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Sufferin’ Succulents! Beautify Outdoor Spaces with These Easy Containers

These succulent container designs will add water-wise pizazz to your doorstep, patio, and garden

Lauren Dunec Hoang, Johanna Silver, and Heather Arndt Anderson

When it comes to container gardens, you can’t really do better than succulents. They’re good-looking, easygoing, great in xeriscapes and problem areas. Best of all, containers, by design, are the simplest and most cost-effective way to instantly update the look of your yard, no matter how much space you have. Need inspiration? Peruse this gallery of drought-tolerant masterpieces, and if you need help keeping your new potted dreamscapes thriving, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered.

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Under-plant with succulents

A container of tall, shrubby false aralia is top-dressed with a living mulch of Echeveria, Sempervivum, and Senecio. This allows one pot to do double duty, creating a miniature living landscape on the soil while the main event towers over them. As plants grow to be too crowded, pinch off pups to make more room and use in other containers.
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Urban chic

Hang a vertical planter by your front door to give an easy industrial-chic feel to your doorstep. This simple container is the perfect frame for two succulent specimens; the living picture is dripping with ‘String of Pearls’ succulents (Senecio rowleyanus) and bronze-tipped Aeonium. Both just need a splash of water once a week. The ‘City Planter’ is available from Potted LA; pottedstore.com.
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Go for green

A cluster of vibrant green aeonium rosettes in a glossy black pot makes a statement against a brightly colored door. Aeonium ‘Jolly Green’ has a compact form well suited for containers, and benefit from a little shade at the hottest part of the day.
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Succulent side-board

Designer and co-owner of L.A.-based nursery Potted, Annette Gutierrez uses a weathered wood sideboard to display a collection of potted plants, such as ‘Sunburst’ aeonium with sedum (in red pot) and a tiny succulent landscape in a low white bowl. Recreate this look on a shoestring by scouring your local flea markets and yard sales for a banged-up table or dresser, or take some sandpaper to one you already have. Note how smaller containers can be propped up on a scrap of wood. Low white Bauer Canoe bowl from pottedstore.com.
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Succulent patio

In this sumptuously planted space, bougainvillea and a citrus tree were not enough to cover the back fence, so Potted's Annette Gutierrez filled the understory with multiple succulent containers including Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ (in orange pot), Aeonium (light green pot), Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ (low blue-green pot), Agave attenuata (tall green pot). A sword fern (far right) is tucked away in the shade, juxtaposing the succulents.
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Bold and bright

Use brightly colored vessels to make small succulents like Sedum or Crassula stand out. They don't have to cost an arm and a leg—even a chipped teacup or old Fiestaware dish from Goodwill can becoming an eclectic-chic home for succulents.
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Green chandelier

Group a collection of hanging planters filled with Echeveria above an outdoor lounge for vertical interest, or hang a large platter and set small pots on it as a tray. You can also leave room in the containers for wickless candles to make a living candelabra.
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Succulent boat

Create a living centerpiece by planting a colorful mix of Echeveria, Sempervivum, and trailing Sedum in a narrow container. If you have the space, you could fill an old canoe or rowboat with planting medium and make a seaworthy succulent garden! Follow our video for step-by-step instructions.
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Light highlights

Glazed ceramic containers filed with a pale green agave (Agave attenuata) and trailing silver dichondra (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’) pop against a dark painted wood background. Design: Beth Mullins, growsgreen.com.

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Tiny treasures

Costa Mesa garden designer Molly Wood fills vintage metal chicken feeders with tiny succulents for a rustic centerpiece. Hen and chickens (Sempervivums), echeverias, and a dainty stonecrop grow in cactus mix in a 4 1/2-inch-deep trough. You could also try this look with galvanized metal troughs or vintage loaf pans, chipped enameled bakeware, and more. Design: Molly Wood Garden Design, Costa Mesa, CA; mollywoodgardendesign.com.
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Jewel tones

A shallow bowl measuring about 2 feet across and 6 inches deep provides just enough room to show off a rainbow of succulent colors. A mix of bright green Sedum ‘Angelina’, pink rosette-shaped Ghost plants (Graptopetalum pentandrum), and fleshy green Crassula argenta ‘Gollum’ pick up the more subtle tones of large grey-green and pink Echeveria.

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Bold texture

“I almost always include something lacy, something hanging, and something architectural,” says Oakland landscape designer Joshua Stenzel. Then “throw in one thing that’s unexpected,” such as the Sempervivum succulents dripping out of a low concrete pot here. The plants: Upright Euphorbia tirucalli (back left); feathery Acacia iteaphylla (back right); Yucca aloifolia ‘Purpurea’ (left); strappy bromeliad (Vriesea philippo-coburgii, center); variegated ‘Cornelius’ agave (bottom right); cascading mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis, bottom left).
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Bigger, better

Make an impact by including one tall planting and repeating one strong color in either the foliage or the pots. “One thing I’ve learned with small-space designs is to skip the dainty little pots and go for big and bold,” says designer Josh Stenzel. Pairing plants, pots, and backdrops in different shades, tones, and tints of the same hue creates a harmonious monochromatic effect that's pleasing to the eye and easy -- you don't have to spend time choosing a bunch of different colors. The plants, left to right: Agave; Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’; E. tirucalli.
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Color coordinated

Start with a plant or pot (or color) you love and let it lead the rest of the design. For this quartet, Oakland landscape designer Joshua Stenzel first chose earthy ceramic pots, then selected plants in a complementary pastel palette of coral and pale green, giving us serious Santa Fe vibes. The plants, clockwise from top right: Gray-green Echeveria; salmon-colored Kalanchoe orgyalis; variegated agave; and red-tipped Mangave ‘Bloodspot’.
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Wine punch

Pops of icy blue in cooling contrast with warm combos of bright pinks and deep purples makes for a striking color scheme. Start with the plants, then pick a container that will extend the color theme. Here, a 16-inch-wide olive green pot makes the brighter foliage sizzle.
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Transformed nursery box

Bright paint and stenciling transform a nursery box into a whimsical house number that's plainly visible from the street. A large potted agave takes it up a notch. Succulents are a good plant for wooden containers like this; they take less water so there's less chance of the planter rotting out.
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Echeveria

The crown jewels of the rosette-forming succulents, easy-care Echeveria come in a plethora of colors and can be easily found at almost any nursery. Some of our top picks include rose-colored ‘Afterglow’, frilly-edged ‘Blue Curls’, deep purple ‘Black Prince’, and pearly lavender ‘Perle von Nurnberg’. Of all the succulent varieties, we especially like Echeveria; they perform splendidly in containers and grow well in garden beds in mild-summer areas.
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Miniature desert garden

Asymmetrically arranged golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) and pale clusters of thimble cactus (Mammillaria gracilis fragilis) create a pint-sized desert landscape fit for a fairy. Top dress with a dark gravel mulch to show off the pale cacti colors.
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Texture play

This mix of pink-tipped Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos 'Bush Pearl'), Echeveria 'Afterglow,' Adenanthos cuneatus 'Coral Drift,' and Sedum reflexum provides a daring blend of textures, and the palette of turquoise and pink practically screams "I love L.A."
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Unthirsty trio

Cluster sun-loving soft-leaf yucca, bushy magenta bougainvillea, and mounding powdery blue Graptopetalum (Ghost Plant) to easily give even a hardscaped a patio a feeling of lushness.
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Cool hues

A Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis; top left) and a ‘Frosted Curls’ carex (center) add texture to Aeonium ‘Sunburst’ (bottom left) and Goodenia affinis ‘Little Luna’ (bottom right). The aqua-blue container gives the collation a refreshing seaside mood.
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Star power

Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’ (center) takes center stage against ‘Silver Shadow’ Astelia (top), ‘Black Adder’ phormium (right), and Plectranthus ‘Mike’s Fuzzy Wuzzy’ (left) in a gorgeous cadmium-green glazed pot. Similar leaf shapes can work together without being too matchy-matchy if the colors bounce off each other.
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Mini garden in a pot: 3 easy pieces

With copper-tipped Echeveria subrigada ‘Fire and Ice’ (center) playing off rich chocolate Aeonium arborescens ‘Tip Top’ (left) and cascading Sedum rupestre ‘Blue Spruce’ (right), this pot of sculptural succulents creates a dramatic focal point. The pot is  poured concrete, perfect for landscapes with an industrial or urban edge.
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Succulent mini landscape

Plum-colored foliage is a rich accent against lime and olive greens in these easy-care containers. Arrange taller plants in the center or back, trailers near the pot’s edges. For immediate effect, choose large plants and big pots (shown above left: 10 in. across, 14 in. tall; right: 16 by 18 in.). Design: Daniel Nolan, Flora Grubb Gardens (floragrubb.com) Container at left (clockwise, from bottom left corner of pot): Aloe humilis (6 in.); Phormium ‘Guardsman’ (5 gal.); Leucadendron ‘Wilson’s Wonder’ (5 gal.); Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (1 gal.); Echeveria pulvinata (4 in.); Aeonium leucoble­pharum (6 in.). Container at right (clockwise, from bottom center of pot): Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ (1 gal.); Sedum adolphii (4 in.); Coprosma ‘Evening Glow’ (1 gal.); Chondopetalum tectorum (1 gal.); Echeveria ‘Coral Glow’ (6 in.); Kalanchoe ‘Fantastic’ (6 in.); Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ (1 gal.).
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One-plant pots

A single plant with a bold, sculptural shape is easier on the eye than a mixed planting. Clean white ceramic pots allow the plants to take the spotlight and go with everything.
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Mood & attitude

“This is the It Plant,” says San Francisco nursery owner Flora Grubb of the icy blue powder-covered Echeveria cante, pictured at bottom left. “I’ve never seen a plant as iridescent as this one.” Here, the succulent positively shimmers in a black pot against moody dark foliage—‘Cheryl’s Shadow’ geranium and ‘Black Adder’ phormium, which add structure in back.
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Tidepool

Echeverias and other small succulents, planted in a blue bowl, look like underwater creatures. Glass baubles and fishing floats helps extend the vibe in this simple but lovely container.
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Fireworks, contained

An outstanding variegated Aloe arborescens with subtle stripes appears to explode above Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’ in this 14-inch-high zinc container. “It’s the best sedum I’ve grown,” says Jarrod Baumann, who designed the planting. “It stays full and lush and doesn’t look ratty, even after it’s done blooming.” Design: Zeterre Landscape Architecture, Los Altos, CA; zeterre.com
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The big chill

In the center of the container, a hybrid Echeveria sits like an unfolding lotus, but one with far more staying power than the fleeting flower. Small, almost iridescent ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) echoes the shape and color of the larger succulent. At right, purple-leafed heuchera picks up the Echeveria’s pink edges. In back, feathery dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) offers some stature and fuzz to the mix.

Pro tip: Adding height, like the dusty miller, offers visual contrast, plus it creates dappled light for more sun-sensitive plants growing in its shadow.

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Jolly green giant

Spanning 18 inches across (!!), Aeonium ‘Mint Saucer’ gives this combo some serious heft, like an oversized flower, but one that never needs to be deadheaded (an Aeonium lives a few years before sending up a stalk of yellow flowers and dying). Standing above it is velvety Plectranthus forsteri 'Aureus Variegatus', with limey green margins. Trailing at right is Rhipsalis teres heteroclada, a succulent with pencil-like stems. Pro tip: The old container recipe—thriller, filler, spiller—still stands the test of time.
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Starburst

Arching gracefully in all directions, ‘Vera Jameson’ sedum displays juicy round leaves and stems topped with pink, star-shaped flowers. Mexican snowballs (Echeveria elegans) anchor the right side, young pups bunched up against mother plants. In back, the nonsucculent South African geranium (aka Umckaloabo; Pelargonium sidoides) catches the light on its silver leaves, echoing the color of the Echeveria. South African geranium is a favorite to mix with succulents. Its fuzzy, ruffled leaves and wandering habit transform any combo from rigid to laid back.

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Succulent stars, including a beautifully scalloped, blooming Echeveria hybrid and a trailing Cotelydon hybrid, nestle between mounds of soft ‘Elijah Blue’ fescue and bright green thrift (Armeria maritima ‘Armada White’). At far right, the silver heart-shaped leaves of a Pelargonium sidoides spill over the edge of the planter. Thrift is a heavy-hitter that you'd do well to incorporate into more of your plantings. The unsung plant is a playful and sturdy champ, forming tufty evergreen mounds topped with lollipop blooms in white, pink, or red.

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Terrestrial tide pool

A handful of Aeonium arboreum 'Zwartkop'—dark purple rosettes on sticks—grow upward from the back of the pot. Next to them, silver woolly bush (Adenathos sericea) has a kelp-like quality, appearing to undulate as if growing in the sea. In the foreground, variegated licorice plant (Helichrysum peiolare), dark purple ‘Obsidian’ Heuchera, and a hybrid Echeveria balance colors and shapes from front to back. If you’re going for the kitchen sink look, echoing forms and colors adds cohesion.
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Perfect strangers

When filling a large footprint, consider using multiple pots. They’re easier to move around, and you can play with their placement as planting evolves. Here, highlighting its red-tinged margins and sharp tips, a single ‘Blue Glow’ agave tucks up against a lush backdrop of soft plants. In back (from left to right), variegated Sedum lineare ‘Sea Urchin’ cascades over the rim; ‘Vera Jameson’ sedum shows off its pink blooms; and purple spurge (Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’) displays whorls of leaves on either side of an herbal-scented Pelargonium ‘Oldbury Duet’.

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Beauty and the beast

‘Elijah Blue’ fescue and similarly colored Pelargonium sidoides look sweet and wispy, while their evil third holds court at right. ‘Grape Jelly’ dyckia forms a picture-perfect rosette of rigid purple foliage, but the leaves of this terrestrial bromeliad are armed with vicious teeth. Watch out—this combo is killer. Why we love dyckias: they handle drought in stride and, every summer, send up tall stalks of bright orange or yellow blooms that hummingbirds find irresistible.

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Silver lining

If those fuzzy leaves in the rear look familiar, it’s because they’re lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), but a sexy new variety: 'Bello Grigio,' with slender, silver-white leaves that almost glow. At its base, Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' contrasts with its black branches and Jurassic-looking leaves. In a single pot (foreground, right), the spines of an exquisite variegated Agave potatorum 'Kissho Kan' catch the light. At left, 'Vera Jameson' sedum stretches itself in all directions, offering pink flowers at the tips.

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How to keep them happy

To keep your potted succulents in top spirits, follow these tips:
  • Plant these combos in fast-draining cactus mix and let the soil dry between waterings.
  • The plants in these containers can take full sun along the coast and part shade inland.
  • Succulents are frost-tender. During cold snaps, protect any container that includes them and keep them dry.
  • As shallow rooters, succulents thrive in shallow bowls, where they can grow for a few seasons before needing to be divided and repotted. If you mix in perennials, use a pot at least 8 to 10 inches deep to accommodate their roots, then divide and replant or refresh with new plants each spring.