Guest Author - Connie Krochmal
It makes perfect sense to landscape with cacti and succulents, particularly the hardy ones. These are low maintenance plants that help us conserve water.
The first thing most people will think about is cactus gardens. This is an excellent way to use these worthy plants, but they have other uses in the landscape. The same is true for succulents.
In warmer climates, one often sees gardens composed entirely of cacti and succulents. These are very appealing plants. They tend to have dramatic, bold forms and exquisite textures. By coordinating the colors, shapes, and textures properly, we can create stunning landscapes. The best approach is to carefully mix and match ones with different forms. For example, be sure to include some with tall shapes and spiky foliage. These would include the Agaves and Yuccas. The proper placement of these depends upon the shape of the flowerbed. For beds that will be viewed from the front, use them in the back for their height. For island beds where they can be seen from all sides, locate the tall spiky ones in the center.
As companions, choose some round, full-shaped cacti or succulents. These are best located in front of tall ones. In addition, select some succulents with creeping, spreading stems, such as the sedums. These can often be used at the edges of borders.
Be sure the ones you choose provide various colors as well. There are many succulents with reddish, purple, yellow, and orange tone. Think of the multi-colored yuccas and agaves as well as the Sempervirens and sedums. In addition, you can find some cacti with interesting shades of color as well. Besides the foliage, the gorgeous blooms of cacti and succulents are exquisite. The beauty of cactus flowers rivals that of the roses.
In addition to flowerbeds and borders, cacti and succulents make wonderful ground covers. As ground covers, they can fill many roles in the landscape. They’re especially suitable for hillsides and banks where you don’t wish to mow or water very much. Miniature succulents are perfect for planting between stepping-stones. Examples would be some of the spreading sedums.
In the Southwest, the tallest species of cacti can pretty much take the place of trees in the landscapes. Who needs trees when you can have huge tree-like cacti?
Other kinds of drought-tolerant plants can be intermingled with cacti and succulents in flowerbeds and borders. Suitable companion plants would include some ornamental grasses, flowering sages, and Mediterranean-type herbs, such as rosemary, and plectranthus—also known as spur flower.
When carefully planned, these mixed plantings can be enjoyed four seasons of the year. While the herbaceous plants may die back for the winter, many of the cacti and succulents continue to provide color and interest in the colder months.
Enjoy your hardy outdoor cacti and succulents year-round. With proper planning, gardeners can design outdoor beds and borders with four seasons of interest.