Whitney: I love planting succulent containers, they are such an easy way to add plant life to your home, without all the responsibility. Don’t worry about forgetting to water every once in awhile, they’ll be just fine!
Caroline: I’ve tried growing a few small succulents before, but I’ve never had any luck with them. After chatting with you about it while we were shopping, I learned that one of the first things I did wrong was that I purchased the wrong varieties!
Whitney: You always want to add a variety of heights and shapes to your container, just to keep it interesting. All succulents need a lot of light, but some need even more than others. For your container, we’re looking for dark green succulents, because they need a little less light than the light green and white varieties. We’re also looking for plump, healthy leaves. The jade plant leaves, for example, should be red-ish on the edges. That tells us they’ve received plenty of light.
For the cacti, we’re looking for plants with symmetrical growth patterns. That’s a good sign that the plants have been watered regularly.
We also need to grab some soil specially formulated for desert-loving succulents and cacti. We will add large pebbles or rocks to the base of the container to provide an area for drainage and if we want a polished look, we can add small pebbles on top of the finished product as a top dressing. Fertilizers are tricky, but you can actually feed succulents and cacti every few months with a super-diluted tomato fertilizer. It will give your plants an extra boost!
And don’t forget to take your container with you to the Home Depot to test out the sizes and see how it looks!
At the store, we purchased the following supplies for this DIY succulent garden project:
- 15 small, colorful cacti
- 2 large succulents
- 5-7 medium succulents with draping leaves
- 1 large bag of cactus, palm and citrus soil
- 2 small bags of large pebbles
- 1 small bag of small pebbles for top dressing
- 1 box of tomato plant food
- Gardening gloves (optional)
- Drop cloth (optional)
- Tamping stick
Caroline: I like to use a 5 x 5 drop cloth with a laminated backing for indoor projects, so we simply draped the cloth (backing face up) on my dining room table and got to work!
Whitney: Since Caroline’s jelly pot doesn’t have a drainage hole (and we don’t want to drill one!) we put a layer of large pebbles in the base of the pot. The pebbles will break up the soil and help the water evaporate. We don’t want the soil in the base of the pot to make a damp environment for mold, mildew and root rot. Infrequent watering can help that, too!
Caroline: Since this container will primarily function as a centerpiece for my dining room table, I want it to look nice from all sides. We added the largest succulents to the middle of the pot, and left space on each side and around the perimeter for smaller, more colorful plants.
Whitney: When you’re ready to start planting, just move the soil around to create a hole large enough for the root ball of your plant. We need to loosen the roots of each plant, so just gently move it around. You don’t want to knock all the soil off the root ball, just enough so that the plant can re-establish itself in its new environment.
Caroline: Some of the plant varieties we chose were really prickly, so while we didn’t use gloves, they wouldn’t be a bad idea! Particularly sticky were the cacti that have spindles. They can wedge a splinter into your hand. Ouch!
Whitney: Once the large succulents are in, we can start adding the smaller, more colorful elements. Play around with the placement and see what you like best. The cacti are definitely an eye-catching element of this container garden, so we wanted to feature them!
Caroline: We experimented a lot with placement of the plants in our succulent garden. We looked at the composition of sizes, shapes and colors, tweaked it, shuffled everything to fit. It was very organic, but we tried to explore all of the options before settling on the perfect arrangement.
Once we had all of the cacti and succulents planted, we used a simple DIY tool to tamp the soil down– a dowel with a wine cork attached to the end.
Whitney: Tamping the soil down is really one of the last steps in creating your succulent garden. We want to make sure that the soil is packed in tight around the plants– especially the top-heavy cacti that can fall over. The soil will settle over time as you water the plants, so by tamping it down we’re just trying to ensure that the soil is packed in nicely from the beginning. A tamping tool is nice for a cactus garden because you won’t risk sticking yourself.
Caroline: Alright, the last step is to add a top dressing!
Whitney: To polish off the look of our container garden, we dropped small pebbles all around the soil. It’s a totally optional addition, but I think the lighter color of the pebbles makes the colors of the succulents and cacti really pop. Plus, it helps keep the soil from escaping onto your tabletop!
Caroline: After the top dressing is covering the soil, the container garden really starts to look finished! You’re right, the white pebbles accentuate the colorful plants we chose!
Whitney: In the video, you’ll see we used a super-diluted tomato fertilizer to water the plants. I wouldn’t use fertilizer every time you water, just once every few months or if your plants are looking sad. Keep an eye on any wilted leaves or unusual growths. As the succulents grow, you can pluck off the older leaves so the plant can focus on the healthy ones.
Caroline: This wasn’t a very time-consuming project. Once we had all of our materials purchased and on our work table, it only took about 45 minutes to complete all of the steps, add the top dressing, and water with some tomato fertilizer. It definitely gives me more confidence to tackle small gardening projects despite some not-so-spectacular results in the past. Especially if Whitney is there to give me some advice!
Whitney: It looks great! This is definitely an easy project you can knock out in an afternoon. With some sunshine and a little watering, your new container garden will be a fabulous centerpiece in your dining room!