Bringing the Desert to Iowa with Succulents

Growing up in the desert, I was surrounded by interesting looking plants. Most of them looked half dead, but they were unique and beautiful. After moving away from the desert I’ve developed an appreciation for the desert plants. I’ve been seeing lots about succulent gardens online and decided that it was time I made myself one to bring a little bit of the desert out here to Iowa.

I started by doing some research on what things succulents need to thrive. They need dry soil, so you can either take regular potting soil and mix it with sand or you can buy a special succulent/cactus soil. Desert plants don’t have deep roots so you do not need a deep pot to plant in. I used a shallow bowl for my plants because it was wide enough to fit several plants in, but not so big that it would take up a lot of space. Desert plants also don’t need a lot of water, but do like a lot of sun.  They are very low maintenance and great plants for busy people who may sometimes forget to water the plants on a regular basis.

I went shopping (my favorite part) at two different nurseries. My first stop was at Earl May in Iowa City. They had a large selection of succulents in different sizes. I also went to Forevergreen Nursery in Coralville to pick out a few more succulents when the kids decided that they needed some, too. They also had a huge selection, and they had a few different options than Earl May. I was in shock at all the different types, textures, and colors available at both places.

Succulent 1

To get started with planting, you need to fill your planter with the dry soil. I used a succulent soil just to be safe. Leave at least an inch from the top of your bowl, because you’re going to need room to put in rocks. Look at your plants and decide how you want them arranged. Once your plants have been arranged where you want them in the planter, it’s time for you to plant your succulents. They don’t need deep holes. You plant them at the soil level they come in from the nursery.  Once they are in the soil, cover them with small rocks. You could use the gravel made for the bottom of fish tanks, small decorative river rocks from the floral section of a craft store (or the dollar store, which is where I got mine), or almost any other kind of small stone or rock.

Succulent 3 succulent 4 succulent 5

After your rocks are in and everything looks all nice and pretty, it’s time to water your plants. These are desert plants, so remember, they don’t need a lot of water. Just get the dirt damp. The rocks will help hold the moisture in the dirt so you don’t need to water very often. So far we have watered every week and a half and just very lightly.

My kids thought the plants were so cool looking that they wanted to make their own gardens. We also decided to have a little fun and turn them into fairy gardens. We have a gnome garden, a fairy princess garden, and Darth Vader’s garden. They have been a great way to bring the desert into our home and they add a special little touch.

succulent 6

For more fairy garden ideas, check out Michele’s beautiful post!

Do you have any succulents at your house?

Ashley Breinholt
Ashley is an Iowa transplant from Arizona and a busy mom of 4. She spends most of her day chasing around her little herd and hoping to catch a glimpse of her main squeeze when he gets a break from the hospital. She has a bachelor's degree in Communication from Arizona State University and is currently the Vice President of Iowa Medical Partners where she helps plan events and service projects and runs the blog. In her free time, Ashley enjoys running, reading, cooking, and decorating (and redecorating) the house. She loves everything about Iowa! She and her family like to explore everything that Iowa has to offer in every season. Life may be crazy but she loves every minute of it!


  1. I grew up in Iowa but have loved succculents. I recently went to an hour class onhow to take care of them and plant them. I like your ideas and plan to make me a special one to keep inside this coming winter. Enjoyed your blog.


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