If you want to create a strong statement in your garden then succulents should take centre stage. Their bold architectural form and striking foliage provides year-round interest with the added bonus of vibrant flowers in winter.

(Aloe polyphylla flowering)

They come in a variety of dramatic shapes and sizes to suit any garden. Their tough, resilient nature means they are at home in a number of growing conditions. Most people think succulents prefer dry arid conditions, however South African succulents such as Aloe polyphylla and Aloe plicatilis come from areas of high rainfall and so require more water. If you see browning on the tips of the leaves this is a sign that need more water.

Most succulents can tolerate very long periods without irrigation or rain which makes them ideal plantings for arid and coastal areas and places that get plenty of wind and sun. They must have good drainage to prevent roots becoming waterlogged. Take advantage of natural drainage, position succulents on the tops and sides of banks or slopes. Succulent groundcovers such as Senecio serpens (Blue chalksticks) grow easily on steep slopes and help prevent runoff. Succulents have varying degrees of tolerance to frost so always think about your individual site conditions before planting.

Succulents fit into a number of planting styles. For a dry arid style garden stick solely to succulents and add some texture to contrast using strappy fine leaved native grasses or feathery ornamental grasses. Pick dry tolerant varieties so that the water requirements are the same. They also work in well with a subtropical style garden. They make great companions with palms. Succulents also make fantastic container plants. Aloe bainesii, Dracena draco and Yucca elephanties look fabulous in a feature pot. However, over time they will become too big and have to be planted in the ground. Spiky Yucca’s and Agaves make excellent deterrents to areas around you home that you don’t want people to enter. Place next to solid walls and windows to help prevent vandalism.

(Aloe Bainesii)

(Aloe thraskii flowers)

Aloe spinosissma is a clumping aloe with stunning red flowers. Plant out in large drifts next to Aloe plicatilis, the contrasting leaf shapes looks amazing. Its cousin Aloe thraskii, a single stemmed aloe has yellow flowers and stands out when planted next to divaricated native shrubs or planted next to a plain painted wall.

Some succulents grow into large plants and trees. The common Yucca elephantipes can grow quickly to 3m, so be careful not to close to walls or walkways. Cussionia paniculata (Cabbage tree) is an extraordinary looking plant. It has blue-green snowflake shaped leaves on a corky pale trunk. It loves the sun, so if you have the room plant one these in a prominent position. It gets approximately 4m high by 2m wide. One of my favourite succulents is Dasylirion longissimum, (Mexican grass tree) another plant worth featuring in the garden, its dramatic form jumps out at you, you just want to go up and touch it.

Another personal favourite is Aloe polyphylla. It’s a living work of art! The spiraling rosettes of fleshy green leaves are tightly packed together to form a low round shape. Surround it with gravel or small stones and plant taller succulents or ornamental grasses in behind for a dramatic effect.

The key to designing with succulents plants is not to be afraid of using them…lots of them. Showcase them in a rock garden to show off their individual forms. They are reasonably low maintenance and fit into an urban or rural setting with ease. Provide the right conditions for them to grow and you will be rewarded with a stunning year-round display.

(Aloe polyphylla)

Images courtesy of Wairere Nursery Ltd

Succulents – The Illustrated Dictionary

A time-tested reference, this first volume includes some of the best-known and most cultivated genera such as “Agave,” “Haworthia,” “Kalanchoe,” and “Yucca.”

Author: Sajeva Maurizo


  1. nigel campbell on said:

    HI i have little yucca shotting out from the trunk, can i cut them of and replant them and how do i go about this thanks

  2. Hi Nigel – congrats you have a yukka puppy. You can do exactly as you have described. Dont over water. They will be fine

  3. Hi, I have a aloe bainseii which has sprounted about 20 shoots up its trunk. I’ve tried cutting them off but they keep coming back. What can I put on them to stop them growing?

  4. Nathan on said:

    Hi, great article thanks!
    Dinah- Id LOVE some aloe bainseii shoot cuttings!
    Contact me and if your near auckland Ill pick them up next time 🙂

    You can get this green stuff (I forget what its called) to spread on the cut surface to seal it.It doesn’t look the best, and can lock in disease if your using dirty shears.

    Aloe Bainseii does branch out at the top though, so I have a feeling you’ll be cutting and cutting forever.
    Especially as cutting encourages growth.

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