What Temperature is Too Cold for Succulents?

What Temperature is Too Cold for Succulents?

Contrary to what some people may believe, there are succulent varieties that can weather harsh winter climes. With a little help from you, these plants can be left outdoors without much risk of death from freezing temperatures. Of course, there are also some succulents that are too delicate to withstand anything remotely freezing.

But what temperature is too cold for succulents?

What temperature is too cold for your succulent?

The answer to that question will depend heavily on the type of succulent.

If you have soft succulents, freezing temperatures can adversely affect your plants. Soft succulents thrive in temperatures north of 40 degrees. Exposed to freezing temperatures, these succulents will most likely rot in a matter of days.

Aloe, Kalanchoe, and Echeveria are great examples of soft succulents.

Hardy succulents, on the other hand, can handle sub-zero temperatures. However, like most succulents, these plants do not tolerate getting constantly wet. That is one tough challenge to overcome if you live in an area that gets wet and snowy winters.

Stonecrops, hens and chicks plant and rollers are among the more popular hardy succulents.

What are soft and hardy succulents?

But what exactly are soft and hardy succulents?

Soft or tender succulents originally come from warm environments. This has allowed these succulents to adapt to arid conditions. These succulents store water in their leaves. This adaptation makes these plants more vulnerable to below-freezing temperatures because their stored moisture can freeze, and eventually, damage the plant.

Hardy or hard succulents, on the other hand, originally come from alpine climates. These plants can easily handle below-freezing temperatures, up to negative 20 degrees.

Is your succulent hardy or soft?

How do you determine if a particular succulent is hardy or soft? You cannot tell whether a succulent is hard or tender just by looking at it. Both types of succulents come in a diverse array of appearances. 

Some look sturdy enough to withstand harsh winters but these plants will fare better if you keep them indoors until spring. Others look too delicate but can easily handle freezing temperatures.

The best way to overcome this challenge is to identify the exact species of your succulents and then perform thorough research on their needs.

Another trick that you can use to tell if a succulent is hardy or soft is to consult the USDA plant hardiness map

This map divides the United States into different growing zones. With this handy tool, you can determine which plant zone your succulent will thrive in.

If there is a marked difference between your succulent’s growing zone and your location, it is highly likely that you will need to bring your plant indoors for the winter.

How cold weather affects soft succulents

If the winters in your location rarely dip below zero degrees, there are two ways your succulent can react.

First, it may go dormant. During this time, your succulent will essentially rest from its growth phase until the temperature warms up.

Second, succulents that typically have a green color during the warmer seasons will change their hues to pink, red, or even purple. These succulents change their hues as a reaction to the dry soil and cold weather. In most cases, this is not something to worry about. However, it is a good idea to err on the side of caution and monitor your plants daily. Check the weather forecast regularly. If the forecast says that the temperature will go below zero degrees, bring your plants indoors.

If the temperature in your area often goes below the freezing point, it is prudent to bring your succulents indoors before the onset of winter. Soft succulents cannot handle these temperatures. Leave these plants outdoors and expect them to freeze to death.

Overwintering your succulents

The steps you will need to undertake to protect your succulents from winter depend largely on the type of species in your collection. 

Here are a few helpful tips that you need to know to successfully overwinter your succulents. For more information, you can read our article on how to keep succulents alive in the winter.

Hardy succulents

Although it is possible to keep hardy succulents in outdoor pots for the duration of the winter, it is better to transplant your plants directly on the ground.

Hardy succulents planted on the ground fare better than those that are kept in pots because the ground provides better insulation against the cold weather.

If you must transplant your succulents, do this before the start of winter. This will give your plants ample time to grow and develop their roots as well as acclimate to their new location.

If it is not possible to transplant your hardy succulents, the next best thing that you can do is to move them into a location that gives them adequate sunlight as well as shelter from unwanted moisture.

And speaking of unwanted moisture, make sure that you protect your hardy succulents from getting excessively wet. Hardy succulents may have the ability to handle freezing temperatures. But the combination of freezing temperature and excess moisture can leave these succulents vulnerable to root rot.

Apart from decreasing the amount of water you give these succulents, make sure that they are sheltered from the rains.

Finally, make sure that you remove your succulents’ basal leaves before winter. Although succulents can shed these leaves naturally, leaving these leaves during winter increases the chances of rot.

Soft succulents

If you own soft succulents, you have no other recourse but to bring these indoors to protect them from freezing temperatures.

Ideally, you should place soft succulents in an area that receives adequate sunlight, like areas near windows.

However, if this is not possible, the next best thing that you can do is to place your soft succulents under grow lights.

Either way, be sure to check your plants regularly. Plants that do not receive enough light tend to stretch and have faded colors.

Lack of airflow indoors can leave your plants vulnerable to both pests and rot. To overcome this challenge, you can use fans and open windows to increase airflow.

But apart from these, there are a few other things that you can do to prevent rot.

For one, decrease the amount of water you give to your succulents. It is also helpful to change your pots and soil. Ideally, your succulents should be planted in pots with drainage holes with a potting mix that dries up fast. The combination of well-draining soil and pots with drainage holes prevents your plants’ roots from being exposed to too much moisture.

Except for a few varieties, most succulents require less water during winter. For these plants, it is a good idea to water them every three to six weeks during winter. However, be sure to check if the soil is completely dry before giving them water.

Protection from winter

Your succulents can survive winter with a little help from you. Start by identifying which type of succulent you own to learn which steps you should undertake. This will ensure that your plants can still thrive even when the mercury drops.

Image: istockphoto.com / Artem Khyzhynskiy

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