If you have visited California, you’ve surely seen the colorful ice plants blooming everywhere. Now, after growing them at two locations in the Southeast, I am convinced the rest of us can revel in their iridescent beauty.
Known botanically as Delosperma cooperi, the ice plant is native to southern Africa. It reaches 3 to 6 inches in height with lush, succulent leaves. The psychedelic, fuchsia-colored flowers call to mind the daisy family, but it belongs in fig-marigold family.
In addition to fuchsia-colored selections, there is also a flashy yellow selection, which I have not grown, called Jewel of the Desert Peridot.
The spring flush of flowers is the showiest, but the blazing sun seems to keep the flowers coming. Some report that once fall and winter arrive, the foliage takes on a slight red hue. Ice plant is cold hardy from zones 6-10 with several reputable suppliers suggesting it can be pushed to zone 5 as well. That means it should grow anywhere in North Carolina.
Soil and water
In addition to full sun, the paramount requirement is good drainage. Think desert or Mediterranean climate when planting. Sandier soils are best but when you consider the range of soil amendments at your garden center today, it will not be hard improve your planting area.
Ice plant is the poster child for drought tolerance. Dry or gravelly soils are no problem. Overhead irrigation that comes on every day, however, spells doom and failure.
Once you find your plants, space them 16 to 24 inches apart. They have no trouble spreading to 24 inches, and if you do you soil prep, this will be the one bed you do not have to worry about when you go on vacation.
At the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, ours is in the Mediterranean Garden.
A pretty partner
In the colorful bed they are partnered with another dazzling succulent, the Lemon Ball sedum. Lemon Ball is a perennial in zones 7 through 9 (which encompasses the Triangle and down east), so it is not quite as cold hardy as the ice plant. It sports chartreuse foliage topped by flashy yellow blossoms. The contrast with the hot pink of the ice plant makes for a striking partnership. Lemon Ball will develop into a 3-by-6-foot drift in about three years.
The combination planting is made even showier with the 3-foot-tall spike of the soap aloe, Aloe maculata. The aloe also adds interest with its foliage by helping create a great diversity in leaf texture.
Sometimes we forget that real beauty can be created with drought-tolerant plants. With a little soil preparation and the right choices in plant material, we can have an attention-grabbing display without being a slave to the garden.