True grit and beauty can be a tough combination to achieve, especially in the garden. If you want unique, colorful, and textural plants that handle the heat and won't bust your water bill, look to the world of succulents.
Not to be confused with cacti, most of which require a true desert climate, succulents are supremely versatile, occurring naturally in a broad range of climates. High on style and substance, they are found in just about any size, shape, or color you can imagine. Once established, succulents are incredibly water-wise and require minimal care to look their best.
There is hardly a better plant for creating a dramatic focal point than the sculptural Agave. Hardy Agaves, especially those with silver-blue foliage, will steal the show in any landscape. Varieties of Agave americana and Agave ovatifolia offer up just such desirable foliage color. Agave grow large, so provide adequate space for them. They can also be planted in large containers and set into dense garden beds.
Mangaves, cousins of the Agave, are fleshy succulents that have the appearance of being a cross between Agaves and Manfredas. Their foliage is often purple or specked with burgundy spots. These large succulents make excellent specimen features in garden beds or large container specimens.
Dramatic and showy containers can also be created using a variety of smaller succulent plants. Because most succulents need to dry out a bit between watering and require good drainage, they are perfect for tucking into small containers that may not support thirstier plant material. Strawberry pots and other pocket planters make good homes. Graptopetalum paraguayense, also known as Ghost Plant, grows soft rosettes in shades of silver and lavender and makes a perfect container specimen. Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum spp.), which form star-shaped rosettes of foliage, are excellent in pots paired with Echeveria and Aeonium.
Succulents are the perfect garden solution for areas near concrete that suffer from reflected heat. Sedums are tough-as-nails succulents that make particularly excellent ground covers and edging plants. Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood' has small rosettes of burgundy foliage and a creeping growth habit. Sedum spurium 'John Creech' makes a low-maintenance ground cover, while Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce' is perfect for growing over a retaining wall.
As an added bonus, succulents are one of the few groups of plants you can plant during this intensely hot time of year. Most thrive in sunny conditions but will also tolerate late-afternoon shade. Good drainage is key for all succulents, so amend soil with organic matter and decomposed granite, or use a loose potting mix in your containers. Be sure not to overwater your succulents, and you'll enjoy a gorgeous and low-maintenance garden year-round.
- Succulentopedia: Browse succulents by Scientific Name, Common Name, Genus, Family, USDA Hardiness Zone, Origin, or cacti by Genus
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