Green thumbs are itching for projects, and it’s way too soon to start most seedlings under lights. Miniature gardens, fairy gardens or terrariums are fun to make, but soon you run out of table space. So how about making a trendy piece of living garden art – a hanging succulent garden – to put on a wall?
This easy DIY framed mini-garden can be designed for indoor or outdoor decoration (depending on the plants). Make it now, and let it grow into a stylish bit of garden décor for your front porch, deck or fence.
Working with succulents
While many small plants can be rooted into frames, forms or bags to hang up, succulents (a broad category that includes cacti) are the best choice for vertical art for a couple of reasons: Botanically, they have fleshy, water-retaining tissue, so they need infrequent watering – making life easier when your plants are hanging on a wall.
Also, they tolerate the low humidity and dry heat found in many homes in winter. Traditionally, succulents are extremely easy houseplants if you just don’t overwater them.
The other reason to use them: texture. The variety of shapes, forms and shades makes you a gifted artist, no matter how you arrange them. My friend and Buffalo gardener Jim Charlier just created the succulent gardens you see pictured on the previous page, and I asked him about the difficulty level.
“Every gardener is an artist. Just decide to do it,” he said.
I would add to that: especially with succulents. (See Jim’s project growing at www.ArtofGardening.org.)
Prepare the planter
1. Find succulents in area garden centers with houseplant divisions or search online. Be careful to choose plants that will remain small and in scale with your planter. If you’re working off larger plants, remove the rosettes or take end cuttings. Let cuttings sit in the air for a couple of days until they form calluses on the cut ends. Depending upon size, your planter could use from 50 to 150 small cuttings (or fewer if they are already rooted in 2-inch pots.)
2. Find or make a box, preferably about 2 inches deep and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. (You can make it bigger, but that increases the difficulty of hanging it, handling it, and the soil settles too much when it is hung vertically.) You may own or find wine boxes, fruit crates, small shelving units, shadow boxes, deep picture frames (with a backing), or you may build the box or find prefab frames to order online.
3. Fill the box slightly higher than the top (to allow settling) with cactus potting mix and pat it down gently. If you plan to cover it with mesh-type hardware cloth (Step 4) this mix is sufficient. If you are covering the box with wider mesh or chicken wire, add a layer of sphagnum moss (from your garden center) over the potting mix, to hold it all in place.
4. Attach wire hardware cloth (¼- to ½-inch mesh) to the frame, with screws or staples.
The mesh should touch the potting mix. If it doesn’t, pour more potting mix over the mesh and pat it through. The alternative to mesh is chicken wire, pressed to make contact with the soil mix/moss.
You are ready to plant!
Poke the small cuttings through the mesh or wire into the potting mix, making sure you have direct contact. Cut small holes to insert larger pieces or little plants already rooted. You may plan your design by laying out the succulent pieces on top of the planter before you start, or just place the largest plants first and design around them. Generally, as in most garden designs, groups of like plants have more visual impact than mixed, hodgepodge designs. Still, it’s your piece of art, so please your own eye.
Keep your new planter in a lighted place, and water lightly only when roots have begun to grow – typically in a couple of weeks. (Tug very gently on a few pieces to test rooting.) Whenever you water, dampen the soil thoroughly but never saturate it. Let the soil dry out before watering again. The planter box should be ready to hang up in two to three months.
Care for it
Hang the planter in good light but not scorching (western) afternoon sun. Some people manage to water it with a hose set on a fine mistlike setting, but it’s safest to take the planter down every eight days or so and water it. Fertilize lightly with houseplant (cactus) fertilizer once a month or less than quarter-strength weekly. Clip plants that grow too vigorously.
It’s life, it’s art—and you designed it!
Sally Cunningham is a garden writer, lecturer and consultant.