It seems like everyone has developed a thirst for succulents—those plants with exotic shapes and diverse forms that are easy to maintain and create a bold statement wherever they grow. Even beginning gardeners are tempted to buy one or two out of curiosity, with some getting hooked after seeing how beautiful and manageable they are.
Many of the uninitiated take a look at a bed of succulents and refer to them as Hens and Chicks (Sempervivums). There are hundreds—thousands—of others that aficionados collect, trade, share, and discuss in person and online. Some people love them because they are so easy to propagate—just take a snip, let callous over, and plant in the ground or in a container.
In regions that have been affected by drought or practice water-wise landscaping, succulents are a gorgeous and simple addition to the garden. They also thrive on patios, decks, and balconies, and make smart choices for pool area landscaping.
Planting the Right Succulents
Things you should know before you get started:
- Succulents require more water in summer. If you live in a region with little rainfall, plan to water in-ground succulents once a week. Those in containers will require water about three times per week.
- Reduce irrigation in fall and winter so that succulents can withstand lower temperatures. Soggy soil and soft, new growth make succulents more susceptible to damage from freezes.
- What grows best in your region? If you aren't sure, buy from local suppliers: nurseries, succulent plant groups, botanical gardens, etc. This will ensure that they will survive.
- While all-succulent gardens are attractive, start out by working them into your existing landscape. Discover some of the best companion plants for succulents.
Learn more about these easy-to-care-for beauties, including how to pronounce them (so you can impress everyone). And remember: cactus are succulents, but succulents are not cactus. Species are presented alphabetically.
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Traits: These natives of North Africa's Canary Islands prefer more moisture than most succulents. Darker ones, like the purple/black Aeonium 'Zwartkop', can tolerate sun more than the lighter varieties. Many aeoniums are in the forms of flowers and rosettes, making them especially pretty in container gardens or even cut bouquets or arrangements.
- Black Aeonium: Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop'
- A. artropurpureum
- Kiwi Aeonium: A. decorum "Kiwi'
- Canary Island aeonium: A. canariense
- Sunburst Aeonium: A. 'Sunburst'
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Traits: Native to the Americas, in-ground specimens grow more quickly and produce more blooms than their cousins confined to containers. Easily identifiable by their strong forms and large sizes—they make striking landscape plants. Leaves can be smooth, sword-shaped, toothed, or carried in rosettes. Blooms are infrequent but can be magnificent and huge--sometimes 14 feet or more. After flowering, the larger agaves die, but offshoots or pups usually form before this occurs.
- Tuxedo Agave: Agave americana
- Fox Tail Agave: A. attenuata; 'Kara's Stripes'
- A. 'Blue Flame'
- A. 'Cream Spike'
- A. filifera
- A. lopantha 'Quadricolor'
- Parry's Agave or Artichoke Agave: A. parryi
- Butterfly Agave: A. potatorum 'Kissho Kan' or 'Kichi-Jokan'
- Queen Victoria Agave: A. victoriae-reginae
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Traits: Native to Africa, the Mediterranean, Madagascar, aloes have fleshy, pointed leaves often arranged in rosettes that resemble agaves. Aloes, however, have showy flowers that bloom regularly, with the biggest display of flowers from February to September. Some blooms are tubular shaped and come in shades of orange, red, or yellow, while others are bicolor.
Aloes can be just a few inches high to as tall as trees, with leaves that are either smooth, bumpy, or prickly. It's those leaves that help funnel water down to the plant's crown, keeping it moist and succulent. Aloes prefer more water than agaves and other succulents. Their roots are fairly close to the surface, making them ideal next to houses or near pools.
- Aloe africana
- A. arborescens
- A. plicatilis
- A. striata
- A. vera
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Traits: Native to South Africa, this large genus features small-to-medium succulents that have fleshy leaves arranged in a variety of patterns. Some crassula have branching stems, while others have are low-growing plants with dense foliage that are often good ground covers.
Continue to 5 of 13 below.
- Jade: Crassula ovata
- Crassula argentea
- C. falcata
- C. cooperi
- C. deltoidea
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Traits: Although they more closely resemble a palm, this species surprises some people when they learn that they are actually succulents. Popular in xeriscape gardens, they have a southwestern look, and many have green, greyish, or blue-green strap-like leaves with small, sharp teeth that line the leaf edges. Small trunks can become woody, which makes them appear even less like succulents.
These striking succulents like some water, but will grow in desert and drought-tolerant gardens and make attractive container plants.
- Mexican Grass Tree: Dasylirion longissimum or D. quadrangulatum
- Desert Spoon: D. wheelerii
- Texas Sotol D. texanum
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Traits: Native to the southwestern United States and Baja California, Dudleya is another species that also has a lovely flower, rosette shape, and pattern, with fleshy "petals" in green, red, purple, grey, or a mix. They are sometimes confused with Echeverias, although have completely opposite growing seasons. The white and grey varieties are often covered with a chalky powder, which can wash off or get pitted or spotted when it rains. That's why this type is best kept under a patio or pergola cover.
During the summer, these succulents are dormant and prefer to be kept dry. These easy-to-care-for plants will grow on slopes, in decomposed granite (DG), in rock gardens, and in various types of containers. Flowers emerge on long stalks in shades of red, pink, yellow, and white, and attract hummingbirds.
- Dudleya brittonii
- D. cymosa
- D. edulis
- D. lanceolata
- Chalk Live Forever: D. pulverulent
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Traits: Native to the Americas, these succulents form beautiful, intricate rosettes in a variety of colors: white, grey, green, pink, and red. Leaves are fleshy and green or grey-green.
- Echeveria elegans
- Echeveria imbricata
- E. derenbergii
- E. haageana
- E. pulvinata
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Traits: Also known as spurge, there are more than 1,000 species in the euphorbia family. Some resemble cactus, others are globe-shaped, and some make striking accents in the garden. Probably the best-known euphorbia is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), which can be grown into shrubs or trees in mild climates.
Continue to 9 of 13 below.
- Euphorbia echinus
- E. burmannii
- E. characias 'Humpty Dumpty'
- E. grandicornis
- E. ingens
- E. lactea
- E. horrida
- E. mammilllaris
- E. milii 'Crown of Thorns'
- E. obesa
- E. obovalifolia
- E. submammilaris
- E. tirucalli 'Sticks on Fire'
- E. x martini
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Traits: Native to Mexico and the southwestern United States, most of the graptopetalum species are fleshy white or light grey succulents that form beautiful rosettes. Unlike other succulents, graptopetalum can survive a freeze and can revive after being in temperatures below 20 degrees. In the garden, it is a great-performing ground cover, and also can be used in rock gardens, on rocky slopes, spilling over garden walls, or in containers or hanging planters.
Graptoverias are hybrids of graptopetalums and echeverias, some of which are similar in color and form (rosette). The most popular types are G. 'Fred Ives' and G. 'Opalina'.
- Ghost Plant: Graptopetalum paraguayense
- Graptopetalum amethystinum
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Traits: These natives to South Africa are quite succulent and are filled with a translucent gel that resembles that produced by the Aloe vera. Depending on the type, they can vary in size, and colors range from green to brown to variegated, like the Zebra Plant (Haworthia attenuata). Most prefer shade or dappled sunlight and grow during the winter in mild climates. Too much water or moisture can kill them.
- Zebra Plant: Haworthia attenuata
- H. angustifolia
- H. batesiana
- H. coarctata
- H. cooperi
- H. cymbiformis
- H. reinwardtii
- H. 'Slices'
- H. tessellata
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Traits: Native to tropical America, Africa, and southeast Asia, these succulents don't tolerate frost and prefer a moist climate. Leaves can be smooth or felted (felt plant); while flowers are often showy and come in shades of yellow, red, orange, pink, and white.
- Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (Flap jack, dog tongue plant)
- K. beharensis
- K. blossfeldiana
- K. tomentosa
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Traits: These succulents have fleshy leaves, but their size, shape, and color vary among the species. Some are bush and upright, while others are small and trailing. Flowers are small, starlike, and bloom in clusters. Sedums grow well in rock gardens, on banks, or in small areas that need texture or color. Larger species can be used as shrub-like plants.
Continue to 13 of 13 below.
- Sedum alboroseum 'Frosty Morn'
- S. anglicum
- Autumn Joy: S. herbstfreude
- S. 'Blue Spruce'
- Burro Tail: S. burrito
- Dragon's Blood: S. 'Dragon's Blood'
- S. multiceps
- S. 'Vera Jameson'
- S. pachyphyllum
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Traits: Native to the Americas and Mediterranean regions, Senecio comes from the daisy family. There are about 100 succulent species, including the popular blue chalk or fingers that are used for borders and edges in drought tolerant landscaping. The beautiful Fishhooks species is easy to grow, requires little water, and makes an attractive hanging plant, especially in dry climates.
- Senecio mandraliscae
- Fishhook Plant, String of Fishhook, or String of Bananas: Senecio radicans
- Blue Chalk Sticks or Chalk Fingers: S. serpens
- Himalayan Senecio: S.talinoides spp. cylindricus
- String of Pearls or Beads: S.rowleyanus