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How to Grow and Care for a Purple Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi)

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Delosperma cooperi, commonly called Purple Ice Plant, is native to South Africa. It typically forms a vigorous, succulent, spreading, evergreen ground cover in warm winter areas. This is a succulent, mat-forming plant that typically grows up to 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall and spreads quickly to 2 feet (60 cm) or more. Daisy-like, bright red-purple flowers up to 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, cover the plant with bloom from mid to summer. The neon-like intensity of the flower color and length of bloom greatly enhance the ornamental interest of these plants. The leaves are fleshy, cylindrical and medium green in color. Foliage is covered with transparent flakes that somewhat resemble tiny pieces of ice, hence the common name.

Genus name comes from the Greek words “delos”, meaning “evident” and “sperma”, meaning “seed” in reference to the exposed seeds. Specific epithet honors English gardener Thomas Cooper (1815-1913) who collected plants in South Africa from 1859 to 1862.

The drought tolerance of Purple Ice Plant makes it useful for xeriscaping. Naturals for rock gardens, these succulents can also be planted between the stones in a dry-wall stone retaining wall. Purple Ice Plant, which spreads more vigorously than some types, makes a good groundcover.

Growing Conditions

This succulent is indigenous to South Africa, where it is an evergreen. Belying its origin, this hardy perennial can be grown in USDA zones 5-9. At the northern end of this range, however, note 2 things:

  1. Winter hardiness is not a given. Purple Ice Plant may not survive a difficult winter in USDA zone 5.
  2. Its leaves will not be evergreen, even if it does survive. Treat it as an herbaceous perennial.

Planting it in full sun and in a superbly well-drained soil are critical steps to growing this sun-loving ground cover successfully. Avoid planting in a clayey soil unless you are willing to improve percolation there with soil amendments. Purple Ice Plants are drought-resistant plants and do not require rich soils, but they hate to be sitting in water.

Despite their resistance to drought and dislike of wet feet, they will profit from an occasional watering in the heat of summer, as long as the drainage is excellent.

General Care

It is not so much cold weather in USDA zone 5 that will kill Purple Ice Plant as it is freezing temperatures combined with wet conditions. Thus it is more likely to survive in a USDA zone 5 region with an arid climate.

Reduce watering in fall to help harden it off for winter, as cold will be less likely to damage the succulent leaves if they are not quite so full of water.

Propagation

Propagate by seed or by softwood cuttings in spring or summer.

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