Succulent plants: An overview

Succulents are surging in popularity because they are low-maintenance, low-water and cool to look at and collect. They grow well in containers and add year-round color and interest to frost-free gardens. Neglect them, and chances are they'll be fine. But your succulents will be more lush and will grow faster if you give them regular water, good soil, and bright but not harsh sunlight.


Common types

The succulent plants listed here are popular with designers and are readily available (or becoming so).
The photo that accompanies each is one example; other species will look different.

Aeonium 'Zwartkop' succulent plant. Aeonium -- Rosettes typically resemble big, fleshy-petalled daisies. Colors include green, yellow and garnet. Leaves of Aeonium 'Sunburst' are striped with yellow or cream. Aeonium 'Zwartkop', another show-stopper, is magenta-black. There exist many hybrids (like the Aeonium urbicum hybrid shown here). Some species are shrub-forming; all produce rosettes at the tips of ever-lengthening stems. Frost tender.

Agave parryi, succulents. Agave -- These rosette-shaped succulents are native to the Americas. There are dozens of species of agaves, including many that are small and beautifully suited to pot culture. Agave victoria-reginae is a favorite; it grows to the size of a soccer ball over time. With the notable exception of Agave attenuata, most agaves tolerate temperatures into the mid-20s F; some---such as Agave parryi 'Truncata' shown here---go much lower.

Aloes in bloom, succulent plants Aloe -- Dramatic flower spikes, mid-winter through spring, are hot hues of orange or yellow. This photo shows aloes in bloom at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in January. Gel-filled, tapered and serrated leaves of many aloes form starfish-like rosettes. Species range from a few inches in diameter to tall trees. Aloe arborescens, a common garden plant throughout Southern California, is an excellent fire-retardant succulent for wildfire-prone areas. Frost-tender.

Golden barrel cactus in landscape Cactus -- This general category refers to succulents---usually from desert climates---with spines, which are modified leaves that radiate from central points (aureoles). Some are columnar, others round or have pads. Small cacti suitable for pots have a huge following with collectors. Do consider using golden barrels (shown here) in your succulent garden; they are an unmatched textural enhancement. Many but not all cacti tolerate some frost.

Crassula perforata (stacked crassula) Crassula -- There are two main forms: branching and stacked. I chose a stacked crassula (Crassula perforata) to show here, but there are many lovely and unusual shrub-forming ones. Plain jade (Crassula ovata) is quite common; others are silvery gray, bright yellow, and variegated cream-and-green---often with red margins. Use jades as mounding shrubs and grow stacked crassulas, which are great cascaders, in terraces and hanging baskets. Frost tender.

Fancy ruffled echeverias (Dick Wright hybrids) Echeveria -- Those with tight rosettes tend to form hen-and-chicks clusters. Echeverias that resemble cabbages usually grow atop ever-lengthening stalks. Ruffled varieties like those in the photo are among the showiest of succulent plants. All are ideal for containers, in fact, I discourage people from growing echeverias in garden beds as the leaves are easily marred. Echeveia subrigida is among those that tolerate a few degrees below freezing.

Euphorbia tirucalli succulent plant Euphorbia -- This immense genus includes many nonsucculent plants; all have in common a milky sap that can be irritating, even toxic. Columnar species such as Euphorbia ingens suggest statuesque cacti. Unlike cacti, which have satiny flowers, those of euphorbias are beadlike. Designers like Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire' (shown here) which turns brilliant sunset hues. Droll Euphorbia obesa is a spherical succulent plant with subtle herringbone stripes. Frost tender.

Haworthia attenuata succulent plants Haworthia -- These windowsill succulent plants, which seldom get larger than a softball, thrive indoors and do well in pots. I don't recommend growing them in the garden as they readily sunburn and might be stepped on. Besides, it's a shame not to enjoy them close-up. Haworthias are easily hybridized---a hobby enjoyed by enthusiasts worldwide.

Mesembryanthemum (Lampranthus) ice plant in bloomIce plants -- These groundcover succulents have brilliant blooms; few sights can compare to a hillside massed with iceplant flowers. Ice plants need no mowing, require very little maintenance, and once established keep weeds at bay. Ice plants would make ideal lawn substitutes if they could tolerate foot traffic. But you can grow ice plants on steep, rocky slopes, something not possible with a lawn.

Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (supermarket kalanchoe) Kalanchoe -- These succulent plants are prized for their colorful or felted leaves and their flowers. Kalanchoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most common is Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (shown here), which is sold in supermarkets; numerous hybrids produce long-lasting blooms in crayon colors. Surging in popularity is Kalanchoe luciae; its paddle-like leaves are sometimes wavy, and turn from teal to bright red when grown in full sun. Frost tender.

Sedum rubrotinctum 'Pork and Beans' with Sedum spurium Sedum (stonecrop) -- These trailing succulent plants with stacked and concentric or bean-shaped leaves produce masses of star-shaped blooms in summer. Plant sedums in rock gardens and use them as fillers for containers and as ground covers. Unlike other genera of succulent plants, most sedums (especially smaller ones) prefer cool summers and winters and tolerate temperatures well below freezing.

Sempervivum tectorum succulent plant Sempervivum (hen and chicks) -- Like sedums, sempervivums are cold-climate succulent plants; they do not do well outdoors in the heat of a Southwest summer. Semps resemble echeverias but rosettes have thinner, pointed leaves and a more compact, spherical form. Most produce offsets that create appealing clusters. Tuck sempervivums into the niches of a rock wall and let them overflow the openings of a strawberry jar. Frost-tolerant.

Senecio mandraliscae succulent ground cover Senecio -- Groundcovers Senecio mandraliscae and Senecio serpens form drifts of blue and are striking juxtaposed with red- and orange-leaved succulent plants (such as Aloe cameronii or Euphorbia tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'). Let Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls), which has pea-like leaves, cascade from a dry fountain or birdbath; it'll suggest droplets of water. Most senecios will tolerate a few degrees below freezing.

This is the hand-out sheet that accompanied my presentation at the Succulent Celebration:

10 top succulents

Noteworthy Succulent Suppliers and Destinations in the San Diego Area
Updated Sept., 2014

In or near downtown
-- Carl Dykema's Exotic Gardens, San Diego, www.exoticgardens.biz
-- Green Gardens, Pacific Beach, www.sdgreengardens.com
-- Public garden: Along the canyon east of Balboa Park, adjacent to Park Boulevard south of the Zoo
-- Private garden by Michael Buckner in Pt. Loma, bayside end of McCall Street.
-- Pigment floral boutique and design shop, 3801 30th St., North Park

East County
-- Kniffing's Discount Nurseries, El Cajon, www.kniffingsnurseries.com
-- Public garden: Water Conservation Garden at Cuyamaca College, El Cajon, www.thegarden.org Extensive display gardens show residential landscaping ideas and solutions.
-- Planter Paradise. Largest supplier of pots in the San Diego area and the best prices. Small succulent nursery, too.

North County inland:

Bonsall:
-- Kat and Brad Dorfman’s KBD Nursery growing grounds. By appointment only, (714) 287-2014. www.kbdnursery.com. Twenty-two acres of succulents and tropicals.

Escondido:
-- Desert Theater, www.deserttheater.com. Nine acres of landscape succulents. Call owner Brandon Bullard to make sure he’ll be there, 760/594-2330.
-- Oasis Water Efficient Gardens, http://www.oasis-plants.com/index.php. Manager: Carmen Contreras. Display gardens, landscape plants, extensive assortment of succulents for containers.
-- Tropic World, Escondido, www.tropicworldnursery.com. Succulents and tropicals. Large selection of glazed pots in all colors.
-- Peter Walkowiak, Exotic Plant Sales & Landscape Design, www.peterwplants.com
Caudiciforms, unusual succulents and cacti. By appointment.
-- Waterwise Botanicals, http://waterwisebotanicals.com. Manager: Tom Jesch. Display gardens, large assortment of succulents for in-ground gardens and landscapes. 

Fallbrook:
-- Roja’s Succulents, 2005 E. Alvarado St. Rosalina Roja, owner. 760/429-9580
-- Serra Gardens, http://www.serragardens.com/. Don Newcomer, owner.

Rainbow:
-- Rare Succulents (Petra Crist), Rainbow, www.rare-succulents.com. Collectible cacti and succulents. By appointment only.

Rancho Santa Fe:
-- Rancho Soledad Nursery, Rancho Santa Fe, www.ranchosoledad.com. Twenty-five acres of succulents and tropicals for gardens and landscapes. Extensive selection.

Vista:
-- Grigsby Cactus Gardens, www.cactus-mall.com/grigsby/. Collectible cacti and succulents. Mostly mail order; hours are limited.
-- Rainbow Gardens, Vista, www.rainbowgardens-nursery.com Book store and greenhouses of exotic tropical cacti. Friday, Saturday and by appointment.

North County coastal:

Carlsbad:
-- Plantplay, www.plantplaynursery.com. Succulents and companion plants. Owner/designer Sergio Regalado.

Encinitas:
-- Barrels & Branches, Encinitas, www.barrelsandbranches.com
-- Glorious Gardens Design Center, Encinitas, http://agloriousgarden.com
-- Public garden: San Diego Botanic Garden, www.sdbg.org
The underwater-themed succulent garden designed by Jeff Moore and Bill Teague is near the administration offices, south of the main parking lot. Succulent plantings by region are northwest of the main parking lot.

Leucadia:
-- Gardens by the Sea, 1500 North Coast Highway, 760/840-0270, http://www.gardensbytheseanursery.com.
-- Leucadia Succulents, http://LeucadiaSucculents.com/

Oceanside:
-- Succulent Café, 322 N. Cleveland St. (760) 717-9612; Owner Peter Loyola

Solana Beach

Solana beach:
-- Chicweed floral design shop, Solana Beach. Melissa Teisl, co-owner/manager. www.chicweed.com
-- Solana Succulents, Solana Beach, www.solanasucculents.com Owned by garden designer/horticulturist Jeff Moore.

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulent plants in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog posts, newsletters, public speaking and workshops, photos, videos, merchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified. ~ Debra Lee Baldwin