Monday, November 14, 2011

Succulent strawberry pot planting

I planted my first succulent strawberry pot today.  To keep the weight light weight, I filled a large volume of the space with a 12" tall piece of PVC pipe with a cap on top.  I used a circular saw to cut a longer piece of pipe down to fit the pot, making it 6" shorter than the top of the pot.

The drainage hole in the pot is big enough but if I put this pvc pipe in and water it, the water can't access the hole if I water the side pockets.  Only the planting on top will have access to the only drainage hole.  So I cut notches in the bottom with my dremel tool so that.

Here's the pot with the finished pcv pipe.

It took me an hour and a half to plant a couple of different types of sempervivums and echeveria elegans into the side pockets using my cactus mix.

I put a thin layer of 1/4" red lava rock on top of the plastic cover so that the soil for the top planting would not fall through the openings.

It took me about 2 hours from beginning to finish.  I used the 1/4" red lava rock as a topping to fill in the gaps.  In time the succulents will fill in that space and cover up the topping but for now, I'll give it some room to grow.  Here is another side of the planting.

The finished pot is still heavy but considerable lighter than it would have been had I filled the whole thing with soil.  This pot will be a nice addition to our container garden!  :D

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Potting Queen Victoria Reginae Agave

 I bought two of these Queen Victoria Reginae Agaves for $20 each by luck.  They are not in pristine condition but still very acceptable for the price.  They are about 9" wide each.  They are extremely slow growing so they usually sell for much more.  These agaves are known for their beautiful spherical symmetry.  When they are under-watered, they maintain a compact form which looks nicer than the open form.  I potted both of them tonight so I will share my notes on how I did that.  Since they have a spherical form, I decided that the best pot shape should repeat this form.  The color of the leaves are dark so I want to contrast the plant against a light colored pot.  I wanted an understated pot so that it would not draw attention away from the plant.

I bought two terracotta pots for $7.50 each.  These agaves like a well draining cactus mix so the first thing I did was use a diamond circular cutting bit to cut a bigger drainage hole.  I bought this bit at Home Depot a while back to cut through tile.  The hole is now 1" wide and it will improve drainage a lot.

Next, I put a plastic piece of screen to keep the soil from spilling out.  If the pot had raised feet, I would wire it in but since it doesn't, I'll just let the soil hold it down.

I line the bottom inch with a drainage layer of 1/4" red lava rock.  This will hold the screen down, add weight to the pot so it will be less likely to fall over, and improve drainage.

My cactus mix consists of 40% Miracle Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix and 60% perlite.  I believe in the "more white than brown" rule because it will help prevent over-watering.  Sometimes when it rains and the pot is exposed, you can just leave it there if your soil is fast draining like mine is.  As long as it doesn't rain for several days continuously, the plant should be just fine.  I'm in Los Angeles so we're not known to receive much precipitation but still...  You never know.  The last thing you want to worry about is root rot.

I removed most of the old soil from the plant's nursery pot.  The roots looks mostly healthy, I only removed a few loose, dead roots.  I left a little bit of the old soil near the base of the plant on it.  I did not do any root pruning because I don't think it is necessary yet and it will fit in the new container just fine the way it is.

After packing the soil in around the roots and filling in the gaps, I made sure that it was as centered and upright positioned as possible.  I used 1/4" California Gold gravel as a topping.  This gravel is gold and turns into a deep orange when wet.  It preserves the contrast between the pot and the plant which is nice and looks natural.

I am very happy with how these turned out.

Keep an eye out because sometimes you can find great bargains on plants and pots.  If you fall in love with a plant immediately, be patient and don't buy it right away because you might be able to buy it elsewhere for much cheaper.  I've seen these plants in this 9" size sell for over $100 each at another nursery before.  These two are not in perfect condition because some of the leaf tips are a bit dinged but nothing major.  However my total cost minus the soil and topping was only about $60 including tax.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Vertical Succulent Frame DIY Tutorial part 2

This is part two of my Succulent Frame project. "It's all about the details." is what one of my great bonsai teachers told me.  I will be covering the types of plants I used, construction details, and how to apply design concepts for the succulent arrangement.

This is an update with details from my vertical succulent frame DIY tutorial in the last post.

Specific plant names that were used include:

Aeonium Zwartkop

Anglicum Sedum

Echeveria Peacockii

My apologies for not knowing exactly what Sempervivum I used because there was no label on it ...

... but there are tons of them and most of them are very well suited to be used in these vertical succulent frames.  Here is an example of several different kinds1:

 Sedum Makinoi 'Ogon'

and lastly but not least is Echeveria Perle Von Nurnberg

Construction Details

This is the back side of the frame without the cement board covering it.  This shows the rot proof heartwood spacer nailed to the sides.  The cement board will sit directly on top of these spacers.  This is an easy way to make an edge for the cement board to sit on without using a router. The backing board is cement board normally used for a support under tiling projects in the kitchen or bath room. This type of board will not rot or deteriorate when exposed to water.

Here you can see the galvanized L-Brackets I used to attach the side wall to the back of the frame.  I also used a waterproof wood glue between the side wall and frame.  If you look closely, you will see a staple holding the green plastic coated hardware cloth.

Using a compressor and pneumatic staple gun, I put a staple spaced about every 3" apart all the way around the edge of the hardware cloth.  The wood frame is sealed with three coats of an outdoor grade decking wood sealer.

After that, you put the cement board on top.  Pre-drill the holes into the cement board before you put the screws in.  I used hardiebacker screws designed for the cement board here.  They come with a specific screwdriver bit.

Every cutting fitted in between the 1/2" openings in the hardware cloth except for the Echeveria Perle Von Nurnberg.  I had to cut a bigger opening to fit the stem in.  Notice the four sharp edges of the wire pointing towards the center of the opening.  This might bite into the stem and that's not good.  The black item above is a short section of 1/4" polytube drip line.  Here's what you do with it...

Cut a slit on one side of the tube with a pair of pointy scissors.  Then wrap it around all four sides of the opening.  This will protect the sharp wire points from biting into the stem of your larger stems.


Most people think too hard and confuse themselves or have no clue where to put what.  Some people just randomly put plants wherever they land.  As for me, I like to apply design techniques because I learned them really well.  Here's what the final arrangement looks like so you can see it before I draw over it to demonstrate how I applied design concepts:

Use a basic shape for example:

Three Perle von Nurnberg Echeverias represent pinks and purples form a triangle.  :)

I placed Sedum Makinoi 'Ogon' along in a C shaped curve.  This curve brings the bright yellows into the composition.

I arranged the Sempervivums in a S-Curve.  These basic curves create an organic element to design and are very elegant.  They are a good contrast against straight edged shapes.  Speaking of contrast , the magic word...

Our vision scientifically tends to get drawn into areas with the highest contrast.  This means as a designer, you can create contrast to guide your viewer's eyes!  Where this red circled area is, I placed the highest tonal contrast putting the dark deep shiny purple Aeonium Zwartkop rosettes next to the chalky white Echeveria Peacockii.  There is also a color contrast since Sedum Makinoi 'Ogon' is yellowish and surrounds the deep purple Aeonium Zwartkop.

Next in my mind is size, color, and texture contrast in this area under the blue circle.  The largest succulent is the Echeveria Perle von nurnberg which is placed next to tiny strands of Anglicum sedum.  Again, Sedum Makinoi 'Ogon' the yellow is placed next to the purples in the Echeveria Perle von nurnberg to provide a color contrast in addition to size contrast.  And finally, the rough textures of the Sedum sets it apart from the large smooth petals on the Echeveria.

Click here to see the high resolution image of the final arrangement.

I think if you can use a few of these ideas in your designs, you will create a more well balanced, thought out, and harmoniously composed arrangement.  I hope this will help you fellow succulent lovers out there.  Good luck and don't forget to have fun while you work!

1. Image Source:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

DIY Tutorial: Succulent Frame for Vertical Display!

Welcome to my "how to build a vertical succulent frame and make a succulent arrangement" tutorial.

This is actually  the first vertical succulent frame that I made complete with a plant arrangement.

The size is 20" x 16".  The top frame is a 1" wide by 1/2" tall custom frame that i sealed with three coats of wood sealer a while ago.

I joined another wood frame using a 2" wide canvas stretcher bars to build a depth for the box to contain the soil.  The two frames were combined to make a 2" deep box using rust free metal L-brackets and some waterproof glue.

A piece of hardware cloth (wire mesh) coated with a green plastic was cut a couple of inches bigger than the size of the frame opening so that I can cut out the four corners and fold the sides parallel to the box wall.  I stapled to the folded sides of the hardware cloth to the side of the frame.  The backing board is cement board normally used for a support under tiling projects in the kitchen or bath room.  The board is screwed on to the back of the frame using rust free screws designed for the cement board.  If you're handy with a router you can cut a rabbit to hide the side edge of the cement board.

You can see a little of the details in the frame I used here.  I thought about drilling some drainage holes in the back but decided that it probably won't matter much.  The soil is a mixture of 50% cactus mix and 50% perlite.  Cactus mix already has perlite or pumice depending on which kind you buy but I like adding more perlite because it improves drainage and keeps the mix light weight which is important since we will eventually hang this vertically.

I pack the soil in with a chopstick and covered it with green sphagum moss.  This holds the soil in and fills the surface with a nice green color which will fill in any areas that are left open in between the succulents.  You can see that the moss really holds the soil in when you stand it up.

I wanted to make this succulent arrangement for my wife.  She likes pinks and purples and floral shapes so I decided to go with that color scheme and use yellow as a complimentary color to make accents.  The most affordable succulents I found were actually from The Home Depot.  For pinks and purples, I used three Echeveria 'Perle Von Nurnberg' in a triangle shape'.  The little green succulents on the bottom right is a kind of Sempervivum.  For yellow, my plan was to use Ogon.  Then the plan was to cover the rest of the frame with a ground cover Sedum.  I left the plants in their little pots and roughly arranged them here using the idea of applying S-curves and or C-curves in groups of plants.  You need tweezers and a steady hand to plant these little succulents. 

It took me about three hours to remove all the soil from the plant containers, and plant everything.  I decided to use a few Aeonium Zwartkops (Dark Prince) that are almost black with a deep purple sheen to add a bit of drama.  The planting process is tedious but not difficult.  Just remember to be patient and enjoy the process since you are making a masterpiece ;).

Here she is!  I misted the surface only to take a nice photo.  However, I will not water this for a week so that the cuttings have time to heal and form callouses.  Now we will keep this in the shade and flat on a table for 3-6 months until every cutting is rooted into the soil.  Once the succulents are rooted, they will not be easily pulled out of the frame.  At that point, I will attach a couple of wall hangers and hang it up in our courtyard!  In the mean time, we will enjoy it flat on a table for a while.  Here is a high resolution image if you want to take a closer look!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

California Cactus Center Nursery, Pasadena, CA

California Cactus Center is an awesome nursery in Pasadena.  Their nursery is organized and clean.  It's a good idea if you're a succulent lover to take a day to visit the Huntington Botanical Gardens Desert Garden before you visit CCC to get some ideas on how you can design your residential xeriscape!  However if you aren't sure if a plant is okay to use in landscaping, the friendly staff members will be happy to answer all of your questions.

There selection of succulents is gigantic here, but why not buy something you can't buy at your local Home Depot or Lowes?  Like this Aloe ramossissima.  :)

I was afraid to ask them how much some of the plants were because I think their prices are on the high side.  Perhaps there is a high demand for succulents and cacti in the area and people in the local neighborhood have deep pockets.  Nevertheless, this is a great place to get some inspiration for succulent dish gardens.  We love succulents because they offer a very wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.  Look at this nice Discorea elephantipes:

They sold a couple of these plants that were a small fist size for $99 each.  The cauldex has fissured textures and makes you just want to touch it.  This guy will grow a vine, which sometimes people may consider putting it near a trellis so that it can climb up.  This is very slow growing so big ones are very expensive if someone is willing to sell them.

The plant below is called Euphorbia lactea variegata.  Now, I take it back.  On your lucky day, you may be able to find this at Home Depot for a very reasonable price.  Keep your eyes peeled.  This plant is a beautiful organic modern sculpture built by nature.  It looks very much like a piece of sea coral.

You can buy this at Home Depot but I just included it just for kicks.  This funny cactus is called Old Man of the Mountains (not to be confused with Old man of the Andes which is more green with curvy spines).  The rest is up to your own interpretation.  ;)

Try to say this ten times fast, "Operculicarya decaryi", from a 3/4 top view.

Now we are getting into a controversial area in the subject of Bonsai.  There is a term coined by Rudy Lime called S.M.O.L.A. which stands for succulents as a medium of living art, which brings us to a very interesting subject matter.  This is a recent phenomenon that can be called "American Bonsai."  The good news is that if you forget to water any of these succulent Bonsai for a couple of days, they will be A Okay!  In fact some prefer to be watered very little compared to traditional Bonsai in a well draining soil.  This is great news for Southern Californians.  The tiny leaves make this awesome plant look like a giant tree!  Here is a side view:

 The word "caudiciform" simply means large form.  These plants are also sometimes called "fat plants".  Some are very slow growing and some aren't.  I will now bombard you with one of my favorite caudiciforms called Fockea crispa and Fockea edulis.

These plants are rare so they are quite expensive!  I love the outer-worldly look of these plants and their movement.  I had to haggle the price down so that I could afford to buy a couple small ones shown below.  The awesome thing about CCC is that if you buy a pot and plant, they offer to pot it for you free of charge or if you feel inclined, you can do it yourself right there at their potting station, which is what I did. 

Fockea crispa looks the same as Fockea edulis except the edges of it's leaves are wavy.  Fockea edulis is considered to be the more rare plant.  CCC also has very nice pots, rocks, and toppings to dress your arrangement up.  Don't forget that the plant will take the shape of the pot over time so if you want a wide bodied plant, put it in a wide pot.  If you want it to grow the body downwards more, put it in a deeper pot.  Each time your re-pot these guys (each year or two), you can raise them a little bit to show off more of the fat body.  If you tilt the planting angle at every planting, eventually you can end up with a "reclining nude" style.  Take that traditional Bonsai!  :)  It's fun isn't it?

Overall, whether you buy something special or not, this place is definitely worth a visit because of their wonderful succulent Bonsai displays and rare plants.  To be honest, if you do plan to buy something, I recommend that you know what your Home Depot and Lowes stocks so that you don't pay premium for common succulents.  Do your homework and save more money!