There are many genera and species that carry the common name of ice plant. Two of the most popular genera are Lampranthus and Delosperma. These plants are warm-weather perennials with brightly colored flowers. The name ice plant derives from tiny hairs on the plant that reflect light in a manner that resembles ice crystals. The foliage is fleshy and succulent-like, and it morphs into a darker color as fall temperatures drop. In warm regions, many types of ice plants are evergreen.
Click Play to See How to Grow and Care for Ice Plants
Ice plants can take the form of everything from a spreading ground cover to a bushy subshrub, depending on the type. They typically begin blooming in spring and continue throughout the growing season. In sunny areas, some types flower virtually all summer long. Ice plants are best planted by mid-summer in cooler climates, but in hot climates fall planting is preferred. In general, the species have a fast growth rate.
|Common Name||Ice plant|
|Botanical Name||Delosperma spp., Lampranthus spp.|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||3–6 in. tall, 12–24 in. wide (depends on variety)|
|Soil Type||Dry, sandy, well-drained|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Pink, red, purple, yellow, orange, bi-color and tri-color varieties|
|Hardiness Zones||6–10, USA (depends on variety)|
Ice Plant Care
Ice plants are used in sunny but sheltered desert gardens, in rock gardens, on slopes, or as ground cover or edging plants. Individual plants often spread around 2 feet, though they occasionally can spread even more than that. They also work well as container plants that easily fill the top and eventually spill over the sides of the container.
Make sure your planting location has a lot of sun and fast-draining soil. Space plants 15 to 18 inches apart, as they will quickly spread to fill the empty space. Each spring, prune out any winter-killed stems.
Ice plants prefer full sun, which allows them to flower profusely. Sun-starved plants tend to get leggy with weak growth. Be sure to provide them with at least six hours of direct sunlight.
Dry soil with excellent drainage is essential for an ice plant. The plant will suffer under conditions that are constantly moist, and it won't grow at all in dense clay soil. Sandy and gravelly soils are ideal for this plant. The soil does not need to be rich in nutrients.
Once established, water your ice plant sparingly during the growing season. One watering every two weeks should be sufficient during periods when there is no rainfall, though a weekly watering might be necessary during hot weather. Let your ice plant dry out before winter, so it's not sitting in soil that is too moist. If snow cover is likely in your area, mulch the ice plant with a dry mulch, such as straw, to keep it dry for the winter.
Temperature and Humidity
All types of ice plant, including the "hardy" varieties, are sensitive to cold temperatures. Be sure to check the hardiness range for any new ice plant you'd like to grow as a perennial. If you live in a snowy climate, winter mulching might be recommended. They grow best in dry climates.
It can be helpful to add compost or a slow-release fertilizer made for flowers, following label instructions, when planting. Ice plants can also do well with no feeding whatsoever. However, container-grown ice plants are likely to need feeding, as the soil nutrients in pots becomes depleted more quickly than garden soil. Weak growth or a lack of blooms can be signs that feeding is necessary.
Types of Ice Plants
There are several types of ice plants, including:
- Delosperma brunnthaleri: This is a hardy ground cover that grows around 2 inches tall and 2 feet wide with yellow flowers. It's suitable for zones 4 to 9.
- Delosperma floribundum 'Starburst': This is a mat-forming cultivar that has pink flowers with white centers. It's suitable for zones 6 to 8.
- Delosperma cooperi: This plant features magenta flowers and grows around 3 to 6 inches tall. It's suitable for zones 6 to 10.
- Lampranthus aurantiacus: This species has bright orange flowers and an upright growth habit, reaching around 15-18 inches high. It's suitable for zones 9 to 11.
- Lampranthus haworthii: This plant sports blue-green foliage and pink or purple flowers. It's suitable for zones 9 to 11.
Propagating Ice Plants
Ice plants can spread and self-seed to propagate naturally if you let them. Often, you'll find stems that have spread and rooted in the soil away from the parent plant. You can simply snip the stem and carefully dig up the newly rooted plant to transplant. They also are easily propagated by division. Not only will this result in a cost-effective new plant, but it also can help to revive a mature plant. The best time to divide a mature plant is in the spring. Here's how:
- Dig up the plant, avoiding as much damage to the roots as possible. It helps to moisten the soil beforehand to allow the roots to slide out more easily.
- Use a sharp spade to divide the plant in half at the roots.
- Replant each half in a suitable growing site at the same depth the original plant was growing. Gently pat down the soil, and lightly moisten it.
Aphids and mealybugs can be an occasional problem with ice plants. Look for leaf and stem damage and sticky or otherwise abnormal substances that these bugs leave behind on the plants. Treat small infestations by dabbing with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol.
How to Get Ice Plants to Bloom
Ice plant blooms vary by species. In general, ice plants feature showy, daisy-like flowers in an array of vivid colors with many narrow petals. They begin blooming in the spring, and their bloom period can last for weeks. Some species also might bloom for a second time later in the summer.
Deadheading, or removing the spent flowers, doesn’t typically have much of an effect on ice plants to promote more blooming. What does encourage blooming is providing ice plants with plenty of light. And while they don’t require rich soil, they might need a boost with a flower fertilizer or compost if you have very nutrient-poor soil.
Common Problems With Ice Plants
When grown in the proper conditions, ice plants generally aren't prone to problems. However, a subpar environment can result in some common issues.
Plant Leaves Falling Off
If you notice that the leaves and stems of your ice plant are withering and dying, that might be a sign of root rot due to overwatering. Soggy soil can rot the roots, and consequently the stems and foliage won't be able to get the moisture and nutrients they need. Make sure the soil dries out between waterings.
Yellowing ice plant leaves are another common consequence of overwatering. In addition to letting the soil dry out between waterings, make sure the plant has sharp soil drainage. If not, consider digging it up and relocating it before the excess soil moisture can seriously weaken or even kill the plant.
Do ice plants come back every year?
Ice plants are perennials, coming back each year, though their hardiness zones vary by species. Make sure to select a species that is perennial in your climate.
Are ice plants easy to care for?
Ice plants are generally low-maintenance additions to the garden. They don't need much watering or feeding, and they naturally have an attractive form.
How fast do ice plants grow?
Most ice plant species have a fairly quick growth rate, though some only have a moderate growth rate.