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Margee Rader Describes Making a Succulent Topiary

Succulent Wreath TopiaryI've been called a lot of things in my life - a plant collector, a plant nerd, a plant geek. Just suffice it to say that I love all kinds of plants, particularly new and interesting ones like funky succulents that are so popular right now. Recently, I had an opportunity to go to California and meet up with a friend of mine, Margee Rader, who loves succulents too and uses them to make interesting topiaries.

Allen:  You know, I’ve admired your work for years, and I think it's some of the whimsical pieces you create that first caught my attention -- like the dog, the purse, the teacup, or the star. And recently I saw a succulent topiary shoe that you created.

Margee Rader, Topiary Artist:  Yes, Allen. Originally it started out with just geometric shapes, and then I decided, "why not take that concept and use it in more topiary shapes?"

Wire Form for Succulent TopiaryAllen: When you make a succulent topiary, you obviously use a form. I guess you start with a wire form.

Margee:  Actually I use a galvanized metal form.  It has to be a really sturdy form, because succulents are heavy.

Allen: So don’t use chicken wire because it’s not going to hold up.

Margee:  Right.

Allen:  So you have a sturdy topiary form.  The next step is to stuff it with moss? 

Spagnum Moss Margee:  Correct.  Sphagnum moss is typically what I use. It should be fresh and moist.

Margee:  After the form is stuffed with moss I use copper wire to wrap the form to keep the moss inside.

Allen: In some instances, I’ve seen people use fishing line.

Margee:  Yes, you can use fishing line, but copper wire because will last longer.

Copper WireNow with the moss in place and secured with the copper wire, you are ready to plant.  Take a pair of tweezers or, I like to use forceps, and then make a hole in the moss.

Allen: Oh, I see. So you give the sprig of succulent a little start.

Margee:  And then you just stick the little succulent stem and roots in the hole. And the tighter you can get it in there, the better chance it will have to develop roots and take hold.

Inserting Succulent Sprig into Topiary FormThen you just repeat this step until the entire form is covered and planted with succulent sprigs.

So, of course, when you're finished, your succulent topiary is going to be wet.  Don't re-water until it totally dries out.  If you water it too much, the roots of the succulents aren't going to form.  They have such little roots that the water just kind of washes them away.

Allen: And if you were creating something like a wreath, you wouldn't want to hang it up immediately.

Margee:  No, you should probably wait a couple weeks. Let it begin to root. In the summertime, it's going to root in a couple weeks. In the wintertime, it's going to maybe take four weeks. The less you do with them, the happier they are.

Allen: Margee, this is just fantastic. Thank you so much.