The Genus Echeveria


The name Echeveria honours the 18th-century Mexican botanical artist Atanasio Echeverria Godoy.

The genus Echeveria comprises about a 150 species of succulent plants in the larger family Crassulaceae. They are native to the semi desert regions of Central America, Mexico, and South America. They have hybridized both within the species and with other closely related species in Crassulaceae,in the wild and cultivation extensively. This offers us many hundreds of different cultivars and hybrids covering a wide range of flower colours plants sizes and leaf shapes in addition to the main species. Furthermore, they are generally spring flowering in the United Kingdom and produce stunning displays.

Echeverias are among some of the most popular succulent plants due to their charming rosettes and attractive water storing leaves. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes, with many foliage colours and markings. They make stunning focal points in potted arrangements can be planted out in the garden during summer months and given ideal conditions they will often repeat flower during the summer months.

Whilst they typically produce an abundance of seed, they can also be propagated vegetatively in several ways. They may provide a rosette of young shoots sometimes known as hens and chicks and these can be taken off during the active growing season which is late spring and early summer and in most cases will root very easily. It is also possible to route them from carefully removed leaf cuttings. A young plant will typically develop following the emergence of roots, although patience is required, and it may be several months before a shoot emerges.

Whilst there have been many important breeders introducing new cultivars and hybrids, one of the most important is the legendary Dick Wright from America. Dick and his son have taken the large leaved forms and over the past 40 years or more hybridize these to form unusual leaf shapes and forms. These often have bumps on the leaves known as crenations and are highly prized by collectors around the world.

In the wild, Echeverias are found growing in full sun to partial shade and often in dry conditions and poor soil nutrient. This needs to be replicated when growing them in cultivation, extra care needs to be taken when they are kept indoors such as greenhouses or conservatories. Here the temperatures may be too high and plants will go into an enforced dormancy, during which time extreme care must be paid to watering. Excessive moisture during dormancy frequently leads to root rot and death of the plant. Good light is essential. Echeverias will become elongated if there is insufficient light, it is recommended they are grown on sunny window sills, and kept on well lit benches and shelves in greenhouses.

Echeverias are known as tender succulents and will not tolerate frost generally, however a few species if kept exceptionally dry will survive temperatures as low as minus 5C. For this reason, most Echeverias are kept indoors during the winter months in the UK.

Like all succulents, Echeveria's should be kept in shallow pots only slightly larger than the diameter of the rosette of the plant. Over potting should always be avoided. Repotting is best carried out when plants are in an active state of growth from spring until early summer. Use a slightly moist succulent compost and avoid watering for at least a week after potting.

Careful watering is essential for the success of Echeverias. They are naturally winter dormant and should gradually be allowed to go dormant and slowly woken up from mid to late February depending on the season. During the summer they can be more generously watered providing they are being grown in a well drained compost. Unfortunately, a few growers are commercially producing plants in very poor moisture retaining compost, which is best carefully removed before repotting them in your own special mixture.

Many Echeveria growers would recommend half John Innes number one mixed with half sharp grit. In recent years, some growers have substituted a proportion of the grit with a clay based cat litter or a clay-based granule, all used in garages for soaking up oil. This offers slightly better properties than conventional grit and is somewhat lighter.

Some commercial growers are using coir compost derived from coconut husks with the addition of some grit and, in some cases, perlite. The debate on banning Peat will have some effect on individual growers, but it is generally thought that this holds too much moisture.

 Watering needs to be carried out very carefully and as mentioned above there is little need to water when Echeverias are dormant. The art in late February or early March, depending on the season, is to gently wake them up by applying small quantities of water. This is in order to avoid rotting the root system or rehydrating the leaves too rapidly, which may lead to wet rots. Once plants are over this critical waking up period, they can be watered more liberally and overhead. Some commercial growers literally water with a rose connected to a hosepipe. During the critical waking up and going to sleep periods of dormancy.

I prefer to water in the morning and from the bottom. In the case of larger individual specimens, I water into a saucer, leaving the plant are just a few minutes to absorb some moisture before pouring away any excess. Smaller pots in my system are often grown in seed trays. I employ a traditional seed tray kept inside a seed tray without holes. This prevents drips onto plants below,  It also allows me to add water to the trays. Give the plants a few minutes to soak it up before lifting the inner tray away and emptying the outer tray so that plants do not stand in water. It is essential that Echeverias have free draining compost that allows the water to drain and be replaced by air.

Echeverias can be propagated in a number of different ways. Many of the species can be very successfully raised from seed, although there will always be a small amount of variation. It is very difficult also to completely isolate one species from another in a greenhouse, as bees and other pollinating insects will often visit a number of different flowers, allowing cross pollination to occur. It is a great way to look for new hybrids, but there is no guarantee that saving seed from unnamed species under amateur conditions will provide young plants of exactly the same species. This  is the fun and a number of well-known amateurs have successfully in recent years crossed many species and introduced numerous hybrids.

This is filling a useful gap from the problems caused by others leaving the European Union. In the past we could readily import plants from Europe with a minimum of trouble that had been raised in the Far East such as South Korea Japan and China. Today, to import plants directly from these countries or via the European Union is extremely problematic and hugely expensive.

Many of the rosette forming Echeveria's will produce a hen and chicken situation, whereby a rosette will throw out a symmetrical number of young shoots. Once the plant at the ends of the shoots has developed a sufficient size, it may be removed and easily rooted in a free draining succulent compost.

Some of the more upright forming bush like Echeveria's can be propagated from traditional stem cuttings, with growers often leaving cuttings to dry for several days before inserting in a well drained succulent compost.

Rosette forming Echeveria's may not always produce shoots and new plants, in this case growers can carefully remove individual leaves, usually with a slight twist inhabit.  Dry these for several days and either root them in an extremely free draining compost or leave them on damp surfaces. Here they will quickly form roots before going on to develop a young plant's that, which may take several or even many months and a lot of patience.

Little feeding is necessary if using a loam-based compost however many growers are now finding it beneficial to add slow-release nutrient granules to their potting compost which will give a full season of nutrient supply. Other growers still prefer to use half the strength low nitrogen and high potash feeds on a more frequent basis than recommended on the label when applied at full strength. This compensates for the very free draining which can allow nutrients to escape. It is very important that Echeveria's are never overfed, this can lead to excessive lush foliage that is prone to rotting and in the most severe cases can cause the burning of routes and the death of your plant.

During the winter months older leaves may shrivel and die and it is hard not to attempt to remove. This is best delayed until the plants are in more active growth as it is too easy to wound the main stems when pulling away apparently dead leaves and also healthy leaves may be damaged at the same time. During the summer months it is prudent advice to regularly remove any discoloured or dying leaves, but at the same time investigate the cause of this in case it is anything more than genuine old age.

Echeveria sadly do suffer a few pests and diseases. Like many pot plants they may be attacked by the larvae of the black vine weevil which lays its eggs in the upper layers of the compost. These hatch and the creamy white grubs will feed on the roots and eventually the main stem of the plant, often leading to its death. There are few chemicals available to home gardeners capable of controlling this in the UK. One of the best deterrents is a layer of sharp gravel around the neck of the plant, which will deter the adult from laying eggs.

The worst problem among cacti and succulent growers is that of mealy bugs. These are extremely difficult to control on your succulent collection, particularly on Echeveria's where most of the chemicals currently available will seriously mark the foliage and spoil your plant. Two items of interest have arisen recently. SB plant invigorator is a useful organic remedy that if applied weekly during the active period of growth will promote firm sound growth and at the same time stop egg laying from various pests.

At the end of 2021 I became aware that a number of commercial growers were now using a natural form of silicon which does not seem to harm the plant in any way.  It actually  covers relatively immobile pests in what is effectively a spider's web. This sets hard and stops the pest moving to feed, wearers predators that move around are unaffected by this material.

I will not currently mention the trade name for this product, as it is being developed for retail use over the next 12 months or so. As it is a natural product there is no need under current legislation for it to be registered, but at a current price of £84 for a 1 L bottle it is too expensive for many home growers. Watch my website for the latest news as it emerges on this exciting development.

Root aphids can also be a problem on Echeveria's and while this is mentioned on a number of chemical manufacturers products it is more difficult to get an even distribution through the compost even during the growing season. Root aphid cannot therefore be treated safely during the dormant period of any succulent, as the excess water will lead to root rot.

Occasionally aphids are seen on Echeverias, but these can be treated relatively easily with inorganic and organic remedies dependent on your choice. In all cases are healthy hard grown plant in good growing conditions is much less likely to be attacked by pest or disease.

Diseases of Echeveria's can be classified into two groups. Those which cause root rot on the basis of this is often overwatering, so cultural care is required here. There are a number of fungal infections that can affect the foliage of your Echeverias, and most of these are easily controlled by providing adequate ventilation and ensuring that plants are kept sufficiently moist during their active growing period. The summer of 2021 so a UK wide attack of a powdery mildew that impacted many sections of the genius Echeveria. Thankfully, once treated with any fungicide recommended for amateur use, plants quickly recovered. Sadly affected leaves do not return to normal and once the plant has grown out of the problem these distorted and marked leaves are best carefully removed.

Image is designed and maintained by Darren Hodson © 2022, The Drurys