ice plant: cactus or succulent?

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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