By Susan Albert
Succulents often are overlooked as outside landscaping choices. But with the heat and humidity of Oklahoma and Texas summers, the fleshy plants just make sense.
Succulents, which include cacti, love hot and dry conditions. While most people have one or two succulents as houseplants, they can be stunning in creative containers, in a rock garden, dish garden, or intermingled with other water-wise plants.
Many succulents cannot tolerate temperatures below 40°F, however. So if you want to leave the plants outside during the winter, it’s important to pay attention to their hardiness zones. Good ones that are hardy in the South Central region include:
- Sedums such as ‘Neon’, ‘Brilliant’, and 'Autumn Joy' — the clumping, late-blooming succulents that bring color and butterflies to the fall garden. They thrive in a sunny, dry location, such as a rock garden, or with other drought-tolerant perennials.
- Ice plant (Delosperma) — low growing, it forms a dense mat of 2-inch flowers in a rainbow of colors that bloom for an extended period. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil; evergreen.
- Hen and chicks (Sempervivum) — grows close to the ground, forms rosettes that produce offspring, or “chicks” that easily root. Showy in bicolors, red, and green.
- Sedum 'Angelina' — spreading low-growing, needlelike golden-yellow foliage that is evergreen; yellow flowers in late summer.
- Sedum Sunsparkler ‘Cherry Tart’ — grows 6 inches high, spreads 18 inches. Grow in full sun, produces pink flowers in late summer.
- Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) — rock garden plant native to central and west Texas; deep-rose-pink flowers on 4- to 6-ft tall spikes attract hummingbirds. Grow in full sun, evergreen.
- Century plant (Agave) — Agave plants can be striking in a modern container or as a focal point in the landscape, especially surrounded by other succulents. Many of the varieties have spines or sharp leaf edges, so be careful! Some agave plants are hardy to Zone 5, but this dwarf variegated agave is hardy in Zones 9 to 11.
While not hardy, succulent annuals such as moss rose (Portulaca) reseed easily. They’re famous for drought tolerance and flourishing in poor soils. The spreading plant features semi-double flowers that open with the sun.
Trailing succulents, such as burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum), string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus), and string of bananas (Senecio radicans), look great in hanging baskets.
Decorate fairy gardens with miniature or slow-growing succulents. Add miniature houses, toadstools, tiny furniture, decorative rocks, etc., to create a small world. Use discarded birdbath bowls or other shallow containers.
Christmas and Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera cultivars) can spend the summer outdoors on a covered porch or under a shady tree. They do not tolerate full sun. Bring them inside after cooler fall temperatures and shorter days have instigated bud formation. However, be sure to get them in before a frost!
For a succulent collection that must winter inside, try rolling them out on a garden cart for the summer.
For pot culture, plant succulents in pea gravel or packaged cacti mix. Repurposed items make great containers, as do bowls, wagons, and wood containers. Choose a pot that holds at least 1 to 2 inches of soil. Drainage holes in the bottom of the pot are preferred; otherwise, line the bottom with gravel or rocks before adding the cacti mix. Plant a variety of succulents in different colors and shapes. Enjoy!