are small opening in leaves through which water can escape.) than non-arid plants; a reduction in total leaf surface area achieved by way of smaller leaves, globular or cylinder-shaped leaves, or no leaves at all; a compact columnar or spherical shape; and a hairy or spiny surface.

‘Hen and Chicks’ or ‘Hen-and-Chickens’ are perennial succulents with a compact form of closely spaced leaves that form a globose rosette close to the ground. The ‘chicks’ start out as small offsets that form at the base of the bigger ‘hen’ or mother plant. If left on their own they will develop roots or they can be separated from the mother and used to propagate new plants.

My mother’s garden only had one type of plain green ‘Hen-and-Chicks,’ but I’ve learned that there are a number of different species and types that offer a wide variety of foliage color and characteristics. The ‘Hen-and-Chicks’ or Sempervivum genus includes numerous genera. I think Sempervivum arachnoideum with its hairy rosettes that look like they’re covered with cobwebs is particularly captivating. Most gardeners also call plants in a related genus, Jovibarba sp., Hen and Chicks, but they are a bit different.

One of the ‘Hens’ in my new succulent garden flowered this year. This happens after the plant reaches maturity after its grown about three to four years. It sent up a single flower stalk that produced a number of pinkish, star-shaped flowers. After this happened the mother plant died leaving behind a number of baby chicks in her place.

My succulent garden is located in a particularly hot and difficult part of my landscape with a southwestern exposure. The area is filled in with rock because it was too harsh and unfriendly of a situation to grow other plants successfully. Along with my grandpa’s old wooden wheelbarrow, I’ve planted my succulents there.

Rather than plant them in the ground, I’ve planted them in ceramic pots, a cast iron tea kettle, and grandma’s old watering can. I used well- drained potting soil and they’re watered sparingly since they don’t like wet conditions. Some gardeners find it fun to plant them in old boots, shoes, and other fun containers. I’m sure similar containers will show up in my garden before long. However, succulents may also be planted in the garden. They’re perfect for the rock garden or low-water-use landscape because they do best with drier soils.

Other succulents I’ve been “playing” with:

Sedum – I’ve heard other gardeners tout ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum (Sedum telephium

Autumn Joy

or more correctly S.


) but I never thought it particularly attractive in catalog photographs. However, I saw it for the first time last summer and finally understood what they were talking about. This sedum is easy to grow and produces beautiful flower clusters that start out pink and then turn to red and then rusty bronze in the fall. The plant has blue green leaves and stems. It forms a clump that’s about 18 inches tall and wide. There are other lovely sedums to try, some clump forming and others forming ground-hugging mats.

Lewisia – This plant is the gem of the Pacific Northwest. The species are native to the northwest and are cultivated by gardeners for their captivating flowers. I saw one with pink flowers at a local nursery and just couldn’t resist it. You must have at least one Lewisia (named after Captain Meriwether Lewis) in a succulent or rock garden. These little succulents aren’t as vigorous or as tough as other types of succulents in the garden. They must have very well-drained soil and prefer some protection from afternoon sun.

To learn more about succulents, see the WSU Extension Master Gardeners out at the Fair. They can tell you how to grow succulents and answer your gardening questions. Just ask!

Published: 8/16/2008 1:45 PM



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