Succulents have made their mark, indoors and out. We see them everywhere, scattered across Pinterest pages, crossing over to the floral industry in cut flower arrangements, or growing on a living wall, even in a bride’s bouquet and as trendy, upscale favors at a party.
In centerpieces and dish gardens, succulents transport nature indoors, adding a simplistic, architectural element to the home with their unique foliage and shapes when combined with standout containers. Outdoors, as components of greenroofs, xeriscapes and small-scale gardens, succulents offer the drought tolerance and easy, short-on-time maintenance that today’s gardeners crave.
“Succulents are just hitting their stride and will continue to grow,” says Bell Nursery’s Director of Marketing Kindal Marin. ”They are increasingly popular in the blogosphere for do-it-yourself projects, and in drought-ridden areas shrub varieties will continue to become more prominent in xeriscapes.”
Mixed containers of succulents, ranging from terrariums and microgardens to hanging baskets and patio containers, even Christmas decorations, are a high-value product popular with consumers. They offer a higher price point than traditional annuals and a way for independent garden centers to stand out from large chain retailers with unique arrangements for customers who want something no one else has.
“Succulents are moving toward being components of a product, rather than just the product,” says Siena Randall, director of program development and marketing at EuroAmerican Propagators. “We are seeing a lot more creativity with them than just 4-inch garden plants.”
Miniature succulent gardens are also popular with consumers, says Beth Gulley, purchasing and product manager at Gulley Greenhouses and Garden Center, whose Gargoyle Collection of succulents sized for miniature gardening has seen increased sales over the last few years.
Gulley says the market for succulents has increased for both annual and perennial succulents. They have become a standard part of every young plant and finished wholesale order for her company.
Color And Texture Are Must-Haves For Visual Appeal
When ordering succulents, Gulley says appearance is key, with color and texture being the big draws for consumers. Varieties like crassula ‘Campfire,’ sedum ‘Coppertone’ and euphorbia ‘Sticks of Fire’ offer vibrant color, while others like aloe ‘Sparkler’ and Kalanchoe tomentosa take it up a notch with added texture.
“There is a lot of mass volume production with succulents,” says Randall. “Color variation is a big differentiator in the market.”
For Northern growers with lower light levels, getting strong color in succulents, especially oranges, reds and yellows, can be problematic. They may need to look at buying pre-finished material, or Aaron McDonald, general manager at Botany Lane Greenhouse, suggests sticking with echeverias that are naturally pink or red or cold-hardy varieties of agave, sempervivums and delosperma.
Plan Ahead For Longer Turns On The Bench
The downside of succulents, McDonald says, is their long production times.
“Growers need to be aware of supply and plan ahead,” he says. “Don’t choose varieties that take eight months to get from liner to plant.”
The tradeoff to longer lead times is that most succulents have low water and fertilizer requirements, few pest and disease problems and similar growing requirements. McDonald says with so many options available, it is really about growers trialing different varieties to see what works best.
Several companies offer collections that mix and match various succulents and offer mixed trays that allow growers to trial different succulents on a smaller scale. Collections such as Proven Winners’ Savvy Succulents, Plug Connection’s Tessera Collection and Hort Couture’s Sunny Succulents offer nice variety and are geared toward easy finishing.
While many succulents are easy to self-propagate for production, growers also have the options of tissue culture and plugs and liners available to them.
“Some succulents are very fragile with thin root systems, which make rooted liners a better choice. Also, seed varieties can be very interesting and need to be grown as plugs,” Gulley says. “Annual varieties (such as graptopetalum or echeveria) are easy to work with as unrooted cuttings. They can be left to callus for several days, which can offer growers easy flexibility for scheduling.”
The demand for succulents is strong right now, so while there are some good farms out there for unrooted succulents, there are a lot of varieties that sell out quickly, says McDonald. A rooted source is where you can get plants quickly and at maturity is a plus, if you can find one.
New Varieties Focus On Vibrant Color And Standout Foliage
With dozens of species of succulents to choose from, growers have many options for containers and landscapes.
EuroAmerican Propagators has introduced aeonium ‘Sunburst,’ a riot of colors with pale yellow foliage marked with dark green stripes running down the center and cranberry-colored leaf margins, and Aptenia cordifolia ‘Patsy,’ a fast growing groundcover great for erosion control that has candy apple red flowers and contrasting lime foliage. Both varieties are part of the Savvy Succulents collection for containers or the landscape. Echeveria ‘Lipstick’ is another new variety that works well for monoculture containers with its red-tipped leaves and rosette shape. It can be grown as a houseplant when placed on a sunny windowsill and taken outside when the weather warms.
Notable hardy varieties carried at Gulley Greenhouses include the sedum Sunsparkler Series, which includes the pink-flowered ‘Dazzleberry,’ the variegated ‘Lime Zinger’ and the plum-colored groundcover ‘Firecraker,’ new for 2015. The delosperma Jewel of the Desert Series is popular, as well, says Gulley. The company also offers a blend of six to eight sedum varieties that create a carpet of color for greenroofs.
As a low-growing trailer, Hort Couture’s sedum ‘Chocolate Ball’ works well. And new out this year from the company is senecio ‘Blue Chalky Fingers,’ which adds color and texture with its upright form.
Plug Connection’s Tessera Collection now includes aeonium ‘Kiwi,’ with foliage that ranges from green to pink and orange, and aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ that has a dark, nearly black, terminal rosette with yellow flowers. Also, for added texture and color variation Plug Connection offers aloe ‘Sparkler’ with its dark green to reddish leaves tinged with white streaks.
D.S. Cole Growers carries echeveria ‘Holy Gate,’ which owner Doug Cole says fills out 4-inch pots quickly and makes production of 6-inch pots much easier. Also from D.S. Cole, is Crassula rupestris, an aqua-colored jade plant with interesting shaped leaves and good branching, and Rhipsalis pilocarpa, a cactus with long stems that can be grown as a pot plant or in a hanging basket.
Succulents Will Continue To Gain Momentum In The Market
Growers and breeders predict the succulent market will continue to grow as the plants are a good fit for today’s gardeners, especially younger generations.
“Succulents will continue to become more and more prominent as millennials shift into urban settings,” says Randall. “They will be a plant of choice for a lot of lifestyles in the future and continue to become more popular, which will trigger more breeding efforts and open up new genetics to play with.”
Don’t miss Succulents And Miniatures Offer Variety And Easy Growing, a round-up of the latest varieties available on the market, also, Small-Size Succulents Perfect For Miniature Gardening.