Low Growing Succulents

14 Jul

Earl Nickel,
Curious Plantsman

The world of succulents is immense and varied but one of the most popular uses for these drought tolerant denizens is as a low ground cover. Whether they are used as a low growing plant to cover a sunny bed, as a sturdy and beautiful plant to spill over a low terraced bed or even to fill in empty spaces between paving stones, there are choices that cover the spectrum of color, texture and form. This blog focuses on three genera for such uses – Sedums, Delospermas and Lampranthus, with one Aeonium added for spice. They are all available right now, giving you a wealth of choices for that bed you have in mind.

Stonecrops (Sedums)

Sedums offer an astonishing variety of form and color for use as a low, spreading succulent. Corsican Stonecrop (S. dasyphyllum major) features tightly packed little nubbins that are typically a bluish-green.

Growing to no more than 2-6” high by up to 15” across, it erupts in a froth of delicate star-shaped white blooms summer through fall. Dark tones appear in winter. Low and dense, it’s perfect for a dry garden or for colonizing areas between pavers.

Gray stonecrop (S. pachyclados). From a distance this versatile sedum resembles masses of tiny green scalloped flowers frosted with blue powder. Likewise low (2-4” tall) and spreading to 12” wide, this attractive sedum looks great scrambling between rocks, cascading from a crack in a wall or filling out a low water mixed container planting. In summer, white star-shaped flowers emerge, their ephemeral form creating a stunning contrast to the bold architectural leaves. Deciduous in colder areas, it returns reinvigorated in the spring.

If dark tones are your thing, the velvety plum-purple foliage of ‘Plum Dazzled’ stonecrop (S. rupestre ‘Plum Dazzled’) is the cat’s meow. The glossy, lotus-like clusters give an eye-popping charm to any sunny bed. Dainty raspberry-pink, star-shaped flowers add to this stonecrop’s allure. Use this dark beauty anywhere you want to add contrast to more subtle surrounding colors. As with nearly all sedums, this stonecrop is stingy on water use. It stays low (2-6” high) but spreads up to 18”.

On the other hand, Tricolor stonecrop (Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’) offers the loveliest subtle blend of greens and whites on spreading or cascading stems. But wait! In colder months, the small rosettes acquire a hot pink border, pumping up its dramatic appeal. Small, bright-pink flower clusters rise up above the foliage on short stalks for a showy summer display, perfect for attracting bees, butterflies & hummers! Give this and other stonecrops good drainage and a bit of occasional water for best results.

If quixotic charm appeals to you, then Jelly Beans stonecrop (S. rubrotinctum ‘Aurora’) is the perfect choice. They owe this common name to their charming plump and shiny leaves. An almost translucent lime green with rosy-red tips, they form tiny (4-8”) vertical clusters.

They are the perfect choice for covering a good-sized area, allowing the dazzling variation in color to create a pastiche of greens, pinks and reds. Tiny yellow summer flowers attract pollinators. It is easily propagated, readily growing roots from both stem cuttings and leaves.

Coppertone stonecrop (S. nussbaumerianum) offers bold coppery-orange foliage, its stubby fingers a bit larger than the other sedums mentioned here. It gets a bit taller (to 8”) and can spread out to two feet. It is best suited for spilling over a terraced bed or from a hanging basket. Its color is both striking and yet somehow soothing, perfect for adding contrast to nearby greens and grayish-blues. Clusters of lightly fragrant white flowers appear in spring. This hardy long lived perennial is also perfect for adding substance to any location and can be trained to spread out on flat ground or spill over an slightly elevated spot. It stays dense, making its vivid color all the more striking. Easily cut back to the desired size.

Ice Plants (Delospermas & Lampranthus)

There are a number of low growing succulents that have been given the common name ‘Ice plant’ but the two genera that are the most populous are Delosperma and Lampranthus.  Hot Pink ice plant (Delosperma ‘Hot Pink Wonder’) features wildly brilliant 1.25” flowers all summer. These rayed flowers display yellow centers surrounded by red petals tipped in magenta.

Easy, evergreen and very drought tolerant, this low grower (3-4” tall) makes the perfect ground cover or filler between paving stones. It gradually spreads to 2′ wide but is not invasive. Can be trimmed to use as edging too.

Love this plant but prefer red to pink? Delosperma ‘Red Mountain Flame’ produces a seemingly endless display of  2” daisy-like, intense scarlet red flowers, each with yellow centers and fringed in yellow. They perch atop a 2” high mat of gray-green, weed-suppressing foliage. Drought tolerant once established and virtually maintenance free, it can take heat, cold, salt spray, and attracts butterflies and bees!

The two Lampranthus selections we sell both offer brilliant color, from the incandescent orange of L. aureus ‘Orange Form’ to the blazing pink of L. species ‘Pink Kaboom.’ This ice plant is a bit taller (to 12”) but also spreads to as much as 2′. The spring into early summer flowers are even larger than those of Delosperma – a full 2.5 inches!

Drought tolerant and deer resistant, these selections are a great way to add eye-popping color to a sunny bed or for use in tumbling over a low rock wall. Its succulent foliage, comprised of slender, deep green ‘fingers’, is tolerant of neglect but you can make it a superstar in well-drained soil and an annual 1” side-dress of compost.

If anything, the ‘Pink Kaboom’ puts on a more dazzling floral show. Our specimen grew quickly into a dense and rounded, 2’x3’ mound, then in spring it exploded into an astounding mass of brightest pink daisies, completely blanketing it. For both selections, a bit of water until they are established is recommended.

One Houseleek

Houseleek may seem an odd name for a succulent but that’s the common name for the wide ranging genus Aeonium. Our Aeonium x ‘Jack Catlin’ (Aeonium tabuliforme x A. arboreum ‘Zwartkop’), offers leaves that are a stunning apple green, ringed with generous amounts of burgundy-red. Extremely vigorous with a higher tolerance for heat and frost than most Aeoniums, its collection of 6-8” wide rosettes eventually spread to form 2′ wide, ground-hugging drifts.

Exceptionally showy planted at the front of a bed, it contrasts beautifully with blue, silver or golden-leaved plants. Mature rosettes produce bee-attracting, conical yellow flower spikes held one foot above the foliage. 

Growing Your Spreading Succulents

Most of the above selections are super easy to care for. The main care comes in the beginning. Give them very well-drained soil and a little regular water. They don’t need much nutrition, though that won’t hurt them if they’re planted next to other plants that do require fertile soil. Once established, all of these selections are very drought tolerant and quite forgiving. They do want a good amount of afternoon sun and a bit of occasional trimming so they look their best but that is pretty much it.


Just so everyone knows, some of the Annie’s Annuals plants mentioned here might not be available on the week that you’re reading this blog article. In the case of veggies in particular, many of the more unusual varieties discussed are only available in our retail nursery in Richmond CA.  This is generally due to us only being able to grow small crops or the fact that the particular veggie does not ship well.  A quick look at that plant’s page will let you know if it’s available. If not, just click the Add to Wishlist button and we’ll notify you when that plant is ready to take home.

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