JoAnne Skelly: Hardy succulents for Nevada gardens

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Lately I have found a renewed interest in succulents. There are practical reasons for using succulents as part of a Northern Nevada plant palette. First, they’re drought-tolerant. Second, they tolerate most soils as long as there’s good drainage. Third, they’re hardy and forgiving of our environmental challenges. Fourth, they’re usually undesirable fodder for most pesky critters.

However, I’m actually fond of succulents because they’re interesting. I like their fat little leaves full of water. I like their flowers, with their odd shapes and colors. I also like they put up with my neglectful, lazy gardening style.

One of my favorite succulents is Delosperma cooperi, hardy ice plant. Supposedly, it only requires watering during its bloom period, June-August, but I water it whenever the ground gets really dry, from spring to fall. It’s supposed to be planted in full sun, but mine is in partial sun and does fairly well. It probably would bloom longer in full sun. Although I’ve written previously it requires winter mulching to protect its foliage from temperature extremes, I haven’t covered it in winter and it survives. An added benefit is it’s not bothered by rabbits or squirrels.

Another preference are the sedums, which are dependable and low maintenance. Many are low-growing, doing well among rocks, hence their common name, stonecrop. They provide interesting textural and color variety in a garden. They need full sun and water once or twice a week. They propagate easily from stem cuttings. I love the upright-growing “Autumn Joy” sedum, which can reach two feet in height. It has beautiful pink blooms at this time of year, beloved by bees. I also like the dragon’s blood sedum ground cover with its dark green, bronze-tinted leaves. It blooms in summer with reddish-pink, purple or white flowers. It spreads readily to 18 inches. The sedums aren’t bothered by rabbits, squirrels or deer.

Let’s not forget the hardy hens and chicks, Sempervivum tectorum. It grows in tight low-growing rosettes and spreads by small offsets (the chick off the hen). It has star-shaped flowers in various colors and there are varieties with red, purple, lime-green or silvery blue leaves. It only needs water to prevent shriveling and does best with a little protection from our desert sun.

Not all succulents are cold-hardy, so consider that before incorporating them into your landscape.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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