Caring for Succulents in Winter – Complete Guide

Succulents are perfect for lovers of plants and flowers. They don't need to be watered often and prefer direct sunlight. However, many owners of succulents wonder how to care for succulents in winter. We will answer this question and also give recommendations and advice on how to keep your plants healthy and beautiful all year long.
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If you are used to working with succulents, you know they take time and patience. They have different seasons when they flourish and when they are dormant. Caring for succulents in the winter is a worthwhile pastime.

When caring for succulents in winter, take precautions regarding the plant and the possibility of it freezing. You should bring Soft Succulents inside, and Hardy succulents can remain outside if you live in the proper planting zone. The plants also need water and nutrition during this time.

If you are interested in raising succulents or are a seasoned grower, continue reading for facts regarding the care and feeding of succulents in winter.

What Temperature is too Cold for Succulents?

The temperature your succulent can tolerate depends upon what type of plant you have. Hardy succulents can withstand -30 degrees Fahrenheit, and their bodies will close slightly and turn from green to red. The soft succulents will tolerate anything over 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although some succulents can withstand -32 degrees Fahrenheit, they thrive at temperatures 40 degrees and higher.

However, they thrive at 40 degrees and up. When the temperature falls below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the leaves which store the water will freeze and rot the plant.

The cold temperatures can affect the plants, and they can go dormant. However, if temperatures fall between 40 and 50 degrees, the succulents change into magnificent colors. If temperatures fall below 32 degrees, you should bring plants inside.

Winter Dormancy Explained

Winter dormant soft succulents cease growth during this season to survive the harsh weather. These plants tend to grow faster during the summer. They typically respond to the rain and more tolerable weather.

Succulents come in three categories. These include:

  • Winter growing
  • Partially dormant
  • Fully dormant 

Dormancy is a process that is essential to plant survival. As the days shorten, plants begin to slow their growth, and dormancy begins in each succulent. Fully dormant succulents will die back entirely above ground. Their root systems live on, and new growth occurs each spring.

Partial Dormancy During Winter 

Partial dormancy is expected in the winter. This inactivity means that they do not change significantly in appearance, and they do not grow too much. Partially dormant succulents do not require as much water. They also do not require fertilizer. They need good drainage so the roots will not rot. 

See below for examples of Partial dormancy succulents.

Agave

The main visual characteristic of agave is its sizeable rosettes of firm, plump leaves. Dormancy occurs in the winter, and the plant will begin to grow again in the spring when the temperature goes above 40 degrees.   It is used for sweetener, and it is also used to make tequila.

Mammillaria

This plant is one of the largest plants in the cactus family. A native to Mexico and the United States, they contain sharp spines and delicate flowers. Their common name is called “pincushion cactus.” Also, winter dormant, it will come back in the spring at 40 degrees or above.

Mammillaria is a winter dormant plant that comes back in the spring when the temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Echeveria

A popular succulent found in gardens and floral arrangements is Echeveria. The leaves come in various colors, including pink, purple, blue, peach, and rainbow. This plant is winter dormant at below 40 degrees. When the temperature rises in the spring, you will see new growth.

Echeveria is a popular winter dormant succulent that continues to grow once the temperature rises in spring.

Winter Growing Succulents

Other types of succulents are called winter growing. The shorter days and cooler temperatures allow for these plants to grow. During their summer dormancy, they need water so that their roots stay cool in the summer heat. There is no change in appearance, and if indoors, they never go dormant. 

See below for examples of winter growing succulents.

Aloe 

Aloe is a familiar succulent plant for the home gardener. The sap inside the leaves is used for burn treatment and in ultrasound gel.  The leaves are spear-shaped with white dots, and they grow both inside and outside. They are summer dormant and do well at 25 – 40 degrees.

Aloe vera is a summer dormant succulent that grows perfectly healthy at 25-40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Avonia

Avonia is a perennial evergreen that grows well in temperatures of 30 to 40 degrees. It resembles a dragon and produces flowers that can be pink, white, or yellow. It does not need much water and is drought tolerant. 

Crassula

The Crassula plant has many variants; you could use it as a ground cover or grow ten feet tall. This plant grows well in 25 to 40-degree temperatures. They require good draining soil and do well in dry areas.

Winter dormant succulents include cactus plants, air plants, and others. Winter dormant means that the plant takes a rest from growing during this season. As you can see, whether your plant sleeps in summer or winter, succulents are easy to care for and are easy on the eyes.

Fully Dormant Succulents

Some succulents go into a deep dormancy, and they die off above the ground. They resemble deciduous trees in that they lose their leaves. Some disappear above ground, and only the roots remain. See below for examples:

Sedum spurium

This plant is a perennial, which means it comes back to life yearly. It loses its leaves like a deciduous tree, and all that is left are the bare stems. The plant “dies off” in late fall and winter and returns in late spring to early summer.

Sedum Kamtschaticum

This succulent is also a perennial that actually disintegrates above the ground, and you will not see it.  This deep dormancy occurs from November through March, and the plant will regrow in April.

Orostachys Spinosa

This succulent also degenerates above ground. It is very hardy and can survive – 30 degrees. This plant is a small, slow-growing succulent that is very rare. It can survive at -40 degrees and is from Mongolia.

Fully dormant succulents are very cold hardy. You will not see them during the winter because they are in a deep sleep beneath the ground. They are dormant between November and March, and like all perennials, no care is needed.

Why Succulents go Dormant

Dormancy is nature’s way of allowing plants to take a break and rest.  During this time, they do not grow, and they are protected from their surroundings. For succulents, the dormant period is brought on by a decrease or increase in temperature.

If plants could grow in the winter, the water in the trunk stems and leaves would freeze. This process would cause a lot of damage to the plant. Winter also does not provide enough sunlight for the plants to use. 

Succulents take a break and stop growing during their dormancy months.

When the soil is frozen, the water is insufficient. This freezing renders it difficult for plants to get much water during this dark, cold time of year. Dormancy gives plants a fresh start by resting and growing again when the weather is warm.

When the temperature is hot in the summer, some succulents go dormant to cope with the increase in heat. Again, the plant will emerge from dormancy when the temperature decreases. 

Can Succulents Survive Inside?

Succulents can survive inside and outside, and they need dry indoor air to make it through the winter. Their fleshy leaves are puffy and filled with water, and these robust leaves can survive in a dry environment.  

Many succulents resemble an artichoke with thick leaves. Remember, do not give them too much water or direct sunlight. The light is good but should be filtered, or you could use a grow light.

Because of their brilliant colors, they can be very decorative. The colors of these plants can be surprising. They can produce:

  • pink
  • blue
  • yellow
  • Burgundy
  • Orange

These colors can be dynamic in that they can go slightly lighter or shades darker.

When grown indoors or outdoors, many succulents feature bright and vibrant colors.

If you have a soft succulent outside and it is winter, you must bring them indoors. Soft succulents are sensitive to freezing weather. The ice and snow are hazardous for these types of succulents. Fortunately, many succulents will thrive indoors.

The Jade likes full or partial sun, and it can live outside in 30 to 50-degree temperatures. It is mainly seen indoors where the environment is more steady. It has fleshy oval-shaped leaves and is dark green.

Burro’s Tail looks like an animal tail with short cylindrical leaves with points on the end. It is grown as a house plant or outside if above 40 degrees. It does not like overwatering, so keep the soil on the dry side.

Flaming Katy is related to the Jade plant and will produce beautiful salmon-colored flowers. They do not stay very long, but with patience, the plant will bloom for you again. The plant is poisonous to humans and cats, so you may want to keep it out of reach. They like bright light and little water.

How to Keep Your Succulents Healthy Inside During Winter

It takes knowledge to grow succulents indoors during the winter successfully. Many people inadvertently kill their succulents due to overwatering. There is no prescribed amount of water for your plant. The soil should be moist, not saturated, and you should only water when the soil is dry.

If you look at the plant and see specific symptoms, you will know that you have overwatered.

  • Leaves turning brown
  • Leaves falling off
  • Plant looking pruney, like your fingers when you stay in the tub too long
  • Edema in the leaves

You need to accommodate their dormancy periods. This lack of growth means the plant is dormant, so do not keep watering. Here are some tips.

Create a Seasonal Calendar

You need to know when winter begins for succulents. Winter begins mid to late fall for succulents when the days shorten and the trees lose their leaves. This period is the time to bring your soft succulents inside. Always bring them indoors before the first frost.

Give Your Plants Plenty of Light

Place your plants where they will catch the light, not direct but filtered. Rotate your plants so they get even light. When the weather turns freezing, move them away from the window to maintain warmth for them. 

Fluorescent bulbs will help succulents grow. The color of light needs to be in the visible color spectrum. The lights need to be about 6 to 12 inches away from the plants.

Group Your Plants According to Their Schedule

Try to group your plants according to the light and water needed. Different plant species have different needs, and it will be easier to keep the watering and feeding schedule straight. 

For example, the Jade is a species of the genus Crassula. The Jade is mainly grown indoors but can survive in 30 to 50-degree weather. The plant can take the full or partial sun and if inside, should be rotated to grow straight—water when the ground feels dry.  

Mother-In-Laws tongue is a species of the genus Sansevieria trifasciata is a hardy evergreen perennial plant. It is a great houseplant. You should water around the edges of the container, not on the leaves. This plant likes temperatures above 60 degrees.

Cut Down on Watering and Stop Feeding

You must cut back on the watering for cacti because they can get root rot with too much water. Even though cacti and succulents are related, all cacti are succulents; however, not all succulents are cacti.

During their winter, which is September to March, they do not flower.  They should not be fertilized and only water when dry. 

Winter is a tricky time for succulents. They require adequate amounts of water to keep them healthy. You want to water your winter plants when the soil is entirely dry. You should space out the watering to about once a week or once every two weeks. 

You will know when your succulents get thirsty because the soil will be dry. Also, if the plant leaves look shriveled, that is a good indicator that your plant needs water. 

The actual test to tell when your plant needs water, find a free area of soil.  Put your finger into the dirt up to the first knuckle. If the soil feels moist, wait a couple of days and check again. However, if the soil is dry, it is time to water.

Succulents should not be fertilized because their growth is slowed, and the food can stress them and burn the roots

Prepare the Pot for Inside

Before you bring your succulents inside, you need to make sure your pot is set up. You should clean the pot and make sure it is free of dirt, leaves, or cobwebs. It is important to remove dead leaves so that your pot does not become infected by bacteria or fungus. 

Without cleaning, you could also bring pest eggs into your home, and they could hatch. Hence, you could have spiders inside that belong outside.

Watch Out for Insects

Mealybugs and armored scale bugs love to come inside where it is dry and warm. They like to feast on succulents and will make their home in them. Use 70% rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle and lightly mist the plant. A kitchen sink or stationary tub is a good place for this.

Pretty up the Pot

When your succulent is in the process of growing, it will shed leaves. You should make sure that your plant is pruned and kept looking polished. This cutback is what you need to be mindful of before bringing your succulents in for the winter. Removing the dead leaves will prevent rotting.

What Happens in the Spring

Do not hesitate to move your plants back outside—these plants like the sunlight, heat, and air movement. You have to do this slowly, beginning over two weeks.  Put them in the shade and gradually move them into the sun. They can get sunburned if placed in direct sunlight too quickly.

Taking care of your succulents during winter can be a challenge, but know how to take care of them will keep your plant alive and thriving. If you follow these simple tips, you will have a beautiful succulent to admire by the time spring arrives.

Once spring comes and the temperature rises, you can put your succulents back outdoors.

Are Succulents Hardy?

Most succulents like to be in warmer climates. The winter-hardy ones are a bit of a rarity. The hardy ones belong to specific families. This plant type includes but is not limited to:

  • Sempervivums 
  • Sedums 
  • Yucca 
  • Lewisias 

These hardy succulents can withstand brutally cold temperatures. As long as they are kept within their temperature range, they should continue to flourish. They tend to be larger, which helps them to survive colder climates.  See the table below:

BOTANICAL NAMECOMMON NAMEPLANT SIZETEMPERATUREPLANTING ZONE
Sempervivum TectorumHens and Chicks2-foot width20 – (40) degrees3 – 8
Sedum spathulifoliumBroadleaf Stonecrop2 inches ground cover5 – 10 degrees7
Hesperaloe ParvifloraRed Yucca2 – 3 feet10 – 20 degrees8
Siskiyou LewisiaLewisia Cotyledon12 inches20 – (40) degrees3 – 8

Do not be intimidated to work with succulents during the winter.  Let the chart be your guide if you live in colder climates. Choosing the succulent for your planting zone will help ensure successful growing. 

See below winter succulents that you should consider:

  • Hens and Chicks
  • Sempervivum Red Lion
  • Sempervivum Mahogany
  • Sempervivum Calcareum 
  • Sempervivum Cobweb
  • Sedum Dasyphyllum Major
  • Dragon’s Blood Sedum

Sempervivum and Sedum both have a broad spectrum of different succulents that are fun and unique. These are all plants that prosper when the temperature drops. They require proper care and attention for the winter. 

Frost Damage to Winter Succulents

If your succulents are put into temperatures that they cannot handle, frost damage is always possible. In zones 8 or 9, temperatures only drop below freezing for one or two nights. This situation is when you introduce the succulent to a “frost cloth.” Frost damage takes a couple of days to become apparent. 

A frost cloth does not inhibit air from getting to the plant. However, it protects the leaves from frost. It also gives a layer of protection, retaining warmer temperatures between the plant and the outside air. It provides protection as low as 20 degrees.

Amazon sells frost covers for plants, and they cost about $25.00. This is a worthwhile purchase to protect your succulents. Because succulents are water-bearing plants, they can freeze, and the leaves can rupture. This damage only happens if they are exposed to below freezing for several days.

Conclusion

If you have outdoor succulents, it is important to know how to care for them year-round. If you have a dormant winter plant, you cut back on the water to not freeze. You can transition plants indoors for the winter, and then they will not go into dormancy, and you would take care of them as usual. 

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