Succulent gardening appears to be increasing in popularity among home gardeners. Succulents are a diverse collection of plants, found in a variety of sizes, colors, growth habits, textures, and environmental tolerances. Most are disease and pest-resistant. They are useful for container arrangements, rock gardens, or interspersed throughout ornamental gardens.
Succulents are sometimes classified by the environmental conditions that they thrive in: Xerophytes (arid-loving) or Halophytes (salt-loving). It is difficult to use this classification method, because many succulents are adapted to both environmental conditions. In addition, both Xerophytes and Halophytes may be found within the same family.
It is also important to note that not all Xerophytes or Halophytes are succulents. This makes classification by botanical family easier. Although there are over 60 families that contain succulents, the most popular succulents found in Zone 7 home gardens belong to one of the following:
Agavaceae – Agaves and Yuccas
These larger succulents have elongated leaves with a spiny tip. The flowers grow from a long stalk in the center of a central rosette. Among easy-to-find agaves in Zone 7 are Agave univittata ‘Quadricolor’ and A. victoriae-reginae ‘Queen Victoria’. Yucca gloriosa var. recurvifolia ‘Walbristar’ (Yucca ‘Bright Star’) and Hesperaloe parviflora ‘Perpa’ (Y. ‘Brakelights’) are harder to locate in the Southeast, but either will make a striking addition to your landscape if you can find it. Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ is readily available.
Aizoaceae – Ice Plants
This is a large family of plants, and many do not generally thrive in Zone 7. However, Aizoaceae species referred to as ice plants, do quite well. They are cold hardy and tolerate a range of environmental conditions. One of my favorites is Trailing Mezoo™ Red (Aptenia cordifolia). Ice plants are drought tolerant and prolific fillers and trailers that bloom all summer.
Asphodelaceae – Aloes
Most Aloe species have fleshy leaves arranged in rosettes. Some species appear as branched stems with fleshy leaves. Still others lack stems, with the rosette growing at ground level. Flower clusters are found in a range of colors and shapes. The most common heirloom variety is Aloe ‘Barbadensis Miller’, or true Aloe vera. Leaves may be green, gray, striped, or mottled. Also in this family are red-hot pokers or torch lilies (Kniphofia spp.), which have become increasingly popular in recent years.
Apocynaceae – Dogbanes and Oleanders
This diverse family includes tropical and subtropical ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, and vines. Many members of this family have toxic leaves – hence the name dogbane or dog poison. Leaves are absent in many species. Some of the most beautiful Zone 7 blooms claim membership in this family, including Nerium oleander, and species of Mandevilla, Hoya and Vinca.
Bromeliaceae – Bromeliads and Air Plants
This is a large family of exotic plants, many of which sport long, colorful leaves and an array of spectacular bracts (flowers). Several are epiphytic – that is, they grow upon trees – anchoring to the bark and drawing nutrients from the atmosphere. An epiphyte native to Georgia is Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Bromeliads grown outdoors are annuals in Zone 7. They are generally disease and pest resistant and are found in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors.
Cactaceae – Cacti
Because members of this family are adapted to dry climates, they are extremely drought tolerant. They have sharp spines or needles instead of leaves, and they conserve water in fleshy stems and branches. Cacti have showy blooms in a myriad of colors. If soil is properly conditioned, several species of hardy cactus will grow well in Zone 7. Pincushion cactus (Mammillaria spp.), hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii) and prickly pear (Opuntia basilaris and other species) will thrive in this area, as will barrel cacti (Echinocereus and Ferocactus spp.).
Crassulaceae – Sedums, Hens and Chicks, and Stonecrops
Most sedums (Sedum spp.) are easily maintained and hardy in Zone 7. They are available in a wide variety of colors, textures, and growth habits, and many named cultivars are available. Hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.) are easy-to-grow perennials that are both prolific and cold hardy. They grow close to the ground in rosette fashion. Also popular as either annuals or houseplants are the stonecrops (Escheveria spp. and Kalanchoe spp.). Stonecrop leaves are fleshy and arranged in rosettes. The leaf varies in shape, color, and size. They cannot tolerate high heat and are not cold hardy. Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi ‘Variegata’ is an especially beautiful cultivar.
Euphorbiaceae – Spurges
Some succulents are members of the Euphorbia genus. The common name for this diverse group of plants is spurge. Based on appearance and shared adaptations, some are often mistaken for cacti. Others can be deciduous or evergreen, herbaceous or woody, annual or perennial. Flowers are simple, but stunningly beautiful.
Succulent garden design can accommodate a variety of preferences. You are sure to find succulents to fit your needs. Happy Gardening!
Editor's Note: Cherokee County Master Gardeners are hosting a free webinar on "Living with Snakes in Georgia" on July 30, from noon to 1 p.m. with a knowledgeable herpetologist making the presentation. This could benefit everyone in identifying nonvenomous snakes in their yard. To register, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/living-with-snakes-in-north-georgia-registration-151656429463