Spectacular succulents for the garden

Every winter succulents surprise us with their brilliant colours. Add these fiery five to your garden. They are water wise too!

Have you noticed that succulents are at their best in winter? The cooler days fire up their colours, especially those with red and yellow leaves. What better way to brighten the garden and be water wise! Except for very cold gardens, most succulents thrive in winter and tolerate light frost. When very cold days are predicted, just cover the plants with frost cloth at night and remove it the next morning.

Plants range in height from spreading groundcovers like silvery echeveria to tall shrubby plants like Euphorbia ‘Firesticks’ with a range of small to medium high succulents in-between like kalanchoe, crassula’s, and sedums. Their requirements are quite simple:

  • Plenty of sun, although most tolerate semi-shade. However, plenty of sun is necessary to bring out their brilliant colours.
  • Ordinary garden soil that drains well. The sandier the better. Add some compost when planting for extra nutrition and for good drainage.
  • Succulents do need watering, just less than most other plants. The secret is to water well and then let the soil dry out completely before watering again. Water once every two weeks in summer or when the soil is dry. Reduce to once a month in winter.
  • Fertilise with a controlled release fertiliser in spring or work compost into the soil twice a year.

Succulent grower John Sauer of Ngena Succulents believes these five are a must for a colourful winter garden:

Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Firesticks’ displays fiery red and yellow tips in winter. It is drought tolerant, and resilient. It is useful as a feature plant, clipped as a medium high hedge or allowed to grow taller as a screen or windbreak. In smaller gardens it can be trimmed into a medium-high shrub or grown in a container. Plant in beds that receive hot afternoon sun. The milky latex is an irritant and would be toxic if a large amount in is consumed. Wear gloves and eye protection when trimming it, which is best done early morning and in winter when the plant is dormant.

Kalanchoe sexangularis has bright ruby-red, lobed leaves. It is a fast-growing evergreen shrublet that acts as a groundcover. No other succulent has this intense leaf colour. John’s advice: make the most of its intense colour by mass planting, in swathes or blocks. It contrasts well with grey-foliage plants.  Use in mixed beds with water-wise annuals and perennials, rockeries, and in containers. It flowers in winter, producing long stems carrying small yellow flowers that attract insects and birds.

Crassula capitella ‘Campfire’ is a colourful filler, edging plant and groundcover for full sun. The pointed, fleshy leaves are arranged like ‘propellers’ on this branching plant that grows prostrate, about 15cm tall with a 30cm or more spread. A good colour and texture plant for the garden. It contrasts well with silvery-leafed succulents and complements other red, yellow, or lime-green succulents.

Sedum adolphii ‘Golden Glow’ is a striking yellow-leaved succulent that may develop red tips in in winter. It is a shrubby groundcover that is useful in borders, along driveways, in between pavers, around the pool or outdoor living area, for adding colour to rockeries and in containers. The leaves form yellow rosettes that contrast well with red and silvery leaved succulents. Plant in a position that receives plenty of morning sun. Too much afternoon sun could burn it.

Aeonium ‘Velour’ produces large, beautiful wine-red rosettes with undertones of black. Because of their shallow roots they need more regular watering. These winter growers are frost tender, thriving in warmer, sheltered gardens. To bring out their bold colours they need at least 6 hours of sun a day. Use the wine-red varieties for contrast.  

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