How to Arrange a Succulent Painting

how to make succulent garden

Written byJen Greene

Animal lover, plant enthusiast, and addicted to the sunshine and warmth in San Diego.

January 12, 2022

A recent project I wrapped up just in time for winter rains was the addition of this stone alligator to our front courtyard area. After a trip to Mexico for my brother’s wedding, we picked this up on our drive home. I didn’t have a plan for it, just a general idea of where it could go, and the price was right. 

We got it home, and after a week or two of mulling it over, I went to my local nursery and grabbed the filler plants I needed to supplement cuttings and existing plants I had at home. 

succulent planter

Once I got the plants home, I first spent some time leveling the ground, weeding, and adding more soil to ensure it was flat and drained well.

I didn’t get a photo, but I spent some time placing the plants in their pots before actually planting them. 

Around the front of the gator’s nose are white and blue colored, compactly-growing succulents: Senecio haworthii to mimic white water ripples, Sedeveria “blue elf” and Pachyveria “little jewel” for blue tones. 

I also tried a few Graptoveria “Powderpuff” around the nose, a cultivar that I’ve only had middling success growing long term, along with some moonglows that I’ve done well with in the past. I figured if the powderpuffs don’t thrive, the moonglows will fill in their spot. 

Other succulents around the gator include Echeveria “Neon Breakers”, Echeveria “Dusty Rose”, Graptosedum “California Sunset”, and Graptoveria pentandrum. 

I intentionally spaced the plants out knowing their growth habits. All of these will take some time to reach large size, or cluster heavily, so I will have plenty of time to easily maintain them as they grow. 

The Sedeveria “Blue Elf” in particular is a favorite; I know they’ll grow in small clusters and blush a very pretty pink and red on their leaf tips. Apart from the Wooly Senecio, nearly all of the types I’ve planted blush a pretty shade in winter, so there will be seasonal changes. 

I used a couple species of blue senecio as filler on the outer corners in front of the gator: Senecio serpens and Senecio mandraliscae. 

how to make a succulent planter

I used a few sanseveria that I’ve had on hand to appear like seaweed growing alongside the gator; they will eventually pup profusely but my experience with them is that it’s relatively slow and easily managed. At the back I planted a few of my very favorite Echeveria hortencia to look like water plants. In the shadier exposure, I expected them to get greener over time, but the long bloom stalks were sure to be favorites of the hummingbirds that are all over in our courtyard.

Once the plants were in ground and arranged, I layered decomposed granite in different shades on top, and then used Oro grande rock as an accent above that. I also carefully placed the rock in line with the water runoff from our roof, which is quite brutal on this side of the house.

succulent painting

Typically, you don’t water things immediately after planting them, but we’d had a very dry month and many of the plants were definitely thirsty so I used the hose to clear off the extra decomposed granite as well as deep water the area. Once set up, I also thoroughly sprayed the entire planting with pesticide to guard against mealy bugs or other pests that may have hitchhiked home with the nursery plants. 

Best Practices for Your Own Succulent Arrangement

1: Pick compatible species 

Either allow for a large zone that accomodates rapid growers such as Graptoveria “Ghosty” or the blue chalk senecios, or plant slower-growing, more compact species together. If you don’t carefully consider growth habits in your arrangement, you’ll rapidly get a sprawling, disordered looking bed in a matter of months.

2: Plant things closely, but not too closely 

You want things to be closely planted to look appealing, but you don’t want to crowd them to a point where they can’t grow or expand and look their best.

My rule of thumb is to give them enough space around each other as they’d get in a pot – so roughly 1/2″ to 1″ of space around the root ball. This means the top of the leaves may be closer, but the roots have some space to expand. This means your plants have space to grow, thrive, and create a beautiful tapestry without slowly dying a few months after going in ground.

3: Consider lighting carefully

My arrangement is only about 6′ long, but the angle of shade from the roof and the placement on our west-facing side of the house means that it’s fairly shaded close to the house, and gets intense sun in the afternoon. As a result, the plants closest to the house wall get the least sun during the day, while the ones closest to the tile get more sun and heat. In my placement, it’s about half-shade – I have tropical plants growing in a different portion of this courtyard, to give you an idea of how shaded this area can be. 

In full sun, many of these succulents would scorch, so I carefully picked plants that I’ve known would do well with this type of afternoon sun and partial shade. 

4: Prepare your soil before you start

I spent time breaking up the soil, weeding, and amending it with mulch, succulent soil, and even a bit of compost along with pumice to ensure the soil would be suitable. This part of our courtyard was a very dead soil zone, with only weeds barely hanging on, so I knew some additional soil and “food” would be appreciated by anything I placed here. 

In your arrangement, consider your soil and if you need to amend it for better drainage, nutrients, or spend some time minimizing weeds. 

5: Aim for varying textures and height

Plan for larger or taller plants near the back of your arrangement, and shorter/smaller plants near the front. This draws the eye along the full length of your arrangement, and makes it look more aesthetically pleasing.  

how to make succulent garden

Above is my arrangement after about 3 months in ground, and the aftermath of very heavy rains (for us). You can see that the sanseveria got sunburnt, initially, and that there’s a few plants that are struggling. 

The Powderpuffs did struggle, and lost several outer leaves to rot, but they are producing new growth at their center and I am still tentatively hopeful that they’ll bounce back. 

The Dudleyas I placed near the front for winter white/color are showing their winter growth and rebounding. The senecios are beginning to grow and expand, and the echeverias are showing nice robust growth.  

One of the Echeveria “Dusty Rose” I used between the sections of gator to resemble scales – they’re thriving and growing with a nice powdery farina. 

The new growth coming in is compact and dense, which is a great sign that the plant is getting the light it needs to thrive. I have much more success with the Echeverias in ground than trying to grow them in pots, and these are looking fantastic against the blue rocks I used as accent. 

echeveria dusty rose
graptoveria pentandrum

I planted quite a few of these Graptopetalum superbum along the gator, as I had a bunch on hand and they grow attractively.

Over time, they do develop a stem and some height, but it takes a few months to a year. Once they do get too tall, they’re easy to behead and allow for the stem to produce new heads in a denser cluster.

I love the lavender-purple leaves, and that their newest growth often comes in with a vaguely variegated appearance. When grown with suitable light, they are quite flat at the apical growth. The ones in my planting are getting slightly convex, which means they likely would appreciate more sun, but they’re not really stretching in truly inadequate light.

Pretty, easy to grow little succulent that thrives in nearly any arrangement.

I have two weaknesses when it comes to succulents: Deep red Echeverias, and white/blue Echeverias. 

Echeveria “Eliza” is a beautiful hybrid and planting it in this arrangement has led to the neon magenta edges, deep purple leaves, and the best growth of this hybrid I’ve had long term. 

It’s nestled next to a white Echeveria, I think it may be an Echeveria runyonii or hybrid. I had one planted in a front arrangement area and it’s been pupping constantly. May be an arctic ice, but it doesn’t look like my Atlantis or pure Runyonii which I’ve taken photos of straight from the nursery. 

Both are growing beautifully in the Gator planting! 

Echeveria Eliza

You may also like…

Surprising(ly Stinky) Stapeliads

Originally printed in the February edition of the San Diego Cactus and Succulent Society newsletter. Easy San Diego...