Succulents and Cacti in the Winter Landscape

Cacti and succulents are attention-getting, easy care additions to the landscape. And they practically guarantee a yard that looks as good in winter as it does in summer.

Driving through my neighborhood this winter I couldn’t help but notice dormant plants and brown lawns. It doesn’t need to be that way, as I have discovered by transforming my own front yard to feature attractive water-saving plants.

At this time of year evergreen shrubs and trees add needed structure, but I find winter landscapes featuring hardy cacti and succulents more interesting. I’m not talking about sidewalk-swallowing agave clumps that threaten neighborhood children. There are many well-behaved varieties available at local nurseries that can provide year-round landscape beauty when combined with perennials and groundcover.

Cacti and succulents are attention-getting, easy care additions to the landscape. I was skeptical when we began our landscape project several years ago during a drought, but after more than a few plants failed to thrive I looked for another way. I quickly saw the beauty in adding a hardy succulent or two like agave ovatifolia. This silvery living sculpture commands attention from its prominent corner year-round.

Many of us have a spot where the sun beats down relentlessly in the summer, so starting there with sun-friendly hardy plants like native hesperaloe parviflora instead of constantly replacing burned-out grass is a good option. Mix in succulent groundcovers like hardy sedum to soften the look of gravel or mulch and you’ll have a landscape that looks great no matter the weather.

Why not give succulents and cacti a try for winter hardiness? Here are a few of my favorites:

  • For year-round color, silvery or golden hues of most cacti and succulents contrast nicely with an evergreen background. Color guard and bright edge yuccas or golden and red barrel cactus are also good choices. Another colorful option is opuntia santa-rita, a prickly pear cactus that turns purple in winter with bright yellow blooms in spring.
  • Concerned about spikes? Soft-leaf and twist-leaf yuccas are a good choice. Nolinas grow into soft, grassy mounds and spineless prickly pear adds structure without the prickles. Hardy succulents like ghost plant and sedum offer spike-free interest in the garden.

Pulling into my driveway I see a different picture from the surrounding dormant lawns — a landscape that looks as good in winter as it does in summer. But what do the neighbors think? We’ve had so many compliments on our landscape since we made the switch and several neighbors have mentioned they plan to follow our lead. The added bonus is these plants need little care once established and our water bill is a fraction of our neighbors. I’d call that a landscape success story.

Shirley Fox gardens in north San Antonio and blogs about her garden at Rock-Oak-Deer.

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Our Guest Authors are fantastic former SAWS employees, incredible interns and community leaders in the local landscaping world. They are all as passionate as we are about saving water with beautiful, diverse landscapes.
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