10 Water-Wise Plants Anyone Can Grow
Agaves always make a bold statement, whether they are planted in the ground or in containers. Their stiff, sword-like leaves form a rosette in green or blue or striped with white or yellow. Because they are desert natives, agaves need little care to thrive. Their only requirements are lots of sun and well-drained soil. In the north, grow agaves in containers and move them indoors when nightly temperatures dip below 50 degrees F. They’ll be happy in a sunny window until spring. Just be sure not to overwater them, especially during the winter when their moisture requirements are low. Agave ferox (in photo) is a common variety and is hardy outdoors from Zones 6-11.
Growing Tip: Most agaves have sharp spines at the tips of their leaves. If you have small children or plan to use your plants near an entry or garden path, clip them with pruning shears to avoid injury.
Chances are, you’re familiar with the common Aloe vera plant and its healing properties. But there are a host of other aloe varieties that make excellent landscape or indoor plants. Some of our favorites include Aloe Cha-Cha, (in photo) which has dark green leaves splotched with cream, Aloe ‘Dorian Black’ which forms a tight clump of pale green leaves with raised white ridges, and Aloe brevifolia with its pale green rosette foliage and soft white spines. Other easy-care aloes are Aloe ciliaris, Aloe juvenna, and Aloe aristata. These aloes look terrific planted together or singly in a dish garden or garden bed. If you are growing aloes in the north, they need to be brought inside once the temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Outdoors they are hardy from Zones 6-11.
Growing Tip: Although all these aloes belong to the same family, only Aloe vera has curative properties. Do not eat or use them for medicinal purposes.
Commonly called jade plant, Crassula ovata (in photo), is an extremely easy-to-grow plant with pretty, spoon-shaped fleshy leaves on thick greenish-gray stems. A South African native, jade plant is naturally tolerant of hot, dry conditions. It makes an excellent landscape plant in frost-free regions and works well as a container plant indoors or out. Mature jade plants also produce clusters of small pink or white blooms in the early spring that add to the plant’s appeal. Because it is frost sensitive, jade plants should be moved indoors when temperatures drop below 55 degrees F. Keep the plant in a bright location and cut back on watering during the winter months. Outdoors they are hardy in Zones 10-11.
Growing Tip: On occasion, mealybugs will attack jade plants. To eliminate these pests (they look like white cottony blobs), dab the pests with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Perfect for dish gardens or small pots, echeverias produce handsome blue, green, or silver leaves that grow in tight rosettes, forming a living boutonniere of foliage. Echeverias also develop new plants around their base that can be broken off and planted in other locations. Some choice varieties of echeveria include Topsy Turvy with its interesting crimped leaves and Liliciana that has pretty silver foliage packed like rose petals around its center. Other great echeveria selections for your garden include Elegans (in photo) and Peacockii. All echeverias require a sunny spot, indoors or out. Outdoors they are hardy from Zones 6-11.
Growing Tip: Like other succulents, echeverias do not like wet soil. For best results, use a commercial potting mix blended specifically for cacti. You’ll find cactus soil mix at the garden center of your local home improvement store or mass merchant.
Choose euphorbias for drama and architectural interest. These upright beauties have tall lobed stems, often bearing small leaves or spines. They are also almost impossible to kill; as long as they have enough light they can survive on little water or food. Euphorbias are ideal for the frequent traveler or those who forget to water. Young euphorbias also look great in dish gardens or small planters. One top pick is Euphrobia trigona ‘Good Luck’ which is topped with small shiny green leaves. Its stems are also delicately etched in pale green. For even more drama, go with one of two euphorbias with contorted stems. Both Euphorbia lactea compacta (in photo) and Euphorbia tortilis have twisted stems and sharp spines. Grown outdoors, euphorbias are hardy from Zones 6-11.
Growing Tip: All euphorbias contain a white sap that can irritate your eyes and nose. If you accidentally drop and break your plant, be sure to wash your hands if you happen to touch the plants’ milky sap.
A charming little plant that would make a great gift for children, haworthia’s dark green leaves are beautifully striped with white ridges; it looks a little like a zebra! Plus, it’s extremely tolerant of neglect and can go long periods without water. It requires a bright spot in the garden or the house, but otherwise, it’s tough as nails. Over time, haworthias develop young plants around their base that can be removed and planted elsewhere. Our favorite selection is Haworthia fasciata (in photo) that stays compact, rarely growing over 8 inches tall. Outdoors haworthia is hardy from Zones 9-11.
Growing Tip: Haworthias are natives of South Africa so the best way to keep them happy is to mimic their natural environment. This means watering them every three weeks or so during the summer and every three months during the winter.
Kalanchoes are a diverse group of charming little plants that offer a variety of leaf forms. For example Kalanchoe thyrsiflora (in photo), also called paddle plant or flapjacks, forms a cluster of round, fleshy, pale green leaves with red edges. Yet, Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Chocolate Soldier’, which is often called panda plant, has long oval leaves covered in brown fur. And Kalanchoe x beharensis goes by the common name of elephant ears or feltbush because of its large, gray velvety foliage. Although they all look very different, they all require bright light and little water to stay healthy. Outdoors they are hardy from Zones 10-11.
Growing Tip: These plants love a summer vacation outdoors, but don’t forget to bring them in if temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. They are more sensitive to cold temperatures and frost than other succulents.
What’s cuter than mamillaria cactus? A layer of star-like thorn clusters covers these short, round plants; each year, these chubby cacti also develop a crown of purple flowers followed by slender red fruits. They are extremely easy care! One of our favorite varieties, Mammillaria guelzowiana (in photo), grows about 7 inches tall and has attractive, slightly twisted spines and trumpet-shape purple blooms.
Growing Tip: When buying any cactus or succulents always buy nursery-grown stock. Never buy plants from vendors that might be selling plants taken from the wild.
Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, opuntia is an easy-care plant that thrives in any sunny spot, indoors or out. Although some varieties of opuntia have long, sharp thorns, our two favorites have clusters of short white spines against a dark green background. Opuntia microdasys ‘Albata’, commonly called bunny ears, can grow 3 to 6 feet tall; young specimens grow slowly and can easily fit into a mixed succulent container. In the spring, mature plants develop yellow blooms followed by red fruits. Optunia microdasys rufida (in photo), often called cinnamon cactus, looks a lot like Albata, but the small clusters of spines are reddish in color. Both are hardy outdoors from Zones 9-11.
Growing Tip: Although opuntia may look “pettable” avoid touching the plant with bare hands. Its short needles are very sharp and can get stuck in your skin.
If you’re looking for a pretty, easy care succulent to plant in a mixed container, consider Senecio ficoides (in photo). Its smooth, gray-green leaves provide a refreshing contrast to other succulents and cacti. Senecio also makes an interesting ground cover in zones 9-11 where it is winter hardy. In other regions, senecio works well as an indoor houseplant. It grows 6 to 12 inches tall.
Growing Tip: Unlike other succulents, senecio appreciates regular watering during the summer. If rainfall is scarce, give it a quick shower every other week. Just make sure it’s growing in quick-draining soil since these plants hate wet roots.
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