The drought in California has made for some interesting garden challenges this year. We are now currently in Stage 3 where I live which means even fountains that recirculate water should be turned off. So what does one do with that resin or cement piece now? Plant succulents of course. Most tiered fountains have very shallow basins which limit your choices in what you can plant. Succulents, however, thrive in such conditions and look absolutely gorgeous planted in fountains. Chances are that if you plant your fountain with succulents, you may never use it as a fountain again.
Here are some tips to help make your succulent fountain a stunning success.
1. Succulents need drainage. If you never plan on using your fountain with water again, drilling holes is easy. For cement fountains, you will need a masonry drill bit 3/8″ or larger depending on the size of your fountain. You will want to drill several holes in each tier. With hollow resin fountains, make sure you go all the way through the second layer so the water drains out and doesn’t just collect within the tier. But what if you think you may want to use your fountain for water again? You have a couple of options. Drill now and patch later. With resin a resin patch kit will work. With cement you can use rubber stoppers surrounded with clear silicone to make a good seal (yes, they do show a tiny bit). Another option is to not drill the fountain tiers but to raise each tier so that water can drain down the center opening. Use plastic shims to raise each tier up at least 1/4″ all the way around. Most tiers are curved so you will have to fill them with gravel to the level of the drainage gap. This will allow water to collect and flow out below the soil level, allowing the soil level to drain. You may need to pack your soil up a bit to allow for enough root room for plants.
2. Cover the drainage holes with screening. I like to use Drywall Joint Tape. It’s a webbed tape that is sticky on one side. It comes in a roll that will last a long time and has the flexibility to follow the curves of any pot or fountain. Because it’s sticky on one side, it stays put while you fill with soil.
3. Use a good quality cactus and succulent mix. Don’t skimp on this step. Your plants are growing in very little soil so you want a soil that will keep them happy. I like Black Gold Cactus Potting Mix.
4. Plant succulents that will cascade around the edge. Angle the plants slightly sideways with the root ball pointed in. This helps hold the center soil in place as you mound up towards the center. Some succulents that work well are String of Pearls, String of Bananas and Sedum ‘Angelina.’
6. Balance your piece. What you do on one side should have a counterpart on the other side. It doesn’t have to be the same plant but it should be similar. Either in size, color or texture.
7. Stuff it. When finished, fountain plantings should look like the most decorated layer cake you’ve ever seen. It should be just dripping with succulent goodness. Yes, they will become overgrown but that’s OK. When this happens you either dig a few things out or take cuttings that you can use elsewhere. It’s a win-win.
8. Secure plants. I like to arrange some plants so that they are facing slightly outward to show off their best features. This makes them a bit top heavy and they can topple out until they get rooted. Use Fabric and Garden Staples to tuck them in. Pretty much like putting up a hairdo with bobby pins. Eventually they root together and the staples will rust away.
9. Gently water it in and then add gravel. Watering it in allows the soil to settle nicely and the gravel then holds it in place. If you water after adding gravel, pockets will sink and you will have to add more gravel. Water first, gravel second.
10. Enjoy. You now have a succulent fountain that will bring you years of enjoyment and use very little water to keep it going.
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