Winter Gardening with Succulents
It is hard to believe another year has passed and we are in the midst of winter once again! The winter season is not the kindest of seasons for our outdoor spaces and the plants growing there. However, succulents, especially hardy succulents, those that originated in more northern climates, can not only survive but thrive during these months. To ensure we are all on the same page, let’s first understand the term “succulents”…this is a catch all term to mean “plants that have succulent or fleshy leaves, stems or roots, and use drought smart strategies to survive”. (Thanks to Drought-smart-plants.com for that all-inclusive definition). Succulents are perfectly adapted container plants, which is where our focus will remain. I will also offer several succulent suggestions along with tricks of my trade for their installation and maintenance.
My first succulent suggestion is one of my new favorites which I now have in a container at my home, Agave lophantha 'Splendida' (Splendida Hardy Century Plant). Agave lophantha is a native of North America and has dark green, heavily armed leaves which are accented by a wide central stripe that is even wider on the back side. Each rosette is ultimately 11” tall and 18” wide and once mature, Agave ‘Splendida’ will be topped with a 12’ tall, 1” diameter flower spike holding “manfreda-like, spidery, fragrant flowers”. This succulent does well in full sun or moderate shade and has been known to withstand temperatures substantially below the freezing point.
Agave 'Shark Bite' (Shark Bite Century Plant) is a hybrid and also the second new addition to my succulents at home. It was created from another popular Agave, ‘Sharkskin Shoes’ by Hans Hansen. ‘Shark Bite’ is a larger variety than ‘Splendida’ measuring 18” tall and 30” wide with thick, dark green leaves and a chartreuse center margin. Agave ‘Shark Bite’ can also tolerate full sun to moderate shade. ‘Shark Bite’ is a succulent that definitely gets better with age!
I would also recommend Aloe ‘aristata’ (Bristle-tip Hardy Aloe) or as it is more commonly known, Lace Aloe as a succulent addition for your containers. Lace Aloe is a shrubby evergreen perennial, with rosettes of fleshy, toothed leaves with white margins and small tubular flowers reaching an ultimate height of only 6 to 12”. However, in late spring or early summer it will bloom with 2’ tall spikes and orange flowers. Lace Aloe can handle a variety of climates (temperatures even below 0) and does also prefer sun. It is important to remember, it cannot be located in the open where it could receive soaking rains, especially during the winter months.
Now we can discuss how you can care and maintain these plantings. Each of the succulents I recommended and most all others require the soil to be as dry as possible and have efficient drainage. They would like to live under overhangs or the eaves of your home in warm, sunny spaces. If you ever notice soggy or consistently wet soil around your succulents, you could add well-draining organic matter or Perma-Till to increase drainage. Succulents are not cactus and do require supplemental watering, however that should be stopped in late fall and a general fertilizer once a year. Hardy succulents can withstand winter right in their containers covering occasionally when the temperatures drop well below freezing. However, if they do become covered in snow, do not remove as that is a good insulator for these plants. Also, remember several of these plants have sharp teeth or spines, so keep out of the way of playing children or animals. Overall, caring for succulents is an easy task and they can be a great addition to your container gardens.