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Gardening: Cacti and other succulent plants

One of the best groups of plants for a striking garden in an area with water restrictions is the succulents, which include cacti.

A cactus garden or succulent garden is the best water-efficient garden (link to water-efficient article)you can have!

As well as not needing much water, succulents can generally do with little or no soil, and will thrive in a rockery or in containers on a patio or balcony

Although they can look fearsome with their spines and prickles, or just plain ugly, cacti are transformed into strange creatures of beauty when their delicate flowers appear.


What is a succulent plant?

Succulents are a group of plants that store water in their swollen leaves, stems and roots. This enables them to survive in some of our driest environments. As well they have other characteristics such as waxy leaves or hairy covering to reduce water loss.

The spiny and spiky cacti are just one group of succulents that have taken protection from grazing animals and the climate further than most!

Succulents also have a tremendous variety of shapes, forms, textures, colours and flowers. There are more than 100 species suitable for growing in containers or in a rockery.


cactus flower

Types of succulents

Succulents come in all sizes, from tiny ground cover plants through shrubs to striking tall architectural-looking cacti, perfect as background focal points..

  1. Miniatures:
    include Mesembryanthemums, Sempervivums and Sedums
  2. Shrub sized:
    Aeoniums, Cotyledons, Crassulas, Echeverias, Euphorbias and Kalanchoes
  3. Tall:
    plants like Agaves, Yuccas and Aloes
  4. Rosettes:
    many succulents, such Crassula, Haworthia and Sedum form rosettes or whorls of leaves. These rosettes capture the water that condense from nocturnal dew allowing the plant to survive for long period of drought.

Rosette succulents create a wonderful effect when mass planted and can be used for their pattern and texture. An outstanding feature of rosette succulents is the choice of colours available, ranging from cool powdery whites and pale blues through the greens into hot pinks, purples, reds, and even black.


Where to plant succulents

You might not want a whole garden of succulents, but a well-positioned rockery makes a strong focal point in an otherwise barren area of the garden, too hot an dry for other plants.

Tall cacti and succulents such as Agaves, Yuccas and Aloes can stand on their own or in a group, highlighting a blank wall or marching beside the driveway.

Succulents need a sunny position to grow well. Full sun creates compact growth in the plant and brings out their brilliant colours as well as contributing to producing more prolific blooms.


Succulents in containers

A grouping of small to medium sized succulents planted in tins, tubs, or flower pots, looks great on a sunny patio, balcony or garden steps.

Again, the plants need full sun to grow well, but they can be brought indoors for short periods of time, especially when flowering.

You can even pick the flowering stem and display it in a vase (without water) for a few weeks.

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