Succulents are the hot new botanical trend, and while gardeners in most parts of the country have to satisfy themselves with puny indoor succulents, landscapers in Southern California have their pick of a rainbow of native succulent options to grow right in their very own yards. Learn more about why succulents thrive in this ideal climate and get some tips on which succulents will work best for you.
The category of plants known as “succulents” is vast, and it includes specimens in a range of different shapes, sizes and colors. Even cacti are part of this vast and somewhat informal group. In general, succulents are defined as plants that store moisture in their leaves, stems and/or trunks. The result is a plant that, when properly watered, has fleshy parts that contain juicy or gel-like moisture. As the plant dries out, these water stores deplete, and the plant becomes withered and anemic in appearance. Aloe vera is an iconic example of this; if you’ve ever split an aloe leaf and looked at its gelatinous interior, you’ve seen the basic structure of a succulent.
As you might guess from this moisture-retaining system, most succulents are native to sunny, arid parts of the world. Temperature requirements vary by species; some succulent species can even be found native to arctic tundra areas. The desert-native succulent species you’ll find in Southern California, however, generally require warm temperatures, plenty of sun and periods of dry soil in order to thrive. Succulent roots are very sensitive to moisture, and these plants rot easily if they stay wet for too long. If you want to grow succulents, make sure they’re in well-drained soil with good direct sunlight.
Choosing the Right Succulents
One of the great things about the wide variety of succulents that can thrive in the Southern California climate is that you can actually create a beautifully textured and varied landscape design using these drought-tolerant plants alone. Many succulents bloom, too, putting out dramatic flower spikes with white, red, coral or pink blossoms that add even more interest to a garden, making succulents a great choice for eco-friendly landscaping. While heavy rains in late 2016 and early 2017 put an official end to the drought in most parts of the state, anyone who’s lived in California for more than a decade knows that droughts are an inevitability here. Planning ahead is smart.
If you’re interested in adding succulents to your Southern California landscape, try these popular varieties:
Senecio mandraliscae (Kleinia): Native to South Africa, this spreading succulent has a dramatic shape thanks to its pointy, finger-like leaves. Kleinia loves full sun and can grow to be a foot tall or even a few inches taller, making it a good choice for foreground display in a layered design.
Dudleyas: This succulent genus is actually native to Southern California, and unlike the similarly-shaped but non-native Echeveria genus, Dudleyas succulents are well adapted to the seasonal cycles in this part of the world.
Agave Shawii(Shaw’s Agave): Every SoCal garden needs an agave, and if you want a dramatically spiky succulent that grows in rosette shapes and propagates itself quite well, this is a great choice. Shaw’s Agave is actually critically endangered, so growing it in your garden could be a beneficial step for the restoration of native local landscapes.