Site Specific: Succulents

What's growing in your region, and how to care for it.


Southeast
As a child, I was fascinated by the ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense, Zones 8 to 11) my grandmother grew on her Mississippi porch. A slight bump would break off a few of the plump leaves, which miraculously grew into new plants when Grandmother stuck their broken bases in gravelly soil. Decades later, I am still fascinated by this neglect-tolerant succulent, also known as mother of pearl plant. The gray leaves look luminous alongside brighter bloomers, and because ghost plant develops ropy stems up to 14 inches long, it makes a fine choice for big tubs and troughs. Ghost plant easily survives the winter in Zone 8. In colder areas, keep it in a garage or other protected spot when freezing weather is expected. — Barbara Pleasant, Floyd, VA

Tips

  • Mature ghost plants that get a good winter chill often produce sprays of starry white flowers in spring.
  • Try sticking ghost plant stems into the pockets of a strawberry pot. For contrast, plant some of the pockets with blue lobelia or miniature pansies.
  • Crunchy ghost plant leaves are edible, and are a common salad vegetable in Taiwan.

What to do this season

  • Plant spring-flowering bulbs that tolerate summer heat, including daffodils, grape hyacinth, and society garlic.
  • Sow seeds of cosmos, larkspur, poppies, and other hardy annual wildflowers. Cover the seeded area with a light mulch of straw.
  • Plant big garlic cloves 4 inches deep and 6 inches apart. They will grow through winter and mature into bulbs in early summer.


Southwest
No one notices cholla (Cylindropuntia imbricata, Zones 7 to 10) until April, when it bursts into pink or yellow blooms, which then turn into yellow fruit. It’s also called chainlink cactus, walking stick cholla, or coyote candles. C. imbricata is striking in a home garden; it lends stature and a sculptural form even when not in bloom. At its feet, plant New Mexico agave (Agave parryi ssp. neomexicana, Zones 5 to 10), a gray-green succulent with impressive long needles at the tip of each broadleaf. (Be careful!) At about 2 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide, this agave makes a terrific drought-tolerant ground cover or a striking container plant. — Stephanie Hainsfurther, Albuquerque, NM

Tips

  • Both cholla and agave like sandy soil with some compost worked in during the first season. After that, keep the soil lean and fast-draining.
  • Agave leaves will get a bit puckered during winter. Water once a month.
  • Borer beetles will sometimes turn cholla into a dried-up stick. It’s easy to tell if it is infested before that happens—your neighborhood roadrunner will snack on the bugs. If beetles do kill the plant, de-needle it and carve it into a walking stick.

What to do this season

  • Trim tall ornamental grasses and perennials like artemisia and Russian sage to 6 inches from the ground.
  • Remove dead stalks from ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum. At this time of year, they will come loose from the plant with just a good tug.
  • Water trees once a month.


Pacific Northwest
Choose succulents for hot, sunny spots in the garden, but also choose them for color and texture. Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ (Zones 4 to 9) combines chunky rosettes of green leaves with a coating of bright pink summer flowers. Sedum cauticola ‘Lidakense’ (Zones 3 to 9) shows off blue-gray foliage edged in purple; its pink-red flowers make a late-summer entrance. Both sedums keep a low profile, growing only 2 to 4 inches tall (up to 6 inches with flowers). ‘John Creech’ looks sparse in winter but fills out well come spring. ‘Lidakense’ dies back to the ground in winter. Neither sedum grows much more than about 12 inches wide, so if you want them as ground covers, space plants 12 to 18 inches apart for good coverage. Both look wonderful in rock gardens and containers. Try each one alone in a shallow terra cotta pot or use them at the edge of a larger, mixed container where they can tumble over the side. — Marty Wingate, Seattle, WA

Tips

  • Water regularly until the plants are established.
  • Pull out unwanted grass and other weeds before they take a firm hold.
  • During the winter, shear off spent flowers of ‘John Creech’ and cut back ‘Lidakense’ to get ready for new growth.

What to do this season

  • Many marginally hardy plants, such as flowering maple and angels’ trumpets, can survive outside in their pots during mild winters. When long-term freezing weather approaches, move pots into an unheated garage.
  • Harvest leeks, cabbage, and other cold-weather vegetables.


Northeast
Succulents have adapted to adversity by developing a staggering array of forms and growth habits. Cobweb houseleeks (Sempervivum arachnoideum, Zones 4 to 8) closely resemble other types of hens and chicks, except that their rosettes appear to be wrapped in spider webs. Planted in a rock crevice, stone wall, or trough garden, cobweb houseleeks form tidy, tightly packed colonies. The plant’s rosettes die after flowering, but gaps are quickly filled. Flowers are pink, upward facing, and flattened. Some varieties display more webbing than others. S. arachnoideum ‘Rubrum’ has perfectly round, ½-inch diameter rosettes with a pinkish blush. ‘Clairchin’ has heavy webbing and slightly larger rosettes. — Kathleen LaLiberte, Richmond, VT

Tips

  • Grow cobweb houseleeks and other types of sempervivum in gritty, well-drained soil. For trough gardens, use a commercial cactus mix or make your own by adding builder’s sand to regular growing mix in a 1:2 ratio.
  • Though drought tolerant, most sempervivums prefer regular watering.
  • Use a table fork to thin out overcrowded colonies.

What to do this season

  • Grow a culinary herb. Most herb plants resent being grown indoors, but bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, Zones 8 to 11) makes an attractive, long-lived, easy-care houseplant. Start with a good-sized plant, as initial growth is relatively slow. Light, moisture-retentive soil is best. Use bay leaves to enhance soups, stews, poached fish, and cooked vegetables.


Midwest/Mountain
I’ve always been a fan of showy stonecrops. They are tough, drought-tolerant, low-maintenance plants that are truly showy for 11 months of the year. I had Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum) ‘Autumn Joy’ and H. ‘Indian Chief’ in my garden for decades, so when H. ‘Matrona’ (Zones 3 to 9) came on the market, I added it for some color contrast. The blue-green leaves with deep rose venation are borne on burgundy stems that reach 18 to 24 inches tall. From late summer through fall, it bears clusters of light-pink flowers. Other interesting cultivars: ‘Lynda Windsor’ with deep purple leaves and red blossoms; ‘Neon’ with green leaves and hot pink flowers; and ‘Stardust’ with pale green leaves and white flowers. — Cathy Wilkinson Barash, Des Moines, IA

Tips

  • Like its relatives, ‘Matrona’ is a magnet for bees and butterflies. It grows in full and part sun in well-drained soil.
  • Don’t deadhead this sedum—the seed heads add interest throughout winter. Prune back in spring.
  • As plants age, they die out in the center, which can cause flopping. Divide plant in spring and discard woody central area. Or trim the plant back in early summer to about 8 inches tall.

What to do this season

  • Consider spray painting some of the seed heads still in the garden for winter interest—gold, silver, or a pale color.