One of the hot trends in gardening features succulents—plants with thick, fleshy, water-storing leaves or stems—in containers to add interesting textures, colors and shapes. Popular succulents for pots include Euphorbia, Echeveria, Aloe, Agave, Haworthia and Semervivum. Mix them in with more traditional flowering plants for a professional look. A wonderful reference book on designing with succulents is Succulent Container Gardens by Debra Lee Baldwin.
Framing a living succulent piece of art is a fun way to experiment with these whimsical plants.
How to Make a Succulent Frame:
Select a picture frame. For your first endeavor, you might want to choose a frame that is not too large so you are not investing so much in the plant materials.
Take cuttings from any established succulents in your garden. Succulents root easily. Just snip small pieces, 1-2 inches long. Remove the lower leaves and set the cuttings aside for a few days to harden off (get calloused at the end). Succulents may shrivel a little during this curing process but that is not a problem.
Purchase additional succulents if needed to complete the design. If you don’t have enough plants from cuttings, you can find a wide variety of succulents at plant nurseries or home and garden centers. These will already be rooted and will be able to be placed directly into the container you build for the frame.
Gather your materials to build a shadow box to house the succulents. Here are the supplies you will need:
- 1 x3” cedar or redwood boards or cedar fence boards
- Hammer and nails
- Staple gun and staples
- Corner braces (1” for small frame)
- 1/2-inch hardware cloth (wire grid) cut to fit the inside dimensions of the frame
- 1/4-inch plywood backing, cut to fit the back of the shadow box
- Paint for shadow box
- All-purpose potting mix or special cacti mix
- Roll of Sphagnum moss
- Succulent cuttings and/or purchased plants
Remove the glass and backing from your frame and using 1×3”cedar or redwood, cut to fit into the back of the frame, build a box to attach to the back of the frame.
Attach the plywood backing cut to fit the back of your cedar or redwood box. This shadow box will be the container for the soil. Paint the box and/or frame if desired.
Lay frame facedown and insert hardware cloth. The 1/2-inch grid is small enough to keep potting soil in, yet large enough to accommodate stems. Staple the hardware cloth to the edges of the frame.
With frame still facedown, roll out wet moss sheets over the grid for a more finished look and to help hide the grid marks.
Place potting mix in the shadow box. Shake to evenly disperse soil. Place the frame with wire grid on top of the shadow box. Add more soil through the grid until even with the grid.
Secure picture frame to the shadow box with corner braces.
Now the fun part! Lay out your cuttings and decide on a design/color scheme. Begin placing your cuttings into the soil through the wire grid. A chopstick or pointed end of a ballpoint pen can be used to make a hole for each cutting through the grid and moss. Continue to add cuttings to fill up the frame. If you are using a large piece that is already rooted, you may need to snip out part of the grid to insert the larger succulent.
Lay completed living succulent frame on a level surface out of the sun for the first 2 -3 weeks until cuttings begin to root and grab the soil. Some people do not water during this time, but if you are using already established succulents with roots, I do wet the soil once or twice during this time.
When succulents are rooted, you can hang the frame outside or lean it against something as a piece of art to amaze your friends. Enjoy!