Care Diary: Echeveria hortencia

echeveria hortencia

Written ByJen Greene

Posted: December 30, 2020

Echeveria hortencia was a succulent I was very happy to stumble upon last year – I love the dark colored, almost purple hues of the leaves. It looks exceptional when contrasted against anything with a slate blue or powdery white color, such as my Agave “Black and Blue” or Echeveria cante. 

Caring for them has honestly been quite straightforward: they’re hardy, resilient, and bloom profusely. This will be more of a description of how my large 8″ specimens have developed over the year they’ve been in my care and less a detailed dive into overall care. With them being in-ground, my care regime is going to be different than container care, and as I don’t have any in pots, I won’t have recommendations or guidance on pot culture. 

Where I planted my Echeveria hortencia

The area the hortencia are in is the lower edge of a sloped area by our driveway, which gets afternoon shade and direct morning sun. Temperatures range from the high 20s and low 30s at the absolute coldest part of the year, with light frost, to over 100F at the height of summer. 

Soil quality is dense, with a lot of clay and hard packed earth, and I had been mulching the area they’re in for about a year prior to actually planting them. The mulch had a distinct impact on the upper levels of soil, making it richer, looser, and significantly better draining – for long term soil prep, I highly recommend the use of mulch as a soil amendment and improvement. 

Echeveria Hortencia

The plant to the left is one of the first I picked up in November 2019. They had leaf damage and some scarring, but I was confident that I could grow them out to pretty foliage again. I was right! It didn’t take long. 

To retain the deep purple-black color of the leaves, these echeverias need to be kept somewhere with plenty of bright light. My E. hortencias are all in an area that gets full morning sun, and typically into early afternoon as well. They end up shaded by around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, which gives them just enough protection during the hottest summer months. 

They definitely look their best in cooler winter months with plenty of rain for me; they shouldn’t stay soggy, as like other succulents, they’ll melt, but kept in an area that drains well and with plenty of light, they certainly thrive. Mine over-wintered in an area that received light frosts, thawing by the time the sun started to peek up. If you’re keeping yours in containers, I’d protect from frost. 

The photo above is from January 2020; you can see some of the older scarred leaves but lots of new, perfect looking growth in the center. Also noteworthy is that the plant is getting a bit green, especially with new growth in the center. Winter is naturally a season with short days, regular cloud cover, and plenty of rain. These conditions combine for lower light levels than needed for prime dark coloration.

You can also see a very light coating of farina on the leaves, which made for very pretty leaf outlines. Through winter and all of spring, these were some of my favorite succulents in my garden due to the subtle patterns and dark color. 

echeveria hortencia

Above is one of the last “pretty” pictures of my hortencias, from April of 2020. This was after a nice rainy spring and mulch enriching the soil around them. You can see where the bloom spikes were starting to show; they might look like pups, but within a month is was clear that they were just going to explode with blooms. You can also see the green centers as a result of all of our cloudy days – compared to January, when we had freak heat waves and plenty of sunshine. 

The bloom explosion was bittersweet; the flowers were absolutely a FAVE of our local hummingbirds, which was a delight. They bloomed all through spring and summer, and still have huge bloom stalks now in mid December (all new!). The downside was that by blooming so much, the plant heads became smaller and much less attractive. With inconsistent watering through summer, there was a lot of leaf die off on the outside of the heads, and I struggled with aphids and mealybugs as summer went on. 

Treating Aphids, Mealybugs, and other pests on Echeveria hortencia

The treatment for aphids and mealybugs was fairly simple, although a bit sad for that powdery farina I loved so much from spring. I used a Bayer spray that was rated for vegetable gardens; this killed pests without also killing the beneficial bees or harming the hummingbirds sure to be feeding on the succulents. 

Using a spray does mean you’ll wash off the farina, and it won’t come back on leaves that are already grown. New leaves will develop the farina though, so as long as you keep an eye on the plants, you may be able to escape another application of spray by using rubbing alcohol on a q-tip to nab any new pests that appear. 

I needed to use a spray due to the size of the garden area and level of infestation with aphids on bloom stalks; if I was seeing pests on one plant, I ended up applying the spray to the entire front garden area, which is about 200 sq feet. A couple times a year I also use Sluggo+ to create a barrier around the garden, since as soon as it starts raining, the slugs and snails move in. Slugs and snails absolutely love Echeverias, and are a challenge to keep out if relying on organic means. Sluggo+ works extremely well as a natural barrier, as it uses iron phosphate as the primary ingredient. By applying it, snails and slugs eat it, and the iron phosphate essentially freezes up their digestive systems, causing them to starve to death within a few days. It also acts as a fertilizer in your garden, so when applying, follow directions for appropriate density. 

Another natural pesticide I use on a seasonal basis (once or twice a year, typically after the rainy season and after the first good rain or two) is Captain Jack’s dead bug brew. The dead bug brew uses Spinosad, a unique bacteria discovered in the soil of a sugar mill rum still, that is highly toxic to the majority of our common pests but not to mammals, reptiles, birds, or other complex organisms. It doesn’t easily dissolve in water, but will eventually wash off, which is why I like to apply it right after the rainy season and right as it kicks off. 

Sluggo+ and Captain Jack’s combined help keep not just snails and slugs in check, but also our booming populations of earwigs and pillbugs too. While one or two earwigs will just eat decomposing plant matter, when you get into the level of having dozens or hundreds in your garden, they’ll start demolishing your plants too. 

If you are keeping these in containers, I recommend using Bonide to treat mealybugs or aphids if you get them, rather than trying to spray the Echeveria. Bonide makes the body and leaves of your succulents toxic (it’s a systemic pesticide rather than a topical pesticide), so it’s ideal as a preventative treatment and guard against aphids, mealybugs, or spidermites. The downside is that it is quite toxic, and the runoff can be poisonous to other animals if you let it get into groundwater. As a result, I only use it on my potted plants, not in-ground, and only in plants I tend to be cautious about watering. I mix it in to top dressing on plants I know are prone to mealybugs, or if I see them actively, but otherwise try to avoid it due to the toxicity risk. 

Echeveria hortencia blooms

Pictured above are my hortencias in December 2020; there are six separate plants blooming there, surrounding an Agave titanota “Black and Blue”. 

If I’d wanted to keep their growth compact and more aethetically pleasing, I could have cut all the bloom stalks, but I like seeing the birds more. I’ll be keeping a closer eye on them this year for when the blooms are spent, so I can trim them and let the Echeverias recover somewhat. Below are the centers of the plants after a long, dry summer, as well as the side view of the stalk with new pups emerging. 

Echeveria hortencia dry season
Echeveria hortencia pups

I wish I’d taken more photos of them even when they were looking their worst,with the mealybugs and the scraggly dying growth from being too dry, but you probably get a good idea of how much leaf death there was based on the bare stems. 

The nice thing is that the stems will pup, and this seems promising that they will develop into clusters. For next year, I’ll be trying to keep them better watered through the summer months. A drip line will be a much more effective way of watering them than the top sprinklers I had to use most of the year. 

I use these as a backdrop for my Agave titanota and my Echeveria cante, as the dark foliage makes the blue and white foliage stand out exceptionally well. I’ll end this post with a photo of the arrangement – it’s one of my favorite combinations, and they work fantastically together! 

agave titanota black and blue

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