Growing Cold Hardy Ice Plant: New Varieties and Returning Favorites

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Delosperma Fire Spinner

I've been in the greenhouse business long enough to remember when Purple Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi) was first introduced to the gardening community in the early 1990's by Panayoti Kelaidis of Denver Botanic Garden. It was a groundbreaking new plant introduction, the first of its genus to be discovered as cold hardy. This beautiful plant was a huge hit with Front Range Colorado gardeners. We now have many outstanding cold hardy ice plant selections to enjoy and their use as succulent groundcovers has extended well beyond Colorado.

Ice Plants are native to Africa, with the best cold-hardy species originating from South Africa's lofty Drakensberg Mountains, mountains of the Western Cape and the cold plateaus of the Great Karoo desert. And thanks to the continuing efforts of Mr. Kelaidis and Colorado's Plant Select plant introduction program, the cultivars now available provide a wide range of colors from which to choose, including yellow, orange, purple, scarlet, pink, magenta, bi-color and many colors in between. For those interested in providing garden habitat for pollinators, Delosperma are an exceptional nectar sources for honeybees.

Where Ice Plants Grows Best

Ice Plants are most reliably perennial in the drier, less humid climates of the western US.
Delosperma tend to be annuals in cold, wet zone 4 and 5 climates like Madison, Chicago and Cincinnati, but will be longer lived in the zone 6-8 areas of the Appalachian mountains and Eastern Seaboard. (Remember that many drought tolerant plants are one or two zones less cold hardy in wetter climates.) It should be mentioned that in regions where Ice Plants are annuals in the ground, they should be used as container plants as they are fast growing and colorful when cascading over the edges of their pots.

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Delosperma nubigenum and Delosperma Blut in a Santa Fe garden

Cultural Advice for Healthy Ice Plants

The keys to successful cultivation of Delosperma are as follows:

  • Plant them in a sunny spot with fast draining soil. Sandy, sandy loam or gravelly soils are best. In drier climates, garden loam is fine, but avoid clay in all regions.
  • Plant by mid-summer in colder climates to establish themselves for winter. Fall planting is recommended in hot summer climates of the Southwest US.
  • Water them regularly (weekly) during the heat of the summer, as Delosperma come from areas of South Africa that get summer rains.
  • But keep them dry over the winter months. In regions where snow stays on the ground over winter, I recommend covering the plants with a piece of row crop cover (frost blanket) to keep their foliage and crowns dry.
  • Ice Plants love gravel mulch and do best when the stems grow over the top of the gravel which keeps their roots moist and their leaves and stems dry (by not sitting in contact with wet soil over the winter). Other fast drying mulch materials like pine needles or medium textured bark chips are also suitable.
  • Let them dry out in the fall by stopping or greatly curtailing their irrigation. They need to shrink down and harden off for the cold winter to come. Lush, actively growing plants in late fall often are killed by the first hard frost.
  • Prune out any winter-damaged stems in mid-spring.
  • Only fertilize once in the fall using organic or natural fertilizers. Ice plants are very prone to winter kill when fertilized frequently during the growing season as they keep growing into the fall and stay plump with water in their leaves.
  • To cover larger areas with Ice Plants, space new transplants 15-18" apart (closer for smaller rock garden varieties) with a minimum of soil preparation. A handful of Yum Yum Mix and a little compost in each planting hole is enough.
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New for spring 2016: Delosperma Alan's Apricot

Recommended Varieties

New! Delosperma 'Alan's Apricot'- 2016 Plant Select winner. A new hybrid introduced by Alan Tower of Denver, CO is long blooming and very cold hardy. Possibly the most cold hardy next to D. congestum , D. nubiginum and 'Lesotho Pink'. The plant blooms all summer with large pink-fading-to-apricot flowers. Some afternoon shade shows off the pastel colored flower best.

Delosperma dyeri Red Mountain® Flame -2015 Plant Select® winner. This is my introduction that I discovered in a batch of seed grown Delosperma dyeri plants that had accidentally hybridized with an unknown variety. The large scarlet-orange flowers cover the plant beginning in mid-spring for about 4 weeks. This selection is reliably cold hardy to zone 6. I'm not kidding when I recommend sunglasses for viewing the brilliant flowers in the mid-day sun. Flame has excellent heat tolerance and is recommended for hotter, drier planting sites.

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Delosperma dyeri Red= Mountain Flame

Delosperma ashtonii 'Blut' - The very best long blooming selection that covers its dark green, slightly flattened leaves with a blanket of dark magenta flowers. The handsome foliage is reliably evergreen and it turns a nice plum color over the winter months for additional ornamental interest. Good cold hardiness and xeric, this is an exceptionally long lived ice plant. Discovered by nurseryman Kelly Grummons of Arvada, CO.

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Delosperma Lavender Ice

Delosperma Lavender Ice - 2009 Plant Select® - A wonderful, long blooming selection that covers itself with huge pastel lavender-pink flowers for much of the growing season. I recommend mixing 'Lavender Ice' with 'Blut' and other magenta or pink flowered ice plants to show off its superb flowers. The reliably evergreen foliage turns purplish in color over the winter. Introduced by Perennial Favorites Nursery in Rye, CO.

Delosperma sp. 'Lesotho Pink' - I selected this superb variety from seed collected at an elevation of 11.000 ft. in the high peaks of Lesotho (the mountainous, landlocked country in the middle of South Africa). The bright green foliage forms a tight growing, mat that covers itself in early to mid-spring with a carpet of bright pink flowers. Very cold hardy, this is often the first of the cold hardy Ice Plants to bloom in spring. Does best at higher elevations and areas with cooler summers; not a good choice for hot climates. Needs water in the summer heat.

Delosperma Fire Spinner® - 2012 Plant Select® winner. The flowers of Fire Spinner® are an incendiary combination of orange and purple that cover the plant in late spring. A big planting of it will be the highlight of your late spring garden. Note: Fire Spinner® should not be planted in regions with warm winter weather, as it will not chill the plant sufficiently to flower. Best flowering occurs in zones 5-8.

Text and Photos by Founder and Chief Horticulturist David Salman.

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  • Red Mountain® Flame Cold Hardy Ice Plant Delosperma Red Mountain® Flame

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13 thoughts on “Growing Cold Hardy Ice Plant: New Varieties and Returning Favorites”

  • Jill

    Would any of these work at 9000 ft in the mountains of Colorado? The soil is right. Also, are they deer resistant or deer dessert?

    Reply
    • Wendy

      At 9,000 ft. elevation in CO, I would recommend Delosperma nubigenum (Yellow Ice Plant) and/or Delosperma 'Gold Nugget'. -- David Salman

      Reply
  • Kathy Eickholt

    Thank you for the information and gorgeous pictures. We are trying our first ice plant here in Michigan where we get winter snow and wet. With this advice I'm rethinking where we put the flower. We have a sunny gravel spot in the center of the driveway that gets covered with mounds of snow from the plow in the winter. Is this better than a spot in the garden, with fast-draining soil but also snow cover?

    Reply
    • Wendy

      Regarding Ice Plants (Delosperma) in MI; these plants do best when growing on gravel mulch to keep the stems and foliage out of contact with the soil to prevent rot. However, being covered with mounds of snow for long periods of time is not good. I would recommend planting them in the garden (using gravel mulch) and covering the plants with row crop cover (spun frost protection blanket) from late fall until the snow melts in spring. -- David Salman

      Reply
  • Elsie

    Will Ice Plant grow well under Live Oak canopy in north side of a building? Or is there any varieties of Ice Plant doing well under this condition?

    Reply
  • Rachel

    Hello! I am growing Delosperma cooperi and Delosperma 'Fire Spinner' in Zone 9 (inland Los Angeles). The plants are in partial shade (I know these are sun plants but the plants in the most shade are blooming the best here). The cooperi blooms a little but the Fire Spinner has not bloomed at all. I've tried watering more and watering less; the plants don't flower either way. My soil is extremely poor (very low in nitrogen and phosphorus). Should I try fertilizer? If so, do you recommend a certain type?
    Thanks for any suggestions, and thanks for the inspiring photos!
    -Rachel

    Reply
    • Wendy

      The Firespinner is only tolerant to zone 8, so maybe it is a little hot there for it. Yes, we would suggest adding fertilizer. We recommend Yum Yum mix scratched into the soil. It's perfect for poor, alkaline soils.

      Reply
  • Karen Schueler
    Karen Schueler 04/05/17 at 7:53 am

    We live in zip code area 99135, WA. There is a rocky sandy west facing full sun 4-10' high 10' wide 350' long bank I am interested in planting with a low growing flowering ground cover. It is the west edge of watered lawn. My questions are; would Ice Plant grow and survive there, how much water does it need, what soil preparation would I need to do, how many plants would be reasonable to plant, when is the best time to plant? Thank you,k.

    Reply
  • Jayme

    Hi I'm looking to plant these in the front of my house which is full sun. Will they only have flowers in spring or do they bloom all summer. I'm in zone 7. If not, can you recommend something similar. I'm looking for colorful flowers that are not too high but grow wide and long lasting bloom. Thank you.

    Reply
  • Jessica Scull
    Jessica Scull 06/17/17 at 10:49 am

    Would orange ice be ok planted in a daffodil bed or will it keep the daffodils from coming back if it spreads?

    Reply
    • Courtney

      Hi Jessica - Ice plants can be an excellent addition to almost any garden bed as long as they are planted in the correct growing zone, soil type and lighting. To ensure that the ice plants do no prevent your daffodils from growing, be sure to give them plenty of room to grow into their mature plant size, which is typically around 15-18". Happy planting!

      Reply
  • Rita

    I live in southern WV. Which variety would do best in my area?

    Reply
    • Courtney

      Hi Rita - The Ice Plant that would be best for you in Southern WV would depend on your growing zone. You can determine your planting zone by putting your zip code into our hardiness zone calculator that can be located on the left side of our webpage. Many varieties of Ice Plant can be grown in zones 5-7, which makes up most of West Virginia. The Blut Ice Plant is one of our customers favorite Ice Plants and should work well in your area!

      Reply
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