Serious about succulents: Drought-tolerant additions to landscapes, containers

Hens-and-chicks with sedum. Photo courtesy Atlanta Botanical Gardens Gainesville

By Pamela A. Keene
Have you thought about planting succulents in your landscape or in containers to bring a bit of variety to your garden?
“Succulents have become a popular trend recently,” says Mildred Fockele, executive director of Atlanta Botanical Garden Gainesville. “They’re low-maintenance, heat-tolerant and are available in many different varieties.”
Characterized by thick, fleshy leaves, succulents store water and can survive extreme drought conditions. Most people are familiar with cacti and aloe, but there are many other types of succulents that can do well in Northeast Georgia and are available in many colors and textures. Some even have blooms.
“Succulents are grown for their foliage and occasionally for their flowers,” Fockele says. “The most important thing to consider is whether they are cold-hardy for our area. Generally, our part of North Georgia is in Zone 7A, but this may vary depending on if you live in an area that has micro-climates.”
The varieties of succulents offer many choices, including hens-and-chicks, agave, kalanchoe, sedum and stonecrop, plus cacti and yucca.
“Box retailers receive large shipments of succulents in the spring, and that’s just the right time to plant them in your garden,” she says. “Groupings of succulents planted in containers add interest to your landscape, deck or patio.”
It’s common to plant multiple types of succulents in the same container, using a larger variety as the focal point, then adding smaller cultivars to fill in.

“Succulents can be used in rock gardens in a well-drained, sunny part of your yard,” she says. “Think about creating a rock garden close to your patio or sidewalk, so that it’s visible to visitors. It can be a great conversation starter because of all the unusual colors and forms of succulents.”
Among the choices: Hens-and-chicks, a common rosette-shaped succulent that has a rosette form and reproduces smaller plants clustered around the main plant. “They are easy to grow and most are cold-hardy in our area,” she says. “Sedum, which tend to be low-growers, is available in hardy varieties that can be left outdoors in place over the winter. It has small blooms that add interest.”
Another succulent that’s similar in appearance, Kalanchoe grows more upright and has larger flowers. It’s more showy than some types of sedum, but it’s not hardy enough to overwinter.

“If you’re interested in blooms, one of my favorites is dela spurma, also known as ice plant,” she says. “It has small, plump foliage and brightly-colored blossoms that repeat bloom all summer. It’s a good ground cover or addition to a rock garden.”
Yucca, with its spear-like leaves, can be a good addition to a landscape. “We have some at the entrance to the garden here and people always comment on the beautiful clusters of white bell-shaped bloom clusters,” Fockele says. “If you’re going to use them in your landscape, be careful about where you plant them because the points of the leaves are very sharp.” They’re evergreen and are available in green and variegated varieties.
“As succulents grow in popularity, gardeners have many more options for where and how to use them,” she says. “Just be mindful to read the labels to determine if they will be winter-hardy here. If there’s a succulent you really love that’s not, and you want to plant it outdoors, be prepared to either bring them indoors, or treat them as annuals. Some are so inexpensive that you can afford to simply replace them next year.”

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