Earlier this year, I had so many deer browsing in my garden, I thought the term “deer-resistant” was a cruel joke. Don’t they read those lists anymore?
My succulents, however, were never victims. If you haven’t paid much attention to these old standbys for a while, it’s time for another look.
There are succulents that thrive in both shade and sun. That’s because they originate from many different environments.
Many come from the deserts of the world, while others developed in poor, rocky soil in the cold, windy alpine regions of Europe. A surprising number of succulent plants are native to the Rocky Mountains and Peruvian Andes. Still others evolved on the shores of saltwater lakes and oceans, where they adapted to high salt concentrations.
Almost any environment is suitable for growing some kind of succulent — it merely depends on choosing the right one.
Many local gardens are frosty in the winter. The common winter-hardy succulent varieties most resistant to cold are sedum, sempervivum, echeveria, crassula, agave, dudleya and yucca.
To ensure success when growing succulents, make sure your soil is fast-draining. Our winter rains can rot even the toughest plants when their feet sit in soggy soil. Add sand and gravel to your soil, or plant succulents on mounds to improve drainage.
Sempervivum and echeveria, both low-growing groundcovers, are also known as hens-and-chicks. They spread by producing identical offsets that surround the mother plant like chicks.
Due to extensive breeding, you can choose from more than 4,000 named varieties. Some are tightly clustered, others are more open, with smooth or velvety leaves in shades ranging from near black to pinks, purples, lavender, apricot and every shade of green. A metallic sheen glints off the leaves of some types, while others, such as Silver King and Red Ruben, have leaves outlined in fuzzy white hairs. The colors change through the seasons, and in summer, star-like flowers bloom atop fat, tall stems.
While the distinct rosette forms of hens-and-chicks are easily recognizable, sedums are more varied in their shape and colors.
Low-growing varieties include sedum makinoi Ogon, one of my favorites for its tiny carpet-like golden foliage. Coppertone grows 12 inches tall with thick, coppery-colored leaves. Sedum tricolor makes a nice groundcover in sunny areas. Sedum Autumn Joy’s rosy pink flower clusters look beautiful in large swaths combined with pheasant tail grass and Santa Barbara daisy.
There are many other sedums to choose from that do well in our area. All are reliable perennials in our climate. They will not take foot traffic but are otherwise tough, low-maintenance plants.
Succulents can be used in so many ways in the garden. Use them in pots or in the front of a border, where they provide texture. They can be used to fill in between shrubs or clumps of perennials.
Every garden has a problem spot — one that is too hot, too dry, too awkward or too shallow for other plants. That is where succulents come to the rescue.
• Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at [email protected].

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