Tom Karwin, on gardening | Succulent Garden Additions – Santa Cruz Sentinel



Take care of your garden

This is a great time to add cacti and succulents to your garden as the big sale of the season will take place this weekend (details below).

Full Disclosure: As the past president of the local Cactus and Succulent Society, I have both enthusiasm and commitment to announce this event.

As a reminder, succulents have adapted to their relatively dry native environments by storing moisture in their leaves, stems, or roots. These plants are found in a very wide range of genera, so they are a cultural category and not a botanical division. Cacti are a kind of succulents, although we often see references to “cacti and succulents” as if they were two different groups.

Succulents are gaining popularity among home gardeners for several reasons. There are far too many of them to discuss specific selections, so we offer an overview of the attractiveness of these plants.

Very easy to grow. Although succulents thrive in relatively dry habitats, they do well in the temperate climate of the Monterey Bay area. Most of these plants are used to full sun, but some species prefer partial shade. They all grow best in fast-draining soil, as prolonged time in moist soil can cause root rot.

Cream Spike Agave (A. applanata), a tight rosette of variegated leaves. (Tom Karwin – Contribution)
Agave funkiana ‘Fatal Attraction’, a different form, with several puppies. (Tom Karwin – Contribution)

Very easy to propagate. Many succulents produce (small) suckers that can be easily removed from the mother plant and installed in a new home. This is the simplest method of propagation. The next easiest way is to remove a leaf from a mature plant, let it grow its own roots in a few days or weeks, and install it in the ground. It is also possible to grow succulents from seeds, just like any other plant. This approach (sexual propagation) requires more time but is popular with growers who want to create large numbers of new plants or hybridize new cultivars.

Requires very little water. Like all plants, succulents need moisture. New plants should be irrigated while they are establishing roots, and all plants should be irrigated during very dry periods. There are two broad categories of succulents for irrigation: summer dormant / winter growing and winter dormant / summer growth. Good practice: irrigate as needed during periods of growth and retain water during periods of dormancy. When adding a succulent to your garden, learn when it is growing and when it is dormant by asking the seller or searching the internet for the plant.

Extraordinary range of colors and shapes. Succulents are found in many botanical families and genera. This means that there is great variability within this category of plants and they can appeal to a wide range of aesthetic tastes. They come in many different colors, and some will turn from green to red depending on sun exposure or degree of stress. Certain forms of succulents intrigue some gardeners and displease others. Some cacti and other succulents, for example agaves, have sharp thorns which are beautiful to some observers, but can be dangerous and should be planted away from aisles and handled with care.

Extraordinary range of sizes. Succulents come in all sizes imaginable and are therefore effective in many different landscapes. When choosing a new plant for a specific location in your garden, always learn whether the mature size of the plant will be appropriate for that location.

Fun fact: A friend recently expressed interest in an interesting and colorful succulent called Sticks of Fire (Euphorbia tirucalli), assuming it will be a rather small shrub that is easy to place in the garden. A quick internet search revealed that this plant can grow up to forty feet tall and ten feet wide. In addition, like all Euphorbias, it has a toxic sap which is very irritating in case of contact with the eyes, so it must be handled with great care.

Improve your gardening knowledge

Upcoming webinars:

The Cactus & Succulent Society of America will present a webinar with a catchy title: “Feeding Succulents: How Fertilizer, Water pH, and Soil Can and Should be Adjusted,” at 10 am Saturday. Presenter Ernesto Sandoval will summarize why you want your plants to receive slightly acidic water and the different ways to adjust the pH of your succulents. Sandoval is a knowledgeable and lively lecturer who builds on his botany degree and work over the past thirty years at the University of California Davis, starting as a Weedkiller / Waterer student and progressing to Director / Director of the Conservatory of Botany. In this webinar, he will provide practical information useful to all succulent growers. For more information and to register for this free event, visit

The American Horticultural Society will present a webinar with Karen Washington in an episode of the Society’s webinar series, “Conversations with Great American Gardeners”. This event will take place at 1 p.m. October 8. Washington has been a community gardener and activist in New York City since 1985 and has been recognized for her leadership in this field of gardening. For example, she is the recipient of the 2018 Urban Beautification Award. Holly Shimizu, former executive director of the United States Botanical Garden in Washington, DC, will speak with Washington. To register for this paid event, go to and click on “Introducing Conversations with Great American Gardeners.

The American Horticultural Society also offers a podcast series featuring notable gardening experts. There are several available, well worth the detour. These are free resources, so go to

Enrich your gardening days

The Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society has had two show and sales events each year for decades, one in the spring and one in the fall. After putting these events on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Company announced its first in-person display and sale, as vaccinations and masks allow safe gatherings.

These society events have long provided small growers with a way to sell their plants (and containers), growers and home gardeners to display their precious specimens of cacti and succulents, and home gardeners to add to their collections. at very reasonable prices. . Gardeners can also learn more about these plants by viewing the amazing display plants and asking Society members questions. The goals of the non-profit society include sharing information about this exceptional class of plants.

This year, each of the fourteen growers (at last count) will have tables full of plants to sell. The demand for table space has been quite strong, given the suspension of sales, the Company could therefore accommodate additional vendors by limiting the number of tables that each vendor can fill with plants. Salespeople usually keep their tables full by adding plants as sales create spaces.

The exhibit and sale will take place over two days: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Portuguese Community Hall, 124 Atkinson Lane, Watsonville.

The Company will not require proof of vaccine, but will require all vendors and attendees to wear masks. This will limit the number of people in the room at all times and keep the tables eight feet apart to allow for social distancing. Bring a box to carry your new treasures to your garden. You can also download a poster from


Tom Karwin is the past president of the Friends of the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society, and the Monterey Bay Iris Society, and UC Lifetime Master Gardener (certified 1999- 2009). He is now a board member and garden coach for the Santa Cruz Hostel Society. To consult the qaphotos of his garden daily, To find an archive of previous gardening columns, visit Contact him with comments or questions at


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