Shopping for succulents, especially at first, can be overwhelming with all the fanciful shapes and amazing colors. But how do you know if the plant that’s caught your eye is a healthy one that you want to bring home to add to your garden or collection?

First, does the plant have nice, fat leaves? Many succulents have leaves that are water storing machines, so they almost look juicy.

 

Are the leaves droopy or are they nice and perky? If a plant has drooping leaves is that how it should look? Or does it have leaves that are shriveled? Both of these on the wrong plant can be an indicator that it has not received the necessary care it needs.

Mushy leaves are something to avoid on succulents. This is a sign of over watering. Also look for dark brown leaf tips, this can be a sign of both over AND under watering. How can you tell which it is? Break out your trusty water meter! (I’ll write a blog on my ABSOLUTE must-have garden tool soon!)

 

Check under the leaves for signs of insects. They love to hide, especially in the heat of the day. Signs of insect infestation include webs, tiny black/brown spots (if they shake off, it could be poop) and of course, the little buggers themselves. Also look into the base of the plant, another insect favorite spot. If you spot them and you want to be helpful, let the nursery staff know what you found.

 

Who doesn’t Love buying from the Sale Rack? It can be great fun and the discounts can make a plant lover swoon. It does help to know what you’re buying, but let’s be honest, who can resist a pretty plant on sale! Follow the steps above to be sure you’re not bringing home a problem.

 

If you’re in Southern California, here’s a few succulent-specific nurseries to add to your shopping list:

  • OC Succulents

  • Cactus Ranch

  • California Cactus Center

 

Author: C.J. Crockett

Plant nurseries, you either love’m or hate’m. Personally I LOVE them. Yes, I’m a total plant nerd, but I also understand how plant nurseries work.

 
 

The fun, showy plant material is always front and center. Think of this area as grocery store end caps with the seasonal stuff that makes us excited for what’s coming next! This is where you find your annual plant material and your tender perennial/seasonal color. I like to use these plantings grouped in larger beds as accents or scattered throughout seasonal flower beds to give it vavoom!

 
 

Once you pass the showy stuff in front you’ll have a lot of options. There will be a section covered in shade cloth that houses plants that need protection from the afternoon sun. This area can house anything from ground covers like Ophiopogon japonicas (Mondo grass) and Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) sold in 4” pots, Begonias and Camellias in 1 or 5 gallon containers to young specimen palm trees in 10 or 15 gallon containers.

 
 

Remember that anything you buy from this part of the nursery will need to be protected from the heat of the afternoon sun. Plants can burn, just like us. If you buy something from this section of the nursery, but want to plant it in a part of your garden with afternoon sun, it’s best to do what is called hardening off. Hardening off is the practice of slowly exposing plants to harsher conditions.

 
 

A good plant nursery will have a large selection of uncovered plant material. You will usually find like grouped with like. Think roses with roses and succulents with succulents, lavender with lavender, etc. This is when I find it helpful to already have a list of what I’m interested in e.g a red rose, a tall succulent, a shrub w/ green leafs to hide an ugly fence. You get the idea.

 
 

Take a few minutes to figure out how your favorite nursery is laid out. Once you start paying a bit of attention, you’ll most likely find that the flowering perennials are all close together. And the same with the grasses, shrubs and trees. Once you’ve got this figured out, now you can really start to shop!

 

Don’t be embarrassed to read the plant labels or the little tags that are stuffed into the pot. These are tools provided by the grower, to help you choose the right plant for the right location. They will usually list the common and the Latin name of the plant. The Latin name is the MOST important. Many plants have the same common name, especially in different parts of the country. If you LOVE a specific plant, learn its Latin name. These tags tell the sunlight or shade needed. And the water requirement for the plant. They usually give the flower color, if any. Also they should mention how tall and wide the plant will be at maturity, but keep in mind that this is a generality! Some tags or labels will even give more specifics, like which season the flowers bloom, where the plant is native to and if the plant likes a specific type of soil.

 
 

As you can see, it’s easy to spend hours in a nursery, so slip on some good walking shoes, get that sunscreen and hat on and let’s go shop for plants!

 
 

Author: C.J. Crockett

This would be the best add slogan to describe the unsung hero of gardens and gardening – the trusty, oft under-used water meter.

I spend a lot of time in gardens (insert hysterical laughter here) working on plant placement & combinations or giving direction to contractors and guidance to homeowners.

 

When someone asks me any of the following questions:

1. My plants leafs are yellowing, what should I do?

2. My plants leafs are browning at the tips. Should I water more?

3. My soil looks dry, but my plants look fine. Should I water more to be sure they’re okay?

4. My plant is wilting, HELP!

 

I direct them to begin with the most logical place to look for issues….the current moisture level in the surrounding soil. I personally don’t recommend a meter with multiple capabilities, like light readings, ph balance, etc. Light readings change hourly, duh, the sun moves! Nor do I recommend battery operated units, it’s another component to keep up. Keep it simple!

 

It’s incredibly easy to use. Stick the probe in the soil – 2-6” for bedding plants & vegetables, and as far as the meter will go in around lawns, trees and shrubs. The meter will display the water level in that part of the soil. It’s best to take multiple readings and average them to understand the moisture level for a given area.

Costing around $15, water meters are the simplest tool for gardeners, both new and experienced.

 
 

They’re great for containers, raised beds, lawns, veggie gardens, pretty much anywhere you want to be sure your plants/soil are getting the right amount of moisture to flourish. They can be found at your local garden shop or most big box stores with a lawn and garden section.

Once you’ve got your water meter you can answer all the questions I listed above, and many others. Your garden will thank you. Now go grab a water meter!

 

By C.J. Crockett

We’ve all been home for a while now, staring out our windows at what surrounds us. If you’re like most people, your view may be less than impressive. Or at least in need of “sprucing” up. Several people have asked me, “Where do I begin?” Well, here goes…

 
 

You need a plan. The best landscape designs are carefully planned and have a cohesive style throughout. Before you start digging, however, you need to do some thinking. What exactly you need to consider are layed out below.

 
 

Location, Location, Location

 

The conditions around your home should be considered first. This means both the climate where you live, along with the affect of external influences, such as large buildings or trees that cast shade. This phenomenon, called a microclimate, can be varied throughout your property. Finally, your proximity to some things, like the ocean or mountains for example, have a big effect on both plants and hardscape.

 
 

What’s it For?

 

Next, the desired use of the space should be considered. You might need a play area, a place to entertain, or just a quiet spot to sit and reflect. Make sure to account for all seasons and possible changes of household members, like new baby arrivals or teens soon to leave for college.

 

Who’s Going to Take Care of it?

 

It is important to know the time and effort you’re willing to expend, or to pay someone else to do it. If your schedule and finances are limited, you might consider a low-maintenance landscape. If you are retired and have a green thumb, the opposite may be true!

 

Tried and True Styles

 

There are no rules to designing an outdoor space, but it helps to decide on a style that would best fit your home and lifestyle. There are numerous traditional garden styles which you can model your own after. Or you can choose elements from several to create your own design. This article discusses some common garden types that may work for you.

 

A landscape design that is well-planned will encourage you to spend a lot more time in your yard. And if you have a yard you enjoy on a regular basis, it’s like gaining a room in your home! So if you’re a DIY’er and can spend some time working on your plan, you can have a beautiful, functional space to enjoy for years.

 
 

As a child I spent summer days laying on the grass in the backyard, staring

up at the blue sky with not a care in the world. My biggest concern would be if a half hour after lunch had yet passed so I could continue to swim “laps” in the blow up pool. I remember picking dandelions and blowing them to the four corners of the globe with glee, rolling races down hills of grass, and grass stained knees and elbows – and the itch from it – all the memories of a time as a kid who grow up playing on grass.

 

Later on in life, as both an adult and a landscape professional, my views and knowledge of turf has expanded. By a lot. I came up in the landscape industry at a time were Marathon sod was king and fescue-type lawns ruled the roost. The instant perfection a green, manicured lawn offers the homeowner was enticing for sure. Especially to anyone who came to California from an area where a large, green lawn is a staple.

 

On a recent trip to the East Coast I spent a good amount of time touring the landscapes of mansions of a time passed. Acres and acres of green lawn spread out before me at these estates. I imagined the former owners playing croquet and having staff serve a picnic on the lawn, their children playing tag nearby while a nanny looked on.

Per usual, I was taking photos to keep my designing mind – and the business it shepards – remaining fresh and new. I thought to myself, this lawn, this huge expanse of seemingly perfect green perfection, this is what people are trying to attain! This is the goal! This is what people who want a lawn envision when they look out their living room window. My thoughts turned to the care of such a large swath of green.

 
 

I wanted to know and see more. I got closer to the turf areas and the imperfections started becoming apparent. Uneven swaths of deep green, bare spots here and there, low areas where water would settle. Here in a setting where they had in some cases 60 gardeners working full-time to maintain the property, the grass looked no better than the lawn that I had rolled on as a child. The weeds were rampant, spurge, clover and dandelions happily survived right alongside the annual over seeding of some undetermined type of lawn. The crabgrass had found its way in, the zoysia and nut grass too. They all lived together in a carpet of blissful green harmony. And from a distance it looked like perfection. But up close it was a hot mess.

 

There are few things in life that bring me as much joy as a beautiful container with thoughtfully arranged planting material. Hmmm, well maybe a good bottle of red wine or a vodka martini, oh, sorry, never mind.

 

Start with a clean container. If you’re re-using a pot, wash it well, inside and out, use a water and bleach solution. New containers should also be wiped down. Allow them to completely air dry before planting. I like to leave them in the sun for a day or two. This washing step also gives you a chance to see if the drainage is sufficient. If its not, now is the time to add a hole or two.

Few people really think about it, but healthy containers start at the bottom, with proper drainage & drainage material.

I prefer hard cell foam balls, in 1-2” size, depending upon the overall size of the container. These balls are lightweight, and impervious to water. Some landscapers prefer gravel, as it’s less expensive. Also in windy areas gravel can be beneficial, since it provides weight, which can add stability to the base of a container. If you’re the recycling type you might like to use crushed water bottles (with the cap on), as your drainage material.

No matter what material you use, be sure you allow enough space for the proper amount of soil for your plant material.

 
 

Next I add in a layer or two of weed fabric. This acts as a barrier between the drainage material and the potting soil. I’ve heard of people using coffee filters, which would probably be fine, but maybe not cost effective. Costco for 5,000 coffee filters anyone?

 

The next layer is where I never ever scrimp and that is the potting soil layer. My two current favs are EB Stone’s “Edna’s Best” available at H&H Nursery (in Lakewood, on Lakewood) or

Dr Earth’s “Pot of Gold” at Armstrong’s (they’re all over).

Measure the interior width and depth of your container, after you have added the drainage, to calculate volume. Sorry, don’t ask me how I know how to do this, I’ve done it for so many years it’s like autopilot. Google how to measure a cylinder or a square, depending upon your container for a simple formula.

Many brands of potting soil will be marked on the bag, them how many cubic feet or how many containers, of various sizes, they will fill. Smart marketing!

Never use soil from your garden or bagged “garden soil” in a container. Potting mix is specially structured to be lighter mixture, allowing for increased air and water movement, thus keeping the soil a more balanced ecosystem for your container plants.

 

And finally, we get to the part of container planting that people notice, the Plants! There are as many ways to plant a container as there are types of plants. But the “standards” are the standards because they do work. Use the “Thrill, Fill & Spill” method in a circular or square container. And in rectangular or trough like container, use a zig zag layout.

Add some starter fertilizer to the soil just before the plant material goes in. Another pro trick, is to put all the plants in the container, before you take them out of their pots. This gives you a chance to move things around while you decide on your final placement and it’s a great time to check that your potting soil level is not to low or too high.

 
 

Toss in a bit of slow release fertilizer and finish your containers look with decorative gravel or small bark.

Water well and regularly while the plants adjust to their new home (where’s that water meter!!).

Remember to fertilize your containers every other month. Container plantings need regular fertilization to stay looking their best. Enjoy!