I recently rescued an Aeonium suffering in the confines of a small square terracotta pot at a garden center. It was tucked on the floor below potting benches where it stood solo with no others like it nearby. Spotting its dish plate sized rosette, I stopped to look it over.
It was apparent this showy and tall succulent plant had been sitting there for a very long time. The pot it was growing in was very small, much smaller than the diameter of the plant’s terminal rosette which was growing from a single stem of 15 inches tall. And although the plant looked great overall with no signs of problems, the pot was tattered and was barely holding up this plant.
This particular succulent could easily be overlooked at the garden center if you are not a scouter of plants, such as I am. Additionally, there was no plant label in the pot, so if you are unfamiliar with this different kind of succulent, you may have decided to leave it where it sat. However, I decided to return to the garden center to go get it and bring it home.
I instinctively assumed it was a variety called, Aeonium arboretum ‘Zwartkop’ or Aeonium arboretum var. artopurpureum, because of its dark plum colored foliage, but now I am not sure. Only because the rosette is so large, I thought perhaps it is a cultivar unknown to me, or just a very mature ‘Zwartkop’ growing for some time.
Either way, the technical plant name is of no matter because the large size of the plant’s rosette is so spectacular, I know it will be a showcase in a container garden at my home this summer.
Potting It Up into a New Home
These plants should be repotted every two to three years. When Aeoniums get pot bound, they may send out additional aerial roots from the base of their stem, which was the case with mine.
The new pot selected should be a size up in diameter of the existing pot, or the plant itself. Or it can go into a larger container garden with other mixed succulents sharing the same exposure and soil preferences. Either way, the container must have a drain hole, or perhaps two or three, for free drainage of water through the soil profile.
It helps to keep the soil moisture level regular for Aeoniums because their roots are fine and can dry out easily. This is not to imply you should over water the plant. You do not want soggy soils for any succulents because they have the tendency to rot at the base when the soil is wet. Most succulents or cacti can handle heat, drought, and dry soils from time to time because they store moisture in their leaves or stems during drought periods – which this one does, but it also is a bit different in regards to moisture levels because of its fine root system.
To help keep the soil at its best, use quality, fresh soilless mix specifically for container gardening or patio pots. You may use soil mix labeled for growing cacti, but Aeoniums can also grow in regular potting mix for containers because it likes a bit of regular moisture.
Be careful when moving the plant to be repotted so you won’t bump into anything. Gently remove it from the pot by holding the base of the stem. The stem of this plant is fairly strong, but you do not want to risk damaging it during the repotting process.
As I removed it from the terracotta pot, it was very apparent there were some critters in the soil, such as sow bugs and centipedes. These bugs like warm moist locations in the soil. I wanted to eliminate them as much as possible, so I gently removed away most of the soil from the plant’s root system.
In addition to seeing critters in the soil, there was an indication the soil was not taking in moisture anymore. When potting soil is not renewed, it can actually repel water. The soil in its original pot was moist only around the edges, and not in the center, so it was not permeating through completely. It was just another indication the plant needed a new fresh growing environment.
Filling my new glazed pot almost to the top (about 2” from the rim) of fresh potting mix is the process I typically follow when potting up plants. After it is full, I scoop out some of the soil to make a nice comfy pocket for the plant being transplanted.
Some people may fill the pot halfway with soil, place the plant in there, and then fill around the plant by adding soil up the rest of the way in the pot – but I prefer to make a pocket so the roots come into contact all the way around the plant.
This pocket process was especially important for this Aeonium because the rosette is so large, it was a little top heavy – especially because I removed the old soil from the roots. To secure the plant better, I placed two large stones on top of the soil, adding a bit of weight there to help keep it stable until roots take hold.
I also added some slow-release fertilizer to the soil, and lightly mixed it into the top. Always water any transplanted plants right after you are done. Don’t leave it until later to give it a sprinkling of water – it will help to awaken the roots to the new fresh soil and get them established.
Succulents are Easy to Grow
Succulents can handle heat and drought, but as mentioned above, this species prefers some light shade for part of the day as it doesn’t really like super hot summers or very humid weather. They like a mild cool weather which may seem odd because many people think of succulents as heat lovers, but some do well in moderately cool weather, and Aeoniums are one of them.
If you see the leaves curl when this plant is outdoors in summer, it may be an indication you have it located in too hot of a spot. Relocate it to where it gets a break from the heat, a part-sun area or where it will get bright sunlight such as under a patio umbrella, and all will be fine. And also remember, moving any tropical like plants outdoors after being inside for the winter should be done so with care – putting them in a shady spot for a day or so. Foliage can burn when put into direct sun immediately.
The many different textures and forms of succulents are fun to combine in mixed container gardens and patio pots. And ‘Zwartkop’ cultivars are especially useful because they have a dark coloring which works nicely against other light colored succulents, from the soft silvers of Agaves and Senecios, to bright yellows typically seen on succulent plants, such as Sedums.
The older, lower leaves on most Aeoniums will wither and fall off. If they turn yellow and are unsightly, you can easily snip them off with a pair of common household scissors before they drop if you prefer – and sometimes they pull off easily by hand.
The top of the rosette stays tight in the center, and the foliage directly below it is usually more spaced out. A lovely feature is the very center of the rosette. It can have a tone of yellow or green, more prevalent when the plant is grown in part shade. When in full sun, the coloring is more on the darker plum to black side. Water droplets on this plant’s rubbery foliage can be very pretty too.
Different Growing Habits
Aeonium plants may be trained into looking like a topiary by removing side branches, such as the one I took home, and some cultivars grow very low to the ground. They also grow like a shrub with side branches reaching out from the main stem with rosettes appearing on their tips.
The dramatic shape of the rosettes is useful in container gardens, adding interest and uniqueness to a composition. And the branches offers an architectural appeal as well, resembling a large bonsai form. And if you are lucky, you will see their amazing blooms.
I have yet to see an Aeonium bloom from my prior stock of these succulents because I usually get them when they are young plants. Blooms grow on mature plants. The blooms are an excellent yellow color which contrast nicely against its attractive dark colored foliage. But witnessing a blooming show has a double-edge sword because some succulent plants will die after they bloom.
To see the different growth habits and blooms of this interesting succulent, see my Pinterest board titled, “Succulent Sensations!” which is filled with examples.
Making More Plants
Propagating this plant is an easy process to do, so long as you are patient enough to wait for it to root and start a new plant.
Snip off rosettes with about 5-6” inches of the stem intact (still attached) with a clean sharp knife, and insert it into a small pot of fresh soil to take root. This should be done during the active growing period of Aeoniums for it to be successful.
If your Aeonium has many branches, you have the capability to start a whole family of them by snipping and inserting cut stems into soil. It helps if you allow the cutting to sit for 24 hours to dry a bit before inserting it into the soil, or just set it on newspaper to sit overnight.
The soil for the cuttings may be regular potting mix or one amended with fine sand and drainage material – but I find either works easily. Moisten the soil before inserting the cut stem into it so it is slightly moist. Cuttings can also be inserted into container gardens mixed with other plants in fresh soil – it will eventually take root. This is a great way to capitalize on your purchase of an Aeonium, or other succulents easily propagated by cuttings.
By the way, Aeonium is pronounced like ay-OO-nee-um. Get practicing so when you show off your specimen, you will sound like a pro. Or you can just refer to it as a black rose succulent or black tree succulent.
Hardiness Zone: 9 or warmer; grown as a tender perennial in Connecticut during the summers, and as an indoor house plant in the winters.
Upcoming Cathy T Class:
To learn more, register for Cathy T’s “Big Container Garden Party (Class)” on Saturday, May 24th – there’s still time to sign-up! See “Garden Talks” on the menu of this blog for more information. Succulents will be the key feature for this class. Some Aeoniums will be available too.