Companion Plants for Succulents

– Posted in: Garden Design, Succulents


At this month’s Succulent Extravaganza, Sept. 28 and 29 at Succulent Gardens near San Francisco, I’ll be speaking about companion plants for succulents that vary from ground covers to trees. Many grow in my own garden near San Diego. Two examples are above: orange California poppies (an annual) and blue fescue, a perennial that is low-growing, mounding and truly blue. Like all ornamental grasses, it adds great texture to gardens.

Speaking of texture, Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ has finely cut leaves and shimmers with a silvery blue comparable to Agave americana, shown here in my garden. In bloom higher up the slope are aloes with orange flowers.

Knifeleaf acacia, so named for its rick-rack leaves, also lends great texture to a dry garden. It blooms with yellow puffball flowers in February, and grows into a shrublike, multitrunked tree.

I’ve posted about African daisies (gazanias) before; these powerhouse perennials blast into bloom in early spring. Their vivid, hot-hued flowers are cheerful, easy-care and ongoing.

Speaking of daisies, I’m ashamed how badly I’ve treated Euryops pectinatus. I planted it in a neglected area of the garden in poor soil near a woefully underpowered irrigation riser. I can only imagine how much better it might look if I’d been nice to it.

The groundcover dymondia is a great way to add access to a succulent garden. Succulents cannot be trod upon; dymondia can. Not only can you create pathways of dymondia, you can park your car on it. Here it’s snuggling up to Agave parryi ‘Truncata’.

This is my favorite flower: Pacific Coast iris (Iris douglasiana). The petals are washed with color and detailed as though with a fine-point pen. These ephemeral blooms last but a day. The rest of the year, the leaves sort of sit there, a green clump of strappy foliage. I don’t mind; the flowers are worth it.

Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’, from Australia, is a colorful shrub from which you can harvest stems to enhance bouquets. Just don’t give the plant fertilizer with a high potassium content; leucadendrons and other proteaceae can’t handle it.

Statice, or sea lavender (limonium) grows great along the coast, where it will naturalize. Here it’s shown with blue senecio and barrel cacti.

What could be simpler than ivy geraniums? These vining plants are drought-tolerant, colorful, and start easily from cuttings. A drawback is that they grow on the tips of ever-lengthening stems that look messy over time. Every other year or so, trim them back and start new plants from the cuttings.

Tradescantia is wonderful in container gardens and doesn’t do too badly in garden beds, either. It does look ratty after a few years and will need cutting back and replanting. But the color is worth it, don’t you agree?

So, have I included your favorites, or do you have a companion plant for succulents that I’ve overlooked? It needn’t be an in-ground plant; if you have something wonderful that grows great in containers, do tell!

My goal is to share the beauty of waterwise, easy-care succulents in gardens, containers and landscapes via blog postsnewsletterspublic speaking and workshopsphotosvideosmerchandise, and social media (Facebook and Pinterest). My books: Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardensand Succulents Simplified. 



Debra Lee Baldwin
Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
12 comments… add one

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HB September 21, 2012, 3:17 pm

Leucophyta [Calocephalus] brownii, Tagetes lemonii, Calothamnus villosus, Maireana sedifolia, Solanum pyracanthum.

Cathy September 22, 2012, 6:06 am

Hi Debra,

We finally planted our long anticipated hardy succulent garden this summer. We recycled a leaky fountain into a stunning display of several varieties of Hens and Chickens (Sempervivum), Prickly Pear, several types of sedum, both tall and creeping, and jovibarba.

To fill gaps between the taller plants until they mature and to add some pops of color, we planted coleus and portulaca. We chose coleus in colors that brought out the lovely coloring of the sedum leaves and dark pink portulaca, Their leaves of the portulaca are so reminiscent of succulents that more than one garden visitor didn’t recognize them in that context.

The effect is quite phenomenal. Elsewhere in the garden, we have creeping sedum growing around roses and the taller varieties holding their own next to euonymous and asters, and believe it or not, I have them in the shady woodland garden where they are clustered with deep purple heucheras and painted fern.

You should know that your container garden book was my inspiration. 😉

Karen Chapman September 22, 2012, 9:39 am

Bonfire begonias and Sedum ‘Angelina’ look fabulous tumblimg out of a container together, especially when the sedum takes on an orange blush.

Also either Sedum ‘red dragon’ or ‘Blaze of fulda’ as a ground over under Blue Shag pine or the silver Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’.

Diana of Elephant's Eye September 22, 2012, 10:42 am

Leucadendron comes from South Africa. Your Europs looks quite happy. More food and water would probably give you more foliage, and less of the flowers.

Diana of Elephant's Eye September 22, 2012, 10:42 am

Leucadendron comes from South Africa. Your Euryops looks quite happy. More food and water would probably give you more foliage, and less of the flowers.

ricki September 22, 2012, 6:49 pm

I will be on the lookout for Dymondia…love the look. I use lots of sedums for ground cover.

Candy Suter September 22, 2012, 7:55 pm

Wonderful post dear friend! You have given me some great ideas to incorporate next year. The purple one Tradescantia does not do well here because of the heat! But I think poppies will look really great in between my large cactus. When would I want to plant them?

Cindy Davison September 22, 2012, 9:48 pm

Great suggestions, Debra. Leucadendrons are one of my favorites. Others that I’ve used alongside my succulents are Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus)…beautiful mounded ‘stacks’ of orange blooms that are filled with nectar. Grevillea, another companion in the protea family. And I’m a sucker for Lavender…another plant that does best with the least amount of attention.

Debra Lee Baldwin September 22, 2012, 10:41 pm

Diana, thanks for the correction! Candy, poppies are best sowed before winter rainstorms to ensure a good show in spring. After that, they’ll reseed on their own. Cindy, all good suggestions! Thanks, all, for stopping by.

Larissa September 24, 2012, 9:52 pm

Hi Debra,
I have some suggestions for inclusion in this list. Epilobium canum canum, formerly Zauschneria is a great drought tolerant plant that is passively weedy (easily to pull up ones you don’t want) fabulous red colors and gray green leaves. Sisirinchium bellum, native blue-eyed grass fabulous in a mixed bed and is tolerant of drought conditions. Also Mimulus auranticus sticky monkey flower which up here comes in yellow and in southern California is red. I have many more (mostly native) and I could send you pictures of most of them.
Sorry to stand on the native soap box, but I did run a native nursery for several years 🙂

Nancy September 28, 2012, 5:52 am

I really enjoy Osteospermum as a companion to my succulents, especially the purple. They reseed on their own and don’t require much water. Thank you for all of the inspiration!

Karen October 14, 2012, 12:00 pm

I have found that the gray “airy” fronds of parrots beak with the wonderful yellow bloom looks wonderful cascading down from a container of mini jade.

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