Succulent gardens: Tips for designing with drought-tolerant plants

As decades of drought continue in Southern California and increasing pressure to protect scarce water resources, more and more people are removing dry lawns and water-hungry plants from their gardens. I’m here. Instead, they’re turning to succulents and other drought-tolerant species to add beauty, color, and texture to their landscapes.

Renowned garden author, photojournalist and horticulturist, Debra Lee Baldwin, has sparked interest in succulents by writing three books on them. Her books and website,, offer gardening and design tips with succulents. Many of the succulents have their roots in a Mediterranean climate similar to San Diego.

Succulents are plants that store water in their fleshy leaves and stems to survive periods of drought. Cactus, aloe and jade are the most famous succulents.

Baldwin lives in a house on the northeastern slopes of Escondido and landscapes it mostly with succulents. She first discovered the benefits while living in Ocean Beach and freelancing for publications such as her now-defunct San Diego Her Home/Garden Her Lifestyle. Her fascination increased when she became her scout for Sunset Her Magazine’s Gardens and she began to focus more on dry climate gardening.

“I was fascinated by gardens and designers that moved beyond English country gardens,” explained Baldwin. “The stories back then were of people transforming rural gardens in England with plants growing in San Diego.”

Among the first plants that caught her eye were aloes, agaves, barrel cacti, and many other varieties. Today, she recommends it as her top seven low-maintenance succulent choices. aeonium haworthy, Echeveria ‘Sahara,’ Crassula Obata “Hummel’s Sunset” Beaucarnea recurvata (bottle palm), Agave “Blue Glow” Aloe brevifolia When Kalanchoe Lucius (paddle plant).

“Barrel cacti are a landscape designer’s secret weapon,” she said. “Plant three or more in odd numbers, in clusters, or repeatedly throughout the garden. It gives your plant garden a more sophisticated look.”

When Baldwin wrote the first edition of Designing with Succulents in 2007, jade was the dominant ornamental succulent in the gardening scene. By the time her fully revised second edition appeared a decade after hers, the availability and popularity of a wide variety of succulents had exploded, she said.

Soil, light, spacing and water are important considerations when choosing succulents for a drought-tolerant garden, says Baldwin. You may need to improve or amend your soil. or a mixture of 50% potting soil and 50% pumice stone in a bag.

As for light, she says most succulents prefer two to three hours of sunlight a day and light shade the rest of the time. However, plant selection should also depend on the microclimate, the orientation of the garden, the plant’s sun/heat tolerance, and its need for shade.

Space the plants according to the recommendations for the individual plant variety. Repetition and color contrast increase design impact. It is better to select several types of plants and group them together rather than selecting a single specimen.

Succulents need watering (once a week or so), but their requirements vary by location, microclimate, and time of year. Do not over water. Too much water will rot the roots.

Baldwin also recommends adding a fountain and a dry stream bed of stone if possible, and letting complementary colors work.

In addition to saving money and using less water, gardeners who switch from water-intensive plants to succulents and other drought-tolerant plants will find reduced maintenance time and costs.

“These are the essential plants when you go on vacation. [unintentionally] We turn it off, but it still needs to be watered,” Baldwin said.

Often referred to as the “Queen of Succulents,” Baldwin enjoys sharing her ever-growing knowledge of these fascinating plants with fellow gardeners and readers.

“Making a difference in people’s lives is very rewarding,” she said. Her website has all the information you need to get started with this fascinating category of plants, advice on how to design and care for a succulent garden, and a full range of resources, including nurseries and other suppliers. Includes resources.

Nicole Sours Larson is a freelance writer.

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