Ah, summertime. It’s almost here. If you’re hunting for ideas on what to plant from the succulent & cactus world, we’re here to help. You may know from magazine photos, or from Instagram, or from your own garden that the sheer number of plants to choose from can be overwhelming. So many good ones!
As the largest grower of succulents & cacti in the world, we at Altman Plants know this all too well. Below we present five succulents of summer that sing in temperate gardens or year-round in pots.
Before we get to our summerific five, let’s briefly touch on some plant design principles. It’s pretty much always a #winning idea to avoid creating planters or garden beds that resemble a “I gotta have that one too; I don’t care where it goes” mindset. While fun in the moment, that can lead to jarring, juicy messes.
- Plant to scale: Don’t fill a huge yard with only ground covers or shoehorn a century plant agave into a tiny porch.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat: Repetition encourages harmonious flow and drama.
- Contrast colors, in an appealing way: Get comfy with a color wheel!
- Spread harmony through textures & shapes: Find varieties with similar attributes as well as spots for contrasting plant forms.
- Color. Be judicious: You don’t need to spotlight every shade. Massing color (pockets of reds here, yellows there) is visually appealing.
Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ US PP29,584
The colors that this gorgeously opalescent icy star picks up are something else — pinks, purples, blues. Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ US PP29,584 is a patented Altman Plants original hybrid. Park this hen-and-chicks star near succulents exhibiting those colors and even oranges. Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ produces concentric, “snowball”-style rosettes of chunky, fleshy, lightly colored leaves.
Flowers hang from gracefully arching stalks in later winter to spring. A robust, clustering grower, it’s an excellent choice for use in a dish garden or as a potted plant on the patio. Not only those, but would also serve superbly in a summer wedding bouquet or centerpiece. We’re also thinking moonlight gardens — ooh, that soft nighttime glow.
Echeveria ‘Arctic Ice’ would be a stellar fit for a celestial decor theme or as the ornamental living treasure in a decorative crystal or stone planter. As far as the daytime scene goes, it can put up with a reasonable amount of heat — we’ve seen it flaunt its sun-tolerating magic — but protect the plant from frost. Rosettes can reach 6 inches in diameter.
We humans prefer not to be blue, but it’s quite a spiffy look for cacti. Hailing from Brazil, Melocactus azureus sports a globular, noticeably ribbed frosty blue body that’s protected by variably colored spines — silvery white to reddish brown.
When the cactus reaches maturity, which could take more than a decade, fetching little pink flowers emerge from its cephalium. Its what? A cephalium is a peculiar woolly mass associated with Melocactus species that forms a distinctive cap of sorts on top of the plant. Far out (or far up, as it were)!
While you wait for that, enjoy its beautiful blue epidermis and symmetry. Even without the funky, woolly “cap,” the view of Melocactus azureus from above is rather attractive. Even a little mesmerizing. Go ahead, try it.
Native to semitropical environs, Melocactus azureus really loves life (best growth & appearance) when the temperature stays above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because of that, we recommend this one in its own container on the patio or a sunny windowsill. For nifty pairings, locate it near plants expressing shades of orange, coral, or light pink. Or, thanks to its spines, tie it into plants with darker reds like burgundy.
Its growing season runs from April to October. Watch the water during the cooler months. Stems will grow to 8″ in diameter and to 12 to 18″ tall.
Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrel Cactus)
Thank Mother Nature that not all living things are as delicate as us humans. In summer, we pine for anything that cools us off — beaches, pools, lakes, and all manner of covered, artificially cooled rooms. Not golden barrel.
There’s not a whole lot of mellow about the golden-yellow sphere officially known as Echinocactus grusonii, which belongs in the orbit of any plant geek who desires a space light on fuss but deep with dramatic appeal. The color, texture, and shape of golden barrel lend interest, definition, and contrast to any composition.
Comb through a magazine full of professionally designed desert or waterwise gardens and you’re going to see plenty of golden barrel. For maximum effect, group it in threes.
Sunshine, occasional soaks, and room to grow are about all it desires. It can even tolerate some frost for a brief spell. Golden barrel can be kept smaller by being housed in a container, for those without room to let plants stretch their proverbial legs.
Growing to 3 feet in a diameter in the ground, this eye-popping, spiny orb belongs to the barrel cactus family. Curiously, it also goes by the monikers of “mother-in-law’s chair” and “mother-in-law’s cushion.” We can’t recommend repurposing it as a sitting device, though. Water it when the soil is thoroughly dry to the touch.
Euphorbia anoplia (Tanzanian Zipper Plant)
So named because of the zipper-like patterns along the margins of its angled columns, Euphorbia anoplia looks something like a spineless, underwater cactus. But it’s not a cactus! Euphorbia anoplia forms a colony of leafless ribbed columns, which are green to light green, with the zipper markings a darker green. The plant produces small dark burgundy flowers at the column tips, as if the columns are bespeckled by quirky little berries.
Euphorbia anoplia is a summer lover, responding well to warmth, with its active growth period in the late spring and summer months. It wants bright light for best appearance, and should be allowed to rest during the coldest, wettest part of winter, with less water given.
Tanzanian zipper plant is perfect for an underwater theme in a rock garden. It will also thrive in all sorts of pots…maybe even a cute ceramic mug. Columns can rise to around a foot tall and spread 1 to 2 feet.
But do take some precaution around it. All euphorbias contain a white sap that can be irritating to eyes and mucous membranes. If contact is made with this white sap, take care to not touch face or eyes before washing hands with soap and water.
Agave ‘Blue Glow’
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a sharp-as-can-be sword plant standout. It’s one of those stunners that prompts people to say, “OMG, I didn’t know agaves could rule this much!” The blue-green leaves are outlined by yellow and red, with red tips. This moderately sized hybrid grows to just two feet high and three feet wide, making it a super choice for smaller spaces.
A key point, ha, about Agave ‘Blue Glow’: It’s a solitary grower, so there’s no need to fret about the possibility of having to dig up a bunch of pups in the future. Just make sure you leave some wiggle room around the plant site or container. You don’t want someone’s shins encountering the stiff leaves as he or she turns a corner.
Agave ‘Blue Glow’ is a star, so treat it like one, as a focal specimen in areas where height or girth is not desired or needed. This could be a landscape bank surrounded by yellow, gold, or orange soft ground-cover succulents. You could also mass it in a grouping, especially as a complement to a taller and wider agave or other plant.
Give it full sun near the coast or in temperate zones to part sun in hot areas.
Look for Agave ‘Blue ‘Glow’ at Altman retail partners such as the Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart, as well as at independent retailers that carry Altman Plants-grown succulents. Possible container sizes range from 8″ to 15 gallons.