Growing succulents doesn’t necessarily mean growing houseplants. Outdoor succulents, with their water-storing fleshy leaves, are prized equally for their beauty and function, especially in drought-prone areas. If you’re new to the world of xeriscaping, rock gardens, or drought-resistant landscaping, you’re in the right place. Learn more about the best low-maintenance outdoor succulents you can plant in your own yard.
- What are succulents?
- Best low-maintenance outdoor succulents
- What to consider with low-maintenance outdoor succulents
- FAQ about low-maintenance outdoor succulents
What are succulents?
Succulents are low-maintenance plants that don’t require much water or care, making them the ideal choice for working professionals, people without a green thumb, or homeowners living in dry climates.
Whether you plant them in your garden or individual pots, you won’t have to break a sweat on maintenance or design. The colors, shapes, and textures of succulents naturally give your landscape impressive curb appeal.
Succulents have the ability to store water in their roots, stems, and leaves, and while you shouldn’t completely forget about them, they require minimal care. If you live in a frost-prone, below-freezing area, you can easily dig up your succulents, pot them, and enjoy them indoors all winter long.
To propagate, all you need to do is purchase pots with drainage holes, place a succulent piece inside each one, and add cactus soil, gravel, or sand. Water your succulents well and allow them to dry out completely before the next round. Take them out to the yard at the end of spring and enjoy.
Best low-maintenance outdoor succulents
If you’re curious about the best choice for outdoor succulents for your landscape, we’ve got you covered. Check out our list of the best succulents that are available in a variety of species and subspecies, so you won’t have a shortage of choices.
Aeonium (Crassulaceae family)
If you’ve ever heard of a plant called tree houseleek, you’ve heard of the Aeonium genus. Not to be confused with Sempervivum, commonly called a houseleek, species in this genus offer nearly every option your succulent-loving heart could want.
Characteristics of the Aeonium genus
- Tall or short varieties available (3 inches to 3 feet)
- A wide range of leaf colors: shades of green, purple, yellow, cream, pink, and variegated
- Bent, woody stems
- Many Aeonium are monocarpic, meaning they die after flowering
- Pyramid-shaped, yellow flowers
- May have fine hairs on leaf edges
- Go dormant during the summer
- Need plenty of bright light to thrive
Succulents in the Aeonium genus
- Aeonium ×praegeri
- Aeonium ‘Poseidon’
- Aeonium ‘Zeus’
- Aeonium ‘Ballerina Reversion’
- Aeonium ‘Ink Painting’
- Aeonium ‘Madeira Rose Cristatum’
- Aeonium ‘Pink Witch’
Aeonium plants are native to North Africa, where winters are mild and wet, and summers are dry and hot. Unlike most other succulents, Aeoniums need a little extra water from fall through spring (to mimic the cool, wet season). During summer, they go dormant if temperatures rise.
If you live in a colder climate, you can still enjoy these succulents outdoors during the warmer months. Place them in pots in well-draining soil and make sure they get some afternoon shade during the summer. Since Aeonium plants aren’t cold-hardy, we recommend bringing them inside once temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep them in the vicinity of a sunny windowsill at temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pro tip: Before you go plant shopping (in-person or online), check the USDA Hardiness Zone map to find your own.
Agave (Asparagaceae family)
Are you searching for a statement piece for your water-wise garden? Species in the Agave genus should be on your short list of possibilities. With architectural foliage and striking leaf patterns, they’ll elicit plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” from your neighbors.
Some species in the Agave genus are described as “century plants” because they take so many years to flower (up to 30 years, contrary to what the moniker suggests). Like most succulent plants, this genus offers a wide range of sizes and aesthetic options.
Characteristics of the Agave genus
- Many species are very large, while others stay small and compact
- Many (not all) species have teeth along the edges and a sharp spine at the leaf tip
- Can grow from a few inches to over 12 feet tall
- Blue-green to blue-gray, with fleshy, sturdy leaves
- Not cold-hardy, prefers warmer desert-like climates
- Some species are “solitary” or nearly solitary, meaning they produce few, if any, offsets or pups. This is great for low-maintenance gardeners because it means you don’t have to remove the pups from the mother succulent and replant them elsewhere.
- Listed as a fire-resistant plant that can be used as part of your defensible space
Succulents in the Aeonium genus
- Agave desmetiana ‘Variegata’
- Agave chiapensis Jacobi
- Agave cerulata Trel.
- Agave utahensis var. nevadensis (Clark Mountain Agave)
- Agave schottii (Schott’s Century Plant)
Species in the Agave genus are a favorite of succulent gardeners. Some types expand significantly, while others stay small and are better suited for home gardens. Agave plants can treat allergic reaction symptoms, irritation, and constipation and prevent heart disease and stroke.
Aloe (Asphodelaceae family)
Although we all love Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) on our window sills for the occasional kitchen mishap, there is more to this genus than the beloved houseplant. The Aloe genus contains over 500 species of succulent plants with leaves ranging from an inch wide to trees over 60 feet tall (Aloe barberae).
Most species in this genus have a rosette shape and put out pups (baby plants) from the mother plant. Some Aloes produce red, pink, orange, or yellow flowers after a few years and set blooms several times throughout their lifespan.
Characteristics of the Aloe genus
- Aloe vera is used for medicinal purposes
- Plants bloom many times
- Contains a wide array of small to large plants
- Originates in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Madagascar
Succulents in the Aloe genus
- Aloe ‘Fang’
- Aloe dawei A.Berger
- Aloe vera var. chinensis (Loudon) Baker
- Aloe ‘Little Joker’
- Aloe ‘Silver Star’
- Aloe ‘Lavender Star’
- Aloe ‘Lavender Star II’
These plants prefer warm temperatures and don’t enjoy prolonged temps below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Check your plant tag for your plant’s sun requirement. Some larger varieties require an outdoor space with full sun, but indoor varieties may do better with bright, indirect light. If your winters are a little too cold, plant them in pots and bring them indoors for the winter to enjoy on a bright windowsill.
Dudleya (Crassulaceae family)
The Dudleya genus consists of about 45 species of perennial succulents native to the Southwest. Dudleya plants are also known as “Liveforever” due to their impressive ability to live as long as 100 years.
Their low-maintenance qualities, stemming from the Farina, a substance that coats and protects the plant, make them easy-to-care-for succulents that can be grown both indoors and outdoors.
Characteristics of the Dudleya genus
- Grows between 20-24 inches tall
- Thrives in full sunlight but can tolerate a little shade
- Likes well-drained sandy soil
- Toxic to both people and pets
- Best suited for outdoor rock gardens but also can be grown indoors with direct access to sunlight
Succulents in the Dudleya genus
- Dudleya lanceolata (Lanceleaf Liveforever); Dudleya lanceolata Britton & Rose
- Dudleya gnoma (Munchkin Liveforever); Dudleya gnoma S.McCabe
- Dudleya pachyphytum (Cedros Island Liveforever); Dudleya pachyphytum R.Moran & M.Benedict
- Dudleya farinosa (Bluff Lettuce); Dudleya farinosa (Lindl.) Britton & Rose
- Dudleya albiflora (White-flower Liveforever); Dudleya albiflora Rose
Dudleya succulents like temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and don’t take well to regular misting, so keep that to a minimum. While they’re somewhat cold hardy, they don’t prefer frost or below-freezing climates.
Echeveria (Crassulaceae family)
Echeveria are popular, rosette-shaped succulent plants prized by homeowners and landscape designers alike. As desert-area natives, they are very drought tolerant and often used in xeriscaping. Because they are easy to grow and compact (under 1 foot at maturity), houseplant newbies often find success and enjoyment with these plants.
Characteristics of the Echeveria genus
- Native to Central America’s desert-like areas
- Pointed tip on each leaf
- Most are pastel in color
- Grow pups on stolons, which will form a colony if given enough room
- Have a “farina,” or powdery white substance covering the leaves
- Some species have ruffled leaves
Succulents in the Echeveria genus
- Echeveria ‘New Heights’
- Echeveria ‘Paloma’
- Echeveria ‘Ariel’
- Echeveria ‘Onslow’
- Echeveria ‘Black Prince’
- Echeveria ‘Riga’
Check out some of the newer hybrids for greater hardiness outdoors. Most varieties are hardy to Zone 9 to 10 (20-30 degrees Fahrenheit).
Euphorbia (Euphorbiaceae family)
Within the Euphorbiaceae family, Euphorbia is the fourth largest genus. Native to areas of Madagascar and subtropical and tropical areas of Africa, these plants like the heat. Though Spurge is this genus’ common name, most people know it by its most popular plant’s name, Euphorbia Milii, or Crown of Thorns, Christ Plant, and Christ Thorn.
The interesting thing about Euphorbia is that it has over 2,100 varieties of plants, making it the most diverse in the world. Besides that, the different species don’t look much alike, which means you may have to take some time to sift through the options at your disposal.
Characteristics of the Euphorbia genus
- Like most other succulents, it loves sunlight and doesn’t need much water
- Prefers temperatures of over 90 degrees Fahrenheit
- Can be propagated from cut stems or seeds
- Its various nicknames stem from its overall thorny appearance, which is common in this plant family. The thorns are straight, long, and very sharp, and the plant is often mistaken for a cactus.
- Its leaves are small and bright green
- Can reach between 6 and 36 inches
Succulents in the Euphorbia genus
- Euphorbia Milii (Crown of Thorns); Euphorbia milii Des Moul.
- Euphorbia tuberosa (Tuber Milkball); Euphorbia tuberosa L.
- Euphorbia balsamifera (Balsam Spurge); Euphorbia balsamifera Aiton
- Euphorbia ‘Cocklebur’
- Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’
- Euphorbia canariensis (Canary Island Spurge); Euphorbia canariensis L.
Euphorbia plants produce a white substance that can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions, so watch out for this issue when handling one.
Kalanchoe (Crassulaceae family)
These succulent plants are appreciated for their showy flowers and eye-catching leaf shapes. Many species have paddle-shaped or upright waxy leaves and are popular plants indoors or out. During winter, you’ll need to bring them in unless you live in Zone 9 (20 degrees Fahrenheit) or warmer.
Characteristics of the Kalanchoe genus
- Native to South Africa and Madagascar
- Showy, long-lasting flowers
- Most plants are monocarpic, dying after flowering
- Tolerates light frost
Succulents in the Kalanchoe genus
- Kalanchoe synsepala (Walking Kalanchoe)
- Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Teddy Bear’
- Kalanchoe ‘Fang’
- Kalanchoe ‘Roseleaf’
- Kalanchoe tomentosa ‘Cinnamon’
- Kalanchoe ‘Tarantula’
Kalanchoe luciae is one of the most popular varieties. If grown outdoors, leaf edges turn a bright red, making it an attractive option for home rock gardens or succulent gardens.
Sempervivum (Crassulaceae family)
Also commonly known as “Houseleek” or “Hens and Chicks,” the Sempervivum succulent genus has over 40 species of striking, flowering, low-maintenance flowering plants. Due to their evergreen characteristics, Sempervivums will hold onto their flowers even in winter, giving you a pop of color amid a sea of gray.
To propagate a Sempervivum succulent, use well-drained soil with a neutral pH, plant it in a spot with direct sunlight, and water it well until it starts growing. Afterward, allow the soil to completely dry before watering again.
Characteristics of the Sempervivum genus
- The name means “always living” in Latin, referring to the plant’s ability to retain water in its leaves and survive in desert-like conditions. It’s also a nod to Sempervivum’s ability to produce offsets that can be separated and grown as separate plants, giving the impression of an endless life.
- Grows up to 24 inches tall
- Round or pointed, glossy or matte, fleshy leaves that may sometimes feature downy hair-like fibers. Their colors range from green and red to gold and dark brown, changing with the seasons and temperatures.
- The blooms resemble stars and grow in clusters on long stems. They come in pink, yellow, or red colors and last a few weeks.
- Impressively hardy, able to adapt to harsh conditions found in Zones 3 to 8
Succulents in the Sempervivum genus
- Sempervivum ‘Appletini’
- Sempervivum dolomiticum (Dolomite Houseleek); Sempervivum dolomiticum Facchini
- Sempervivum ‘Gold Mine’
- Sempervivum ‘Lotus Blossom’
- Sempervivum ‘Gold Nugget’
- Sempervivum ‘Killer’
Sempervivum succulents retain their beauty and blooms year-round, meaning they can provide some much-needed color during the colder months.
Senecio (Asteraceae family)
Senecio wins the award for “Genus with Most Unusual Shapes.” Here are a few of the common names given to species in the Senecio genus:
- String of bananas (Senecio radicans)
- String of pearls (Curio rowleyanus, formerly Senecio rowleyanus)
- Chalk sticks (Curio talinoides var. mandraliscae, formerly Senecio mandraliscae)
Characteristics of the Senecio genus
- The name literally means “old man”
- Colors are mostly blue, silver, and green
- Will live outdoors in Zones 10 to 11 (30-40 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Not frost hardy
- Some have appealing aromas (The flowers of Curio rowleyanus smell like cinnamon)
- Only 100 of the 1,000+ species in this genus are succulents
Succulents in the Senecio genus
- Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’
- Senecio candicans (Sea Cabbage); Senecio candicans Wall. ex DC.
- Senecio kleiniiformis (Spear Head); Senecio kleiniiformis Suess.
- Senecio ‘Hippogriff’ (String of Dolphins)
Most people choose Senecio succulents for their unusual-shaped and -colored leaves that add texture and interest to outdoor succulent gardens.
What to consider with low-maintenance outdoor succulents
Some succulents, like large agaves, don’t need supplemental water once established. But most need watering every week or so during the summer, bi-weekly in spring and fall, and monthly during the colder months. Other factors influencing water needs include placement in your garden, the climate, and soil type.
Overwatering often causes leaves to feel mushy and look translucent or yellow. Too little water and your leaves may look dehydrated or thin. As a general rule, succulents should be kept relatively dry and provided plenty of well-draining soil. Allow them to dry out completely before the next round of watering.
Typically, succulents prefer about half a day of direct sun, half a day of moderate shade. Boulders, trees, and other structures can provide afternoon shade and prevent scorching. Remember that the sun’s intensity will change according to your location and the seasons, so keep a close eye on your plants’ condition over the year.
If you notice stalled growth, you may have to transplant your succulents to a better location in your garden.
Bringing your succulents indoors during winter will save them from frost damage when the mercury drops.
If you want all your succulents to be in-ground, look at one of the advanced online plant catalogs and filter by Hardiness Zone. Another alternative is to find a friendly face at your local succulent nursery and ask what grows best in your area year-round.
According to succulent author Debra Lee Baldwin, outdoor succulents don’t require fertilizer. Fertilizer generally makes plants grow faster, so unless that’s something you’re after, let nature take its course.
Furthermore, some succulents thrive in poor soils. This is one more reason succulents are ideal for low-maintenance gardeners.
Low-maintenance plants like succulents still need periodic TLC. Expect to do an in-depth cleaning of your succulent garden about twice a year. (A monthly check to remove spent leaves and check for bugs is also a good idea.) Here’s a typical biannual chore list for your low-maintenance succulent garden:
- Pull out dead leaves
- Remove weeds
- Snip off flower stalks
- Trim root balls
- Prune to maintain plant size
- Cut leggy stems
- Treat for insects or pests
- Remove dead plants
- Remove or replant pups
When in doubt, contact a local company specializing in succulents to keep your succulent landscaping healthy and growing.
Other benefits of planting succulents
If you want your landscape to be beautiful, low-maintenance, and functional, many succulents will check each of those boxes. Succulents are often used in fire-resistant landscaping and don’t forget that gravel and prickly plants can be used to enhance the security around your home.
Make a list of all you want to accomplish. If your plans are extensive, you may want to hire a professional designer. If not, check out these other resources on Lawn Love to help you DIY your aesthetic and functional landscaping goals.
FAQ about low-maintenance outdoor succulents
Which succulents are recommended for areas with below-freezing temperatures?
The following genera can withstand below-freezing conditions:
- Prometheum and Rosularia
- Ruschia pulvinaris
Among these, Opuntia, Sedum, and Sempervivum are the best known. The Opuntia genus contains the prickly pear cacti or paddle cacti, many of which can survive below-zero temps. One species, O. fragilis, even survives down to Zone 3b (-35 degrees Fahrenheit).
Which individual succulent types are most popular?
Though succulent options are endless, some of the most sought-after species include:
- Blue chalk sticks (Curio talinoides var. mandraliscae, formerly Senecio mandraliscae)
- Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii)
- Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
- Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
- Snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata, formerly Sansevieria trifasciata)
- Sticks on fire (Euphorbia tirucalli)
- String of pearls (Curio rowleyanus, formerly Senecio rowleyanus)
- Zebra plant (Haworthiopsis attenuata, formerly Haworthia attenuata)
Why are succulents great for xeriscapes?
Xeriscaping is a landscaping method often used in drought-prone areas of the country. Since succulents are low-water-use plants (some more than others), landscape designers often use native succulents in their xeriscaping designs.
To learn more about xeriscaping, check out:
What about native plants and other lawn care topics for drought-prone areas?
Native plants, whether succulents or otherwise, are an excellent place to start if you live in a drought-stricken area. This is due to their ability to adapt to local conditions. In addition, we have other articles on drought-tolerant landscaping for homeowners in drought-prone areas:
- Drought-Resistant Landscaping for Phoenix
- 12 Reasons You Should Grow Native Plants
- 16 Best Native Plants for Your Phoenix Yard
Turn to a professional
Don’t want succulents to suck up all your time? Let our local lawn care pros take care of your lawn. They’ll mow, edge, and weed your succulent beds throughout the growing season so you can relax outdoors.
Main Photo Credit: chris1947 | Pixabay