Non-succulent companion plant options are numerous. Here are five:
One of the biggest garden design challenges is focusing your enthusiasm. Even if succulents and cacti are your #botanicaljam4lyfe, choices must be made. There are thousands of species on the planet, yet you only enjoy space for 75 plants. That means you’re probably going to plant 25 species at most, unless you have a hopeless case of the “onesies” and are determined to get your mitts on one of everything.
Plus you might want to make room for a few non-succulents. We here at Altman have soft spots for all kinds of plants and know just how beautiful a mixed landscape, abounding in rich colors and textures, can be.
Before we name five prospective plant besties, choosing companion specimens with similar ecological preferences is key to cultivating a successful living arrangement. Don’t forget to also factor in a plant’s spacing needs at maturity.
- Soil: Choose plants that prefer well-draining, moderately fertile (at most) soil. If you have succulents accustomed to nutrient-poor earth in the wild, then select a companion that desires the same.
- Water: Pick plants that are drought tolerant once established and have similar hydration wants. Don’t ask your euphorbias to “befriend” a shrub that enjoys the marsh life.
- Exposure: Choose specimens that do best in full sun or dappled light. Just like some succulents, there are sun-loving shrubs that will get leggy if given too much shade.
- Weather: Select plants with an affinity for dry, warm summers and a distaste for lots of humidity and rain.
With those important details out of the way, let’s meet our five contestants, er, candidates.
Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii): This species, in its many forms, delivers distinctive aromas, is beloved by hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, and just might be tougher than nails. Provide plenty of sun and zero(!) fertilizer. Cleveland sage varieties are long bloomers (of purple-blue whorled flowers) and benefit from periodic trims. Good for providing height contrast to shorter succulents.
Lantana (Lantana ssp.): Be ready to give this one plenty of space, but it rewards you with clusters of verbena-like flowers that seemingly last forever. There are selections for just about any color you could want. Cut it back periodically to keep it looking sharp. Exposure to sun and minimal overhead watering can help reduce or prevent leaf mold and powdery mildew.
Lavender (Lavandula ssp.): Perhaps you’ve heard of this perennial. Besides providing aromatic wonderment, lavender also attracts life-giving pollinators, adores the sun, and works especially well in a dry garden. The gray-green foliage contrasts nicely with reds and purples.
Statice (Limonium perezii): Native to the Canary Islands, this shrub features gorgeous clusters of flowers with white petals and purple sepals that rise about 18” from its green, triangle-shaped leaves. Reinvigorate it every few springs with a healthy prune. Will go to 2 to 3 feet high and wide. Works really well in breezy coastal environments. Sometimes too well. Also known as sea lavender.
Yellow bird of paradise (Caesalpinia gilliesii): No, not that bird of paradise. This one is native to tropical South American locales but has proven it can thrive in the dry southwest U.S. as well. The long red stamens are something else, paired with numerous bright yellow flowers. Adds informal, open-bodied texture, contrasting particularly well with those steely blue-gray sentries known as agaves. Also known as desert bird of paradise.
So there you go: five of the many possible would-be buddies for your succulents. We also encourage gardeners to seek out choices native to their area that would match up well with their favorite sedums, kalanchoes, echeverias, and others.