Friday, February 6, 2015

Cement draping planters, Draped hypertufa

I prepared this as a speech that I have given to a couple garden clubs,  these are essentially my speech notes.  Feel free to let me know if any part is not making sense to you.  I tried to get it as organized as possible.  

I  have been asked to describe a container creation method I have been using for making planters for my succulents.  It is a fun and inexpensive way to make containers and requires no special equipment. 
I found some info online about it but really just tried something and it worked for me.  You can look for cement draping and draped hypertufa instructions. 

Cement draping is fun and easy, and costs very little in materials.

Once you start looking you will find molds everywhere. 
Smooth flexible plastic is best, metal works, but you may have to fight to get it free of the piece.  If you have something that is not ideal you may want to wrap it in a plastic bag. 
Mismatched Tupperware works great, so do plastic planters.  You may want an item to use as a stand if your fabric exceeds the side of the mold.  Do not use oil to release the planter from the mold, it will prevent you from adding additional layers to the interior of your planter. 

You need:

One bag of Portland cement, (be real clear about this at the building yard, some "boys" seem to think that we know nothing and will give you concrete mix)

You may also want a texturing material to mix with the initial cement slurry.  A handful of peat moss, coir, vermiculite or fine perlite can give an interesting texture to the finished planter.

A dish pan or shallow bucket

Fleece or other material that is thick and fabric scissors.

A paint brush, not a fancy one, because it will be essentially ruined by the cement.

Something to store the left over dry cement in. 

With the cement, you must be aware of how caustic the wet material is.  Gloves are an absolute necessity.  You need chemical resistant gloves, I use heavy duty ones, but disposable nitrile ones will work as well.  You should wear glasses, sunglasses or safety glasses. A dust mask is also highly recommended for the initial mixing. 

This is the method I use:

I first scout out a mold, there are molds everywhere, just look.   I tend to have the mold kicking around so I can look at it to decide how I am going to cover it. 

I then take my fabric and loosely cut it to size.  I then play with the fabric a little to decide where I want the high and low points to be. 

Cut it to shape you want.  You can do squares, rectangles or any other conceivable shape. I usually go ahead and make a couple copies of the same basic shape so it takes less time later.


You don’t want to try to cut them later and it allows you to have an alignment point on the mold. 

Get a measuring cup, or something to use for estimating the amount of cement used.

I use about two cups of cement and approximately equal amounts of water per batch, ( I use a used 16 oz water bottle) this is enough to do a few planter’s first layer, or put a subsequent layer on several planters.  If you want to add a texture material like vermiculite do it in the first layer.

Soak the fabric in the slurry and align it on your mold set the folds how you want them to dry.  If it is warm you should be able to add a second coat in a few hours.  Within the next couple of days, once it is firmed up I carefully remove it from the mold, so it sits loosely on it and I then paint the inside of the piece.  You continue to add layers until it reaches the desired thickness that you want. 
I usually have several pieces in different stages of the process, and keep adding layers as I go.  It takes about a half an hour or so at a time to do a batch of planters.

Clean up!
Rinse everything when cement is wet, you may have to scrub it to get it to loosen off of the dish pan. 

I paint my planters, but you could also add a colorant to the cement slurry, or leave them natural. 

Planting is my favorite part!  I tend to cram the succulents in but you could use the same planter for other perennials and design the planters for the plant individual needs.

I almost always have planters in some stage of production, feel free to set up an appointment or come during one of my open sales to get a better idea of how to do the method.  (if you are local)

I hope I have inspired you to try a new, fun, and forgiving method for home-made planters. 

This is the planter that started it all.  It is actually hypertufa and I tried several times to get it to work again and I just kept having failures with the hypertufa method.  I fell in love with the design and had to come up with a way to get it to work.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Zone Defiance

Most of our common succulent varieties are recommended for zones 10 and above.  Since we are at zone 9b (Eureka, CA)  we need to plan carefully for the winter months.

Last winter was a particularly bad winter, we had 8 or more subfreezing days (29* or below) at my home in Cutten, just outside of Eureka I had 6 days in a row that were below 29*, my low was 18*. Some areas behind my house didn't defrost for days.   Even with all that I lost very few plants.

This winter, looks like it will be mild according to many weather forecasters, but you should still be ready to protect your plants in case of frost.

Here is some of the things you should do to plan for frosty days:

Placement is everything!!!   Try to get the sun on your plants as early in the morning as possible.  I recommend east or south exposure.  Look for things that might shade your plants in the winter.  North exposures are the worst in the winter!

I have a low fence that shades some parts of my garden when the sun is at a low angle.  I move plants out of these areas that are sensitive for the winter or plan on replacing them in case of extreme frost conditions.

This is my south facing bed as it came out of the winter.  All of these plants were in ground for the deep freeze.  I covered with frost cloth and on the worst of the nights cardboard on top of it.

Plant valuable plants that you can't bear to lose in containers that can be moved inside if the thermometer drops below 30* .   You can move plants in the house or  garage in a hurry.   You can even rip them out of a planting if you can't move the container.  I did this with an Echeveria cante after the first night of the hard freeze we had and it survived.  

I removed a poorly performing rose from this spot by my front door.   This allowed me to move some planters from the north side of my house to the south side.   In the case of a severe frost, the house will help keep the plants warm or I can move them inside. 

This is what frost damage looks like on an Aloe! Sad! 

  This photo was generously sent by a friend in San Diego from last years freeze.   Many plants will not survive damage like this, but you might be surprised.  Don't throw them out right away, just move them into a warm place and let them defrost.

This plant looks like it would be toast, but surprisingly this Echeveria imbricata survived.   Frost hardiness boils down to the way the plant stores water in the cells in the winter.  Know the plants that are more sensitive in your collection and protect them accordingly.  Zone defiance outside usually can be done within two zones using micro-climates and coverings.  

The case for frost cloth! 

1.  It really works!   It gives you 4-6 degrees in protection, which is enough to protect from damage.  Multiple layers are fine and do not weigh down on the plants. 

2.  It can be left on the plant if needed, other materials will damage plants if there is rain in the night before a frost or if you leave it on the plant.  

3.  It is easy to apply, I can cover my whole collection in about 15-20 minutes.  

4.  It is inexpensive, about $0.08 a square foot.  

Here is a pair of shots from the last winter, you can see how the frost does not extend under the frost cloth.  

Do you see the frost line?  This was a pretty frosty morning!   Are you convinced yet?  Keep in mind we are just one zone below the recommended zone for planting.  In lower zones you would have to supplement heat with soil cables, incandescent Christmas lights or  move the plants inside a greenhouse, or even a basement with lights.

My suggestion for frost cloth is that you should cover every night we are forecast to be 36* or below, this will help you get in the habit and then you will not be out there at 11:30 at night covering because the weatherman got it wrong.

I have frost cloth also known as row cover, so just give me a call.  I have plenty, it is $0.50 a foot for a 6 width.

Please let me know if you have any thing to add.  What have you had succeeded with  to prevent frost damage?  What did't work for you?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In the garden today

I have been busy busy busy.   The garden and business have been keeping me so busy I hardly ever come inside.  I am over the moon excited for my next sale as I have larger  material coming in.   Here are some pictures from around my garden.  
This is a new succulent bed I put in last year.  It fared well in the winter with all the rock around it and its sun exposure.   The large red edged plant in the center is Echeveria "lipstick."

Now I didn't promise to just discuss succulents did I?   This is a volunteer California poppy Eschscholzia californica.  I adore the vase like shape that the flowers have in the mornings.

 This is a leopard lily, Lilium pardilinum.   I hope to have some of these for sale some day. They make terrific garden plants.
This is Sedum album.  You can find it all throughout my garden.  It is a throw it and forget it kind of plant that propagates easily and fills in spaces well.  Feel free to ask me for some cuttings when you are at one of my sales, I happily give it away with a warning.  

This is the aptly named baby toes, Fenestraria rhopalophylla, they are remarkably easy to grow and seem to have some cold tolerance as long as they are protected in hard frosts. 

Haworthias are a new fascination for me, they are shade tolerant, have few pest and disease problems and are so interesting.  Ask me to see my small collection when you are at my sale next. The one above is Haworthia retusa "white ghost"

Haworthia truncata 

The flowers of Haworthia are extremely similar, they remind me of tiny native orchid flowers.   The flowers are borne on long stems, some more than three feet long. 

Aeonium "Starburst"  there is no comparison to this beauty.   I am working on getting reliable stock of this one for sale.  

This is Carpenteria californica "Elizabeth"  it is a compact shrub with evergreen leaves. It is softly fragrant. 

This is my favorite plant of the moment, Calandrina (Cistanthe) grandiflora.  It blooms for most of the year. It is an incredible (large) border plant.   I have planted a one gallon in a half barrel and with careful maintenance of the water in its early stages it filled the entire barrel in one year.  It needs hard pruning in winter.

I hope you are having fun in your gardens as well.   I am open by chance or by appointment in Eureka (email me for the address) I have a sale this coming weekend (June 6th and 7th) and about every other weekend throughout the growing season. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pests, prevention and cures.

If you are a succulent grower, then you I am sure to have been visited by some pests.   Aphids, Caterpillars, Scale and Mealy Bugs are my most common pests that I see.  This time of year you wont find too many scale, or mealy bugs outside, but if you are over-wintering your plants it is very possible that you have them.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure:  This old saying always made me laugh as a kid, but it makes sense in the prevention of pests.   Here are some great tips for preventing pest breakouts.

1.  Inspect often!   Look at growing points, buds, and stems for scale and mealy bugs.  These two types of pests are extremely hard to get rid of, so catching them soon is vital.   Separate infected plants immediately. I move them out of the greenhouse and put them outside in a sheltered place.  However if you are in an area where that is not feasible you may want to discard the plant.  If it is an easily replaced plant, chuck it!

2.  Spray safer soap when ever you see even the slightest hint of bugs.  Neem oil can also be beneficial, but it needs to be done often.   I try to do one or the other on a weekly basis as a preventative.   Soak plants that seem to have an infestation, above and under the leaves.  If you don't have a pump sprayer you might want to get one.

3.  Air circulation,  set up a fan in your plant area or greenhouse and open the doors as often as feasible. This can help with the pests and keep them from getting started.

4.  Water and fertilize carefully. I keep plants pretty dry in the winter, but in the warmer months water when the soil is dry to the touch, a stressed plant is like fast food to bugs.   I fertilize with dilute fertilizer (1/2 strength) about once a week in the summer or every third or fourth watering in the fall and winter.

5.  Keep it clean! Sweep and discard debris from bottom of greenhouse and off of tables.  Dilute bleach in a sprayer on the floor and tables before setting plants in for the cold season.

So, the ounce didn't work and you need the pound of cure....

Pesticides are extremely dangerous especially if they are concentrated.  Read labels carefully, wear appropriate clothing and safety gear.   Organic pesticides can be as bad or worse for you than the conventional non-organic ones. I always try to use the safest chemicals first then work up to the serious stuff.

This is the order that I usually work in;
Safer soap, or dish soap.
Hydrogen peroxide 1:1
Isopropyl alcohol (I use a q-tip and dot the buggies) some growers are using a dilution of IA, but I had a burning problem when I tried it 1:1.
Neem (but I try to hit everything with neem at least 2 times a month)
Azomax -expensive concentrated neem.
Don't Bug Me (a locally made  pyrethrin pesticide) There are I am sure some that are similar in your garden shop.  (treat as dangerous)
I have also tried Cinnamon oil and other organics.   A great place to find some organic, and powerful insecticides is your local grow shop  (everyone has those right??) Note!  Cinnamon oil is extremely irritating treat it with caution.

There are of course commercial non-organic pesticides, but if you are using the above materials and are vigilant, you shouldn't need anything else.   I will not be making any product recommendations as many of the commercial pesticides are dangerous to humans, pets, and other beneficial insects.   Before you make the jump to the big guns you need to know what the pest is that you are battling, and you need to know the correct concentration and have appropriate clothing and safety gear.   Please also research the product extensively.

Here are some pretty pictures, better than any icky buggies.

Remember that flowers are fast food for bugs and they need to be checked regularly for activity. Aphids reproduce extremely quickly, just one will be a hundred before you know it.  Ants will move aphids around and farm them for their waste products.   Use ant traps as well as any pest regime. 

Snails and slugs are another problem for another day.  My method is trapping them in plastic pots and collecting them every morning.  I also go out before I go to bed and pull them off my plants and throw them in the compost bin or the street.   I will go into them in more detail later. 

I hope you have a succulent day!   Only 27 days till spring. 
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Sunday, February 16, 2014

Junque Art, the art of upcycling. Part one.

Junque Art is a fun hobby of mine, I do not know who came up with the term, but I started using it sometime last year. Many people use upcycling, especially one of my favorite artists, Laura Eubanks, from Design for Serenity.  There are so many ordinary items that can become fun accessories to your garden.  Just remember to not overdo it, there is a fine line between whimsy and tackiness.  However you still must garden for your self, and not for others.  Have you read the book "Kiss my Aster?"  If not....get it now!

I have already posted about my succulent chair, but I thought I would give you a few other ideas that I have done.   I have many others planned, but sometimes it takes a while for something to come together.  You have to have just the right plants.  I like to tie in my plants with the object, or use some whimsy to make it fun.   I would love to hear about your junque art ideas and will be happy to add them into the blog.

Here is a stove that I planted for a Pastori Landscape client.  The stove is nothing real fancy, just a old stove that had to be removed from the clients cabin.   I threw out the idea of planting it if I could find the right plants.   The client loved the idea.

The red plant at the top is Crassula "Campfire"  it lives up to its name in this spot.   The plants in the grate are the native Sedum spathulifolium.  The logistics of the planting are as follows:
I made holes in the bottom of the stove with a screwdriver and a hammer, fortunately it was weak enough to give way.  I filled the bottom with coarse gravel and a ton of perlite.  I then filled the rest with well amended potting soil (lots of perlite)
I used green basket moss for the grate, and shoved the unrooted cuttings in with chopsticks, they had to be replanted again later to replace cuttings that did not thrive (about 10%)

I planted the campfire plant in the stovepipe and decided against planting in the burner area. I think it would have taken away from the visual impact. "Less is often more."

This picture was taken after it had a chance to grow in.

This is another planter done at the same location, it is not really Junque Planting, in its purest sense, but I adore the planting,   Do you see the school bell?  The huge piece of driftwood?  There was also a ton of incorporation of thousands, maybe millions of rocks that the owners of the house past and present had beach combed, from the nearby ocean.

I love the color of the bell echoed in the plants.  Rusty iron is such a natural material to pair with succulents. It contrasts beautifully with the blue-green and makes the yellow pop. I look for pieces of rusty metal at beaches, they can be really fun accents. 

The pink flowers in the middle and the white on the lower right are native Lewisia varieties.  They are native to Coastal California and Oregon. They like a little more shade in warm areas, but as this garden was a block from the ocean, they are perfectly happy.  Also in this planting are Aeoniums, Sedums, Sempervivums, Echeverias, and some non succulent companions.  This is one of my favorite planters and the day that I went up to take pictures of it, was absolutely perfect timing, as everything was in flower and looking as good as can be. 

Here is a broken teapot that I decided would make a cool wall planter.  Since it is tipped down, the spout serves as the drain for the planting, saving me the trouble of drilling a drain hole.  I water it by tipping it up horizontal, watering and holding in position for a while then tilting it back down to drain. 
That brings me to an important point.  Plantings MUST have drainage unless you are going to be ridiculously scientific on your watering.  Trust me, you don't want to fuss that much.  You can sometimes do an insert planter so you could easily remove the plant to water, but sometimes finding a match is difficult.  Here is a link to a friend's blog, called Sweetstuff's Sassy Succulents and how to drill pots.   She is amazing!  

Anything that holds potting soil, or can be made to hold it can be used to plant plants in.  Never doubt the ability of succulent cuttings to root and thrive in sphagnum moss.   Plants and moss can be glued on to flat surfaces and simply misted as they root.   Please take the time .look at the work of Laura Eubanks with Design for Serenity, she is a master of attaching succulents to objects. 

I used her ideas to make a fun pair of succulent creations, in my Rooster, Hen and chicks set.  It was my first attempt at gluing materials in. The brass chickens were hiding in a closet until I came up with an idea to use them.  The Rooster is packed with sphagnum moss that the succulents were glued to with a low temperature glue gun.   
I will post a sequel to this post, I have some more fun stagings to share.  I need to get my camera out to get some better images of my creations.

Have you tried upcycling?  What is your favorite thing to look for in garage sales and thrift stores?  Do you have any big plans for the next season?  I am itching to get going on my garden.

Here is my succulent chair.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

A Succulent Chair

I have been asked to talk about my succulent chair that I created last summer.   I found a broken, rusty chair in a thrift store for $5.00.   I cleaned it off and put a ton of coats of primer on the chair. Then I hit a quandary, what color to paint it?

 I reached out on facebook and got tons of ideas from my talented succulent artist friends.   I had decided to go with a peachy pink if I could find it.   What happened next was serendipitous, the store was out of peachy pink, but had lots of copper on sale. 

Success!   I adore this color and I could see succulents matching it well. 

Then I planted it, using a thick layer of sphagnum moss on the bottom, a "mountain" of amended potting soil in the middle then more moss on the top.   I nestled the plants through the moss and tucked it around the plants.   I had expected to have to hot-glue or wire the plants or moss in place, but everything just stayed where I put it. Here is the chair planted :

The finished product!   Here it is grown in a little more:

I have some more "broken" furniture and other such things for junque art in the future.  I can't wait for next season, so I can bring my chair out and spruce it up, it has survived the winter fine, it just isn't as happy as I would like. 
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Only forty more days till spring!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

I Will Survive

A Facebook friend recently posted about her succulents and she referred to a song called "I Will Survive." Ever since then, whenever I am working among my succulents,  that song plays in my head.   It has been a tough year  for succulents in general.   Where I garden, in Eureka, CA, we had a week of sub-freezing weather in November.  There are many others who have had far worse conditions.  I was able to save most of my collection through shear determination, frost cloth, cardboard, and heat (in my greenhouse).  I did still lose a substantial amount of plants behind my house.  I was so sad after the frost, and was sure that I had lost most of my plants, but they pulled through.  I was out in my garden today and I thought I would share a couple photos of my plants who have survived.  It has been a great couple of weeks of warm days, and cool nights.   My plants have been covered at night to keep them as warm as possible.

Agave "Blue Glow" sitting pretty and showing off.

This Agave has done very well on the south side of my house.  It is very happy in a large Terra cotta pot.

Echeveria imbricata

Echeveria imbricata always seems to do well.  I did lose a few to the frost, just a few feet away because they were shaded by the fence.  Lesson:  Microclimates are very important!

Crassula congesta

This is Crassula congesta, it came to me as a very small plant and I went ahead and planted it, half expecting it to not make it through the winter.  This is the third winter it has survived. 

Echeveria "Doris Taylor"

This is Echeveria 'Doris Taylor'  I believe.  It has lovely fuzzy leaves, which have the unfortunate ability to trap my pets hair. 

The flowers from sting of pearls

These are the sweet flowers of Senecio "string of pearls"  I love the little purple stigmas that make loops.  

I have been meaning to take this Romneya out of my front bed for a few years. It had become a real hindrance to my succulents and it was taking over the world.   As much as I love the plant, it had to go.   You can see the huge area I will now have for my succulents.   These were just cell phone pictures, but you can see the difference, and can you see the aloe that had been hidden completely? 

I planted another on the other side of my yard a couple years ago, so that I would not be without one entirely.  I made the attempt to save the one I removed, we will see if it makes it.

I am eagerly planning my beds for next year.   I can not wait to get even more succulents in to thrive. What changes are you making for the next gardening year? Since we are in such a drought year, succulents will be a great choice to reduce the amount of water that you are using in your garden.   Only 51 more days till spring! 

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