Top Dressing: Decorative rocks for your succulents

Learn how to add a professional touch to your succulent arrangements by using a top dressing, or decorative rocks. This simple addition will take your succulents to a whole new level!

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One of my favorite discoveries in regard to designing with succulents is the use of top dressings. If you're not familiar with this term, a top dressing is simply decorative rocks that are placed on top of the soil after your arrangement is set.

This often overlooked feature can make a beautiful arrangement even more stunning.

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My friends Michael and Danielle Romero were the first to introduce me to this idea. They are amazing designers and I was fortunate to photograph some of their arrangements when working on my book, Idiot's Guides: Succulents.

When I arrived to photograph, they were just finishing up adding the top dressings to several succulent arrangements. It was so amazing to see the transformation of these arrangements as they carefully selected top dressings to coordinate with their succulents.

This combination of Graptoveria paraguayense with the purple top dressing in a purple pot was my favorite.

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I also loved these crazy Crassula marnieriana with a simple pink and grey pea gravel as the top dressing.

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There are many benefits to using a top dressing! Watch the video below for more information.

Benefits of Adding a Top Dressing

First, it helps keep the soil in place while you're watering. Especially if you're using an organic soil that has very small particles, the top dressing will help hold it all in place.

Second, it can help enhance the colors in your succulents, or compliment them. Often, I'll use a top dressing that includes subtle tones of the different succulents in my arrangement, helping pull all the elements together.

Third, it helps your arrangement look more professional and finished.  All of the succulent designers that I've worked with use some sort of top dressing to complete their arrangement. The most common finishing elements include various colors of rock and moss. There are a lot of different things you can use, so you're sure to find one that works for your arrangement.

Top dressings aren’t just for container arrangements either! My friend and succulent designer Laura Eubanks uses quite a few different types of rock for the various succulent landscape designs she creates. Covering up the soil beneath your succulents really improves the overall aesthetic of your design, and helps the succulent stand out and get noticed.

How to Add a Top Dressing

Adding a top dressing to your succulent arrangement is so simple.

After you've filled the pot with soil and plants, just pour the top dressing right on top of the soil.

Using these tweezers and bead scoop are helpful for small spaces. See the difference a top dressing made with this Echeveria ‘Lola'?

Adding these decorative rocks not only looks good, but it's functional too! The top dressing help keeps the soil in place when watering.

This prevents the arrangement from shifting very much over time. It can also reduce the amount of dust that flies up when you water.

Watch the video below to see the difference adding a top dressing can make when you're cleaning up a succulent arrangement!

While I loved this idea of using top dressings, I was surprised at how difficult it was to find a top dressing for succuelnts I loved that was easy to purchase. I've spent hours shopping online and locally for just the right thing.

When I couldn't find quite what I was looking for, I reached out to the fabulous Bonsai Jack for help. Sure enough, he was able to add a line of top dressings to his store. There are several different options to choose from.

I'm partial to the light pastel and bone white myself, but there are options from light to dark so you'll find something you love!

Should I removed a glued on top dressing?

It’s very common for succulent arrangements to come with pebbles on them. Lula's Garden does this to help their arrangements arrive perfectly intact.

Sometimes these are actually water soluble and will wear off over time, which is the case with Lula's Garden.  But other times… they aren’t.

You don’t need to break up the pebbles if you feel confident you can get water to the roots of the succulent. Otherwise, I would try to loosen up the pebbles and allow some areas for water to flow down to the roots better.

Succulents that are glued into place this way won’t have as much room to grow or spread out, and they can’t push up through the glue-down top dressing.

Another problem with a glued down top dressing is lack of air flow. The layer of glue makes it much more difficult for your soil to dry out because it limits the air flow around your succulent’s soil. It’s kind of like having a lid on a container you put in the fridge. Nothing gets in, and nothing gets out.

I want to point out that having a top dressing on your succulent arrangement is not a bad thing. It's mostly a problem if it's glued in place and preventing water penetration. I use top dressings on nearly all of my arrangements, and they're really awesome!

Top dressings really make a succulent arrangement look finished and professional. Once I discovered how awesome they were, every arrangement now gets one to finish it off.