Ice Plant: A type of cactus and succulent
The ice plant succulents are mainly low-growing
(to about 8 inches high) with bright, daisy-like
flowers which come in many sizes and in all colors
except blue. On overcast days the flowers close,
but in sun they present a vivid carpet of color
that can be seen for miles. In northern climates
they are treated as annuals, but in mild-winter
climates most are cared for as perennials. The
special values of ice plant succulents stem from
their mass display of color in season and the ability
of many species to control erosion. Their drawback
is their general lack of winter hardiness, which
limits outdoor usefulness to mild-winter climates.
Most species, however, are attractive enough to
be used as container plants wherever low temperatures
would limit their use in the permanent landscape.
Although most kinds grow best within a mile or
two of coastal waters, the majority will perform
well in all but the hottest, frostiest inland regions.
Carpobrotus species, Cephalophyllum 'Red Spike',
and Malephora crocea will tolerate low desert climates.
Unless heavy clay soil is your problem, no soil
preparation is necessary for ice plants. Shopping
for ice plant can sometimes be a bewildering experience.
Nurseries offer many kinds, and some are labeled
only according to flower color. It is important
to imagine how an ice plant will look out of bloom.
Some of those that flower spectacularly have nondescript
foliage during the rest of the year. Some of the
most useful as ground covers have flowers that
are hardly worth mentioning. The large-leafed types
are generally too coarse to look at home in most
gardens. Consider also whether you're going to
plant a slope or flat ground. Small-leafed or trailing
types provide much better erosion control on hillsides
than big-leafed or clump-forming types. If you
plan only to grow and enjoy them in containers,
then the amount and color of flowers will be your
chief concern. Ice plants have a deserved reputation
for resisting drought, but they can not survive
without any irrigation except near the ocean where
fog provides moisture. Inland gardeners will need
to water ice plant ground covers possibly as often
as once a week during dry seasons. Many of the
plants once conveniently lumped together as mesembryanthemum
are now classified under several different names.
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