Delightful Ice Plants: A Colorful Addition to Your Garden

by John, Gardening Enthusiast

Delosperma Fire Spinner
Delosperma Fire Spinner

Ice Plants, scientifically known as Delosperma, have their roots in the beautiful landscapes of Africa. However, within this genus, cold hardy species can be found in the mountainous regions and deserts of South Africa and Lesotho, the highest elevation country in the world. Fascinatingly, the name “Ice Plant” comes from the sparkling evergreen foliage of certain plants within this genus.

The Incredible Journey of Cold Hardy Ice Plants

In the early 1990s, Panayoti Kelaidis, the former Director of Denver Botanic Gardens’s Rock Alpine Garden, embarked on a journey to South Africa to study its unique flora. During his exploration, he discovered Delosperma plants thriving in snowy mountain regions. Inspired by this, he began testing Delosperma cooperi as a potential addition to the intermountain plant palette. To his surprise, these plants not only survived the winter but also started a revolution in cold hardy Delosperma cultivation. Over the last two decades, numerous fantastic species and hybrid Ice Plants have been cultivated, with many more to come!

Delosperma 'Lavender Ice'
Delosperma ‘Lavender Ice’

Benefits of Planting with Cold Hardy Ice Plants

As a gardening enthusiast, I frequently incorporate Delosperma in my xeriscapes. These showy groundcovers not only provide an abundance of nectar and pollen for honeybees but also perfectly complement gravel mulch, a common feature in waterwise landscapes. These plants rapidly cover the gravel, offering relief from glare and heat, while their blooming flowers bring a vibrant splash of colors to the surroundings. Ice Plants are highly waterwise and do not require excessive watering. However, they do not appreciate being overly dry. I recommend watering established plants deeply once every week to 10 days, especially in the absence of rain, to maintain their succulent foliage and ensure abundant flowering.

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Delosperma Alans Apricot
Delosperma Alans Apricot

Delosperma thrives in poor, infertile, and well-drained soils, as they dislike having their roots constantly wet in rich loam or clay. In areas with higher precipitation, such as the Mid-West and Eastern US, ensuring excellent winter drainage is crucial. To prepare Ice Plants for the winter season, I always advise gardeners to stop watering them in the fall. This allows the plants to cease growth and slightly dehydrate in anticipation of freezing temperatures. In the spring, cutting back the plants by about half their size helps remove any damaged stems and leaves, revitalizing them for the summer months.

Delightful Varieties to Explore

Let me introduce you to some of my favorite Delosperma varieties:

  1. Delosperma Firespinner – The stunning combination of orange and lavender flowers in late spring is truly mesmerizing. The vibrant colors will undoubtedly catch your eye. Firespinner thrives in colder climates and requires a month or two of winter cold to stimulate its spring flowering. It’s not suitable for warmer climates in zones 8-10.

  2. Delosperma ‘Lavender Ice’ – This lovely hybrid, introduced by Perennial Favorites Nursery in Rye, CO, showcases huge, shimmering light lavender-pink flowers. Its blooming season extends for several months, starting in late spring. For a memorable blend of colors, I recommend planting ‘Lavender Ice’ alongside darker flowered types like ‘Blut’ and D. cooperi.

  3. Delosperma ashtonii ‘Blut’ – Discovered in Kelly Grummons’s garden in Lakewood, Colorado, ‘Blut’ is an everblooming variety that flaunts the deepest magenta-red flowers you’ll ever see. Its foliage remains durable and reliably evergreen, making it one of my top three favorites.

  4. Delosperma sp. ‘Lesotho Pink’ – This High Country Gardens introduction blooms for a month in early to mid-spring, covering itself with medium-sized clear pink flowers. Its tight mat-like foliage adds visual appeal throughout the year. Selected from a group of plants grown from seed collected in Lesotho at an astonishing elevation of nearly 11,000 feet, it is one of the most cold hardy species available.

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So why not consider introducing these delightful Ice Plants to your garden? Their stunning colors, waterwise nature, and ability to thrive in various climates make them a perfect choice for any garden enthusiast.

Text and photos provided by Ames Farm Center.