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Succulent gardens are not only attractive but easy to put together and maintain

Succulents at the Dana Point Harbor. File photo
Succulents at the Dana Point Harbor. File photo

By Marianne Taylor

I’ve taught a “Designing with Succulents” class for years at Goin Native. Everyone is always in awe of these beauties.

Marianne Taylor. File photo
Marianne Taylor. File photo

What makes these plants so interesting? It’s got to be the dramatic looks, the fuzzy or glossy leaves, the crazy spikes or the huge flower heads. They are just downright stunning, and as author and succulent expert Debra Lee Baldwin calls them, “seductive.”

Succulents are beautiful all year round. The colors, textures, sizes and shapes of succulents orchestrated in a garden setting or container translates as a work of art. These plants are tolerant of neglect but flourish when pampered.

I must admit, it’s my favorite plant to design, whether in a small or large space.

I’m going to share my class secrets with you to create your own container garden.

What you need to get started:

Container: Choose the right sized container for the space you want to highlight but make sure it has adequate drainage. I like to use metal or ceramic containers because plastic ones will fade and crack.

Soil: The amount of cactus mix depends on the size of your container. If it’s deep, you have a few ways to go. You can fill up the entire container with cactus mix, leaving 3-4 inches below the rim; add large plastic plant containers, turn them upside down and add cactus mix over them, all the way to the rim; or you can use packing peanuts to fill up three-fourths of the container before adding the mix.

This custom succulent container is made up of New Zealand flax, echeveria “afterglow,” opalina stonecrop sedum, cascading donkey tail and rosary string beads. Courtesy of Marianne Taylor
Courtesy of Marianne Taylor

Irrigation: Hand watering is best for containers, but you can also set up a drip system. Water about twice a month in temperatures less than 72 degrees and weekly for warmer temperatures.

Design: Find plants with interesting foliage, colors and textures. Be sure to choose a plant or two that has the same color of your container.

Size: Select one tall plant, several medium sized varieties, a mixture of low plants as filler and a few that cascade over the rim. Keep color contrast and repetition in mind.

Placement: Gently take plants out of their ports and place them atop the size. Have the tallest plant a little off center and press on the root ball to secure it without completely burying it. Work from the middle outward, leaving the groundcover or rock dressing for last.

To secure all the plants in place and to hide the remainder of the dirt or any roots, I walk around the container and add groundcover, like stonecrop lime sedum. I’ll finish by taking a brush to remove excess soil and debris on the leaves, or I’ll turn the water on low mist and rinse off the excess.

Succulents really are as easy as one, two, three.

Send me your gardening questions, comments or ideas at

Marianne Taylor is a 24-year resident of San Juan Capistrano, in the Los Rios Historic District. She is married to San Juan City Councilman John Taylor and is mother to 24-year-old Harrison and 16-year-old Claire. She is the executive director and “dirt therapist” for Goin Native in San Juan Capistrano.

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