The skeptical look on my
neighbor’s face expressed even more than she had said.
She had briefly wondered aloud whether the in-ground
echeverias we were observing could survive local outdoor
conditions. Apparently, their dainty rosettes seemed to
her a bit too delicate to endure as outside plantings in
our Austin neighborhood.
Like most of us, she was
familiar with this succulent primarily as a popular
houseplant. Since the late-18th century, varieties of
houseplant echeveria (pronounced ECH-AH-VER-E-AH) have
been cherished for their exquisite leaf colors and
forms, particularly spiral variations of their foliage.
And their low maintenance has long enhanced their
attractiveness as houseplants.
Echeverias are so
unfussy that they can be easily grown in a dish or a
glass. In fact, ‘Afterglow,’ ‘Lola,’ crimson-tipped
Pulido’s echeveria and tiny E. bella have
recently emerged as featured selections in Terrarium
Craft (2011) by Amy Bryant Aiello and Kate Bryant.
If echeverias can do well in a dish or a glass, their
home-care must indeed be minimal.
known, though, is the fact that outdoor care for some
echeverias is also minimal. While it’s true that
echeveria species and hybrids vary in requirements, a
few types can be successfully maintained outside
year-round from North Central Texas southward. They can
be grown outdoors in containers and also in the ground.
Actually, some echeverarias are Texas natives,
including E. strictiflora. Sometimes called
desert savior, this Far West Texas hummingbird magnet
ekes out a precarious existence among rockslides. Even
so, as Geyata Ajilvsgi has reported in Wildflowers
of Texas, this scarlet-flowered succulent also
“grows well in cultivation, both in containers and in
native xeriscaped gardens.” The Lady Bird Johnson
Wildflower Center, which provides two photographs of
E. strictiflora (www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ECST),
recommends “a little shade in arid regions” when
gardening with this native succulent.
the epicenter for echeverias, but even there they are
frequently found among highland rocky cliffs. So despite
their delicate appearance, many echeverias are tougher
than they look. Moreover, according to Dr. Robert Barth
(owner of Oracle Gorge Cactus Nursery in Westlake),
“many of those seen in cultivation are garden hybrids
which are often hardier and more vigorous than the
That’s good news.
The trouble is, though, that too often echeverias are
marketed without adequate or any taxonomic information.
Many are simply tagged as “echeveria,” often with the
unhelpful word “assorted.” Echeveria species cross and
recross with extraordinary ease to form hard-to-identify
hybrids, and they have also been crossed with other
genera, including sedum. Consequently, the back-story of
too many marketed echeverias generally remains a
mystery, sometimes to a gardener’s disadvantage. Just
how difficult this matter can be is evident in Gwen
Moore Kelaidis’s handsome Hardy Succulents
(2008), which includes a number of pictured echeverias
without ever identifying any of them by species or
cultivar name. So when selecting any echeveria for
outdoor planting, it helps to get a reliably tagged
plant or a recommendation from experienced local
personnel — in the Austin area, for example, from Oracle
Gorge (512-327-1173), the Living Desert (www.livingdesertcactus.com) or the
Natural Gardener (www.naturalgardeneraustin.com).
in San Antonio and farther south can count on carpet
echeveria (E. agavoides) as an outdoor plant.
Actually, judging from the new 2012 USDA plant hardiness
zone map, Central Texas gardeners (zone 8b) should also
be able to grow this succulent year-round outside. There
are a number of striking cultivars of this Mexican
plant, including ‘Maria,’ ‘Lipstick,’ ‘Prolifera,’
‘Stockton,’ ‘Red Edge’ and ‘Ebony.’
of carpet echeveria are typically red, as are the tips
of its foot-wide, bright green foliage. You might,
however, get lucky and find you have a yellow-flowered
one. Usually carpet echeveria forms solitary rosettes
instead of colonies. Hardy between 15º and 20º F, it
does best when positioned in Lone Star garden borders
with bright light, not direct sun-exposure.
the same hardiness of between 15º and 20º F, red
echeveria (E. ‘Pulv-Oliver’) will ornament a rocky
incline, a task it performs nicely (for instance) in
mass plantings at the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena,
California. This succulent has red-tipped, fuzzy,
pale-green foliage reaching 10 or so inches in height,
but it spreads easily and is incredibly cute. Like
carpet echeveria, in Texas ‘Pulv-Oliver’ should be
protected from too much direct exposure to sunlight.
For even more of a groundcover look, there’s
prolific echeveria (E. prolifica). It lives up
to its name “prolific” by readily producing numerous
miniature silvery-green rosette offsets. Sharing the
common name “hen and chicks” with several other plants,
this succulent is as cold hardy as carpet and red
echeverias and, like them, should be protected from
Gardeners in Far South Texas have
even more options, including painted echeveria (E.
nodulosa), ‘Fire and Ice’ (E. subrigida)
and various hybrids, such as ‘Black Prince’ and ‘Violet
Queen.’ Each is cold hardy to 20º F, which is safely
below the 25º F low typical for zone 9b. The
wide-spreading cabbage echeveria (E. gibbiflora)
would be a reasonable bet, too, in Far South Texas.
The windowsill beauty ‘Perle von Nürnberg,’ a
popular cross between Echeveria gibbiflora var.
metallica and E. potosina, could be
risked outdoors in the Brownsville area. So could the
aptly named peacock echeveria (E. peacockii),
with gorgeous six-inch, blue-green rosettes tinged with
lavender. Unfortunately, two very different-looking
plants are taxonomically identified as E. peacockii,
and it is helpful when the more beautiful (if less
“true”) one is tagged as E. subsessilis.
north, including the Austin area, some gardeners have
been successfully exploiting microclimate niches to
cultivate peacock echeverias as year-round in-ground
plantings. And they have also been zone-pushing both
cabbage and painted echeverias.
tried-and-true species that survives outdoors in most of
Texas, though, is Runyon echeveria (E. runyonii).
The plant is named for Dr. Robert Runyon, who is said to
have found it growing in a Matamoros garden during the
early 1900s. It forms attractive fleshy rosettes with
occasional arching spikes flaunting floral vases.
‘Topsy Turvy’ is a Runyon echeveria featuring
lightly hued blue-gray foliage with leaf-tips curving
inward toward the center of the plant. It is a
fast-grower, readily yielding offsets and spectacular
flowers. It has been reported (at Plant Delights Nursery
in North Carolina) to withstand 7º F.
echeveria (E. glauca) can withstand 10º F. In
favorable settings, each blue echeveria will form an
8-inch blue-green rosette that rapidly expands by
producing clumped “pups.” It’s a great choice for garden
While E. runyonii and E.
glauca can endure winter in most of Texas, their
foliage tends to suffer some weather-related tissue
damage here and there. At least that is what I have seen
in Central Texas. So, come spring, some cosmetic pruning
might be necessary.
Actually, cold is less of an
issue with Runyon and blue echeverias than is summer
sunlight. In Austin, I have found, outdoor echeverias
typically wither away under blasting summer sunlight.
So, as I have suggested above, these succulents perform
best in brightly lit settings, though some direct
exposure to morning sunlight should be all right.
Even in ideal beds, echeverias slow down in
triple-digit weather followed by hot nights. There is
nothing you can do about this except remember that your
outdoor echeverias are not ill when they seem to “stall”
around mid-summer. If they have not been damaged by
excessive dehydration, they will spring back into action
when the weather cools a bit.
If scorching sunlight is more of an echeverian issue
than cold, so is winter rain. Vulnerable to too much
moisture, echeverias fail in soggy beds. In their
natural rocky settings, rain briefly saturates echeveria
roots and then quickly drains away. So automatic
sprinklers are out of the equation for success with
garden echeverias. Should forecasted rain become a
likely problem, you can temporarily cover in-ground
echeverias with a tarp just as you would cover them with
blankets during an exceptional cold snap.
ensure adequate drainage, a good brand of cactus soil
mixture should suffice. To facilitate dryness close to
the plant, it is common to situate outdoor echeverias
among rocks, stones or crushed granite. That way, there
is no surface dirt that can become saturated and enable
foliage-rot. Incidentally, all dead echeveria foliage
should be carefully cut off to prevent problems,
particularly infestation by mealy bugs.
Occasional watering, when indicated by dry soil or limp
foliage, fosters plant health. Generally, according to
Dr. Barth at Oracle Gorge Cactus Nursery, “as relatively
rapid growers, echeverias require more water than most
How should echeverias be watered?
Their rosettes are designed to capture and funnel water
to shallow roots, suggesting that overhead watering
makes sense. And that’s fine in arid locales, but it’s
not recommended in humid settings. If moisture does not
completely drain away or evaporate from the plant crown,
an echeveria can rot. So in most of Texas it is safer to
water the stones beside your echeverias.
luck, though, when trying not to splash!