There’s nothing like a healthy patch of plump succulents to attract attention to your pond or garden. With tough, sun-loving leaves or spines that are built to withstand arid environments, succulents are water-preserving plants that are extremely rewarding to cultivate. Known for being slow growers, these specialized florae widely vary in color, texture, and form. The selection process should undoubtedly be a fun one, as specific characteristics can alter the aesthetic appearance or mood of your pond!
In contrast to many types of plants that are typically recommended for growth around water features, succulents will require a different sort of environment. As they are averse to having “wet feet”, they grow best in well-draining substrates such as sand and gravel, mixed with lava stones and rocks. This mixture allows for the aeration of roots and rapid drying of soil. Moreover, the sparse requirements of succulents and their adaptability to a range of conditions make them good candidates for ponds in temperate zones.
Is it safe to grow them so close to a water source, however? An elevated border with the right type of substrate should do the trick! You can even take advantage of the growth habits of some species, and create levels so that their foliage can catch the light and grow in cascades above your pond. Some varieties can also be used as crevice fillers to add color and character to your pond border. An extra clean pond edge might even be achieved by topping the substrate with pebbles and colored stones! Have fun mixing and matching inorganic elements with the attractive succulents below.
Succulents to Plant Around Your Pond
1) Aloes (Aloe spp.)
Characterized by large, fleshy leaves that arise in a rosette orientation, aloes are some of the hardiest plants in the succulent family. There are over 550 species under the Aloe genus. The most commonly known aloe is Aloe vera, due to its widespread use in topical medicine. Several species are considered “stemless” as the leaves grow from a crown at ground level, whereas others have towering stems and can be tree-like or arborescent as they reach maturity. Varieties are often distinguished by their leaves, which can vary in color from gray to dark green, and can be differentiated by markings, stripes, and textured red edges.
Though aloes can withstand regular watering, their roots will not thrive in consistently wet soil. This goes for many other succulent species. One vital method to employ is deep, yet infrequent, watering sessions that intermittently allow the top few inches of substrate to dry out completely. Given proper growth conditions, aloes produce deep or pastel-colored flower spikes that have an ombre effect, as though they are painted in increasingly lighter shades toward the top of the petals or clusters. These blooms tend to appear in the winter, though there are enough varieties to ensure that flowering can occur throughout the year.
As aloes will appreciate receiving as much light as possible, situate them along a sunny border of your pond. Do bear in mind, however, that they are prone to sunburn and their foliage must be given time to adjust to sun exposure if moved from an indoor situation. For a textured border, select a variety of aloe species and provide ample space between each plant so that they have room to grow. The following have attractive foliage and can easily be propagated via ‘aloe pups’ that arise from a mother plant: Aloe arborescens, Aloe variegata, Aloe zanzibarica, and Aloe polyphylla.
2) Creeping sedums (Sedum spp.)
Crucial to every backyard oasis, sedums are perfect for adding dimension to your pond setup. They can be grown upright at ground level, allowed to cascade out of suspended pots, or used as a filler plant for rocky crevices. They are sometimes referred to as stonecrops as they can grow out of spaces with very little soil. Usually “creeping” over substrate in the wild, sedums have the tendency to form extensive mats or carpets, making them great candidates as pond edge plants.
Sedums are typically characterized by delicate stems that can range in length from just 8 cm (3 inches) to over a meter (40 inches). They have fat fleshy leaves, sometimes tapered or rounded, that turn red at the tips under prolonged sun exposure. Notable long-stemmed varieties, perfect for growing in hanging or suspended pots include burro’s tail (Sedum morganianum) and jelly beans (Sedum rubrotinctum). Varieties that are perfect for rocky outcroppings and for ground cover include sedum ‘blue carpet’, Sedum stenopetalum, and Sedum divergens. These varieties also produce flowers that range in color from vibrant yellows to soft pinks.
Hardy to USDA zones 4 – 9, these succulents have no special requirements. They change in appearance depending on seasonal conditions, making them an interesting addition to ponds located in temperate areas. Care for your sedums by regularly checking the foliage for disease, decay, and pests. Do note that these succulents are notorious for attracting mealybugs and scale insects, as they tend to grow in very crowded conditions where aeration around the base of the plants is limited.
3) Hen & chicks (Sempervivum spp.)
Succulents that provide pups in abundance, hen & chicks are perhaps some of the easiest plants to propagate. Belonging to the Sempervivum genus, members of this group of low-growing perennials are also referred to as houseleeks. The numerous offsets of this plant arise in clusters around a mother plant, which can grow to be as wide as a small plate! Leaves arise from a short stem in a rosette orientation and can vary in color from silvery blue to copper red.
If you intend to have a rocky border around your pond, hen & chicks are prime candidates for filling in gaps and for creating mats on shallow soil. It is best to plant these during spring, in well-draining, sandy, and pH-neutral soil. If you intend to grow these in containers around your pond, make sure that you use clay pots, as these will allow the soil to dry out faster. Keep in mind that this plant should only receive water when the soil is dry, as too much moisture can encourage root rot and attract pests. Select areas of your pond edge that receive full sun exposure, as the foliage of hen & chicks become more vibrant when sun-stressed.
Hen & chicks are known for being exceptionally hardy. They prefer temperatures between 65 – 75˚F (18 – 24˚C), but can withstand lower temperatures by entering a semi-dormant state. Given proper conditions, a single cluster can extend to 2 feet (61 cm) wide and spread through underground roots. Refrain from using fertilizer, as this plant thrives best in poor soils. Colorful varieties you should consider for your pond include the Sempervivum ‘black’ cultivar, which has purple tips, and Sempervivum ‘terracotta baby’, which has fiery orange-red foliage.
4) Rosette succulents (Echeveria spp.)
Lauded for having some of the most eye-catching varieties, with pastel colors that can sometimes look unreal in nature, Echeveria species are some of the most widely cultivated succulents. Varieties and hybrids are endless and those with unique color patterns, such as the Echeveria ‘rainbow’ cultivar, can come at a hefty price. Echeveria has more than 1,000 cultivars that range in color from white to black, and everything in between. This genus is known for its even more colorful flowers that can bloom several times a year.
Rosette succulents deserve to be a focal point of your pond edge. To enhance the appearance of their leaves, cover the soil with toppings that can highlight the color of the plant. If you are worried about moisture retention, some great options to consider are pumice or perlite. The leaves of rosette succulents taper obliquely at the ends or may even be spoon-shaped. They can carefully be twisted off of the stem and used for propagation! This is one of the most magical features of rosette succulents, as roots and leaflets will sprout out of healthy leaves despite having minimal access to water and soil.
Hardy to USDA zones 9 – 11, Echeveria species require proper air circulation, as crowded conditions can attract pests and trap moisture. They prefer low humidity environments and thrive best in zones where nighttime temperatures (decreasing to 32˚F/0˚C) are considerably cooler than daytime temperatures. Exposure to full sun will bring out the color of foliage, but be wary of sunburn if using young or indoor-acclimated plants. Some varieties you should consider for your pond border include ghost echeveria, neon breaker, topsy turvy, and Perle von Nurnberg.
5) Flowering kalanchoes (Kalanchoe spp.)
Pronounced ‘KAL-ən-KOH-ee,’ this succulent has more than just an endearing name – it produces vibrant flowers that range in color from white to purple, and yellow to red. A popular windowsill plant that will almost always be available at your local plant nursery, kalanchoe are thick-leaved plants that can withstand a wide range of conditions. Some varieties can thrive in low or indirect light, and are thus suitable for the more shaded areas of your pond border. These include cultivars of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, commonly known as widow’s thrill or Christmas kalanchoe. To enhance the appearance of your pond, accent border stones by flanking them with the differently colored cultivars.
To ensure that your kalanchoes bloom repeatedly, they must be provided with seasonal variation. Luckily, this means that outdoor conditions should suffice as long as your pond is located in a temperate zone. With paddle-shaped leaves that are occasionally scalloped along the edges, kalanchoes have foliage that is often as attractive as their flowers. Hardy to USDA zones 8 – 10, this succulent thrives best in mild temperatures and maritime climate conditions. It should be grown in well-draining soil, though most varieties can withstand slightly more moisture compared to other succulents.
Aside from K. blossfeldiana, kalanchoe varieties you may want to consider for your pond borders include K. beharensis, K. manginii, and K. pinnata. If you have dogs and cats that roam free in your garden, or you wish to attract certain animals, you may want to situate your kalanchoes in an area that is difficult to access or avoid planting them altogether. This succulent contains a toxic compound called bufadienolide, which can cause severe vomiting when ingested.
6) Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi)
A succulent that can mesmerizingly cascade toward your pond’s surface? Christmas cactus, especially during its bloom period, is a show-stopper that you may want to consider as a backdrop for your pond. In the wild, this succulent actually favors humid conditions, as it can grow in hollows of tropical trees or along rocky forest outcroppings. It belongs to a small genus, Schlumbergera, that is characterized by leafless stems, called cladodes. Impressively deceptive, its segmented stems look leaflike to the non-observant eye and are equipped with photosynthetic capabilities.
Unlike other succulents, the Christmas cactus will appreciate being closer to your pond’s edge, and may even welcome a splash or two from your pond’s inhabitants. If your pond’s water level is just a few inches off the edge, you will want to grow this plant in a tall pot so that its stems can drape properly without getting too wet. Its showy flowers are oriented either downwards or horizontally and have delicate petals that form fleshy fruits upon fertilization. Schlumbergera is also quite different from typical succulents in that it prefers being cast in shade. Prolonged exposure to afternoon sun can damage the segmented stems and cause them to shrivel up.
Though this is a rainforest plant, it is also quite drought-tolerant. Hardy to USDA zones 10 – 12, Schlumbergera thrives best in temperatures ranging from 57 – 72˚F (13.8 – 22.2˚C). If located outside of these zones, you may have to bring the plant indoors for winter. It can be propagated via stem cuttings which, when calloused, can be planted into moist soil. If you intend to purchase one from your local nursery, you may also want to check for hybrids of Schlumbergera truncata, which have erect blooms.
7) Tree houseleeks (Aeonium spp.)
There are approximately 35 species of tree houseleeks, which are soft-leaved succulents that thrive best in dry, mild climates. These are more sensitive compared to other succulents, and will not tolerate intense sunlight. Aeonium will happily grow in partly shaded sections of your pond border, as long as the soil is not allowed to dry out completely. Characterized by shallow root systems, several tree houseleek species have stems that can extend to more than a meter off the ground. There are also several low-growing species that can grow under the rosette canopies of larger ones.
At the tips of their stems, aeoniums form striking rosettes with foliage that can extensively vary in color. One of the most striking cultivars is Aeonium ‘Sunburst’, which has striped yellow and green leaves, along with pink margins. This combination of colors makes each rosette appear to glow and draw in light! This particular cultivar would be an almost hypnotic addition to your pond border. If you’re looking to adopt a more somber mood for your pond, look for Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’, which has deep purple rosettes. The waxy leaves of this cultivar look unreal!
Make sure you use sand or gravel as a substrate for your aeoniums. Proper drainage is key for this plant, as it is easily susceptible to root rot. With proper care, they tend to bloom in the summer months, and reward onlookers with bright yellow flower stalks that are even more striking than their leaves! Fortunately, cultivars can easily be propagated via stem cuttings – young slender segments work best for this purpose.
8) Snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
A beginner-friendly succulent that can provide your pond edge with a dramatic flair, Sansevieria trifasciata is one of the most commonly cultivated tropical plants. Widely known as the snake plant for the patterns on its foliage, this species is so hardy that it can thrive in virtual neglect! It grows best in soil conditions that are typically favored by most succulents, i.e. well-draining soil that is allowed to dry out prior to re-watering. Unlike other succulents, however, it does not tolerate strong light conditions. For this reason, it has become a very popular indoor plant and is even known for improving air quality in homes!
For outdoor growth, select a shaded area of your pond edge. This species can be grown alongside smoother varieties of Aloe, as they have similar requirements for growth. Believed to bring good luck and protection, this pretty succulent has variegated leaves that taper sharply at the tip. Also known as bowstring hemp, this plant’s tough leaves are made up of strong fibers which were once used to produce bowstrings! Mature leaves can grow to 90 cm (35 inches) long and 6 cm (2.4 inches) wide.
You may opt to grow it in pots around your pond if located outside USDA hardiness zones 9 – 11. Though this species is relatively undemanding, you may have to bring your snake plant pots indoors in preparation for winter as its leaves are not frost-hardy. Fortunately, this species is resistant to many pests and diseases and can easily be propagated by dividing clumps of leaves. If you’re looking for something that’s less expensive, yet has a lot of potential to beautify your outdoor pond, the snake plant will do the trick!