Water Sipp’n Succulents

Dramatic plants that beat the Southern heat.

by Charlie Thigpen    Photography by Chuck St. John

may succulents

These thick-leaved plants are the camels of the garden world. Yep, succulents can go several days in the sweltering heat without a drink.   Plus, they seem to have a will of their own.   I recently found that  “Lemon Ball” sedum is so hardy that it can exceed speeds of 70 miles per hour.  A few pieces of this chartreuse sedum fell off plants I was hauling and rooted into the bed of my truck!   So if you’re looking for attractive but tough, drought-tolerant plants that you can put in your landscape, or in the bed of your truck, give succulents a try.

What’s a Succulent?

They are plants that have adapted to survive arid locations on limited quantities of water. Most originated in tropical, desert and sub-tropical regions. They’re known for their unique shapes and forms.  Many succulents have thick, rubbery leaves, and some, such as cactus and agave, sport sharp spines.

Some succulents creep on the ground and trail down walls or from planters. Others are more upright and create sculptural mounds or geometrical shapes. Agave, aloe, cacti, sedum, Crassula Echeveria, Euphorbia, Kalanchoe and Sanseveria are just a few succulents available in the trade.

Where to Grow

Most succulents prefer bright, sunny locations, but many perform well in part-shade or dappled light.  They can be planted in the ground, but must have a well-drained soil. Our heavy clay soil tends to retain too much moisture during rainy periods, causing succulents to stay wet and rot.  When planting in the ground, be sure to amend the soil to make it more porous by using gravel and soil conditioner.

Succulents work well in planters.  Their foliage is so interesting that it can be used to create a focal point.  Fill a small, shallow planter with succulents to make an interesting centerpiece for an outdoor tablescape.  And groupings of succulent-filled planters allow you to showcase all the different shapes, colors and heights that these hardy plants offer.

Great Combinations

Flap Jack Kalanchoe or paddle plants have big, bold, round green leaves edged in reddish brown.  New selections of this Kalanchoe such as “Fantastic” or “Watermelon” have green, cream, red and pink marbled foliage that doesn’t look real.   Partner one of these big-leafed selections, “Flap Jack,” “Fantastic” or “Watermelon,” with low-growing, creeping selections of sedum, such as “Blue Spruce,” “John Creech” and “Lemon Ball.”

Try a few of these easy-to-grow, intriguing plants for a great summertime treat.  They won’t wilt when you neglect them in July and August, and they’ll perform best on hot summer days  when most plants are wilting. Succulents are so popular because they go light on the water but big on looks and hardiness.  •

Charlie Thigpen is a horticulturalist and the owner of Garden Gallery in Pepper Place.

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