A perennial evergreen, the ice plant (Delosperma cooperi) has fleshy, cylindrical, succulent foliage that allows the plant to tolerate long stretches of drought. Widely used as a ground cover or edging specimen, the ice plant rarely exceeds 3 inches tall but it spreads rapidly and one plant can easily cover 24 inches of garden space.
The ice plant received its common name from its unique foliage. The foliage of the plant is a medium green in color but it produces tiny flakes that appear transparent on the plant. The flakes look like small shards of ice, according to the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
The ice plant species is native to South Africa. It grows in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10. If the winter is extreme, however, the plant can die back during the winter months in areas north of zone 7, so it is not considered to be adequately winter-hardy or a true evergreen in such regions. If the plant dies back but its roots remain viable, the plant may return the following spring.
The low growth of the plant makes it a popular rock garden specimen. It does not tolerate foot traffic well, so avoid planting the ice plant around stepping stones or in other areas where it may be trampled. It prefers a planting location with full sunlight but will tolerate partial shade. Choose a site that offers well-draining soil because the plant does not like a waterlogged root system. Its weak root system does not tolerate heavy clay soil well. If planting in clay soil, consider adding soil amendments to loosen up the dirt. The ice plant grows well on slopes and can help in erosion control.
Beginning in June the ice plant is covered with purplish-red flowers that resemble daylilies. Each flower head measures up to 2 inches across. The plant will continue blossom production into September in most areas. Keep the plant's soil moist and avoid periods of long drought to enhance the flower production. If the plant suffers drought, it will survive but its flowering ability will be severely limited.
Water the ice plant thoroughly two to three times per week. Fertilize it using a well-balanced, general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer. The plant tends to thrive on neglect, so only mix the fertilizer at one-quarter strength for best results, according to the University of Oklahoma Department of Botany and Microbiology. The ice plant requires only one application of fertilizer during the height of its growth and flower production.