If you were to see my secret garden’s containers, all painstakingly top-dressed in seashells or polished river stones or colored glass pebbles or fuzzy green moss, you might gather that I have too much time on my hands.
Yes, top-dressing outdoor containers is an extra step, not to mention an extra expense. No, it’s not necessary. But these decorative mulches finish off the containers and beyond fastidious eye-appeal, top-dressing can benefit plants and growing medium.
“Top-dressing for aesthetics is great. It’s like jewelry for your plants,” says Nan Davey, general manager of Smith and Hawken in Cherry Creek North.
The only outpost of the old standard garden store in the state of Colorado, the sensual shop sells a variety of gravels, glasses, mosses and stones that can be used for top-dressing.
Davey said she hasn’t noticed a trend toward gussying up outdoor containers with top-dressing.
Cover your “sins”
The idea of top-dressing grew on her. She noted that Smith and Hawken designers use stones to top-dress succulent gardens. They place mosses on top of indoor containers with houseplants. They position bamboo in vases partially filled with glass marbles. Davey gives a green thumbs up to taking top-dressing outdoors.
“In our arid climate, the moss will help to keep moisture in,” she says.
Smith and Hawken sells natural sheet moss, Spanish moss in grey and green, and Reindeer moss of a bright green that she said holds its color well.
“Moss is amazing stuff,” she says. “It can cover a multitude of sins.”
In my garden, moss covers the “sin” of plastic cache pots placed inside my glazed and unglazed decorative pots.
Moss can help stabilize soil temperatures too, acting like a little, organic blanket to keep roots from getting too hot or too cold during Colorado’s sweltering days and cool nights.
“But the downfall for most consumers is that they aren’t educated enough to know it’s not foolproof,” Davey says. “Just because you put moss on top doesn’t mean you don’t have to water.”
Keep soil from washing out
And speaking of water, Davey said that top-dressing helps keep potting soil in the pots: “If we have a downpour, the soil won’t blast out.”
Davey also sees detriments: “If you’re using black stones outside in our sun, they will heat up and produce more heat in a container that’s hot already.”
“And I’m not a fan of wood mulch. Sometimes wood mulch has micro-organisms that would affect the health of plants over time.”
I knew I couldn’t be the only compulsive gardener mulching my containers, so to get to the bottom of the top-dressing question, I went online.
Sure enough, an electronic conversation included a number of gardeners commenting about how they gussied up their pots. Many spoke of the benefits of soil and water retention. One person mentioned that mulch helps prevent soil from washing out of her large strawberry jars. Another pointed out that decorative stones keep neighborhood cats from mistaking her large containers for litter boxes. That reminded me that the polished stones surrounding the dwarf Alberta spruce in my concrete urns discourages squirrels from digging in the soil to cache their nuts.
Online, the gardeners sounded off about materials they use for container mulch: stones, abalone or oyster shells, moss, licorice root, shredded oak leaves, pine needles, bark chips, shredded eucalyptus, chicken grit, shredded paper cage litter from the guinea pig, aquarium gravel and the fiber linings from last year’s hanging baskets.
One comment noted that using white marble reflects more light into the interior of a plant reluctant to bud.
So the bottom line on top-dressing? Try it; you and your plants might like it.
But approach the project with these caveats: Don’t mulch too deeply, as a surface layer will do the job. Don’t place mulch too close to stems. If your plants seem to resent the top-dressing, simply remove the mulch.
At the end of the growing season, scrape off the stones, shells or glass pebbles, rinse, allow them to dry in the sun, and store them until next spring.
Colleen Smith writes and gardens in a Denver historic district and blogs about gardening and other interests at colleenwordsmith.blogspot.com.
- Caring for Plants with Pebble Mulch
- Landscaping Pros and Cons of Rocks Vs. Mulch
- Rocks vs. Mulch–Which Is Better in Flower Beds and Around Trees?
- 3 tricks to make your potted plants look extra stylish
- Potted Plant Secrets
- Liner Myths
- Root anchor
- Aesthetic value
- How to prepare potting pebbles?
- Best potting pebbles for succulents
- Ellie Arts
- Natural Decorative Polished Mixed Pebbles
- Small River Pebbles
- Mexican Beach Pebbles
- Related Questions:
- Final Thoughts
- Potting faux succulents with DIY gravel glue
- Supplies used (To make about 6 – 1 pint planters)
- Potting Faux Succulents – Steps
- Related posts:
Caring for Plants with Pebble Mulch
By Katie Savannah Amos
Cacti and succulents are some of the trendiest plants around. Their chic look works in every design style, from formal to country to eclectic. A layer of mulch to cover the potting mix is the perfect way to make these elegant accents look even better.
Pebbles are one of the most stylish mulch options: They look right at home with the texture of fun cacti and succulents, as well as other plants such as sago and ponytail palm. In many of our pots, we glue the rocks in place so you can enjoy a more fuss-free plant.
Watering Tips for Dish Gardens
Not sure how to water plants mulched with these glued pebbles? Good news: It’s easy!
Pots with drainage holes: Place your plant in a sink and run water for 10 or 15 seconds once a week. Allow it to sit for five to ten minutes to make sure all excess water has drained from the pot.
Pots without drainage holes: Water your plant with a little less water, a little more frequently. For example, water your sago or ponytail palm with 4 ounces of water once a week rather than with 8 ounces every week and a half. By the way: Some of our dish gardens are grown in containers that don’t have drainage holes to make them easier to set on your desk or other furniture.
Our expert cacti and succulent grower, Alfredo Bergolla, recommends pouring a few ounces of water over the rocks of your small cacti and succulent garden about once a week. The water-based glue allows water to reach the soil. Because these plants originated in dryland areas, they have evolved to hold water for long periods and prefer infrequent watering to overwatering.
Trial Garden Tip: Water your plants slowly so the water seeps through the rocks without spilling or splashing.
Lighting Tips for Dish Gardens
Because we grow these plants for indoor use, keep them in areas of medium to bright light in your home. Sunny windowsills are perfect for cacti and succulents!
Bergolla suggests alternating cacti and succulent dish gardens between bright and dim areas weekly. For example, keep your dish garden in a sunny window for a week, then move it to a spot that shows it off better — such as your living room coffee table — for a week. Continue this cycle to keep your plant healthy.
Trial Garden Tip: Even though cacti and succulents are tough and take a variety of conditions, don’t place them too close to heat or cold sources – such as air conditioners or kitchen appliances.
Decorating with Dish Gardens
Use dish gardens to pull together unfinished spaces or create a fresh vibe in a familiar place. For example, give a new office space a personal touch with a dish garden and cute accessories.
For more tips and information on caring for cacti and succulents, check out our video!
We love to talk to other gardeners. Email us your questions and we’ll have one of our experts get back to you!
‘Always put rocks in the bottom of a container to improve soil drainage’
When water is poured onto a pile of rocks, it drains through almost instantaneously. It’s a science lesson that most of us learned before we could walk. Dropping a bunch of rocks into a plant pot would, therefore, seem to be the perfect solution for keeping our potting soils from becoming too wet and boggy. Unfortunately, the only thing that rocks will increase is the strain on your back.
A bit of science
A professor of soil science first clued me in to the fallacy of using rocks and gravel to improve drainage. I admit that I was skeptical at first, and I had never seen soggy gravel so I asked him why it wouldn’t work.
“Soil physics,” he said.
Now, I doubt that anyone reading this column really wants to delve into the world of soil physics, but suffice it to say that in the 1800s a very smart fellow named Henry Darcy explained how water moves in soil. He proved that before water will move from a fine-textured soil to a coarse-textured soil, the fine-textured stuff must first become saturated.
What this means for gardeners is that if you slowly pour water onto a fine-textured potting soil that sits atop a layer of gravel, the potting soil must be saturated before the water begins to drip. Granted, once the water hits the rock, it will quickly drain to the bottom of the pot, but the potting mixture above will still be saturated.
But that’s not the end of the drainage story. To make matters worse, the thicker the layer of rocks in a pot and the thinner the layer of fine-textured potting soil sitting above, the worse the drainage. The powerful wicking action of fine potting soils will dominate the downward pull of gravity. As a result, gardeners are often left with some pretty soggy soil.
In our greenhouses, I remember a particularly fine-textured seedling mixture that drove me crazy. It held water wonderfully, but the soil surface would always develop a thick, green layer of algae that proved to be a nearly impenetrable barrier for some of my precious seedlings.
What should you do?
If you are concerned about soil drainage, forget about adding rocks to your container. The best strategy to improve drainage is twofold. First, choose potting soils that consist of coarse-fibred peat moss combined with a high percentage of perlite. Perlite is that white, lightweight rock common in high-quality potting soils. Because perlite is blended into the mixture, it will increase drainage. High-quality, well-drained potting soils for interior use are about 70 percent coarse-fibred peat moss and 30 percent perlite.
Second, if you’ve had drainage problems choose tall pots over short pots where you can. When the height of your potting soil is tall, gravity wins the battle against wicking. However, when the height of a container is short — like my algae-laden seedling flats — wicking dominates gravity. Tall soils will still have a layer of saturated soil at their bases, but the vast majority of the mix will have a good balance of water and air, which is critical for healthy roots and healthy plants overall.
Rocks aren’t all bad. Rocks added to the bottom of large pots will reduce the volume of potting soil required to fill a container. So, while they won’t increase drainage they will help to save a few bucks on soil. Of course, the money saved on soil might be much less than the money spent on physiotherapy.
Jim Hole is the owner of Hole’s Greenouses in St. Albert and a certified professional horticulturist with the American Society for Horticultural Science.
Landscaping Pros and Cons of Rocks Vs. Mulch
After you plant new trees, shrubs and flowers, you want to add the finishing touch–mulch. Mulch makes your landscape look pristine and polished.
But, does it matter what kind of mulch you use? Or, should you perhaps replace mulch with stones?
Read on to learn the pros and cons of mulching with an organic mulch or an inorganic mulch like rocks.
Rocks vs. Mulch–Which Is Better in Flower Beds and Around Trees?
Pros and Cons of Organic Mulch
- Better Growth: Mulch can nearly double how fast trees and plants grow, according to this study.
- Less Water: Mulch reduces water evaporation, so you spend less time and money watering!
- More Nutrients: As mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients that plants need to thrive.
- Fewer Weeds: Mulch stops weed seeds from sprouting, so you may see 50 percent fewer weeds.
- Just the Right Temperature: Mulch keeps plants warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
- Reduce Compaction and Erosion: Mulch reduces soil erosion by up to 85 percent. Plus, people are less likely to walk on mulch, so there’s less soil compaction.
- Annual Replacement: Depending on your mulch type, you’ll have to replace it every one to four years. So, it’s a recurring cost and time expense.
- Too Much of a Good Thing: Adding a layer of mulch more than 2-3 inches of mulch stresses out plants.
- Too Early = Late Blooms: Mulching too early may slow how quickly the ground warms, which means you could see blooms a bit later than normal.
- Too Late = Weeds: Mulch stops weeds from germinating. If you mulch too late, it may not stop them as much.
- Check for Seeds: Some organic mulches, like pine bark and hay, may have weed seeds in it.
Pros and Cons of Rocks in the Garden
- Low Maintenance: You almost never need to replace them.
- Lower Cost: Because they’re longer lasting, it is generally less expensive to mulch with rocks.
- Fire-Proof: If you live in an area with wildfires, rocks could be better since they’re nonflammable.
- Weeds Be Gone: Rocks can keep weeds away longer.
- Wind-Resistant: Heavy rocks are great at preventing soil erosion in windy areas.
- Perfect for Rock and Cacti Gardens: Rocks are just right for these garden spaces!
- Too Hot: Rocks, especially lighter ones, raise the soil temperature, leading to stressed, thirsty plants.
- No Benefit to Plants: Rocks don’t aid plant growth or soil health.
- Messy pH: Most trees prefer acidic soil, but rocks create alkaline soil, which can hurt trees.
- Return of the Weeds: Wind will eventually blow soil between rocks, creating a spot for weeds to grow.
- No Good for Pruning: Rocks can prohibit rejuvenation pruning, creating unwieldy shrubs.
- Remove by Hand: If you want to remove stones, you must do it manually, which can be tedious!
3 tricks to make your potted plants look extra stylish
A potted plant may be attractive on its own, but nestled in a bed of polished river rocks or surrounded by tiny succulents and it becomes sleek and sophisticated. Landscape designers call this treatment ‘top-dressing’—essentially covering the exposed soil in a container with bark mulch, gravel, moss, or sand. We’ll show you three ways to use this technique to take your container compositions to the next level.
Lauren Dunec Hoang / Sunset Publishing
1. Go graphic
Channel your inner Andy Goldsworthy and create a geometric pattern with polished river rocks. The stones hide the potting soil and cut down on water loss through evaporation. Start from the center and work outwards, stacking the stones along the edge to create layers of concentric circles or a loose spiral pattern. The cool, meditative style is best appreciated on containers that will be viewed from above, such as those placed on a lower terrace or down steps. Below, the blue tones of the stones pick up the silvery needles of a ‘Blue Atlas’ cedar.
Lauren Dunec Hoang / Sunset Publishing
2. Add more succulents
Steal a leaf out landscape designer Joshua Stenzel‘s book and underplant potted succulents with tiny, rosettes of Sempervivum, S. ‘Cobweb Buttons’, and trailing sedum for a jewel-box effect. The baby succulents thrive with the same light and water conditions as their larger relatives and form a living mulch under bronze Kalanchoe orgyalis and variegated agave.
Thomas J. Story / Sunset Publishing
Thomas J. Story / Sunset Publishing
As the co-owner of Potted Store in LA, Annette Gutierrez never fails to wow us with her container designs and creative top-dressing. The crush of echeveria, sempervivum, and pencil-like Euphorbia tirucalli used as an underplanting for a small potted shrub steal the show.
Thomas J. Story / Sunset Publishing
3. Keep it clean
Cacti and gravel are a match made in heaven. The tiny stones are reminiscent of the cacti’s native desert environment and give an overall natural look. Dark gravel works particularly well to show off tiny white thimble cacti (Mammillaria gracilis v. fragilis) and miniature golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii).
Thomas J. Story / Sunset Publishing
Thomas J. Story / Sunset Publishing
I’ve always taken a “good enough” approach to life.
For example, if I can find a clean pair of pants and a shirt, then what I’m wearing, even if it’s a decade old, is good enough.
Once we put in an irrigation system and a lawn and threw in some plants, the yard was good enough.
And when you put a plant — be it shrub or tree or something else entirely — into a pot, that’s certainly good enough.
Heck, after our first draft of this column, I figured that was more than good enough, too.
That philosophy may not be the most intellectually challenging, I suppose, and might not be ideal for getting me to push myself to grow and expand my horizons, of course.
But in my mind it’s — everyone say it now — good enough.
For Marcia, not so much.
Which is how we’ve found ourselves with a garden that will never be completed, that changes every year like the living, growing thing it is. And yes, she was most certainly right about it never being done.
And how Marcia found herself looking at the tops of our just-planted pots and contemplating what she could do with the unused real estate. As it turns out, it was a lot.
As for the column, it did get better with a little polishing, come to think of it.
Actually, the one area I can think of where Marcia has adopted the “good enough” stance and I’m saying it’s never good enough turns out to be weeding.
So, while she explains why filling in the tops of pots can be a very good thing (
How very Martha Stewart of Dennis), I’m headed out, weeder in hand, to fight a never-ending war.
I came up with the idea for this column when I looked at the surface of the pots that flank our front entry.
The pots are huge, and each contains a small tree with a single trunk.
As the trees matured over the years — they are now about 15 years old — I could no longer plant the surface of the pot with annuals each spring because there was too much root competition.
I would walk past them every day and look at the pots and think, “There has to be some kind of opportunity there.”
One day it hit me: I could decorate the surface with stone patterns, much like the stone and concrete mosaics I had been making in the garden the past 23 years.
But this didn’t require any messy concrete. Instead, I just placed the stones on the soil surface. Not only did it work better than I could have imagined, it was easy to do, too.
TIPS FOR POTS
What I like about this method is I get twice the impact with any potted plants. I can look at the tree or shrub and also enjoy the surface of the decorated pot, and I can rearrange the stones any old time I feel like it because it’s so easy to do.
- Add a little fresh potting soil to the top of the pot if needed.
- Level the soil surface; it should be an inch or two below the rim of the pot.
- I use pebbles, mosaics, the carved stone leaves I showed how to make in an earlier column, crushed rock, tile (the seconds room at Pratt & Larson is full of treasures). You could also use tumbled glass or marbles. After all, it’s your pot, so be creative.
- Break up larger pieces of tile, ceramics or stone with a hammer (while wearing gloves and safety glasses), or cut them with a tile saw.
- I use all kinds of tumbled stone that I buy by the bag at local rock yards (which explains the clutter inside our garage).
- Place the objects on the soil surface and arrange them until you’re satisfied. (
- I like to leave some open space, if there isn’t too much root competition, to plant small plants between the stone work. I use low-growing plants so they don’t overgrow the stone work. Examples are small succulents, sedums, saxifrage and echeveria. You also can use Corsican mint or brass buttons, mosses, etc. If they get too aggressive, just cut them back.
- I use this method when I have a potted plant — such as a shrub trained on a standard or with a trunk — although it can work just as well in pots without large plants, too. If you do have a focal-point companion plant in the pot, make sure the plants you’re adding have the same light and water needs and aren’t too aggressive for the existing plant’s root system.
Lastly, in my defense of not settling for “good enough,” I can’t help myself. I love gardening, being out in the elements, co-creating with nature, getting my hands dirty, adding a plant here, moving a plant there. I love the wind, the smells, the light, the shadows, and laughing at our little dog Annie treeing a squirrel.
Our garden is a living, breathing, wondrous thing that is always evolving, and I’m just honored to be along for the ride.
Marcia Westcott Peck is a landscape designer (pecklandscape.com) and Dennis Peck is not. He is the editor of The Oregonian’s Living section, which is a good thing for him, because if he actually had to use his hands for anything other than typing, it would not be pretty.
SUGGESTED PLANT LIST
- Sedum mackinoi
- Agave ‘Sharkskin Shoes’
- Daphne ‘Briggs Moonlight’
Potted Plant Secrets
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Don’t line pot bottoms with pebbles. Anyone telling you to fill the bottom inch or so of indoor plant containers with pebbles is just trying to sell you a load of fancy stones. It’s a waste of money, and it’s not good for the plants. Although the conventional wisdom used to be that pebbles or shards of clay pots in a container improved drainage, plant experts now say such stones occupy space the plant roots need and may encourage the growth of fungus. Instead, you want a solid column of soil right down to the bottom of the container. If you’re worried about soil washing out of a pot’s drain hole, cover the hole with a scrap of window screen or a single pot shard before filling the pot with soil.
Those free containers that you throw away every year when buying plants and flowers make great plant containers. Likewise, popcorn tins and plastic ice cream buckets make particularly good outdoor flowerpots. All you have to do is drill holes in the bottom of them for drainage. If the exterior of the container is not to your liking, a can of spray paint will change that quickly.
Going on Vacation? No Problem!
One common solution is to pay someone to water your indoor and outdoor container plants. But you can greatly reduce the need for watering by taking a few extra steps before you leave home.
1. Always use a potting mix with moisture-retaining polymers (or add polymers to the mix). These compounds retain water for later use by thirsty plants.
2. When you’re headed off on vacation or a work trip, move your plants out of direct sunlight-behind windows with sheer curtains is a great spot.
3. Turn down the thermostat in winter to keep the interior of the house cool.
4. Move pots and containers close together, so the plants will provide each other with shade and humidity.
5. Place sensitive plants inside tents made from white plastic trash bags-place a bag upside down over each plant, using stakes as “tent poles” to keep the plastic off the foliage. Cut a few small holes in the plastic to allow oxygen to reach the plant.
6. To conserve water in outdoor containers, move them to a location sheltered from the wind and cluster them together.
7. You can also bury potted plants to their rims temporarily and mulch around them.
Succulents are plants that don’t like dense soil. Compact soil stores water which in turn cause root rot. Because they are native to semi-desert areas, they love a mixture of sand and soil with a gritty texture. The use of potting pebbles is a good idea to allow the succulents to grow healthily by themselves with low maintenance.
What are potting pebbles for? Potting pebbles are helpful for succulents. They provide drainage, root anchor, and aesthetic value. Pebbles do not just help succulents grow healthy but also beautiful.
Let’s discuss each of the benefits your succulents get from potting pebbles.
Table of Contents
As mentioned, succulents grow better in fast-draining soil. This means that the soil should provide water exit point. One of the best ways to make a fast-draining soil is mixing the succulent soil with potting pebbles. This way the excess water will easily drain leaving nothing but moisture.
Without drainage, the excess water will stay at the bottom of the pot. This is bad for succulents. They are not accustomed to this condition. As a result, they may develop several growth problems. One of which is darkening or developing dark spots on leaves or stems.
The second benefit of incorporating potting pebbles with succulent soil is that potting pebbles provide root anchor. Most plants establish stability with soil. But succulents’ roots are more stable and rigid when roots are anchored on pebbles.
Therefore, potting pebbles provide strength to the whole plant. With sufficient pebbles to hold on to, the plants will grow healthily and naturally.
More than providing drainage and root anchor, potting pebbles also add to the aesthetic value of the plant. That said, pots look more amazing and beautiful with pebbles than those that don’t have.
However, putting potting pebbles along with the succulents requires understanding color harmony. This means that you should make sure that the color of the pebbles will seamlessly connect with the color of the plants.
Another thing to remember when putting pebbles in the pot is the size and shape. Depending on the type of succulents you are growing, size matters to maximize the aesthetic effect.
How to prepare potting pebbles?
Before putting the pebbles in the pot, make sure that you thoroughly clean them. My usual practice is that I soak pebbles in the water for a couple of hours. This will soften the soil and kill the elements that go along the pebbles. This is very important especially if you reuse the pebbles from the other pot.
For easy cleaning, you can mix the water with fragrant liquid soap. Wash them thoroughly. Make sure that the pebbles are totally cleaned by rinsing them with clean water.
After the pebbles are cleaned, it is time to place them in the pot. The first thing to do is to pour the pebble first into the pot for about an inch thick. This enhances the drainage system of the soil mix you are using for your succulents.
If you are using a pot with drainage holes, it is important to consider the size of the pebbles. For smaller ones, you might need a mesh over the hole to hold the pebbles and prevent them from slipping through.
Then fill the rest of the pot with the fast-draining soil mix. Plant the succulents in the soil. Then make another layer of pebbles around the succulents. The pot should look amazing and interesting after spreading pebbles.
Best potting pebbles for succulents
If you are serious in making your succulent garden even more colorful and vibrant, you need potting pebbles that are colorful and have perfect shape and size.
For my garden, I use potting pebbles that I bought online. In this post, I would like to share with you my trusted brands.
This brand offers stunning potting pebbles for succulents. The stones come in different natural shades such as white, red, grey, and brown. The pebbles are perfect for succulents on any given occasion.
This is one of the potting pebbles that I use for my succulents. The color of the stones is just amazing. It makes my succulents’ eye-catching.
Natural Decorative Polished Mixed Pebbles
These decorative pebble stones have multiple uses perfect for flower arrangements, succulent containers, and other small applications. What I like the most about these pebbles is that they come in multiple natural shapes and colors. There is no toxic chemical added so the stones are safe for the plant and environment.
What I like the most about these pebbles is the way they are polished. The stones are clean, dust-free and shiny. Safe for kids too.
Small River Pebbles
This brand of potting pebbles produces safe and non-toxic stones for succulents and other potted plants. It is all-natural and free from any toxic chemical. The stones were thoroughly rinsed so you don’t have to worry about safety.
The pebbles are not only perfect for succulents but also for other types of ornamental plants. The colors of the stones are also perfect for indoor and outdoor gardens. The stones have vibrant colors that add aesthetic value to the plants.
Mexican Beach Pebbles
The Mexican Beach Pebbles are natural stones from Baja California. Due to their perfect color and size, these potting pebbles are commonly used by professionals for their landscaping projects.
The vibrant colors make landscaping and gardening even more exciting. Not only that, these pebbles keep moisture in the soil while draining the excess water. As a result, your succulents will always be safe from overwatering.
Can succulents be planted in gravel? I always get this question from my readers. Here’s a thing you need to remember. Succulents need nutrients from the soil. And those necessary ingredients for healthy growth cannot be found in rocks or gravel.
Therefore, although succulents love gravel and pebbles, they also need soil. So, can succulents thrive in just gravel? I don’t think so. But if gravel is mixed with soil, that would be a perfect soil mix for succulents.
The soil provides nutrients to the plants and the gravel provides drainage which is important for healthy growth.
Is aquarium gravel safe for succulents? Using aquarium gravel for succulents will be definitely fine. Many people have tried it including me. And it worked. Aquarium gravel will also provide drainage for the plant.
My only worry is that when you use aquarium gravel for your succulents without washing or rinsing it thoroughly. The gravel may contain marine components that may not good for the succulents.
Can you use play sand for succulents? This is another question that I get especially from those who are living near the beach. My take on this is that beach sand can be too dense for the succulents. Although it provides drainage, the fact that it is dense, the succulents might not be able to breathe.
My suggestion is that use coarse sand instead of beach sand. Coarse sand does not only provide drainage but also allows the succulents to breathe. Suffocation often happens in plants with dense soil and sand.
Should you put out rocks in the bottom of a planter? For me, it is both not necessary and detrimental to the plants’ growth. This does not even help for drainage and in gaining airflow.
The reason why this wrong belief emerged is that people think that rocks create air pockets in the bottom of the pot that will help water to drain through the soil. The truth is you don’t need rocks to provide better drainage for your succulents. In fact, rocks do not actually help.
Another problem with rocks is that the roots of the succulents will not be able to anchor. This is because the roots are shorter. This means that rocks do not provide stability to the plants. So don’t put rocks use potting pebbles instead.
Potting pebbles are enough to allow plants to breathe while also providing better drainage. But also remember that succulents cannot thrive in pebbles alone. They need soil which they draw nutrients from.
The potting pebbles do have several benefits to the plants. They help the succulents grow healthier and more beautiful. The color and size of the pebbles add to the amazing characteristics of the succulents.
However, growing succulents require a lot of trial and error. Not everything you read online really works on your personal journey. So take time to indulge in the process of growing succulents and be patient. If you are determined, you will ultimately succeed.
Potting faux succulents with DIY gravel glue
I felt like I was taking a step back in time when we added indoor planter boxes to the window sills between our sun porch and living room area. Gosh, I never really liked that look back when I was a kid. At least that’s what I tell myself, now. Anyway, after putting the indoor planter boxes in place, the challenge then became, what to put in them?
Real plants weren’t an option. They wouldn’t live to see September. So fake plants it was going to have to be, and that’s when I decided to try potting faux succulents with diy gravel glue. Using gravel glue to hold down the pea gravel was a must because at any point and time one of my cats might dart through the window opening. No doubt, the gravel would go flying and I’d have a mess on my hands. See the sun porch from the other side of the windows, here.
This project probably looks hard to make, but it was actually quite easy and with very little clean up. The only issue to keep in mind is that the gravel glue will drip out the bottom of any containers that have drain holes. I have some solutions for that mentioned below. You can also print out this tutorial from my free resource library. Find access to the library at the bottom of this post.
Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this post contain affiliates. (Which means, if you click on one of the links, and purchase something, I may receive a small commission, but you won’t pay a penny more.) Read my full disclosure, here.
Supplies used (To make about 6 – 1 pint planters)
- Fake succulents unpotted– The kind that come as single stems like these
- Wire cutting pliers
- Floral foam brick – I used this type.
- Dinnerware knife (to trim down the floral foam)
- Planting containers or clay pots
- Pea stone gravel – Most hardware stores have this product. You would probably need about 2 – 5 lbs. (Other types of stone or gravel can be used, as well.)
- 2 – 4oz bottles of white glue or clear craft glue (Water soluble)
- Water, small bucket and a scoop or spoon
- Paper towels
Potting Faux Succulents – Steps
Important!! Clean the gravel: Before you begin, figure out how much gravel you will need and transfer it into a colander. Next, rinse it really, really well to get off all the debris. Follow that up by letting all the water drain out and letting the gravel dry.
I rinsed mine out with a garden hose and placed the colander of stones sit out in the sun. Next, I worked my hands through the stones to move them around every 10 minutes or so, to help them dry.
1) Gather containers for planting
In my case, I needed to paint the outsides of the potting containers. This is optional and will depend on what type of container or containers you are using. I re-used 1 pint plastic containers that came with our herbs from my herb and flower combo container plants.
2) Line container with paper towel
Fold a piece of paper towel into 4’s and place one in the bottom of each planter. This will help catch the glue drips. ( I did not do this, but realized later that I should have because it would have helped catch the glue drips.)
3) Add floral foam
Cut the floral foam brick into 1” slices and then trim the edges down with a knife to round off the foam slice so it will fit into the bottom of the planting container.
4) Cut stems to size
Trim down the stem of each of the fake succulents with the wire cutting pliers, if needed. Yours may be short enough already. If you hold the plant upright next to the planter, you will get an idea of how much to trim off. Don’t trim off too much. You can always trim a little more if you need when actually planting it into the gravel.
Making DIY gravel glue
I’ve only recently learned about gravel glue and that it can be used not only for craft projects but outdoors on top of your stone pathways, rock beds and gravel driveways to keep your stones in place. There’s various pebble binders you can buy pre-made, for large areas outdoor. They even have similar products to hold mulch in place, which I’m dying to try. These are fairly expensive, though, so I’m working to get into the budget for next year.
I made a diy gravel glue for this project, which is in a small quantity and very affordable to make. You just need water and standard glue. You can use plain white glue or clear craft type glue.
The common mixing ratios are, either:
- 1 part glue : 1 part water
- 1 part glue : 3 parts water
- 1 part glue: 4 parts water
Apply one thick coat, or several thinner coats. It’s your choice. I did one thinner coat, and then drizzled over the top of the stone with glue straight from the bottle and that worked quite well.
5) Make the gravel glue
As I mentioned, a download of this tutorial is available in my resource library. You can get the password at the bottom of this post.
- Pour about 6 to 8 cups of pea gravel into a colander. Rinse the gravel well. Put it aside and allow it to drain and dry, as mentioned above.
- Mix 1 – 4 oz bottle of glue and about 16 oz. of water into a clean bucket or container. Stir well.
- Add the gravel and stir until all the gravel is covered with the glue mixture.
6) Add gravel to container
Scoop or spoon the gravel mixture into the plant container over the floral foam. Fill almost to the top with a little room to spare.
7) Place stems into gravel
Insert the stem part of one or more of the fake succulents into the gravel. Pressing it down into the floral foam until it is inserted all the way in. Note: if the stem isn’t trimmed enough, pull the plant out and trim off some more of the stem. Then re-insert into the gravel.
8) Top off with gravel
Hold the plant leaves out of the way with your hand and spoon on more of the gravel mixture until it looks filled to your liking. Let the glue dry almost completely, which in most cases with craft glue would be about an hour.
Note about glue drips: If the planting container has drain holes, some of the glue mixture may drain out from the bottom during the drying time, even if you use the paper towel. I used a cookie sheet and aluminum foil to catch some of the drainage while I was assembling these. Then, I placed the planters on the cement ground to drain and dry the rest of the way. Additionally, I moved the containers about every 15 minutes, so that the containers wouldn’t glue themselves to the ground. (When I made these, my glue mixture was thinned out with more water than what I mention here. I also did not line my planters with the paper towel.)
9) Add more glue
Top off the gravel with more glue by squeezing it directly from the bottle onto the top of the stone in the planter. This would be what the second bottle of glue is for. Doing this step will add extra hold to the gravel. Allow the glue to drain and dry, as mentioned above.
Since the glue is water soluble, the gravel glue will not hold the gravel permanently. But it will keep it in place for a long time. If you would ever want to take the planter apart and re-use the gravel, soaking down the stone with hot water will remove the glue. It would take some time, and the stones would probably need to be rinsed a bunch, but I think it should work,
Also, most white glue will dry clear, check the label to make sure it does. But if you are concerned about that try using clear craft glue, which starts off clear, and should dry clear, as well. Just make sure it states that on the label.
This would also work with:: Gravel filled flower vase jars
Making potted faux succulents was actually a lot of fun. It would make a pretty nice group craft project.
In my opinion fake succulents look more real than a lot of other fake plants, so when this project was completed, I was like, hmmm, not bad for plastic! Ken even gave me the thumbs up on this one. And that’s never a given.
Placing these faux succulent planters into our “indoor window box”, will continually give me flashbacks of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s decor from my childhood. I guess I’m just going to have to get out my disco ball and live with that. But at least the “faux succulents” part give these a bit of a twist because I’m pretty sure the trend back then was vinca vine and ivy
You might also like: 8 Decorating Tips for Using Faux Plants in Your Home
Thanks so much for stopping by! Amy
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WOULD YOU LIKE TO PRINT OUT THIS TUTORIAL? Get the password for the library which includes this printable tutorial by filling out this form.