Bold, Sculptural Potted Succulents

These upright basketweave pots are texturally different, attractive, and add to the interest of the golden-edged ‘Laurentii’ snake plant and Aloe elegans they hold.

Some succulents have a real presence and panache. The best can fill a large pot, creating unmatched indoor or outdoor living sculptures. Most are long-lived and effortless to grow if provided a few cultural basics. These are the succulents to choose for bold, effortless gardening.

Before choosing your sculptural succulent, be sure to pick out an equally large, attractive pot that will hold it for several years. The container should be well-made, have drainage holes, and a reliable saucer at the bottom to catch water. Those that are glazed or sealed will hold water better. I tend to favor tall, upright pots in bold, monochrome colors or pleasing textures. low, broad pots can also be very attractive if you can find a sturdy plant stand to hold them. For succulents, I recommend planting in Black Gold® Natural & Organic Succulent and Cactus Potting Mix. It has excellent porosity and drainage as well as ample mineral components. If you prefer a little more organic matter, supplement with a bit of Black Gold® Peat Moss Plus, which is easily wetted and holds water well. The addition of a little peat is most useful with Sansevierias and Aloes.

Choose quality pots in bright colors, or muted TerraCotta tones, like these. Bottom drainage is essential.

The Best Bold, Sculptural Succulents

My preference is to purchase large plants from the start for instant gratification. They may cost a bit more, but they are worth it because many succulents are slow-growing. Here are some of my favorites for bold pots. Please make a note of those that have sharp tips or edges, because they are not safe for homes with small children or curious pets.


There are hundreds of Agave from which to choose as potted specimens. Each is unique and wonderful.

There are literally thousands of Agaves from which to choose,  and I love them all for their substantial rosettes of bold foliage. Some remain only a foot tall while others can reach 12 feet or more! Some have slender, needle-like leaves, such as the silvery Porcupine Century Plant (Agave striata ‘Live Wires’, Zones 7-10, 18 inches tall), while others have big, beefy, contorted leaves, like Twisted Tongue Hybrid Century Plant (Agave x amourifolia ‘Twisted Tongue’, Zones 7-10, 36 inches tall)–both of these are quite sharp. The sharp, tri-colored Joe Hoak Variegated Century Plant (Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’, tropical, 36 inches tall) is considered one of the finest variegated agaves. For an equally colorful, but softer agave, try Ray of Light (Agave attenuata ‘Ray of Light’, tropical, 36 inches tall), which produces big, voluptuous rosettes of bright green with fine ivory edges.


Fan aloe has spectacular flowers and foliage. Flowers only appear on mature specimens that are several years old.

There are hundreds of aloes, and several are truly unique and wonderful. One that I recently ordered and await is the fantastic Swordfish Aloe (Aloe ‘Swordfish) with its wild, succulent, blue-green leaves edged in bright orange teeth. I plan to put it in a bright azure-blue pot for contrast. The tree-like aloe, fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis, tropical) can reach up to 8-feet when planted in the ground but stays much smaller in a pot. It looks much like a jade plant, but it has unusual fans of silvery blue leaves. Mature specimens will produce spikes of coral-red flowers in spring. The upright elegant aloe (Aloe elegans, image above) looks particularly lovely in upright containers that show off their form.


Mangave ‘Bad Hair Day’ is a lovely (and funny) succulent for containers indoors or out. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Mangave are hybrids between the two succulents, Agave and Manfreda, and they make beautiful specimens for the home. Some are even hardy and suited to outdoor growing, particularly in more arid climates. Each year, more and more of these bold succulents are being offered. One of my favorites is the striking ‘Bad Hair Day‘ (Zones 7-11), which forms a rosette of cascading, purple-speckled leaves that fall down like a head of hair. The large ‘Blue Mammoth’ (Zones 7-11) is a larger form that reaches 2-feet high and a little wider when mature. Its undulating blue-green leaves look beautiful in either bright or equally muted pots. If you prefer variegated foliage, then Navajo Princess Mangave, which has bold, ivory-edged leaves that reach 20 inches, is an excellent choice. Plant


Sansevierias large or small enliven indoor spaces with their flowing texture and appeal.

Snake plants or mother-in-law’s tongues (Sansevieria species and hybrids) are African natives with a well-earned reputation for being some of the toughest plants around. Not only do they grow well indirect light, but they withstand minimal water–two to three times monthly. They are also striking and attractive, especially those with long, variegated leaves. The long-leaved ‘Laurentii‘ is a classic variety with striated light and dark green leaves edged in yellow. The clumps slowly widen to form a sturdy, vertical specimen. ‘Moonshine’ has extra broad, pale silvery-green leaves that brighten up a room in the wintertime. The bright and beautiful ‘Gold Flame‘ has leaves with large vertical streaks of dark green and gold. These are just a few of the many snake plants available. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Zanzibar Gem or ZZ Plant

ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is another nearly indestructible house plant that adds color, texture, and interest to indoor spaces. It is commonly found in most house plant sections ar garden centers, so you should have no trouble finding it either. They can be quite slow-growing, so it is wise to start with a sizable specimen. Treat them as you would snake plant, and you will be gifted with lots of arching stems laden with glossy dark green leaves. The only thing that will kill a ZZ plant, aside from severe pests, is overwatering. So, refrain from giving it too much liquid care.

The durability and low-care status of these plants make them just as appealing to home gardeners. You might experience some problems with pests or diseases. If spotted, treat them right away. (Click here to learn how to manage the worst house plant pests.) From there, keep them watered, feed occasionally, and upgrade their pots if they outgrow them. Watch the video below to learn how!

Raising Agave Pups

This beautiful old mother agave has produced a bevy of pups around herself to take over after she flowers and dies.

Agave are the most widely adaptable succulents, but what sets them apart is that they flower only once at the end of life and then they are gone.  It literally takes an entire lifetime for each plant to save up enough fuel to reproduce.  They do this by bolting, sending up flower stalks much like a head of lettuce does in early summer.  Some agaves can produce enormous bloom stalks up to twenty feet tall, with nectar-rich flowers raised high for accessibility to bats and hummingbirds.  Some gardeners allow the bloom stalks to remain standing until the flowers fade and the stalks dry out, while others prefer to remove them more promptly to maintain a more controlled appearance.

Agave Pups

Agaves reproduce another way to maintain their numbers when the climate is too dry for seeds to germinate.  They form “pups” around the aging mother plant.  An agave pup, or offset, is simply a new vegetative shoot that rises from the parent’s root system.  When the parent plant dies, the pups remain alive to take the parent’s place, though it takes years to fill in the ugly gap where the parent plant formerly existed.

Nature grants us the option of filling in that hole ourselves by transplanting offsets into this gap.  But for those who want to move their agave or do away with it altogether, a second option is to remove more pups and pot them up to accent yard, patio, porch or garden.  Rehabilitating a flowering agave is also the perfect way to obtain lots of new agaves for the landscape without spending a dime.  If the pups are relatively uniform in size, they can be planted in a series of identical pots for a bold visual repeat in the garden.  For this, and all other agave plantings, use Black Gold Cactus Mix that ensures free drainage so roots won’t rot.

After this dead agave was removed the roots sent up a patch of new pups to be transplanted elsewhere

Transplanting Pups

Excavate pups carefully to avoid any unnecessary damage to the leaves and roots.  Wounds are the fast track for diseases to enter these succulent tissues and cause ugly brown rot.  Wash away the soil and cleanly cut the root tips that are frayed or torn from newly dug plants.  Set the prepared pups in the dry, warm shade for a week or two to callus off root tips, as well as scratches and nicks anywhere else.

Repurpose nylon window screen to cover the pot drain hole, so potting material won’t sift through the bottom.  Fill the pot 2/3 of the way full with dry potting soil and nestle the agave into the soil, then fill in along the edges being sure not to cover the base of the rosette.  (Set soil level low enough to fill the top of the pot with a lot of water when watering is needed.) Gently pat the soil down to reduce any large air pockets.

flower stalk
A single Agave desmettiana produces a tall bloom stalk to flower and set seed at the end of life.

This dry planting method is unique to cactus and succulents.  With moisture held within their succulent tissues, you need not water the transplants immediately, if outside conditions are moist and cold. Add some pieces of broken tile beneath the pot to create a gap that facilitates more rapid drainage.  If the surface soil is visible, use decorative washed gravel for a nicer appearance and to keep white perlite from floating to the surface.

With so many Agave cultivated all over the Southwest, there are always plants flowering each spring and summer for lots of free pup opportunities.  Although Agave species vary in climate preferences, when you harvest pups from local plants, you know that they are bound to do well because that’s where mom raised them.