It’s that time of year when many gardeners start to dream about how they want to tackle some much-anticipated landscaping projects.
Over the next few months, our mild winter will give way to a pleasant spring and (likely) hot summer. And although those displays of lush hostas and heavily blooming begonias look attractive now, it is hard to deny that we simply do not live in a climate that is well-suited to those types of mass border plantings. It can be a hard pill to swallow, especially if you have relocated here from a part of the country that has the moisture to maintain such verdant landscapes.
So what does one do when they are interested in maintaining a full and lush looking landscape in an arid and semi-inhospitable climate?
Certainly one solution is to forgo any sense of reason and water your garden until your water bill reaches the triple-digit mark.
A better solution would be to form a relationship with plants better suited to our climate. Fortunately, there are some great plants in the succulent family that are both attractive and easy to care for. Succulents live in partial to full sun and require good drainage but can thrive in relatively marginal soils. A small amount of water once a week is all these beauties need to survive.
Each year, I have tested out a number of different succulents at my own house. Some have proven hardy and some have not. Some thrive and some merely survive. The ones that thrive continue to look good with very little care.
So how do you know which will be the best for your own home? First, consider realistically the harshness of the climate within your yard. Is the space you intend to plant in full or partial sun? What is the coldest day you have experienced where there is not an insulating blanket of snow on the ground? Is the spot you intend to plant coarse and rocky or is there a skim of top soil? How is the drainage? What about foot traffic? Sit down and answer these questions honestly and your chances of success in planting succulents the first time around will be dramatically increased.
Our yard is considerably colder than most. We live in a constriction within a valley that causes us to receive more snow, wind and cold air drainage than a majority of places within Chelan County. For this reason, when I purchase succulents I look for ones that are hardy to zone 3.
Most years, our yard behaves more like a zone 4 or 5. Therefore, I know that if I select plants that are hardy beyond this threshold that they will be able to take whatever weather comes their way. I also know that when I plant my succulents in planters I will be able to leave them out during the winter months without worrying about mass die-off. Several of my planters have made it through the last three winters successfully without a need to re-plant. Each spring they pop back to life as soon as the sun warms the pots.
Some of my favorite succulents are very easy to come by. Matrona sedum is a tall purple cousin to the traditional ‘Autumn Joy’. These tend to reach 12” inches in height and bloom at the end of summer after most other flowers have come and gone. Lime Zinger stonecrop is another amazingly beautiful variety.
And don’t forget about the furry version of Hens and Chicks. These look great as table-top centerpieces. Have fun designing with sedum and happy gardening.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Eron Drew is one of four columnists featured.