Succulent Ground Cover: Unconventional Options
Trying to create a beautiful xeriscape? We're exploring our favorite succulent ground cover plants to provide some unconventional choices!
When you are looking for plants to fill your landscape, succulent ground cover plants are an excellent option. This is especially true for those who live in warmer climates and want to place vegetation in their garden that requires very little maintenance once they are established.
You can find many varieties of succulents, and some even have dwarf species. The ones we feature in this article vary in size from low-growing to providing ground coverage with height. Keep in mind succulents thrive in well-drained soil and don’t do well with over-watering. It’s important they receive plenty of water in the spring and then minimal to no water in the winter.
You’ll see some common succulents, such as hens and chicks, on this list. In addition, there are likely some that you’ve never heard of or even thought about using as a ground cover. Succulents are a great way to provide beauty and variety to any garden. Some offer bright lime green foliage, and succulent flowers range from white to lovely magenta flowers. Spring is a great time to experience the full beauty succulents have to offer. Though many will offer winter interest as well.
This list offers plenty of inspiration and just the right amount of information for you to delve into the beautiful world of succulents. You’ll be equipped to find the best succulent to use as a ground cover in your landscape.
Our Favorite Succulent Ground Covers
Upright Myrtle Spurge
Upright myrtle spurge (Euphorbia rigida) is an interesting succulent with blue-green leaves arranged in spirals that produce large clusters of small yellow star-shaped flowers. It is native to Europe and southwest Asia with hardiness for zones 7-11. It is not a low-growing ground cover since it can reach heights up to 24 inches, but it is an easy-to-care-for plant. Upright myrtle spurge prefers full sun, low amounts of water, and well-draining soil. It is deer resistant, salt-tolerant, and resistive to many pests and diseases. Keep in mind, all parts of the plant are toxic and the milky sap can cause skin irritation.
Gold Tooth Aloe
Low-growing succulents are a great option to add variety to your landscape. Thus, gold tooth aloe (Aloe nobilis), are very versatile plants that grow well in zones 9-10 and are cold hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It produces tubular orange flowers that attract butterflies and will begin blooming in the late spring and continue through the summer. Gold tooth aloe has a very attractive rosette pattern with short, bright green foliage that can turn orange when in the full sun or related to stress. However, the leaves gradually turn green when not exposed to high amounts of sunlight. This aloe produces offsets that allow it to multiply fairly rapidly so it will fill in a space in no time.
Hens and Chicks
Sempervivum tectorum, commonly known as hens and chicks, are popular succulent ground covers for rock gardens and dry areas. This succulent is native to Europe and Africa, but now it is found all over the world. It is hardy in zones 3-8 and even though it is a succulent, it will tolerate cold temperatures. Though slow-growing, the attractive rosette pattern of each ‘hen’ will produce offset rosettes aptly named ‘chicks’. The hen can develop a spiked, erect stamen with white or yellow flowers after three years or if it becomes overly stressed. Once it produces the flower stalks, the main rosette dies.
To add height to your landscape, consider candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica). This upright succulent features straight waxy stems that grow together to form a spreading bush. Candelilla can grow up to 2 feet tall and three feet wide; plant a group of them together to form a colony that can withstand drought, heat, and even cold weather down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. When planted in the partial shade, mature size will reach the same as in full sun, as long as it receives approximately 6 hours of sunlight per day. Small cream-colored flowers with pink centers bloom at the ends of each stem beginning in May and can continue to bloom through the summer. A fun fact about Candelilla is that the waxy sap is used to make soap, candles, and other products.
If you are looking for a semi-erect plant that forms a dense mound, then rock purslane (Calandrinia spectabilis) may be a perfect choice. It has narrow grey-green leaves and produces magenta flowers throughout the summer that add a pop of color to your landscape. Rock purslane is hardy in zones 9-11 and it prefers full sun and is drought resistant. If you live in a colder climate, you can treat this plant like an annual. You can even propagate this plant through cuttings and it does well as a container plant.
Peruvian Apple Cactus
Peruvian Apple Cactus (Cereus peruvianus) is a type of column cactus which means it has an upright growth habit. These plants can grow up to 30 feet in height and 6 inches in diameter with ideal growing conditions. This cactus prefers full sun with regular watering (though be careful not to overwater these drought-tolerant succulent plants). USDA growing zones are 8-11 and they will grow in partial shade as long as there is very bright light for part of the day. The columns are a lovely blue-gray with 3-5 blades that house the brown spines. In the late spring, it produces yellow to white flowers that live for only one night. On the upside, the flower becomes an edible fruit if it is pollinated during its short life.
Learn More: Peruvian Apple Cactus
This unusual but striking plant is called the ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) because of its whitish color. This plant also has the ability to change color, which makes it an attractive ground cover in areas from full sun to part shade. Intense summer heat will cause the leaves to display pink undertones while in the shade the pointed blue-gray leaves provide variety to the landscape. Ghost plant is hardy in zones 7-13 and it produces small yellow flowers in the spring. The average size of this plant is 12 to 24 inches tall and up to 20 inches wide.
Tokyo Sun Stonecrop
Sedum Japonicum, also known as Tokyo sun, is a succulent that develops yellow foliage in full sun and lime green foliage in the shade. The mature size is 3 inches tall and it will spread outwards as it grows. It is ideal for USDA growing zone 8-11 and will tolerate low temperatures of 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. Tokyo sun is one of the best low-growing succulents if you need something that requires low maintenance and it grows well with other container plants. Yellow flowers that resemble stars arrive in the summer to add even more color to the landscape.
Blue Spruce Stonecrop
Another stonecrop worthy of mentioning is Sedum reflexum, commonly known as blue spruce stonecrop. It is a low-growing succulent with blue-green leaves that appear needle-like. Each plant will spread 1-2 feet and grow no more than 8 inches tall. If planted in filtered shade, mature size will be slightly smaller compared to one grown in the full sun. As with most other sedums, it is cold-hardy and grows well in USDA zones 4-9. Yellow flowers that bloom in the early summer complement the foliage and attract pollinators. This is an ideal plant for rock gardens and one that can provide year-round interest to your landscape.
We have to mention the caucasian stonecrop (Phedimus spurius), because it grows well in zones 4-9, which means it is cold hardy, and perfect for the high and low desert. Mature size is only 4 inches in height, but one plant can spread up to 2 feet. The light green, tightly whorled leaves are serrated and in the late spring, star-shaped pink flowers arrive. These tiny pale pink flowers add variety and color to any landscape. Caucasian stonecrop prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It is best to let the soil dry thoroughly between waterings to prevent root rot. This plant is native to eastern Europe, specifically the Caucasus.
Senecio serpens, commonly known as blue chalk sticks, are small, low-growing ground covers that are hardy in USDA zones 10-11. It is native to Africa and the blue-green narrow leaves have a powdery appearance. When planted in the full sun mature size will reach up to 1 foot in height with a 2-3 foot spread. If placed in filtered shade mature size will be smaller which makes it ideal for container growing if it can’t be in a sunny location. This fire-wise plant is perfect for rock gardens and areas that receive extreme heat. Blue chalk sticks do not bloom flowers. Instead, they are prized for their interesting foliage. It is also resistant to fire and the deer and rabbits don’t like to snack on it.
Learn More: Blue Chalksticks
Parry’s agave (Agave parryi), is a medium-size agave species that grows in clumps that can grow as large as 3 feet wide and just as tall. It prefers full sun over partial shade and thrives in well-drained sand or loamy soil. The leaves are a grayish-blue color and appear coarse with spines running along the outer edges. Native to North America, its hardiness zone is 7-10 and it can tolerate temperatures from 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit that are common in the high cold deserts. In the early to late summer parry’s agave produces orange flowers that can also range in color from light yellow to gold. It is an easy to care for plant once it is established in the landscape.
Resin Spurge (Euphorbia resinifera), is a succulent that looks like a cactus because it has spines along each side. It is native to Africa but grows well in USDA growing zones 9-11. Each upright stem or column is light green and thrives in the warmth of the reflected sun. Its mature size is three feet tall and 5 feet wide since it grows in clumps. The inner sap is toxic if ingested and can cause minor skin reactions. It will bloom small vibrant flowers along the spines if conditions are right. Once established it can endure intense heat with very little water. You may see some growing this as a houseplant, but you’ll find it is a great addition to xeriscaped yards.
Drosanthemum speciosum is the botanical name for royal dewflower. It is a great ground cover when you want to add a carpet of foliage to your landscape. Gray-green leaves form the base of the plant that produces colorful flowers (either purple, pink, or red). The best USDA growing zone since it prefers full sun is 9-11 and it is cold hardy to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Royal dewflower grows up to 12 inches tall and spreads up to 3 feet. However, it is not tolerant of foot traffic. As soon as the roots of this plant touch bare soil they will begin to root.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are succulents good for ground cover?
A: The answer will depend upon where you live. Succulents are excellent ground covers in low desert climates where the plant can receive plenty of bright light and heat during the day. Frost-free areas are ideal for succulents to thrive as a groundcover. Succulents are a great option for a xeriscaped yard even though they may be thought of as unconventional ground cover choices.
Q: What is the best low-maintenance ground cover?
A: Stonecrops or sedums are an excellent ground cover if you are looking for something low-maintenance. This creeping ground cover can withstand extreme heat with very little water, and there are even some varieties that are frost tolerant. Ice plant is also another option for a year-round ground cover.