Understanding Ice Plant Characteristics
Providing the right ice plant care is key to thriving these colorful succulents. Ice plants, scientifically known as Lampranthus, are native to South Africa and adapted to hot climates. They store water in their fleshy leaves to survive drought conditions. Ice plants produce daisy-like flowers in shades of red, orange, pink and yellow.
To properly care for ice plants, plant them in a location with well-drained, sandy soil and full sun exposure for at least 6 hours per day. Ice plants can tolerate light frost but will not survive hard freezes, especially when young. Water them regularly to keep the soil moderately moist but do not overwater, allowing the top few inches of soil to dry out between waterings. Fertilize during the active growing season.
Ice plants require moderate maintenance. Pinch off dead or dying leaves and flowers to promote healthy new growth. Do major pruning in early spring before new growth starts to shape the plants. Watch for common pests such as mealybugs, scale and root mealybugs and treat them with horticultural oils or pesticides.
Choosing the Right Soil and Location
Ice plants thrive in hot and dry climates, so choosing an appropriate location and soil is critical for their health and growth. Look for a spot in your garden that receives full sun for at least 6 to 8 hours per day and has very well-drained, sandy soil with a slightly acidic pH between 6 and 7.
Soil requirements: The most important thing is to plant ice plants in soil with superior drainage. Heavy clay soils that retain too much moisture can lead to root rot. Aim for a mixture of 60-70% perlite or pumice and 30-40% cactus potting mix or succulent soil. Another option is to create your own mix of 2 parts pumice or perlite to 1 part cactus soil.
Sun exposure: While ice plants can tolerate light shade, they will not thrive without plenty of direct sunlight. At a minimum, choose a location that gets sun for the majority of the day. More sun exposure, especially in cooler climates, will lead to more abundant flowering.
Temperature: Most ice plant species can tolerate moderate frosts but will not survive prolonged freezing temperatures, especially when young. If temperatures in your area drop below 30 F (-1 C), it is best to plant ice plants in container gardens so you can move them indoors during winter. Mature plants can better tolerate short-term dips to 20 F (-7 C) but may die back substantially; pruning them in spring will stimulate new growth.
Location: In addition to the right sun and soil, choose a spot in your garden with good air circulation, such as near a wall or slope. This will also protect the plants from excess moisture on their leaves and reduce disease risk. Display ice plants prominently in your garden, as they make excellent ground covers, border plants or accent plants in rock gardens. They also do well in containers and hanging baskets.
For the best results, prepare the planting area thoroughly by removing all weeds. Space ice plants 18 to 24 inches apart for ground cover, closer for baskets and containers. Bury 1/3 of the stem when transplanting and do not fertilize for the first few weeks. With the proper location and care, your ice plants will thrive for many years.
Watering and Fertilizing Ice Plants
While ice plants are adapted to hot and dry climates, they still require regular watering and feeding during the growing season to thrive. The key is to provide enough moisture without overwatering, which can lead to root rot. Always allow the top inch or so of soil to dry out between waterings.
Watering: In spring and summer, water newly planted ice plants 2-3 times a week. For mature plants, water when the top few inches of soil are dry. Water early in the day to allow leaves to dry before nightfall. Reduce watering frequency to once a week in fall, and once a month in winter for containerized plants.
The amount of water will depend on factors like temperature, humidity, soil type, and sun exposure. As a general rule, ice plants may need more water when temperatures exceed 85 F, ideally a total of 1-2 inches per week including both rain and irrigation. Apply enough water that it flows through the drainage holes beneath the pot, then empty the drainage saucer after a few minutes, otherwise the roots can sit in water which they do not like.
Fertilizing: During the growing season, fertilize your ice plants every few weeks. Use a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (such as 10-10-10) at 1/2 the recommended strength. Slow-release fertilizers may also be used as directed.
Do not fertilize in fall and winter when growth slows down. An alternative is to apply a thin layer of compost around the base of the plant in early spring before new growth starts, along with a light application of general fertilizer. This combination provides nutrients when the plant comes out of dormancy and starts actively growing.
While succulent fertilizer blends are available, a balanced fertilizer will work fine for ice plants and reduce the risk of overfeeding. never apply fertilizer directly to the leaves, instead water it into the soil to avoid burning the plant.
By following these best practices for watering and feeding your ice plants, you can keep them looking lush and promoting new growth, as well as abundant flowering. Reduce or stop fertilizer in the fall and winter when growth naturally slows down.
Pruning and Deadheading Techniques
While ice plants require relatively little maintenance, some pruning and deadheading will keep them looking tidy and promote new growth. The main goals of pruning are to remove dead or dying vegetation, shape the plant, and improve air circulation. Deadheading, or removing spent flowers, will also encourage new blooms.
Pruning: Do any major pruning in early spring before new growth starts, using sharp, clean pruning shears or scissors. Remove dead or damaged leaves and stems as needed throughout the growing season. You can also prune ice plants to shape them or control their size. Prune the plant back by 1/3 if it becomes leggy or uneven. Containerized plants may require more frequent pruning and pinching back.
Pruning in late fall or winter when plants go dormant can risk damage to the plant. Only do light touch-ups, if any pruning at all during dormancy. In colder climates, leave any dead or dying foliage in place over winter to protect sensitive new growth underneath. Remove it in spring after the threat of frost has passed.
Deadheading: Removing spent flowers, also known as deadheading, will not only improve the appearance of your ice plants but also stimulate new flower production. Pinch off individual dead flowers or shear the entire flowering stem back to its base. Deadhead plants after each flush of blooms or when blooming slows down.
Propagating from cuttings: The pruned stems and leaves from your ice plants can be used to propagate new plants. Take 3 to 6 inch stem cuttings or leaf-pulling cuttings in spring or summer. Remove leaves from the bottom 1/3 of each cutting. Allow cuttings to dry for a few days, then place in well-draining rooting medium such as perlite or a mixture of peat moss and perlite. Keep the medium moderately moist while roots form. Newly rooted plants can be transplanted in 2 to 3 months.
With some basic pruning and propagation techniques, you can maintain the health, shape, and vigor of your ice plants for many years. Pruning and propagating your succulents is also an easy way to acquire new plants for your garden.
Preventing and Treating Ice Plant Diseases
While generally low-maintenance, ice plants can be susceptible to a few pests and diseases. The best way to treat issues is by preventing them in the first place using good cultural practices. Provide the proper light, temperature, soil, watering, and ventilation for your ice plants.
Some potential problems to watch for include:
Mealybugs: Mealybugs appear as white, cottony masses on leaves and stems. They suck sap from the plant and secrete honeydew. Control mealybugs by spraying them off with a strong jet of water or applying insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
Scale: Like mealybugs, scale feed on plant sap. They appear as hard or soft bumps on leaves and stems. Prune off heavily infested stems and spray remaining scale with insecticidal soap, horticultural oil or pesticide.
Root Mealybugs: Root mealybugs feed on roots and plant tissue below the soil line. They cause stunted, weakened growth and wilting. Apply imidacloprid, bifenthrin or other pesticide to the soil as a drench treatment. Re-treat after watering or moderate rain.
Fungal Leaf Spot: This fungal disease causes tan or brown spots on leaves. It develops in humid, poorly ventilated conditions. Improve air circulation, avoid overhead watering and remove affected leaves. Apply sulfur or copper-based fungicide to protect new growth.
Treatment options: For severe infestations, you may need to treat your ice plants with pesticides or fungicides. When using commercial products, always follow the directions carefully to avoid potential harm to beneficial insects like bees or predator mites. Options for organic methods include:
- Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil for mealybugs, scale and other insects
- Neem oil as an insecticide and fungicide
- Sulfur or copper as a fungicide
- Bacillus thuringiensis for caterpillars
The most effective approach to managing ice plant diseases is through integrated pest management practices. This includes regular inspection, proper culture and sanitation, mechanical controls like handpicking or pruning, and targeted chemical control only when necessary. By monitoring your ice plants closely, you can catch any potential problems early and treat them before they become severe.
Propagation Methods for Ice Plants
Ice plants are easy to propagate from stem cuttings, leaf cuttings or seeds. Propagation allows you to acquire new plants for your garden at no cost and share them with others. The best times for taking ice plant cuttings are spring and summer when growth is most active.
Stem cuttings: Take 3 to 6 inch stem cuttings from new growth that has not yet become woody. Remove leaves from the bottom 1/3 of the cutting. Let the cutting dry for a few days, then dip in rooting hormone (optional) and place in well-draining rooting medium such as perlite or a mixture of peat moss and perlite. Keep medium moderately moist while roots form. Roots should appear in 2 to 3 months.
Leaf pullings: For some ice plant species, individual leaves can be used to start new plants. Grasp the leaf and firmly but gently pull sideways to remove it along with part of the stem tissue. Let the pulling dry briefly then place in rooting medium. Roots and tiny plantlets will form in 1 to 2 months. This method works best for leaves that do not drop readily when handled.
Seeds: Although some patience is required, growing ice plants from seed can be rewarding. Collect ripe seed pods once they turn brown and crack open easily. Spread seeds on a paper plate and let air dry completely for a few days. Sow seeds in well-draining seedling mix and place in a warm spot with temperatures around 70-75 F.
Keep the medium moderately moist while germinating. Seeds can take from 2 weeks to several months to germinate. The fresher the seed, the higher the germination rate. Transplant seedlings once they are a few inches tall.
For cuttings and leaf pullings, once roots have formed and new growth is evident, you can begin to reduce moisture slightly to aid in maturation. After hardening off, new plants can be transplanted into your garden or containers. Fertilize at half the recommended strength for the first year until plants become established.
With the proper techniques, propagating your own ice plants is an easy and rewarding endeavor for home gardeners looking to expand their collection or share with others. By starting with healthy, disease-free plants, you have control over the quality and characteristics of your new specimens.
Creative Landscaping Ideas with Ice Plants
With their colorful flowers and fleshy foliage, ice plants make excellent additions to water-efficient landscapes. Here are some creative ways to utilize them in your outdoor space:
Groundcover: Ice plants work well as drought-resistant groundcovers. Space plants 18 to 24 inches apart for full coverage in 2-3 years. They will spread over time, so leave room for expansion or contain them with edging. Popular groundcover species include Drosanthemum candens and Delosperma cooperi.
Rock gardens: The cascading habit of many ice plants pairs beautifully with rock gardens, stone walls or boulders. Let them spill over edges for a dramatic effect. Match the plant’s water needs to the specific microclimate within your rock garden for the best results.
Containers: Ice plants also thrive in containers, either alone or mixed with other succulents. Their colorful blooms will draw attention to outdoor patios, decks or entryways. Select a container with drainage holes and use a well-draining cactus potting mix. Place containers in a spot with plenty of sunlight.
Slopes and walls: Ice plants are excellent for controlling erosion on slopes or blanketing retaining walls. Their spreading foliage will cover bare ground and hide any imperfections in the wall surface. For slopes, choose species that root as they spread to help hold the soil in place. Water the plants thoroughly until established.
Xeriscaping: The xeriscaping style utilizes drought-tolerant plants to create low-maintenance and water-wise landscapes. Ice plants are excellent choices for xeriscapes, especially in hot or coastal climates. Combine them with other succulents like aloe vera, agave, sedum and echeveria for an attractive, durable display.
Companion plants: In mixed plantings, choose companion plants with similar light and water needs as your ice plants. Some options include:
- Stonecrop (Sedum sp.)
- Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.)
- Hens and chicks (Sempervivum sp.)
Whether used alone or in combination with other plants, ice plants can transform your outdoor space into a low-maintenance, waterwise paradise. Take advantage of their showy flowers by placing them in high-visibility areas of your garden. Your ice plants will provide years of enjoyment with proper care and conditions.