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My Guide To Growing Hardy Succulents In A UK Garden

2nd July 2018
Succulents

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m really into gardening. Like, really into it. My free Saturday mornings are spent grabbing a coffee and heading straight to the nearest garden centre. And -I’m particularly ashamed of this next admission- I’ve spent the past couple of Friday nights watching Gardener’s World in my PJs. I mean, who needs nights out and debauchery when you’ve got good old Monty Don?

As a teenager I’d have to be pretty much forcibly removed from my computer to go outside (my transparent legs are testimony to that) and whilst interiors have always interested me, this fascination with gardening is a relatively recent thing.

A couple of years back I posted some photos of the start of our garden. And I remember feeling frustrated that it never seemed to be ‘finished’. The perfectionist in me hated all the mess and having to wait for plants to grow and flower. I just wanted it to look amazing straight away. Although strangely now that’s one of the things I love about it, there’s always something to do.

There’s something really satisfying about creating something with your hands and seeing it flourish in front of your eyes. It’s real and tactile. Each plant having different requirements, so I find myself constantly juggling things around. I’ve grown -pun intended- to love my garden and find I can switch off whilst gardening in a way I can’t easily otherwise. My brain is always buzzing, but getting stuck into a task in the garden offers rest-bite from that noise.

The first plants that peaked my interest remain my firm favourites, succulents. And since having a few in tiny pots in my office, a lot has changed. Two years ago I moved them outside into a rockery and they’ve been multiplying and growing ever since. They’ve been joined by lots of new plants, the original rockery now taking up the entire flowerbed.

Over the years I’ve had to rearrange my succulents, rescue them and even wait patiently for them to come back after dying. I’ve learned a lot about growing succulents in a UK garden and how to make them hardy enough to survive.

Lilac rosette succulent plant

Plant Out After The Last Frost

Succulents originate from warmer climates. South Africa, Mexico and exotic places South of the equator. And whilst they can grow in colder spots, their watery nature makes them very vulnerable to frost. If you plant your succulents after the last frost, they will be settled and ready for the warmer Spring and Summer months where they can get some serious growing in.

Green succulent plant

Soil Type

Succulents need soil which drains really well. This is an essential when growing succulents and the key thing to get right if you want them to be happy. There’s a range of cactus and succulent soil available to buy but it’s super easy to make your own. Take a good quality compost and mix it with around 50% gravel, to create a free-draining compost your succulents will love. Perlite, gravel and horticultural grit will all help with drainage.

Before repotting, give your succulent a really good water in the pot. And repeat once it’s been planted into it’s new home. Once settled, your new succulents will appreciate feeding throughout the growing season. I use Miracle Grow compost and feed with succulent food every two weeks.

Green Spider Webb Succulent

Sunniest Position

Whilst succulents can be hardy and survive quite low temperatures, they’re going to need a lot of light. Plating succulents in any kind of shade will result in them growing up vertically rather than spreading horizontally. Your plants will lose their beautiful rosette shapes and become storky (that’s the technical term I’m sure).

I have my rockery in the part of my garden which gets the most sun. And I regularly move them around in the bed, to ensure they are in the best position. Most succulents have tiny roots, so moving them is often as easy as giving them a gentle tug and sitting them back down. Whilst you don’t want to stress them out, I’ve found tweaking the position of my plants to be a key factor in creating a happy rockery.

It’s also worth getting to know your succulents a bit. Are they the kind which spreads over a large area? Or just a single plant? When succulents are happy and start growing, they can spread at a really fast rate. So it’s worth considering that when picking a spot for your new plant.

Rare aloe polyphylla, young succulent plant

Rocks

I have various interesting rocks dotted around the rockery. Quartz, coal, beach pebbles and even volcanic rock. Some succulents will grow around the rocks, whilst others cover them entirely. Wanting to fill in the gaps, I scattered decorative garden pebbles on any visible soil.

What I didn’t realise was how much the plants would love this. The sun heats the rocks and they insulate the rockery really well. This mimics a hotter ground temperature and the succulents thrive on it. I’ve since added pebbles to all visible soil and as far under plants as I can reach. I do this in potted succulents too and have found my succulents have flowered more as a result.

The rocks won’t stop the plants from spreading, they grow over and between any obstacles with ease. You can use this to your advantage to create garden features. I have succulents growing out of jars, hollowed out logs and even shells.

Sedum spurium 'Voodoo' succulent

Take Cuttings And Spread Them Around

Some of my succulents have done better than others, to the point where one kind may be taking over a bit. By giving them a gentle tug you can uproot them move them to a different location. I regularly swap succulents with my family, which helps keep my rockery looking interesting.

Taking cuttings of your succulents couldn’t be easier. Just pull off a healthy leaf and place on a windowsill until the wet cut seals. The leaf can then be planted into soil and a new succulent will form. You may notice leaves which have fallen off your succulents doing this of their own accord. New succulents are forever popping up in different parts of my flower bed.

Green succulent

Cover in Winter

This is entirely optional, but something I prefer to do. If you’re buying succulents from a UK grower who specialises in them, they’re likely to be quite hardy. Some of my succulents can survive down to -15°C, which makes sense if you consider desert climates. However what they don’t love are our long, wet Winters. Every Winter some of my succulents will die, it’s inevitable. The rockery changes every year and whilst more established plants will remain, lots will turn to mush (more on what to do with that in a moment). And even if they survive, they’ll definitely be looking a bit ropey come the Spring.

To try and avoid losing too many succulents, I cover them in the colder months. In their first year outside, I did this using a plastic polytunnel I picked up online. The plants loved it and grew massively as soon as the sun came out in Spring. Lifting it off to see all the new growth and plants which had moved around was brilliant. Although the downside to this is having a plastic pollytunnel covering your flowerbed all Winter.

You could use left-over bubble wrap, or horticultural fleece as used by nurseries. This year I’ll be using fleece to just cover some of my younger, less hardy succulents.

Red green tipped succulents in a log

If They Die Back, Leave Them Alone

If any of your succulents do die during the Winter months, try to resist the temptation to dig them up. It may look messy for a while, but once the growing period begins again you may well find your succulent makes a come back. I’ve been surprised to find succulents grow back in their original spot, or even pop up elsewhere in the flower bed.

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