Drought Tolerant Does Not Equal Full Sun
Here’s a guide to a variety of succulents hardy enough to grow in full sun or light shade for the Central Valley -- a common question asked at the nursery.
First of all, it’s important to make the distinction that drought tolerant is not synonymous with all-day full sun. If you need plants that can handle full sun, it is good to shop in sections of the nursery where the plants are already living in full sun (i.e., outside benches and not in a greenhouse or shade house). Those plants will then already be acclimated and will have an easier transition to their new home.
The low water needs of succulents are a good match for the Central Valley, the full exposure simply does not. By mixing full sun California natives such as Buckwheat, Monkey flower, and Sages with succulents that can provide some shelter for your succulents, you can establish a lush and fool-proof landscape that will thrive in your area.
Here's a list of some specific plants that will work in the Central Valley.
Full sun: (direct sun 8+ hours a day)
Agaves & Dasylirion
These genera are the living sculptures of the garden and hardy too! Be sure to research the size at maturity, and plant far from sidewalks and pathways to prevent injury and unnecessary pruning.
Agave americana, A. geminiflora, A. parryi, Dasylirion longissimum, D. wheeleri
Coveted for large and vibrant blooms, these desert jewels are not only aesthetically interesting, but are important for birds to perch on for a rest.
Echinocactus grusonii (Golden Barrel Cactus) a great specimen for the glowing yellow spines.
Echinopsis pachanoi (San Pedro Cactus) a fast growing columnar cactus that can reach up to 20’! Plant as a property border and enjoy the large white blooms in July often enjoyed by bees.
Opuntia spp., Mammillaria spinosissima
Hardy to 0 F, the yellow or pink blooms are long lasting and loved by hummingbirds. This plant thrives in full sun and reflected heat. Also safe around children and pets, as it’s not spiky.
Extremely frost hardy, these low growing groundcovers will offer blankets of color late spring to midsummer. Some of our favorite cultivars are Delosperma nubigenum, D. ashtonii 'Blut' and Delosperma 'Oberg'.
Portulacaria afra (Elephant’s Food)- a lush shrub that can get up to 12’ tall! Hardy to 25 F, this is a great filler or foundation succulent for the garden.
Senecio mandraliscae (Blue Chalk Sticks)
This blue groundcover will form a dense mat at 18” tall. Looks great mixed in with California Poppies!
Light Sun: sun for ~4 hours but protected from full exposure all day.
Find a microclimate in your yard where shade already exists in the afternoon. For example, an oak tree that provides shade but also lets light through. Afternoon sun (2pm-5pm) are the hottest times of the day and when your succulents want relief.
These plants look their best when protected from the afternoon scorching summer sun:
Agave 'Blue Glow'- named for the glowing margins when backlit, this small Agave reaches maturity at 3’x3’
Agave attenuata- a soft Agave that offers the structural element to the garden without the injury
Cistanthe grandiflora- a garden favorite for the fuschia halo of blooms and lush appearance
Echeveria x imbricata- surprisingly vigorous and hardy, this Echeveria will offset quickly in the garden.
Kalanchoe beharensis- hardy to 30 F, this tree-like succulent can reach over 10’ at maturity. Soft, furry, and wavy leaves lead this succulent to be the specimen of the landscape.
S. spathufolium 'Carnea'
All species listed are frost hard to 30F or lower.