9 Large Outdoor Succulents

Although succulents have garnered the reputation of being among the best indoor plants, there are a few varieties that are perfect for your garden.

Here are some large outdoor succulents that are popular among residential gardeners.

1. Fire Sticks

Fire Stick
Image: istockphoto.com / seven75

Also known by names like Pencil Cactus, Milk Bush, and Naked Lady, the Fire Sticks succulent (Euphorbia tirucalli) is the perfect addition to gardens located in areas that receive little rainfall.

With proper support, the plant can reach a height of 20 feet. This is why this stunning plant is often used as wall and window covers. Some homeowners keep the plant primarily because it makes a good burglar deterrent.

The plant thrives best when it gets anywhere between four to six hours of sunlight a day. It cannot survive harsh winters and needs to be brought in until the end of winter.

Be careful in handling this plant. The plant’s fingers have a built-in protective mechanism that is activated even with the slightest touch.

Touching the plant releases a white, milky sap which can irritate the eye and skin. Furthermore, the sap can be quite difficult to remove. 

Unless necessary, do not handle the plant. If you need to, make sure to wear the appropriate protective gear.

2. Mexican Grass Tree

Mexican Grass Tree
Image: istockphoto.com / ArtesiaWells

The Mexican Grass Tree (Dasylirion quadrangulatum) can be kept in a container or planted on the ground as an accent plant for xeriscapes and rustic or contemporary gardens.

The succulent can grow up to 10 feet, although there are specimens that reportedly reach 15 feet in height.

The plant is characterized by its symmetrical leaves which radiate from a woody trunk. 

The Mexican Grass Tree is a slow grower that can withstand droughts once fully established. Like many succulents, the plant does not require much water. However, frequent watering can make it grow faster.

If you want to coax more growth from the plant by watering it more frequently, make sure to avoid watering it from the crown to prevent rot.

The plant prefers the full sun although it can tolerate partial shade.

3. Variegated Fox Tail Agave

The Variegated Fox Tail Agave (Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripes’) is a cultivar of the Fox Tail Agave.

This agave is often marketed as Kara’s Stripe and is named after the wife of Gary Gragg. Gragg is the person who discovered and removed the sport growing in his garden. This cultivar was granted a patent in 2008.

The plant can grow up to four feet in height and spread out at around four feet as well. It has butter-yellow leaves that have green margins.

It can be planted directly to the ground or in a container. The Variegated Fox Tail prefers the full sun. If you live in an area with harsh winters, it is advisable to move the plant indoors or to a greenhouse. Variegated plants are more vulnerable to frost.

Additionally, watch out for snails that can damage this agave.

4. Beavertail Cactus

Beavertail Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / BrianLasenby

The Beavertail Cactus can only grow by about a foot but it can spread up to six feet wide.

Its gray-green and oval-shaped stems look like the tail of a beaver, hence its quirky name. The stems or pads are covered with barbed tips and bristles. Around spring, the top of the stems bloom rose-purple flowers.

The cactus is one of the easiest to care for succulents. It is deer resistant and is almost immune to most diseases that plague plants.

It does not require much to thrive. As long as you place this cactus in a sunny location and well-draining soil, you do not need to do anything more, save for the occasional removal of pads.

You can remove the pads if you want to limit the spread of the cactus. Be sure to wear gloves when performing this task.

Keep this cactus away from areas frequented by people and pets. The spines are irritating to the skin.

5. Totem Pole Cactus

Totem Pole Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / viavado

The Totem Pole Cactus is a columnar cactus that can grow as tall as 12 feet.

The cactus has a short trunk that grows tall, smooth-skinned stems. Unlike other cacti, the Totem Pole does not have visible spines. Instead, it has areoles or small bumps all over its body.

These small bumps look like small faces etched on the cactus, hence the name Totem Pole.

Although the succulent can be kept indoors, it thrives in an environment that mimics its place of origin.

Typically, the cactus is grown in succulent gardens, placed along with other cacti and succulents which highlight its tall stature.

The plant prefers the full sun. In fact, it grows best in areas that are unsuitable even for some types of cacti.

But despite its tolerance of extreme heat, it cannot survive freezing temperatures.

6. Jumping Cholla

Jumping Cholla
Image: istockphoto.com / Delaney Cato

Also known as the Hanging Chain Cholla, the Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida) has earned a bad reputation because of its survival mechanism.

The cactus is called the Jumping Cholla because its barbed cactus spines seem to jump on and latch on to people or animals that come close to it.

Technically speaking, these barbed spines do not jump. However, these cactus parts detach easily. The plant uses this mechanism to help propagate itself.

When people or animals manage to remove the spines off themselves, the spines develop roots once reaching the ground.

If you are willing to give this tree-like cactus a chance, you will be rewarded with an interesting plant that is easy to care for.

Like most cacti, it requires several hours under the sun and well-draining soil.

7. Old Man Cactus

Old Man Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / Nature, food, landscape, travel

In Latin, the Old Man Cactus’ scientific name Cephalocereus senilis roughly translates to thin old man.

And it is easy to see why. This columnar cactus is covered by what seems to be white hair. The white hairs are soft to the touch and help protect the plant from temperature extremes. 

Apart from its white hair, the plant is fondly called the Old Man because of its longevity. In the wild, specimens can live up to 200 years, reaching a height of 20 feet.

Although the plant tolerates the full sun, it prefers the afternoon shade. If you want the plant to grow more hair, it is best to keep it under the full sun. 

Over time, the white hairs can become dirty and discolored. You can wash the hairs with a mild soap and water mixture.

8. Organ Pipe Cactus

Organ Pipe Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / LindaJohnsonbaugh

The Organ Pipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) is a columnar cactus that can grow up to over 20 feet tall and 16 feet wide.

It is called as such because its branches look like the organ pipes typically seen in churches. Each branch has 12 to 19 ridges.

The whole plant is covered in spines. Initially, these spines have a black color. As the plant matures, these spines take on a lighter color.

This cactus is a slow grower, making it suitable for both indoor and outdoor planting. It is estimated that the cactus can live up to 150 years old.

A native of southern Arizona, the Organ Pipe Cactus requires the full sun and hot temperatures to thrive. Like most cacti, you should not water this plant frequently. The only exception to this rule is during the summer months when it needs more water.

The cactus has been used both for construction and its fruits, as a food source.

9. Silver Torch Cactus

Silver Torch Cactus
Image: istockphoto.com / Karin de Mamiel

The Silver Torch Cactus (Cleistocactus strausii) is a columnar cactus that is covered in fine, silver-colored needles and bristles. It is sometimes called the Wooly Torch because of these bristles and needles.

A native of both Argentina and Bolivia, the cactus is capable of reaching a height of 10 feet. 

The main stem produces branches from the base. Each of these stems has 25 ribs with roughly 30 whites spines and four yellow spines.

The plant produces magenta-colored flowers between spring and summer. These flowers only last four to five days and do not fully open.

Although the plant prefers the full sun, it is not like other cacti that can thrive under extreme heat. In fact, the plant should not be subjected to temperature extremes.

The Silver Torch can survive sub-zero temperatures, but only for a limited time.

Planting succulents outdoors

Some people believe that succulents can only be kept indoors. But no matter where you live, you can grow succulent outdoors. However, you will need to plan your succulent garden carefully, taking into account a few critical factors.

Selecting plants

If you are new to keeping succulents outdoors, you should stick to succulents that are fuss-free and easy to care for. Among the most popular choices are sedum, aloe, echeveria, aeonium, and sempervivum.

No matter what succulent you choose, it is important to remember that these plants require fast-draining soil.

Succulents are resilient and can easily overcome tough environmental conditions. However, their roots are sensitive to excess moisture, hence the importance of fast-draining soil.

Excessive moisture can cause root rot which is the number one cause of succulent deaths.

Ground vs. containers

Should you plant your succulents directly to the ground or should you keep them in containers?

Containers

Save for a few succulents, most of these plants cannot survive freezing temperatures. If you live in an area with cold weather, you have no other option but to keep your plants in pots.

Using planters allows you to move your succulents indoors or to a greenhouse. Plus, if you choose pots for your succulents, you can control the amount of water they receive.

Succulent growers have kept their plants in different types of containers, from glass to ceramic pots. Each of these has its pros and cons.

However, if you are keeping your plants outdoors, it is highly advisable to opt for ceramic pots with drainage holes. Ceramic pots can naturally wick away excess moisture. This is particularly important during the rainy seasons.

Ground

On the other hand, if you live in an area that has a warm climate throughout most of the year, you should strongly consider planting your succulents directly to the ground.

Before planting your succulents directly to the ground, be sure to check if the soil is well-draining. 

Dig a hole about one foot deep and one foot wide. Allow the soil to dry completely for a day. Cover the hole to ensure that no moisture gets in.

The following day, pour water in the hole, just enough to fill it up. After that, check the hole after 10 to 30 minutes. If all the water is gone, it means that the soil is fast-draining. 

If you are planning on planting succulents that spread out, make sure that you leave adequate space on the ground.

Caring for outdoor succulents

Whether you are keeping your plants in containers or if you have planted them on the ground, one of the most important things that you need to do is to water them correctly.

For container plants, you should wait until the soil is completely dry in between each watering session.

On the other hand, most succulents planted on the ground do not need as much water. However, you can give them more water during the warmer months or if you notice that their leaves are starting to shrivel.

If you are uncertain whether it is time to give your succulents water, err on the side of under-watering and wait a couple of days.

Succulents are not susceptible to a lot of pests and diseases. But if there is one insect that you should watch out for, that would be the mealybug.

Outdoor succulents are particularly vulnerable to mealybugs. If you notice signs of an infestation, be sure to treat the infected plant immediately.

If you live in an area where the temperatures can get below zero degrees, you will need to move your succulents indoors.

But before you move your plants indoors, make sure to check them for infestations. You would not want to infect your other indoor plants with an infected succulent.

Most succulents need ample sunlight. Be sure to pick a sunny spot inside your home. Alternatively, you can buy grow lights for your succulents.

The perfect outdoor plant

There is no perfect outdoor plant. But there are a few that come close: succulents.

If you are looking for a beautiful plant that requires minimal care and attention, check out the plants that made it to this list. If you prefer to plant using pots, see our article on large potted succulents.

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