Plant it: blue chalk sticks

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This plant is a real eye-catcher. With blue plants a rarity in nature’s green-on-green palette, the blues and burgundies are always superstars. 

This is especially true for blue chalk sticks (Senecio vitalis "Serpents"), also known as blue chalk fingers. This attractive, easy-care succulent with stems that show off chalky blue-green, finger-shaped leaves can be found at most garden centers.

It can reach up to 18 inches, with a spread of 2 to 3 feet. Blue chalk sticks are houseplants in our area, but can spend the summer outdoors. It is winter-hardy in zones 10 through 11.

This plant works well in borders, mass plantings and rock gardens. Potted with other succulents, it can easily overrun its smaller companions, so be ready to repot frequently.

 Water blue chalk sticks, usually once per week during warm summer weather, or when the soil feels dry to the touch. Water the soil to a depth of 6 inches. Always allow the soil to dry between each watering, as succulents sometimes develop rot and other potentially deadly moisture-related diseases in waterlogged soil. Water sparingly during the winter, providing only enough moisture to prevent the leaves from wilting. An old gardener’s trick is to watch the news and each time it rains in Flagstaff, Ariona, it is time to water our succulents.

Fertilize blue chalk sticks only using about half the recommended strength as too much fertilizer weakens the plant and makes it more susceptible to disease and pests. Fertilize once every two to four weeks during spring and summer, using a fertilizer formulated for cacti and succulents. Tomato fertilizer and fish emulsion fertilizer will promote even more growth. 

Prune blue chalk plant severely every spring to make room for healthy new growth. Cut the plant down to a height of 3 to 4 inches.

Use your new skills to plant a succulent bowl. When it begins to look crowded or nonproductive, usually every two to three years, divide it again. Dig the entire clump, and then pull the plant carefully into smaller sections, each with at least three to five healthy roots. Discard parts that look dead and then replant the sections.

Make your friends a great gift! Grow them a great blue chalk stick plant by taking cuttings in the spring. Cut a 2- to 3-inch lengths, and then plant the cuttings in a container filled with a commercial potting soil formulated for cacti and succulents. Place the container in a warm room. Keep the soil slightly moist, but don’t let it stand in water and never let it get soggy.

Image courtesy of Golden State Succulent

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