Published on 07/13/07

Succulents overcome summer, winter, water stresses

By Bodie Pennisi
University of Georgia

The summer heat and water restrictions seem to affect gardeners and gardens alike: they make us wilt right along with our plants.

Naturally, we wish we'd planted more heat- and drought-tolerant plants. If they happen to be winter-hardy too, so much the better.

Fortunately, you can find such garden winners among the succulent plants. Good examples are Sedum (stonecrop), Sempervivum (houseleek, hen and chickens), Delosperma (ice plant) and Agave (century plant).

Many of these species and other cold-hardy succulents are excellent ornamentals that do well in diverse growing conditions. They're ideal selections for the low-maintenance home landscape.

Most succulents do best when you plant them in full sun to partial shade in well-drained soils. These plants are especially averse to wet places in winter.

Water savers

As their name implies, succulents store water in their leaves and stems, so irrigation is seldom necessary after you get them established in their proper planting areas. These plants are naturally very adaptable to extended periods of drought.

Succulents aren't heavy feeders. One to two applications of fertilizer in the spring and early summer are enough to keep it growing and healthy.

As a bonus, these plants take on a range of subtle to intense color variations at times, such as during active growth and winter dormancy. These changes just add to their visual appeal.

Sedums and sempervivums have many ornamental uses in the garden. They're wonderful in a rock garden or alpine planting or for bare slopes with poor soil. Besides the appeal of their foliage, many sedum cultivars boast white, yellow, pink, or red flowers.

Succulents can be used as edging plants for walkways and front border accents in perennial beds, where they weave their foliage with adjacent plants to add an amazing textural richness.

Last, but not least, succulents can grace containers of all sorts and sizes.

Many stonecrop and hen and chickens species look very different. Leaf colors range from lime green to burgundy to purple. And size varies from less than quarter of an inch to a foot across. Foliage can be thin and spiky or thick and rounded with a pointed tip.

Some winners

There are some notable hardy Sedum selections. One is Sedum 'Akebono,' a low-growing plant with spring flushes of cream-colored new foliage that changes back to green as the season progresses and then flushes again in the fall.

Sempervivum 'Oddity' is another low-growing succulent with a green, tubular leaves tipped in burgundy.

Another succulent species, Echeveria, offers the cultivar, "Topsy Turvy," with waxy, silver, tubular leaves with an interesting, lengthwise fold. This plant is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture Zone 8.

Delosperma cooperii (hardy ice plant) is a low-growing evergreen perennial with small, medium-green leaves. Pink blooms cover the plant from early spring to first frost.

And finally, Delosperma nubigenum (yellow ice plant) is an excellent ground cover. It features brilliant yellow flowers and bright green, jellybean foliage spreading to form solid mats.

(Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension floriculturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.