Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cacti and Succulents for Northern Gardens

   As we have seen in California and many other places including Alberta, drought is an ever increasing possibility with so much demand on our fresh water. How can we help as gardeners? I think getting off the 1950's obsession with lawns and getting into drought tolerant plants in our gardens is a start. The City of Calgary promotes "Water Wise" gardening otherwise known as Xeriscaping, I call it fun with cacti and succulents!
     Above is one of the most common succulents in our area, Hen and Chicks Sempervivum. These low growing evergreens come in a huge variety of  colours and looks including the cobweb types. They grow in almost any soil but thrive in a well drained and hot location. If you want more simply pull out some of the "chicks" that surround the main rosette and plant in another location. I sometimes add them to an annual pot for soil coverage, who wants a bunch of bare dirt?

     Prickly Pear Cactus Opuntia sp. is a native of  Southern Alberta and Sasktchewan but please don't dig them out of the wild as they are increasingly available in the local nursery trade. Extremely easy and hardy to grow as long as they are in the hottest and sunniest location you have. My only suggestion is don't plant in an area where grass or weeds want to grow because it is nearly impossible to pull anything out near these extremely prickly characters, I always seem to get one dandelion that wants to grow as a companion to my cactus! From time to time the prickly pear will bloom one summer day, like most cactus it only lasts about a day in full sun, a bittersweet beauty.

      Yucca Filamentosa, it seems crazy that we can  grow something like this at this latitude but it's true! These Yuccas are extremely hardy and evergreen even with a minus 40 windchill and the leaves poking up thru the snow all winter. I spotted this one in my neighbourhood last year, they will bloom after a few years but the plant will die, however, most of the time they have basal shoots that regrow into new yuccas. As for all of these plant in a sunny and well drained area, once established no need to water of course!

     Yucca Glauca, Soapweed, is a native of extreme SE Alberta, so you know it is hardy and well adapted to dry conditions! I must have had this one for almost 10 years, I keep thinking it will bloom one year but it just seems to get bigger. No special care for this yucca either, just plant in a hot dry spot and stand back. The only advice I would give is give it plenty of room as they are like a little dagger, not for a high traffic area.

     The Sedums

     There are thousands of sedums in the world and many of them are popular in local horticulture. They come in groundcover forms as well as upright and sizeable perennials. Sedums are super easy to grow in almost any conditions but also thrive in
hot dry poor soil too! These succulents are also easy to propagate by snipping off a few stems and pushing into new soil, they will root in a short time, even the tall Autumn Joy varieties can be rooted by snipping off a stem and pushing it into the ground wherever you want a new plant. There are many shapes and sizes of sedums and they are readily available so try a few in your garden, you won't be disappointed.

     So if you have a hot southern exposure like against a building or close to a sidewalk, instead of fighting the elements consider some cacti and succulents, they will excel! Pick some other xeriscape plants as companions such as sages, ornamental grasses and heat loving perennial flowers and you will have interest in the garden year round. Here is my arid garden blooming well into the fall.

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