By Jodi Torpey
It seems that gardeners have finally rediscovered the vibrant beauty of succulents. These durable treasures, with their diverse forms, palette of colors, and interesting textures, should be appreciated as little works of art.
Perhaps the renewed interest in succulents has to do with their easy-to-grow nature. Once rooted in the dry garden, these tough plants require little moisture because their fleshy leaves and stems are meant to hold water. Even under the most difficult landscape conditions, succulents can last for years.
Many succulents are low-growing groundcovers, like Sempervivum (hen and chicks). Other types, like ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, can grow to 12–24 inches tall. These water-wise plants prefer rocky, well-drained soil and gravel mulch.
Ice plants (Delosperma) are some of the most popular low-maintenance succulents for a water-wise garden. Despite their chilly-sounding name, ice plants are known for standing up to heat and dry conditions.
Despite obvious neglect, the large patch of hardy yellow ice plants (Delosperma nubiginum), spotted growing near a shopping center parking lot, glowed brilliantly in spring. Yellow flowers cover the rounded, bright-green foliage, which form a tight mat throughout the rocky sunbaked corner.
Yellow is just one of ice plant’s many flower colors, which also include pale lavender, red, purple, and dark fuchsia. The evergreen foliage often turns an attractive deep red in winter.
Sedum plants (also called stonecrop) are an especially large group of colorful succulents. To get the most from these tiny ornamentals, plant an assortment in rock gardens, difficult-to-water areas, along sidewalks and driveways, or in any well-draining container.
The mixture grows into a striking combination of foliage shapes and colors, many topped with masses of tiny flowers.
One of my favorite types of sedum is ‘Blue Spruce’ stonecrop. This drought-tolerant perennial groundcover has pinelike blue-green foliage that resembles the needles of its namesake tree.
Over a few years ‘Blue Spruce’ has slowly crept over and through a stacked rock planting bed to create a colorful living carpet. It looks good through all four seasons but shines in early spring.
What challenging dry areas in your landscape could use some of these hardy succulents?