The top of my outside fireplace has been bare for way too many years. It was time to put the effort into correcting that. It was time to create mirroring planters to give the fireplace greater appeal. Due to the fact I am terrible about remembering to water my planters, I almost always use succulents in their creation. After I finished my first succulent planter I thought it would be fun to document the making of this second one. Yes, I understand that creating a succulent planter isn’t rocket science. Most might not even think it worthy of a blog post. But here we go anyway…
Step 1: Buy all the plants and materials you will need. The recipe for this new succulent planter I was creating included:
- 1 Vietnamese Black Clay Low Bowl
- 1 Old Man of the Andes Cactus (Cleistocactus trollii)
- 2 Aeonium ‘Kiwi’
- 4 Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans (Not pictured)
- 2 KRC Glacier Turquoise rocks
- 1 Bag 3/8″ crushed gravel
- 1 Bag of KRC premium polished black pebbles
- 1 Bag of FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil
- 1 Bag E.B. Stone Cactus Mix
Step 2: Put down a base layer of gravel at the bottom of your succulent planter. Adding a gravel base layer is import because it guarantees a fast draining medium that won’t break down over time. It also helps prevent the buildup of the mucky, broken down potting soil that accumulates over time. I just use the cheap 3/8″ crushed gravel you can buy at Home Dept. I put down a 2″ layer.
For this planter I purchased a black clay low bowl. It was imported from Vietnam by Canyon Pottery in Mira Mesa. I have found that Canyon Pottery always has the best selection and pricing. The low bowl I purchased measures 28 inches across, so it is a good sized pot.
Step 3: Add your fast-draining succulent potting mix. I always use E.B. Stone Cactus Mix. It is very fast draining and it doesn’t break down as fast as others on the market, in my experience. It contains fir bark, Canadian sphagnum peat moss, lava rock, sand, redwood compost, and mushroom compost. While you don’t need to use a succulent-specific mix, it is highly recommended. If you choose to use some other non-succulent–specific mix, make sure to cut it with perlite or pumice.
Step 4: Add a high-quality, rich organic potting soil to give your mix balance. I love using FoxFarm Ocean Forest. It is made from composted forest humus, sandy loam, and sphagnum peat moss. Ocean Forest is also packed with earthworm castings, bat guano, and sea-going fish and crab meal. Just look at the contrast between the two potting soils in the picture below.
I mix the two potting soils at a ratio of 3 parts EB Stone Cactus Mix to 1 part FoxFarm Ocean Forest. The goal is to keep the fast-draining qualities needed for a succulent planter but to provide rich organics your plants will love.
Step 5: Add your centerpiece plant. For this succulent planter I decided to use an Old Man of the Andes Cactus (Cleistocactus trollii). Cleistocactus trollii is a columnar cactus that grows in the mountains of Bolivia and gets its name from the white “hair” that grows with the attractive yellowish spines. The “white beard” gives the cactus protection from the sun and frost. I prefer Cleistocactus trollii over the more commonly seen Cephalocereus senilis from Mexico, as it has shorter, tighter white hairs and grows much slower.
While removing the Cleistocactus trollii from its pot, all the dirt fell out and exposed nothing but the stumps and only a few roots. There wasn’t any rot and the plant was very healthy. It just didn’t have many roots to hold the soil in place – which I found a little odd. With no roots or soil to hold it in place, it fell over. So out came my trusty work gloves to position it into place.
Once centered and planted level with the pot, I begin back-filling it into place with more of the potting soil I blended above.
Step 6: Add some rock accent pieces. For this succulent planter I purchased two Glacier Turquoise stones from KRC Rock. The turquoise coloring in the rock is quite subtle and works well with the Old Man of the Andes Cactus. Because I planned on using polished black pebbles and not natural pebble, I went with an untraditional accent rock color.
Step 7: Begin placing the top rock layer. In most of my pots I like to use natural stones and pebble. However, this succulent planter sits atop my outdoor fireplace so a more formal look was called for. I went with KRC Rock’s “Premium Polished Black Pebbles.” It gives it a little Yin and Yang feel with the Old Man of the Andes Cactus and accent rocks. Make sure to leave spaces for the small accent plants that will go into the planter next.
Step 8: Place your smaller accent plants. There are many options when choosing your plants to fill the pot in with. Most people stick to using contrasting colors and/or shapes. That is what I did for this pot. I went with two Aeonium ‘Kiwi,’ with one going to the front and one to the back of the pot. Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ is a nice low-growing succulent that is easily thinned out once it spreads too far.
I also planted four Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans to the sides of my Cleistocactus trollii. Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans is a dense, compact succulent with a beautiful dark red color. It will eventually cascade over the sides of the pot. Unfortunately, just before I started work on this week’s blog post I used the rest of my Crassula pubescens ssp. radicans on this succulent planter’s sister pot. It is not an easy plant to find, so I was unable to source any in time when I created this planter and took the photos.
Step 9: Finish filling in all the gaps with more of your top layer. Using a pebble or stone top layer not only gives your succulent planter much more interest, it also helps with moisture retention and weed prevention.
Step 10: Give everything a good watering and pat yourself on the back because you are done.
Of course everyone has different taste, so the plants you choose, the rocks you use and the amounts of each will vary with those individual tastes. When I design my succulent planters I like to keep them fairly simple. I never use more than three different plants in a single planter. Many gardeners like to cram as many plants as they can into their pot. For me personally, I find that a pot looks too busy unless you repeat colors and shapes throughout.
These photos are of the sister planter I put together last week. I am really looking forward to seeing how everything looks once it fills out.