Love is forever, but wedding flowers are fleeting. Thanks to a growing trend, however, bouquets, centerpieces and boutonnieres don’t have to go to waste after the last dance. Including succulents in the floral mix allows wedding flowers to live long past the big day and gives the bride and groom a special remembrance to keep and grow in their home.
Succulents are fleshy, hardy, drought-resistant plants that can thrive in dry environments. “The term ‘succulent’ is extremely general,” says Neil Sperry, longtime Star-Telegram garden columnist and host of “Texas Gardening” on WBAP/820 AM. “It refers to plants that have developed ways of surviving dry periods in their native homes. But those native homes vary from the tropics to the Arctic.”
Some eco-minded couples give small, potted succulents as favors, and some have grown their own for the florist to use in their wedding flowers, floral designers say.
“We’ve incorporated them into arrangements for tables at the reception; we’ve done outside weddings where succulents are woven into bricks,” says Holli Ackerman, owner of Cityview Florist and Gifts.
Succulents pair well with other, more traditional wedding flowers — from hydrangeas to spray roses, peonies and ranunculus, floral designers say.
“They like the color variation of the mint greens and grays [of the succulents],” says Darla Bettencourt, owner of Blossoms on the Bricks. “There aren’t tons of flowers that come in those colors.”
Because they’re hardy, succulent plants can withstand the stress and temperature changes of a long wedding day (and night) better than many other varieties, too.
How to successfully transform them from bridal bouquet accent to living room centerpiece?
Wendy Vanderbeck, manager at the Calloway’s Nursery on Hulen Street in Fort Worth, says her first piece of advice for couples is simple: “Go on your honeymoon.”
After removing the succulents from their arrangements, strip them of floral tape and wires, she says, and pick off any dead leaves. If any of the succulents are still rooted — perhaps they were planted into pots for the big day — those can be directly placed into fresh soil. Be sure to use a pot with a drainage hole.
“Use a high-quality cactus and succulent potting soil, but add one part of expanded shale or BB-sized sand from an aquarium store to two parts of the potting soil to ensure good drainage,” Sperry advises.
For succulents that have been cut — which will be the case for most wedding flowers — Vanderbeck says to allow the roots to dry out for a few days, until a small callous forms at the end. From there, bury the nub of a stem into the soil deep enough that it can adhere and start to form roots.
But don’t just take them to the back yard. “Unless you’re sure the plant is cold-hardy in North Texas, don’t plant it directly into the ground outdoors,” Sperry says. “Plant instead into terra-cotta pots, and bring them indoors over the winter.”
As for arranging, Vanderbeck says to be creative. Succulents don’t have wide roots, so it’s fine to plant them close together. They grow slowly, but if they start to smash together, dig them out and replace them with smaller varieties or clippings.
Every succulent is different, but for the most part, bright light is almost always essential. If keeping them indoors, the experts recommend placing them in a location with high light, such as the brightest window in the home — though direct sunlight isn’t necessary. “Succulents aren’t something you want to keep in a dark corner,” Vanderbeck says.
However, Sperry cautions, “intense summer sun is usually more than most succulents will tolerate. Very bright shade is a good compromise.”
Succulents don’t have a strict watering schedule, but Vanderbeck says it’s best to water them thoroughly when the soil is dry. “Overwatering is the number one killer of most plants, but especially succulents,” she says.
Use your finger or a water meter to make sure that the soil is completely dry, then soak the plants thoroughly, until water is coming out of the drainage hole. This helps wash away pollutants that build up at the bottom of pots and allows the roots to get properly soaked. Repeat only when the soil is back to being completely dry — usually every few days in the summer but only every few weeks in the winter.
But, adds Sperry, “don’t let them stay overly dry for weeks until their leaves start to shrivel, either.”