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April 10, 2013 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Are succulents and/or sedums a good choice for Baltimore west-facing window boxes?

This is my first spring/summer in a rowhome with wrought iron window boxes and two west facing windows. I'm a complete novice in terms of attempting to maintain anything outside of indoor herbs. I love the look of succulent and sedum species, but am unsure if Baltimore summer heat and overwhelming humidity and intermittent thunderstorms would be too wet for these types of plants. Essentially, I need something low maintenance and prefer greener foliage rather than blooming/flowering plants. All suggestions welcome to maximize success this growing season! I really love the variety of green in this example.
posted by Asherah to Home & Garden (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Most sedums are pretty indestructible. You only need to water them once a week during a drought. Just make sure they have good drainage both in terms of soil and holes in the bottom of the box so water doesn't pool and a gravel top dressing. Do the same for succulents. Sedum spathulifolium is the plant that turned me on to succulents when I saw it growing on rock wall in England.

Succulents can get too leggy in lower light areas when they get too much water and can burn in areas with too much direct light. So if this is the issue get some succulents that actually look good when they are leggy. Graptopetalum Paraguyense can make a lovely dangling plant so etoiliation actually helps you ultimately get the desirable look.

Know however that the sedums can possibly survive the winter but the other succulents typically need to come inside before any frost hits.

A good fully hardy plant species is Sempervivum (latin for always living - a good sign!). There are so many varieties that you can incredible varieties of sizes and shapes that can make an amazing wall display. Just be careful because lots of nurseries will call echeveria and aoniums sempervivums and those are at all hardy. These plants can survive the heat and cold of a Canadian winter and summer so they are surely safe in Baltimore.
posted by srboisvert at 6:55 AM on April 10, 2013

Baltimore summer heat and overwhelming humidity and intermittent thunderstorms would be too wet for these types of plants

For most kinds of succulents and sedums, the heat won't be a problem at all, nor will the intermittent thunderstorms. They tend to actually prefer the occasional torrential downpour over small amounts of constant moisture. Nothing kills succulents dead like consistently moist soil. On that note, I think some of my more fragile succulents get a little sad if we hit the 100% humidity mark for a couple weeks in a row, but they usually hold it together.

Other augh-painfully-learned pointers from an urban grower of succulents a little further up the Mid-Atlantic seaboard:

- Use high-draining potting soil, like the kind that they specifically sell for cactus and succulents. Since they're window boxes and relatively small, I'd also try to avoid potting soil that has fertilizer in it.

- I'm not sure that I would use coconut matting as in the sample picture for succulents and sedums. They tend to keep the soil wet/have less than ideal drainage/be annoyingly messy/are hard to bring indoors, if you want to save your plants for next year. (A lot of the cute succulents for sale in big box stores are frost-tender.)

Instead, I'd use a hard-sided container with holes at the bottom that fits into your window box holders -- the holes are important, because I've seen window boxes for sale at big box retailers that don't have 'em. More small holes are better than a smaller number of big holes. You can also try putting a layer of pea gravel in the bottom of the window box, then put the potting soil on top, and then another layer of pea gravel around the plants. If you're worried about the gravel falling out of the holes, put a layer of chicken wire down first, then put the gravel, then do the succulent/cactus potting soil.

- Make sure your window boxes are seated into something sturdy, rather than just into mortar. I've learned the hard way that a box full of wet soil and plants and gravel at the end of the growing season can be heavy.

- They're drought-tolerant, but you'll still need to water them if there hasn't been rain that week. You'll want to think about how you get water when you do need to water them, and you'll want to think about where excess water will go and whether your neighbors will throw a shitfit if your sidewalk is wet or whatever.

- West-facing for succulents is usually good. Ideally, you'll want to make sure they get a good, long, afternoon's worth of direct sunlight (the sun is actually on the plants). Otherwise, they'll get leggy or start growing in one direction.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:35 AM on April 10, 2013

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