DIY Coral Reef Succulent Container Garden

Sometimes the coolest plants are the ones that don't really look like plants at all, making you crane in for a second look. A lifestyle of hardcore survival has endowed succulents with a dazzling assortment of wacky forms in every color imaginable, making some look more like sea anemones or coral polyps rather than proper and well behaved plants. This container was created for my book (tentatively titled) Plant By Numbers, but today I'll show you how to make one of your own.

You'll Need
  • A wide pot
  • Enough succulents to fill said pot
  • Barnacles, coral or seashells (prewashed)
  • Cactus potting mix

How to Do It

Choose the Container - Choose a pot that complements - rather than competes with - the colorful succulents that will be planted inside. I chose a light blue pot since I planned on combining succulents of pink and light blue.

Choose the Succulents - Head to the cactus and succulent section of your local garden center and go crazy! Pick healthy plants with bright colors and odd shapes, and arrange them together to visualize the design. Try to steer clear of green leaved succulents, unless you're trying to recreate the look of seaweed. Before you make your purchase, check out the labels and make sure that each of the succulents chosen has similar requirements.

Cover Drainage Hole - Before filling the container with potting mix, place pottery shards or packing peanuts over the drainage hole to prevent the soil from draining out.

Fill with Cactus Mix - Use a well draining mix that has been amended with perlite or vermiculite, such as a 'cactus mix'. Regular potting soil retains water and can rot the plants before you even know what hit them. Leave about an inch of the pot free so you'll have room for the marine life and plant life.

Add 'Reef' - Nestle any large barnacle clumps or coral chunks into the soil first, since you'll be tucking the plants in around the 'reef'. Alternately, use a large scallop or clam shell and plant succulents between the two shells.

Plant Succulents - Pop the succulents out of their pots one by one, and arrange them in the pot as desired. You can hold them in place by mounding potting mix around their roots. Keep adding a little potting mix as you go. There is no wrong way to design your planting, but it will look more balanced and natural if you scatter the succulents randomly.

Finishing Touches - You can tuck some succulents into the openings of the barnacles and shells for a lifelike effect, but just make sure to look for a shell with some sort of drainage hole so that the roots don't sit in water

Disclaimer: Potting soil provided by Sungro


  1. I love the way the barnacles have the same shape and color as the sedum!

    1. Thanks, Debra! I've been planning this combo since I found the barnacles last year.

  2. Here's a link to one of Debra's BIG aquatic succulent gardens:

  3. Wow, absolutely fabulous! I think shells go with succulents just naturally somehow! Wonderful instructions that anyone can follow!

  4. You instinctively did what I think a lot of people (myself included) don't when planting a bowl like crammed it full! A planting like this really shines when the plants are all mashed together like a tight floral arrangement...nice job!

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  7. What a beautiful grouping. I've got some shallower containers and will try them with my succulents.

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  9. I have started to add succulent to the pots scattered across my porch. I am looking for inspiration to create a better, more artful presentation so your post was both interesting and helpful. I really appreciated your suggestions and the photos were superb, thank you.

  10. This is beautiful! I love how much succulents can look like a coral reef. The combination with the barnacles is great!

  11. I can't believe I never saw this post! Really fantastic potting!

  12. Very inspirational! I just put together an arangment as a future gift for a friend who loves the beach. I used a white glazed bowl and combined Haworthia cymbiormis (they are my sea anemones), gollum jade (my sea sponge), Haworthia fasciata (my tube anemones), blue waves jade (my coral) and a few sprigs of Crassula tetragona (my sea whips), along with some pieces of plate coral and some broken ramshorn shells and a layer of white quartz sand. The white of the Hawarthia foliage perfectly compliments the white of the coral and the bowl. I just with i could have dound some Euphorbia obesa. They make perfect urchins :(


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