It’s been about three years since I started overhauling our front and back yards from a (dead) lawn to water-wise plants. The front yard, especially, has gone through a lot of iterations since I basically throw plants in and see what works with the different microclimates in the yard. I’ve lost a few plants and I’ve seen many thrive. I finally found some plants that do well in this shaded, north-facing part of our yard.

Why Succulents?

Living in an arid climate, I decided not to fight the weather when it comes to my garden. San Diego gets about 10-12 inches of rain per year on average. Succulents hold water in their leaves and stems and can survive through periods of dryness. They grow practically everywhere here and the varieties are so diverse and interesting. Plus, they’re easy to plant, you literally stick stems in the ground and they will form roots and grow.

Time to Refresh

Before: Plants are haphazardly placed

The entryway to our house was basically a “hospital” for succulents. It stays shady throughout the year but gets a peek of sun in the afternoon. I did my best to artfully arrange plants as I placed the sun-beaten ones in this area. With the nature of succulents, when they thrive, THEY THRIVE. Smaller plants get overtaken by the larger ones which led to some pest issues as the bugs tend to target the “sicker” plants. Not to mention that plants growing wildly look like a big mess.

Step 1: Clear the area

I decided to start fresh and look at the area as a blank slate. Because of the forgiving nature of succulents, I didn’t have to worry about root shock while ripping everything out.

Sift rocks in a growers flat to separate from the soil. I rinsed the rocks by cleaning them in a bucket of water.

Once the area was cleared, I added more soil where needed. I re-mounded the soil for proper drainage and visual interest. This part of the yard in particular is known to flood when it rains and drain into our walkway. Succulents can rot if given too much water. Creating berms help to redirect the water flow and allow the plants to sit higher to properly drain.

Step 2: Plant Placement

The fun part is replacing the plants. After learning the growth habits of the plants that were here, I placed the larger ones towards the back and grouped a bunch of smaller ones. I don’t worry about how close the little ones are planted together. They seem to thrive together, whether it’s because of root competition or the fact that a little more ground moisture is reserved because the soil underneath is shaded (or both).

Step 3: Reset Water Lines and Replace Rock

Now that the plants are in place, I re-routed the drip lines and replaced the rock. (I’m one of those people who actually enjoy separating little bits of things. I do it with Skittles, M&Ms and now rocks.) I’ve added some black lava rock to accent the colors a bit more. When working with black lava rock, placement in relation to the sun is important. The heat that’s absorbed by black rocks can fry your plants if placed in an area that has blazing sun — especially in the summertime.

Working with cuttings

Depending on your region, you might want to wait for succulent cuttings to “harden-off” before planting them in the ground. This prevents any rotting on the stem. Here, in Southern California, we’re pretty safe to just stick fresh cuttings in dry ground. Usually, I wait about a week to water, just to make sure that it gets established.

Another perspective of the garden.

More Succulent Inspiration

While I was renovating our garden a few years ago, my neighbor told me about Design for Serenity / Laura Eubanks. Laura Eubanks has a YouTube channel that is very educational and has giving me inspiration and tips on making my garden.

Also the “queen” of all things succulents is Debra Lee Baldwin. She has authored books on succulents and also has her own YouTube channel.

What I like most about these two women is that they’re based in San Diego / San Diego County. So I know that the plants they use and the tips that they give apply to my area. If you’re in a different zone, you might want to look up local succulent YouTubers in your area for planting advice.

Sharing is Caring

I’m part of the San Diego Succulent Swap group where locals share the bounty of their gardens at nearby swap tables. It is a private Facebook group and there’s a bunch of great “plant people.” I started my garden with cuttings from my sweet friend, Mattie, before I found the group. Now that my garden has flourished, I often take my trimmings to swap tables to pass along the wealth. I have saved so much money on succulents because of this group!

Go and Get Dirty

I hope you find that the process of refreshing a garden is not as daunting as you think! Now go out and get your hands dirty!

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