Heirloom Gardener Blogs > Right Plant, Right Place, Water When Dry

Container Planting: Replace High-Maintenance Annuals With Succulents

Growing plants in pots is a great way to add color and interest that brings attention to parts of our landscapes. While flowering annuals are usually the plant of choice for containers, why not change things up by replacing your thirsty, high-maintenance annuals with succulents?

Drive down any neighborhood street, and you’ll be greeted by the sight of pots filled with flowers, which require regular water along with frequent applications of fertilizer. Also, flowering containers need to be deadheaded and replaced every few months when the seasons change.

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'Sticks on Fire' (Euphorbia tirucalli) with elephant's food (Portularcaria afra)

By switching out flowers for the unique colors and shapes of succulents, you’ll add an unexpected, yet attractive element to the design of your garden. Succulents are taking the garden world by storm, with countless new varieties available at your local nursery. Besides being a trendsetter in your neighborhood, you’ll have much less to do to maintain your garden containers when you make the switch. As opposed to flowering annuals, succulents require much less water, need infrequent applications of fertilizer, and do not need to be replaced annually.

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A single agave adds welcome color and texture contrast in the midst bright green foliage.

Much like flowering annuals, you can plant a single type of succulent or group several different ones together. A single agave (Agave spp.) can make a dramatic statement as does a columnar cactus like Mexican fence post (Stenocereus marginatus), or the brightly-colored ‘Sticks-on-Fire’ (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’).

Create a delightful mixture of colors and shapes by combining several different succulents together such as Aeonium, Cotyledon, Echeveria, Sedum, and Senecio species. Many nurseries offer a variety of succulents within a single nursery pot, which you can replant into a larger, decorative pot. To help you choose succulents that will do well in your climate, talk to your local nursery professional or a master gardener.

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A container planted with a variety of succulents including Aeonium, Cotyledon, and Senecio

While succulents are less maintenance than annuals, they do have some important requirements, which begins with well-drained planting mix that is specially formulated for cacti/succulents. Containers should have holes for drainage. Water your succulents deeply when the top few inches of soil is dry. It’s important to remember that you are more likely to overwater than underwater your succulents. If you are worried that you are under-watering, look for signs of water stress such as the wrinkling of leaves. In winter, succulents should be watered monthly as they are dormant.

Like all plants grown in containers, succulents do need to be fertilized. Apply a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion or manure tea every six weeks throughout the growing season. 

So, take the plunge and substitute your thirsty flowers for uniquely beautiful succulents for your containers.