But our treasured succulents don’t have to unduly suffer
We are fond of referring to succulents as the ultimate easy-care plants but many species can and will suffer easy deaths if exposed to elements they aren’t predisposed to tolerate.
Experienced succulent hobbyists already know this, but if you live in an area that experiences hard freezes, be prepared to bring cold-adverse species inside, finding them a comfortable spot with good airflow and the most light possible. Now that we are into November, many in chilly zones are already doing this. Rotate pots 180 degrees every week or so to help prevent stretching. Before bringing plants indoors, remove any dead leaves as well as debris from pots and check for pests and other living, multi-legged things. When and if the weather warms up during the day, you can periodically bring them outside for some sun-basking time.
For landscape gardeners living in borderline climates, a south-facing slope is the best spot to plant frost-tender succulents, plants such as aeoniums, crassulas, kalanchoes, euphorbias, and many aloes.
Even if temperatures occasionally drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, many succulents, once established or in the right location, can handle chill better than one might expect. Landscape plants, insulated by earth and rocks, are able to withstand such better than potted plants. Your garden likely has microclimates that are warmer than exposed areas. Walls radiate heat, as do boulders, pavement, and hardscape. Cover such as an eave or tree branch will provide some frost protection. The colors of the leaves of certain succulents, notably aloes, echeverias, and jades, will intensify when they are stressed. Too much, though, could result in unsightly leaf scarring, or frost burn.
Having said all that, don’t set a plant out in the ground a month before winter and expect that it will be fine if excessive cold or rain comes. The plant, its roots not yet established, will have virtually no resistance for stressors. Typically, it is best to plant directly out in the garden several months prior to give the plant enough time to be acclimated for the next winter.
Those in more temperate climates can move their potted lovers of light — if not so much for heat — such as echeverias to sunnier spots from where they were located during summer. If a winter warm spell comes, not unusual out here in SoCal, normal water is fine, but cease before more characteristic seasonal temps and/or rain return so that roots are not sitting cold and wet for two weeks before drying out.
To enhance cold tolerance:
- Establish root systems months prior to the first frost.
- Allow plants to ease into winter with time to acclimate to the cold.
- Plants in the ground vs. containers are better able to tolerate cold temperatures.
- Use cloth, newspapers, or frost cloth as a covering or blanket.
- Plant near south-facing structures to provide the most sunlight and protection.
Cold isn’t the only consideration. Chilly rainstorms aren’t necessarily a succulent’s BFF either. Move potted plants to spaces protected by cover to prevent rot or other ill effects. Summer growers generally like to chill out during winter, preferring to stay on the dry side during their dormant period. Refrain from fertilizing them during this time. Sempervivums also will appreciate some refuge from persistent chilly rainfall. Otherwise you may have unhappy, soggy hens and chicks on your hands. Many cactus species can tolerate cooler, even chilly, weather, but they want to be kept on the dry side during such times. Winter-growing succulents like aeoniums, on the other hand, will appreciate extra water.
While succulents are often associated with warm climates, there are many varieties that can withstand bone-chilling winters, at least for a spell. Semps and many sedums can tolerate subzero temps, as can many Opuntia species. In fact they’ll take an insulating blanket of snow over lots of cold rain.
Below are some of our favorite chill-OK species, broken out by degree of toughness, from least (frost tolerant) to most (super cold hardy). This list is not meant to be a guarantee that every specimen represented here will tolerate frost or freeze for days or weeks on end without some ill effect.
Echeveria ‘Crimson Tide’
Sedum adolphii ‘Firestorm’
Senecio mandraliscae (blue chalk sticks)
Calandrinia spectabilis (rock purslane)
Sedum spurium ‘Voodoo’
Super Cold Hardy
Agave parryi (Parry’s agave)
Agave parryi truncate (artichoke agave)
Dasylirion wheeleri (desert spoon)
Hesperaloe parviflora (red yucca)
Opuntia violacea ‘Santa Rita’
Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’