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In the ground versus containers

Posted on May 19 2017

Ideally, it’s not an either/or predicament for succulent enthusiasts

Stick ’em in the ground or contain them to potted dwellings? Thankfully for those of us with dirt to spare, succulents are generally as flexible as they are fleshy (not to discount factors such as frost and excessive heat). That flexibility, though — as much as succulent lovers appreciate the artful possibilities it affords — can have gardeners struggling to make choices. Because we’d rather you be outside getting your fingernails dirty than indoors furiously scribbling pros-and-cons lists, we’ve cobbled together a handful of considerations.
The desire to go big You’re OK with everyone but the dragons suffering grisly deaths on Game of Thrones, so naturally you crave a dragon tree (Dracaena draco) to reign in your landscape. Known for its “dragon’s blood” resin, this intriguing specimen will grow to fifteen-plus feet, and quite possibly double that over time. Any number of agaves would also make attractive in-ground choices. Creating a sense of place Inspired by travels or just a book of amazing imagery, you want to re-create a southern Africa succulent habitat in your backyard. Chances are those enchanting plants aren’t found in cowboy boots or watering cans in the wild. (Not that such container whimsy doesn’t have its place, of course.) Along with cool design effects like massing and layering, landscapes also allow for incorporating features such as mounds and swales and inviting plants to stretch out their roots. Containers are not free nor impervious Those on a budget may discover that container costs would devour too much of their plant fund. As striking as crassulas and haworthias are on their own, pairing them with dull pots would be a drag, at least until snazzier replacements could be procured. There’s an upside to skipping (or mostly skipping) containers: more plants! Or maybe you have two-legged youngsters whose elbows and legs would do more damage on your patio then in a portion of the yard.     THREE REASONS FOR CONTAINER PLANTINGS Containers are diverse, expressive There’s nothing in the succulent lovers constitution that says you must stick with round-ish pots or pot-like receptacles period. Embrace succulents’ naturally geometric flair by providing homes of all matters of shapes and forms. The colors, patterns, and textures of containers can contrast and coordinate with specimens in endless, fascinating ways. The pinkish-lavender leaf outlines of an echeveria can pick up a pot’s purple stripe; add a living textural counterpoint or two and boom. The visual harmony achieved by repeating plants in the landscape can be attained via containers as well. Mobility has décor, stewardship pluses A container-driven space obeys your urge to tweak, your aesthetic impulses, kind of like those who enjoyed rearranging their bedrooms as teens — because reasons. Through experimentation, you might discover interesting interplay options, based on the plants used, shapes, colors, and so on. Perhaps more importantly, there’s also protecting plants against the “whims” of weather and ecology, from drenching rains and freezing temps to oppressive sun and unforgiving soil pathogens.   Reserve your earth for something else Most of us don’t have the room to indulge every one of our botanical passions. Devoting virtually all space to succulents and cacti would mean no room for a rose garden or to grow yummy fruits and veggies. If it’s a choice between tomatoes or succs, the tomatoes very well may be the ones going in those perfectly dug holes. It’d be the same call with numerous types of ground covers and shrubs. This is just a surface-level review of some of the factors that can influence garden decision-making. Some of you may be puzzled by the whole premise, as you figure out which self-made “#SuccLover4Lyfe” T-shirt to wear to the farmers market. Every nook and cranny, windowsill included, of your homestead is populated by succulents and cacti. We admire your obsession, and we’ll take a few of those shirts. Please and thank you.  


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