Normally, I’m opposed to overly trendy things. Maybe I’m boring, maybe I’m a closeted hipster, but the more sudden and universal a fad is, the less likely I am to take part. But succulents? I’m totally on board. I got my first cactus in fifth grade. His name was Sherlock Holmes, and he was the best plant ever until he got some sort of rotting disease and died. The same thing happened to the tiny cactus I bought last year, Tobias. Let’s have a moment of silence for my cacti.
Rest in peace, guys. Anyway, I’m a big fan of low maintenance houseplants, because I always forget to water them. Enter succulents. Their drought-resistant traits make them perfect for absentminded plant owners, and as an added bonus, they kind of look like they come from another planet. That was all I needed to choose succulents for my next planting project, and I spent a day of my summer bouncing between garden centers and home improvement stores. By the end of it, I had a nice little dish garden. It was a super-easy project, and I’m completely in love with my plants, so I thought I’d share.
DIY Succulent Garden
For this project, you’ll need:
- Succulents (obviously)
- A shallow dish or planter (ideally with drainage holes)
- Rocks or gravel
- Succulent- and cactus-friendly soil
Almost any plant marketed as a succulent will be really hardy and drought resistant, but nothing kills one faster than being left in waterlogged soil. These plants need fast draining soil, which you can find as “cactus soil” at a home improvement or garden center, or make on your own. There are plenty of guides online, but you’ll need to mix soil with lots of sand and roughage to get fast drainage, so add gravel or perlite. Make sure to keep extra rocks on hand to cover the soil’s surface, as well.
When you’re choosing your plants… Have tons of fun. Succulents are weird and beautiful, and you’re going to find so many cool ones. Try to make sure they have similar sunlight and watering needs. A lot of more serious succulent growers group by country of origin. Side note: the online succulent growing community is enormous, invaluable, and slightly intimidating. But every question you could possibly have has already been asked and answered, so hats off to them. I tried to keep design principles in mind for mine, so I varied the color and height of the plants I chose. Then I arranged them in my dish, to make sure they all fit and looked nice before I planted them:
I chose to mix my own soil, using an online guide, and it was kind of fun. I then lined the bottom of my dish with gravel, for extra drainage, and put down a layer of soil before freeing my succulents from their pots. Since I liked my original arrangement, I nestled them in according to it, making sure they all had some space to grow. I filled in the gaps with more soil to help them stand, and then cleared off the edges of my planter. I started jokingly calling this project my “alien garden”, and the name stuck. So all of my plants are named after sci-fi and alien inspired media. There’s Kaiju (Pacific Rim), Elliott (from E.T.), Ripley (Alien), and two families. The Tylers are from Doctor Who, and I haven’t named the others yet – if you have any sci-fi family suggestions, drop them in the comments!
If you like any of my plants, you can find your own using their full names:
- Kaiju – Pleiospilos nelii or “Split Rock”
- Elliott – Fenestraria aurantiaca or “Baby Toes”
- Ripley – Mammillaria gracilis fragilis or “Thimble Cactus”
- The Tylers – Sedum adolphii or “Golden Sedum”
- Unnamed – Pachyveria or “Blue Pearl”
I’d like to go on record right now saying that “Baby Toes” is a creepy name for a plant, and they look much more like E.T.’s fingers, anyway.
There’s one more step to succulent gardening, though. Remember how their roots can’t sit in water? Well neither can the plants themselves. In my exploration of the succulent-growing corner of the internet, I found that the surface of a succulent that’s exposed to too much water is susceptible to rot. This was probably the culprit behind the deaths of Sherlock Holmes and Tobias, and I don’t intend to make that mistake again. So I rinsed off some tiny river rocks that I bought and spread them over the soil, like mulch. In addition to looking pretty and keeping dirt and sand from escaping, the rocks will help wick the moisture away from my plants and into the soil, where any extra can drain out the bottom. The final product:
And there you have it! Because I already had a planter, soil, and sand on hand, and got good deals on my succulents, I was able to get this project done for around $15. Keep an eye out for sales, and you should be able to save as much money as I did. I feel responsible for your little gardens already, so remember not to overwater them, and follow the specific care instructions that come with your plants. But ultimately, these guys are pretty hardy, and with light and a little water, should keep growing for a long time.
Have you gotten behind succulents yet? And, more importantly – what should I name that last family of plants?