Ice Plants are Hardy Garden Groundcovers
By Jodi Torpey
There are gardeners who keep trying the same plants in different spots in their garden, to see where they’ll grow the best. Some give the same plant at least three chances before giving up on them.
Not me. I give plants one chance and if they don’t make it, I’m on to something else. I can’t imagine the number of perennial plants I’ve tried that haven’t survived a winter of intense sunlight, drying winds, insignificant precipitation and no snow cover. Any plant that can thrive in conditions like those deserves additional plantings.
That’s why the ice plants from the Plant Select program are so successful in our climate. So far, Plant Select has introduced area gardeners to six different ice plants because they work so well here. These low-growing, succulent ground covers originated in South Africa, so you know they’re extra tough.
Ice plants like a sharp-draining soil and work well in rock gardens or on slopes where snow will melt quickly to keep the plant’s crown dry in winter.
One of the newer releases from Plant Select (2012) is called Fire Spinner and it has to be seen to be believed. This hardy, two-tone ice plant features purple and tangerine orange flowers that sparkle in the sunlight. It’s almost as if the flowers have something other-worldly in their genes, almost like metal.
While the plants are in bloom for just a few weeks, the ice plant’s succulent green foliage serves as a nice groundcover and backdrop for other plants in the garden. Plant Select experts say it takes a winter of cold weather before the plants start to shine. The first season, expect nice orangey-red flowers that are more typical of ice plants. Then wait for the fireworks next season.
The first ice plant from the Plant Select program was Starburst in 1998. This ice plant grows to about four inches tall and spreads to about 10 inches wide. The daisy-like flowers on Starburst are purple with white centers that start to appear in June and offer a long season of blooming. Starburst is heat and drought-tolerant once its established in the garden.
Another great ice plant is Red Mountain, introduced by Plant Select in 2007. Just like its name suggests, Red Mountain grows mats of dark orange-red flowers during summer. This ice plant grows close to the ground (one to two inches), but spreads quite wide, so space these about 15 inches apart. If the planting area is especially hot during the middle of summer, Red Mountain can tolerate a bit of shade.
With so many ice plants on the market today, why not try them all to see what does best in the most hard-to-plant spots in your landscape?