Can one ‘paint’ a rainbow with succulents? I’d like to think I was an artist planning out my rainbow on dirt, designing each section with different colored and textured succulents, hoping they would fill in the blanks with time. This is my rainbow today, almost 1.5 years after I first planted it. Even on a cloudy day, the colors are vibrant and it grows so well in every season. Yes, I’m biased, I love succulents, but I can imagine doing something similar with a different genre of plants (for me, this is easier in hot summers to maintain). I think it is finally complete and even a tad overgrown. But I love that when I’m trimming my rainbow, I get cuttings that I can use for other projects! It’s a rainbow that keeps on giving and is so rewarding!
When we first moved to our house, our south facing planter was completely empty. I quickly moved my existing succulents in containers over the dirt. After awhile, the hot summer days baked some of my succulents in their containers even as I watered them daily. They were surviving but not growing well. I knew they had to go into the ground, so one day, with the help of my kids, we started creating a rainbow. The kids were fascinated with their creation…and they excitedly helped me decorate with little marbles and rocks. Not that I needed a reason to smile when in my garden, but I just love the cheerful expression so I found that fitting there right in the middle. Over time, the succulents began to grow and spread until things started looking fuller and even take over others. Initially, I had mulch and rocks to keep the water from evaporating, but as the succulents grew, there was no need for that. I had to remove my fish decor and gnome, but no matter, I don’t think one can tell anymore!
Watering: Like all succulents, these plants don’t require much water once established. In fact, too much watering and plants sitting in soggy water usually kills succulents. So good drainage is more important than anything else. At first I watered everyday to make sure their roots adjusted. But after awhile they took off. I might water maybe once every 3 days now in mild weather (everyday in the heat of the summer) or if it rains not at all.
Soil: One other thing, these succulents don’t require special soil. I did not use any new succulent soil or enrich the soil in the planter. I basically transplanted my existing plants from their containers, roots and all into the soil in the planter and watered. I love that they are so forgiving. I realize I haven’t ever fertilized either. And with all the rain we are getting, they are growing like crazy. I find that they do the best with rain water. So I’m thankful for their low maintenance.
Sun: This is a south facing planter with a wall behind it. It gets plenty of sun in the morning, but in the afternoon, our house provides some dappled shade. However our summers can get quite hot…even in the shade, and so far so good.
Pests: Not many bugs bother my succulents so far. Once in awhile, I suppose aphids will be attracted to the flowers coming off my echeveria or senecios, but usually the flowers fade or I take off the flower stalk and the aphids are gone. Some succulents do get white powdery like mealy bug infestation (usually when its in too much shade or over watered) but a dab of watered down rubbing alcohol here and there usually solves the problem. I did have a grasshopper chew on some of my aeonium but since I plant other herbs and types of plants nearby, they are much more attracted to those than my succulents.
Here are the key players in my little rainbow…
The ones above I planted purposely in the back because they have a tendency to grow tall and big fast. They would quickly cover up others and dominate if in the front.
The first one is agave attenuata…these can easily grow to be the size of three heads and spread easily. I love this agave because it is not spiky (good safety point with kids running around) like a lot of the plants in this category and it looks fabulous. Not only that, it grows so well in sun or in shade. At my previous house, I had one corner where it was so hot nothing grew. After planting and watching even the most tolerant plants die there, I put some agave attenuata in, and it lived happily there, growing until it multiplied and took over that corner. I actually grow my agave in a container (not visible because other plants cover the container) or else it might take over the other plants growing close by.
The second one, Aeonium Sunburst, is a bit more fragile since it is sensitive to sun. It can tolerate higher temperatures, but sometimes will burn a bit especially if it gets over 90. However, it has done well so far, and provides a beautiful accent.
The third plant, Crassula campfire grows upwards and its flaming red appearance really adds drama. At times it blooms white small flowers but I treasure it mostly for its red leaves. This one is also hardy and grows readily, sometimes I touch it and a clump falls off and roots on the ground by itself.
The fourth one, firesticks, is so easy, I have to keep it in a container just like my agave. One can’t tell because all the succulents have grown over the container, but I have to literally keep this one contained or else it will be 6 feet tall and take over my entire planter. It is a Euphorbia, so like plants in this category, it produces a white milky sap when cut, which some people can become allergic to. Luckily I haven’t had any issues with it, but when I’m trimming it, I just make sure the ends of the trimmings dry off before I stick it in soil.
For the front ‘low’ part of the rainbow, I chose the following…
All of these are frequently sold as ground cover because they grow very quickly and stay short. They will propagate readily as well. If I cut a segment off they will just grow right back. They also root very easily (within days sometimes) and I use cuttings in other potting projects. Sedum rubrotinctum in the third photo, I used the ‘aurora’ subspecies instead of the common green ‘pork and beans’ type because I love the pink tips and light green pastel appearance. The blue senecio mandraliscae grow so well in my garden it is almost a borderline weed…except I cherish them! I love the blue haze it creates when dry and contrasts well with any green plant next to it. One of my favorite combinations is the big agave attenuata (discussed above) with the blue senecio mandraliscae surrounding it. These senecios tend to grow taller than the three others before it, so I keep these well trimmed and more in the back of the other ground cover succulents.
A few others I added in this rainbow include my Echeveria ‘Afterglow,’ Echeveria ‘Blue Curls,’ and Aeonium Schwarzkopf.
As much as I love echeveria, the smaller ones I would’ve arranged in the front are slow growing and bake in the sun. So I chose a couple of bigger ones that could tolerate heat better, especially when shielded in the back by some taller plants nearby. I also like the pink/purple colors of both echeverias, which add drama to the rainbow. The Aeonium Schwarzkopf was added because it’s the only one that is dark purple/borderline black, and it is a good contrast to the light colored Aeonium Sunburst.
I could’ve chosen different succulents or even ones that completed the full spectrum of the rainbow, but I chose the ones I described based on my existing collection and what I knew might survive the best in our warm summers. Even so, I’ve got yellow/orange, pink, red, green, purple, brown/black, blue. So this is just an example of what one could do…the possibilities are endless! Perhaps if one lives in an area with less heat in the summer or even more shade, different succulents or plants can be used.
So this is actually a fairly easy project…a little bit of time, a bit of plants (luckily they are quite affordable and grow quickly), a bit of decor (as preferred), and a lot of love. What I love most about this rainbow is that my kids helped me design it and we watched it fill up and grow. I’m continually amazed at how well they grow there and if I ever needed a particular color for a succulent arrangement I’m working on, it’s right there ready for me.
Hopefully you found this project fun to read about…as for me, I lose track of time in the garden and it never fails to put a smile on my face. Now it’s time to garden…unless it’s raining again! Thanks for reading!