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GARDENING : Shaping a Different Landscape : Succulents Are Gaining Favor With Their Engaging and Unusual Forms


A decade ago, Eunice Kwong's garden in Buena Park looked like a lot ofother gardens: It was planted with masses of roses, colorful bedding annuals and a host of pretty perennials.

Then she started noticing succulent plants and, like many others who've taken notice, became intrigued by them. Today, she grows more than 500 different varieties of the fleshy plants, known for their engaging forms and shapes.

Kwong says there are good reasons for turning to succulents: They take less work than other plants, save water and are pretty.

The term succulent describes any plant that stores water in juicy leaves, roots or stems to help the plant withstand drought. Typically, they're native to desert or semidesert areas.

Many types sold commercially originated from Mexico and South Africa and flourish in Orange County, although some are sensitive to frost and need protection. Technically, cacti are succulents, but horticulturists relegate them to a different category--cactaceae.

There are many groups of succulents, with thousands of varieties, ranging from miniature plants to trees soaring upward of 50 feet. Some are grown for the sculptural forms of the plants, others are valued as showy flowers.

In our mild climate, many are valuable additions to outdoor landscapes, as well as making striking container plants for enjoyment indoors or on patios or decks.

Aloe vera, commonly called medicine aloe, ice plant, poinsettias and crassula argentea, popularly known as jade plants, are among the best known succulents.

But there are many more that are prized by collectors because of striking sculpture-like forms of the plants, ease of care, and unusual and attractive flowers.

Don and Jane Wendland of Fullerton are avid succulent fanciers and charter members of the Orange County Cactus and Succulent Society.

"Our whole front yard is landscaped with succulents," Jane Wendland said. "We have approximately 10 varieties of aloes, numerous pachypodiums, euphorbias and agaves."

One of their showcase plants is Aloe bainesii, a 40-foot-tall tree with an unusual sculptural form.

"We've had several landscapers try to buy it from us, but we won't part with it," she added.

Although one of the great attractions of growing succulent plants is their ease of care, they still need some attention to look their best, especially in a landscape.

Most succulents grow well in full sun, although some species don't do well in hot sun or hot, inland areas. Follow planting directions according to each specific plant.

Even though the plants are drought tolerant, occasional watering will keep the leaves plump and full. They suffer if their roots are waterlogged, so they require fast-draining soil. The Wendlands recommend growing them in planters for this reason.

If you grow them in the ground, be sure to group them with plants of similar watering requirements. In hot summer months, they need watering only every week or two, inland, or every two to three weeks along the coast.

"You can go on a vacation and leave the succulents for a long period of time without worrying about them," Kwong explained.

They also don't need much fertilizing. One feeding with a fertilizer formulated for cacti and succulents is enough for landscape plants. Container plants and taller varieties benefit from an additional feeding during the growing season.

An added bonus is that if you want to prune their shape, the leaves or stems can easily be used to start new plants, which you can share with friends and family or add to your collection.

Many succulents produce showy flowers. These include varieties of aloes, kalanchoe, portulaca and some species of hoya.

You can see a wide selection of succulents as well as cacti this weekend at the 19th annual show and sale sponsored by the Orange County Cactus and Succulent Society. The event, which will be held at the Buena Park Mall, at La Palma and Stanton avenues, will be held today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Members will offer plants and containers for sale and provide detailed information on care for the plants.


Among mail-order services that offer a wide selection of succulents are:

Abbey Gardens P.O. Box 2249 La Habra, CA 90632 (310) 905-3520 $2 catalogue charge, refunded with first order

Northridge Gardens 9821 White Oak Ave. Northridge, CA 91325 (818) 349-9798 Free catalogue


Where to Start

Some types of succulents recommended for beginners:

* Agave

* Aloes

* Cedum

* Echiveria

* Gasteria

* Haworthia

* Ioniums

* Pachypodiums

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