Most local residents think of succulents as cute little spots of greenery on the coffee table or a sunny shelf. Julie Fullington, owner-operator of Windswept Prairie, believes succulents should fill large container plantings on front porches and the outdoor garden.
“They are great outside because they’re colorful and super-easy to care for,” she says. “They love the summer heat and are super-hardy.” In a climate where strong winds can leave plants bent or broken, succulents also stand up to the breeze.
Even better, they thrive in a dry climate. “You can go on vacation for a week or 10 days, water your pots really well before you leave, and they’ll still look the same as when you left them,” Fullington says.
In fact, the only threat to succulents may be the occasional hail storm.
Fullington shares with us her favorite succulents for outdoor containers.
This resilient succulent likes full sun and, according to Fullington, is “one of the toughest things you can plant.” The bright sun can scorch it initially, but don’t worry about this. It’s a “sunburn,” and the plant reacts by reddening. “Then it kind of evens out,” she says. Plant jade in a container with other succulents or alone. Expect quick growth in a solo planting.
Also a perennial, this low-growing plant can handle bright, hot sun and bitter cold. It performs well in bad soil and drought conditions, with dark green leaves that smell a little like pine. These are great for rock gardens as well as containers.
This type of succulent is sometimes referred to as a “stonecrop” because it’s so tough. They can thrive in bad soil, bad weather, and drought conditions. “Sedums trail and are sun-hardy,” Fullington says. They prefer full sun but can still grow in light shade—but the lack of direct light could cause the most vibrant colors to dim. Fullington used Angelina Sedum in our planting (see photo at left), characterized by its yellow, needle-like foliage.
The extreme conditions of the desert make almost any variety of cactus a hardy outdoor plant. They like full sun and can store water for long periods of time. Just make sure the soil or pot
has good drainage and six-plus hours of direct sunlight per day. Take care not to plant where thorns could be an issue to children or pets.
This perennial, evergreen grass can be yellow, white or variegated. “It stays small and won’t overpower containers,” she says. It can also be left outside to overwinter, returning in the spring as the weather warms.
This flowering succulent is also drought-tolerant and produces yellow, white, pink and orange blooms, whether in a garden planting or a container. They thrive in well-drained soil but are hardy almost anywhere, and can grow fast.
Slower-growing than Purslane, these grow in rosettes and prefer desert conditions. They thrive in full sun and well-drained soil and exist in dozens and dozens of varieties, making them an excellent addition to any group planting of succulents.
Sticks of Fire
Also known as Red Pencil Tree, Milkbush, or Firesticks, the stems of this succulent resemble sea coral and change colors—from green to bright orange—along with fluctuating seasons and sunlight. While many succulents stay low to the ground, these can add a vertical element to a garden or planter.
Tips & Tricks:
Most succulents are drought-resistant, but need regular, deep soakings in order to grow strong root systems. “This encourages the roots to go deep,” says Fullington. “Then you won’t have to water again for a week or two.” Smaller containers need more frequent watering.
Make sure the container has a drainage hole. Consider adding a piece of screen over the hole to keep soil from escaping.
Select the Right Soil
Fullington suggests adding perlite and a bit of horticultural charcoal to succulent-specific potting mix for a well-draining soil, which is the key to growing succulents. Perlite both absorbs water and aids in drainage. Charcoal is a soil amendment that helps hold nutrients, absorb water and repel fungus. “Without proper soil drainage, the plants will rot,” she says.
Design and Arrange
Start with already damp soil—it’s challenging to soak a freshly planted succulent container—and fill it to within an inch of the rim. Arrange your plants, keeping in mind that cactuses and most echeverias can bloom, providing a pop of color to mostly green arrangements. After planting, top the container with pebbles, sand or gravel to give it a finished look and help it retain moisture. Fullington sometimes adds decorative elements like wood or larger rocks to add interest and texture. (The plants Fullington picked for this feature are resistant to sunburn and can endure full morning sun.)
Care and Watering
Again, make sure you soak your succulent container to the bottom when you water it. “Avoid watering down into the centers of most succulents, because the water can pool and make the plant rot,” Fullington says. Instead, water around the perimeter of each plant. Fertilize once a month with half-strength, water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer.
Fullington typically takes containers apart as summer ends and the seasons change—especially large pots with specimens she wants to save. “I take them out and put them in smaller containers,” she says. “You can store them in the greenhouse, use them in the house as windowsill plants or in a sun porch.” As long as they get bright winter light from east- or south-facing windows, they will be ready to replant in outdoor containers in the spring. Over the winter, she suggests fertilizing with a topcoat of Osmocote, a slow-release fertilizer.
Swept Away on Sixth
Originally from Colorado, Julie Fullington and her husband lived in Dalhart, his hometown, for 15 years, where she operated a retail greenhouse selling annuals and perennials. As demand for succulents began to grow, she began ordering those from her suppliers.
Eleven years ago, the couple moved to Amarillo and she took a job at a local greenhouse. As she began to think about working for herself, Fullington saw a 1997 Freightliner MT45 Step Van for sale in the back lot of a used car dealership. An old FedEx logo was visible beneath the white paint.
She envisioned the truck painted green. She bought it, and transformed the vehicle into the Windswept Prairie Plant Truck—slogan: “Nope, it’s not a food truck!”—and began driving the area’s first mobile plant design studio to the Amarillo Community Market and other gatherings.
She also sold plants out of The Nesting Place in Bushland. Then in August 2021, a new storefront opened on Amarillo’s most popular stretch of old Route 66, giving Fullington a way to offer plants year-round. She launched the Windswept Prairie urban plant shop last year at 3812 SW Sixth Ave., and still uses the plant truck for public and private events.