Can succulents survive winter or do you have to resign yourself to the idea that you will need to get new plants come springtime?
Some succulents can survive winter even in sub-zero conditions when they are left outdoors. Other varieties and species need to be brought indoors to seek shelter from freezing temperatures.
When people talk about succulents, they often picture cacti in arid deserts.
While that may be partially correct, succulents come from diverse origins. Indeed, some varieties originally come from hot and dry climates. However, there are also some succulents that originate from alpine climates.
But how exactly does a plant’s origins figure in its ability to survive winter?
A lot, actually. You see, succulents can be broadly categorized into two: soft and hard succulents.
Soft succulents, also known as tender succulents, come from dry and hot climates where they have adapted to environments with little moisture.
These succulents cannot be left outdoors during winter, especially if the winters in your area get too cold and wet.
Left in an environment with sub-zero temperatures, the water stored in plant cells becomes frozen. Over time, these frozen cells turn the plant’s various parts too soft and mushy.
Hard or hardy succulents, on the other hand, originate from alpine climates where winters can get pretty harsh.
Left outdoors, you should not worry much about the survival of these succulents. These plants can easily handle temperatures up to negative twenty degrees.
Distinguishing between the two
You cannot distinguish between the two types of succulents by simply looking at a plant. Some plants may seem equipped to handle freezing temperatures but actually cannot. And there are delicate-looking succulents that can easily handle harsh winter conditions.
If you want to know whether your succulent is soft or hardy, you should consult the USDA plant hardiness map. This map is an online tool that divides the American map into growth zones. Each zone has a specific temperature range and lists the plants that can thrive in that zone.
If your zone matches the preferred zone of your succulent, you can just leave it outdoors over the winter. However, if there is a mismatch, it is highly recommended that you bring your succulent indoors until the end of winter.
Helping your succulents survive winter
Learning how to take proper care of your succulents during winter is as important, if not more important, than being able to distinguish what type of succulent you own.
The type of preparation you need to do will depend largely on what type of succulent you own.
On their own, hardy succulents can survive freezing temperatures. However, you should not leave your plant’s survival to chance or luck. The combination of excess moisture and cold temperature can make the hardiest of succulents vulnerable to rot.
Here are the steps you need to do to help your succulents better adapt to winter conditions outdoors.
1. Transfer your succulents.
Before winter arrives, you should transfer your succulents from pots into the ground. Although it may seem counterintuitive, hardy succulents fare better when they are planted directly into the ground.
Compared to pots, the ground can provide succulents with better insulation from the cold.
But time is of the essence. Transplanting your succulents during fall will give them enough time to stretch out their roots and acclimatize to their new location.
If you cannot plant your succulents to the ground, the next best thing that you can do is to move them to a location that provides shelter from rainfall.
2. Minimize exposure to water.
Hardy succulents have evolved to handle freezing temperatures with ease. However, when exposed to excess moisture, these plants can become susceptible to rotting.
If you are moving your plants, whether directly to the ground or any other location, make sure that rainfall or any other form of moisture will not get to the plant, especially its roots and leaves.
3. Trim off dead leaves.
Hard succulents shed their basal leaves from time to time. During the warmer seasons, you can allow your plants to shed their leaves on their own.
But before winter arrives, you should remove basal leaves off your succulents. This helps you accomplish two things.
First, you make your plants look better. Second, and probably more important, you can prevent these leaves from being susceptible to rot.
Like hardy succulents, soft succulents need sufficient time to adjust to their new locations.
Ideally, you should bring in your succulents around September, just right before the first frost arrives.
Here are a few other tips that you need to know.
1. Water your plants first
Before bringing your succulents indoors, water them two to three days ahead. This will give your plants ample time to get adequate moisture and allow the soil to dry.
2. Amend the soil
Check if you are using the appropriate soil for your succulents. Make sure that you are using a soil mix designed for your plants and not ordinary organic soil which retains too moisture.
3. Clean up the pots.
Give your succulents’ pots a quick wipe. You might also want to remove debris off the pot as well as dead organic materials.
4. Say no to pests.
Many pests that target succulents can easily jump from one plant to another. And when you are bringing plants indoors, the last thing that you want are unwanted guests hitchhiking their way into your home.
Inspect each succulent closely and look for signs of infestation. Treat each infected plant before putting it into quarantine. You should only bring uninfected plants indoors.
5. Provide adequate light and water.
Place your succulents in an area that has plenty of natural light. If it is too dark indoors, you can use grow lights to ensure that your plants get enough light.
Some succulents go dormant during winter. These plants can go by with less water during this phase. Typically, you will only need to water your succulents every three to six weeks. Make sure that the soil is completely dry before watering again.
Safe from the cold
Whether you own hardy or tender succulents, they can survive this year’s winter. However, your plants will need your help to ensure that they have a fighting chance against freezing temperatures.
Image: istockphoto.com / Ekaterina Drokina