"Winter-blooming succulents"

A variety of succulent plants flower now.
Sunday, 15 July 2018     

Flowers of Crassula ovata in winter

We really seem to be in the depths of winter right now, with freezing cold nights and crisp, cool days. The sunshine has been glorious over the past week or so, but the short days mean there is precious little time to enjoy it! Many plants flower in response to the shorter length of daylight hours at this time of year, and it seems that a number of them include succulents in our Sydney climate. In recent weeks, I have been scrounging around away from home for flowers to fill a little vase, and several succulent plants have more than satisfactorily filled the bill.

Crassula species and cultivars are some of the really tough old plants in our gardens and they are at their peak in winter and early spring. One I have known since my childhood is Crassula multicava (ht 25 cm), sometimes known as London pride. It is an easygoing groundcover plant with plump, round, deep green leaves, which quietly colonises any unhospitable position in sun or shade. It was one of the first plants I ever grew, passed onto me by my mother as a 'good doer'. From mid-winter to spring it is smothered in a profusion of tiny white stars which open from pink buds held above the foliage. It looks very effective grown with pink- or white-flowered hybrid hellebores which are in bloom at the same time. Like many useful plants for Sydney gardens, it comes from South Africa. In more recent times, I have grown the lovely cultivar called 'Purple Dragon', which has attractive purplish undersides to its leaves and pretty pink flowers.

Another South African Crassula in bloom now is Crassula ovata, often called the jade tree, and indeed, it does grow to resemble a small, many-branched tree, around 90 cm tall (though it can grow taller). It has thick brown stems and plump, shiny, wedge-shaped leaves that can be edged with red. In winter, it has sprays of dainty pale pink or white flowers. I have mine growing in a pot: it is a very structural-looking plant. It likes a sunny position.

In the same family (Crassulaceae) as the Crassula, hailing from Madagascar, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana is just coming into bloom now. Often sold as a disposable houseplant, it is actually a perennial plant to 30 cm tall for pots, hanging baskets or garden beds. Many cultivars have been developed. It blooms for months, its waxy flowers held in lacy posies, in colours of white, pinks, orange, rust, yellow and various reds; there are single- and double-flowered varieties. A lightly shaded, well-drained position is ideal, though it seems also to cope with full sun and drought.

Zygocactus (Schlumbergera hybrids) are a genus of succulent cacti originating in south-eastern Brazil. The unusual, silky flowers usually appear in late autumn and winter (hence they are called Christmas cacti in the northern hemisphere) and are held at the stem tips, in colours of pinks, purples, magenta, white, orange, yellow and red. Some develop a cascading habit with age. They seem to look best when grown in pots under trees or in a dry rockery situation, and need protection from frost in a part-shade position. They can also provide a bright splash of colour on an outdoor table or in a hanging basket in a filtered or morning sun position in the cooler months. They seem to enjoy being pot bound and can last well for years in the same pot; they can be moved into a prominent position when in flower then hidden away in an inconspicuous position for the rest of the time. At the moment, I have a pot of a bright-pink zygocactus nearby flowering Aechmea gamosepala and a patch of Crassula multicava. Being epiphytic, zygocactus can also be affixed to trees, in a pouch of loose compost held in a length of old pantyhose.

Though I don't grow them myself, I have seen some spectacular-looking Aloe species in flower at the moment. The upright, torch-like flowers are very striking. These plants need a lot of room, though there are smaller hybrid ones around these days that can suit compact gardens, in a rainbow of colours.

I'd love to hear of other winter-blooming succulents that do well in Sydney gardens, to brighten up these chilly days!

 Reader Comments

1/5  Ken - 2203 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 July 2018

Thanks for your weekly notes; I always look forward to them. I have just read an interesting article about Linaria purpurea in an English magazine. They sound execllent. When I looked back through your e-mail notes I found that you had said the same things as this author. I thought you might be interested to read it, so I"m sending a photo-copy to you by post. (My computer is playing up and won"t allow me to send things.) Ken Swinburne. Thanks very much, Ken. I really like Linaria purpurea! Thank you very much for the article you sent; it was interesting. I do like self-seeders in the garden! Deirdre

2/5  Lillian - 3951 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 16 July 2018

Like ken, I love your notes, Dierdre and invariably find names I need. Like Crassula multicava, my ideal round cover. A brilliant succulent down here in Gippsland is the so-called "Paddle Plant", one of the "Pig"s Ears". Cotyledon orbiculata Macrantha. Sends up tall buds in late May and is still blooming into September. Makes a massive shrubby plant of brilliant winter colour for big gardens. Not for heavy frost areas. Should manage humidity? Cheers. Thanks for that suggestion, Lillian; I will look into that plant. Deirdre

3/5  Valerie - 2121 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 16 July 2018

I love the look of the Crassula ovata in the blue pot. Crassula multicava is one of my favourite ground covers and I have it growing around a Gordonia as well as filling in lots of other spots. "Purple Dragon" sounds even better. Thanks for including these plus the Zygocactus and Kalinchoes. Those Aloes look fabulous. Must find some of the smaller hybrids to put in. Happy winter gardening! Thanks, Valerie. "Purple Dragon" is a great Crassula! Deirdre

4/5  Norman - 2653 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 16 July 2018

thank you Deirdre

5/5  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 16 July 2018

Like Lillian, the "Paddle Plant" does very well here on King island and flowers for months. Very easy to propagate. Quite spectacular but one of those plants which tends to be undervalued because it is so easy to grow. I do love the sculptural qualities of succulents as well as the flowers. Thanks, Helen; I didn"t know you lived on King Island! I am intrigued about this succulent. I do like their sculptural qualities. Deirdre

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