Category: Succulent landscaping

Full Sun? What does it mean?

Full Sun!

What does that mean? Why are my plants not thriving? I planted them in full sun, just like the plant tag said.

Well, funny thing about plant tags, and plant care instructions in general. They don’t know you, or where you live. Full sun is a perfect example of this. Full sun in San Francisco, CA means a completely different thing than full sun in El Paso, Texas. In fact, it means a completely different thing than full sun in Livermore, CA, a town just 90 minutes away.

How will that affect my plants?

Here is one way. Let’s say you just scored some beautiful Aeoniums (like the one in the picture above). These are plants that mostly come from the Canary Islands, a Mediterranean climate not unlike the SF Bay area.


Here in SF, they thrive like crazy! You don’t need to do much, as long as you are planting them outside here. The tag says full sun, so you plant them in full sun and away they go. Your 4 inch plant is a 2 foot monster in no time, with multiple offshoots and soon you are getting flowers from some of the offshoots (which probably spells the end of that portion of the plant – but that is a story for another blog). In the summer they may get a little stagnant, although if you are watering semi-regularly (I say “semi” because remember succulents want a little neglect – too much water can kill them) they may look great even though it is not their regular growing season. Then, once the winter rolls around, they may go sort of crazy, spreading their wide open faces to the sky and inspiring you to write poetry about their sunflower-esque beauty. Yes, full sun in the Mediterranean-like Bay Area is just perfect for Aeoniums.

However let’s say you live in Fresno, a hot southern California city southwest of the Sierra National Forrest where the summer temperature can easily be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. You bought your plants in the spring and planted them in full sun, following instructions like the great gardener you are. Now it is July and your plants are disintegrating. The leaves curled up a bit first, and you were concerned so you gave them more water than you felt was appropriate, but you didn’t want them to die. Then the leaves began to burn and fall off, and soon your plant was looking smaller and smaller and very “leggy”. Not long after that, the leaves were all gone and even the stem was looking sad and falling over.

That is because all “full sun “was not created equally. So it is not enough to simply follow the instructions on the tag, a bit more research may be involved in buying the right plants for your area and keeping them healthy throughout the four seasons of the year.

If you are lucky enough to have four seasons.

Which sadly, in SF, we are not.

Succulent Gardening For the Future

Succulent Gardening – Is it more than just a fad?Echeveria at Succulence

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Glen Park Garden Club. They are a wonderful organization, filled with like-minded individuals who absolutely love to garden and have spent a lifetime growing a wide assortment of plants. When they asked me to talk at their meeting, I thought, “What better topic to discuss than the changing California landscape?”

As I considered our changing landscape, and the terrible situation we’re in with our vanishing water supply, and the worry and concern that this drought might last for much longer, and the drying and dying of the non-irrigated landscapes within San Francisco, and the photographic images and informational memes on the internet of the groundwater receding, and the water bills that appear to be growing exponentially, I began to wonder if there was more to using succulents in our landscapes than just being responsible and water-wise for the greater community.

It’s been easy for me to talk to people about using these plants to create xerophyte gardens. When soaring water bills hit our wallets, it helps us connect to the fact that there is a problem and that we would like to be part of the solution. Fundamentally, succulent plants can fill a yard and not need to be watered much, if at all. So if you are wanting to have plants in your yard, and you want them to be manageable, to not drop tons of detritus, to be elegant and architectural, colorful and sensual, to give you weird beautiful flowers that last a long time, and to not need much of that precious H2O, then succulents are going to provide you with a wonderful and passionate solution.

But if you are a different kind of gardener, such as the horticulturalists I met at the Glen Park Garden club; if you garden as a part of a lifetime of curious exploration of the world; if you garden as a peaceful means of meditation; if you garden to provide sustenance to yourself, your family or your community; if you garden as part of your personal mental health regimen, and to pack dirt under your fingernails for use as an anti-depressant; if you garden to nurture nature and receive nurturing from nature; if gardening is your way of sharing a deep communion with our earth; then succulent and other xerophytic gardening might be your best bet to continue gardening, even in the face of an actual lack of water. 

And, when you plant large agave and aloe near your home, you have the added bonus of having a whole aggregation of your own personal reservoirs, full of water, and ready to protect your home in case of fire!Enormous Agave Ruth Bancroft Gardens