Recycling dead wood limbs to create a succulent display by adding natural elements to your home or patio can be very rewarding. I have worked with succulents as in one to a pot or a group to a container but not dead wood.

I had several oak tree limbs in my backyard, so I thought how difficult can it be to drill a few holes in the limbs? I was in for a surprise.

Selecting succulents for your project

A succulent plant stores water in its stems, leaves and roots. They store all the moisture needed for long periods of drought. They are able to control both the amount of hydration they need and use. By the ability to store water, it enables them to survive in some of the most hostile environments. Water conservation is the success in the world of succulents.

Succulents grow all around the world – in desert wastelands, cold alpine regions, mountains, ocean shores and tropical jungles. They have adjusted to strong winds, cold regions, poor, rocky terrain and saltwater.

Shapes and sizes

There are different sizes of plants to select from, but working with wood limbs, you need a more compact body with smaller leaves. Their different shapes and sizes will give a variety of styles and perfect contrast for mixed arrangements.

Tips to remember when buying succulents

  • Check the soil line at the base of the plant for discoloration and softness. These are sure signs of rot disease; it will destroy the roots. Don’t take the chance of buying it and cutting off the infected part of the plant to use the remaining healthy portion of the plant.
  • Plants that are thin and pale in color on the new growth point toward stressed or diseased plants and are best to be avoided. They will not regain a normal, healthy appearance.
  • Check for insects, particularly scale and mealy bugs. Research what you can use to control the problem. Succulents are nearly insect-free.

Caring for succulents

  • Water

While succulents retain water internally, they still need moisture to thrive. Do not overwater; use a spray bottle. Your plants are not in pots, so check for dryness, especially in our 100-degree weather.

  • Fertilizer

Succulents need fertilizer the same as other plants, but in smaller amounts. Fertilize only during the actively-growing season, which is spring and summer. You can use liquid or water soluble fertilizer.

Time-release or pelleted fertilizer can be applied at the start of the growing season, and you are finished for the year. The pellets will slowly release by the time your plant enters its dormant period.

  • Light

Arrange the plants so they have the same light requirement such as moderate, morning sun or direct sun.


  • Calico hearts and plover eggs are small growing species.
  • Echeveria, aeonium and sempervivum are excellent selections with a variety of plants to choose from.
  • Baby toes, ox tongue and fairy washboard haworthia plants are also good selections.

Try planting cascading succulents at the edges/ends of your wood limbs to give a different look with smaller plants in the middle.

Planting your succulents on wood limbs

  • If you want a natural look do not remove the bark.
  • Use a paint brush to remove dirt or debris.
  • Use vise grips to hold the wood limb.
  • Mark with chalk where plants should go.
  • Drill holes in a circle, switch to a space bit (1½-inch) and then to a 2-inch hole-saw. Use a wood chisel to complete the groove. (You might have better luck with the space bit and hole-saw and definitely might have more muscle.)
  • After you have finished making the plant grooves, remove any debris with a paint brush.
  • If the plant roots are too long, you can cut some of them. If the groove is deep, put some soil in it; place the plant/plants.
  • Get sphagnum moss and put it on top of the soil, then pat it down; tie it by wrapping fishing line around the limb several times. If the groove is not deep, wrap succulent with moss and tie it down to the limb.
  • Now you are ready to show off your work.

Consider partially-rotted wood or driftwood

Partially-rotted wood with holes already in it could be an easier solution. Consider recycling fallen branches from dead trees as an alternative or driftwood, which will provide a totally different look from oak limbs. It is much easier to make holes in.

Try your talents

Combining materials from nature seems to always provide interesting design and decor. Try putting together succulents in old wood and see what you can come up with. You just might be surprised.

Recommended For You

The Gardeners’ Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension – Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at

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