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Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region

Cold Weather Care for Outdoor Succulents, By Region

Should you be worried about your outdoor succulents in winter? It depends on where you live.

It’s all about frost. The temperature at which water freezes—32 degrees F—is the Great Divide. Above that, most succulents are fine. Below that, most are at risk. See “Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know.

Hardiness Zone Map

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a good basic guideline. However, it doesn’t take into account climate variables potentially harmful to succulents.

Regional Care for Succulents, An Overview

There’s very little of North America where every kind of succulent will grow outdoors year-round. The “banana belt” is the heavily populated California coast. Of course, you can grow any succulent anywhere if you’re able to replicate the conditions it likes, either in your home or in a greenhouse. But this article is about cultivating succulents outdoors, in the garden, during the most challenging season: winter.

If you live in…

Coastal CA from the Bay Area south: You don’t get frost (at lower elevations), and humidity and rainfall are minimal, so simply make sure your succulents get good drainage during occasional rainstorms.

Cold weather care for outdoor succulents

My garden is in Southern CA inland, in the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet (Zone 9b). A freak snowfall happened on New Year’s Day, 2017. When temps rose above freezing, I hosed off the snow. The Agave attenuata at left was damaged but recovered.

Central and Southern CA inland: Frosty nights tend to follow rainy weather, December through February. Like a citrus grower, I pay attention to “frost advisories for inland valleys.” When temps are predicted to drop below 32, I drape succulents with bed sheets or commercial frost cloth made of non-woven fabric[Learn more about how I protect my garden.]

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

When a non-gardening friend noticed bedsheets draped over my plants, she asked if my dryer wasn’t working (!).

Areas of hard frost: You get temps below 32 degrees that last for hours, so it’s not adequate to merely cover your in-ground succulents or shelter potted succulents beneath eaves. Move them indoors or into a greenhouse. Depending on where you live, an inexpensive temporary shelter may be OK. [See “Four Ways to Overwinter Succulents” on this site.]

Northwest and Northeast: Protect and shelter your succulents indoors (perhaps in your basement) or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. [On this site, See “Cold-Hardy Succulents for Northern Climates” for exceptions; “How to Grow Succulents Indoors;” and “Winter Protection for Succulents: Products].

Desert Southwest: You get hard frosts, so protect and shelter tender succulents indoors or in a climate-controlled greenhouse. Those that do well for you include cacti, agaves, dasylirions, yuccas and other succulents specific to your region.

South: If you get frost, see above. But even if temps stay above freezing, you’ll still contend year-round with trying to grow arid-region plants in a wet, humid climate. Find out which succulents you can grow outdoors in Florida and other states too damp and humid for most succulents.

Related info on this site:
How to grow indoors
Overwintering

Frost and succulents Frost damage

Learn more in my books:

Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.):
— Cold-Climate Succulent Gardens, pp. 111-113
— Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates, pp. 143-148

Succulents Simplified:
— Protection from Frost, pp. 48-50
— Frost Damage, p. 72 and p. 77

I also recommend this excellent book: Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis, photos by Saxon Holt.Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

8 replies
  1. Linda Fleigner
    Linda Fleigner says:

    Another timely post. My cacti and succulents are all safely put away but sometimes time to laziness gets in the way and I may not get to them. It’s always good to get a reminder. Thanks. Always look for your posts.

    Reply
  2. Betsy Kurtenbach
    Betsy Kurtenbach says:

    Hello, I live in South San Francisco,Ca.
    And I love succulents have lots. We are getting lots of rain lately and I have been covering my plants with big garbage bags so they don’t get drenched! Am I doing the right thing to protect them from lots of dampens?? Thank you for your help❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Debra
      Debra says:

      Hi Betsy — Yikes! Big garbage bags? Not a good idea unless you’re using them somehow to make an umbrella. Think of it this way: What if you had a pet that for whatever reason was exposed to cold and rain and you wanted to protect it, but you couldn’t move it? You wouldn’t cover it with plastic! The poor thing needs sunlight and air circulation, and plastic holds in dampness—and besides, rain simply rolls off of it and soaks the ground anyway. Hopefully your pet succulent is growing in fast draining soil, atop a mound or berm, so its roots aren’t sitting in water. If not, topdress the soil with pumice, a crushed volcanic rock that absorbs moisture. If you have a patio umbrella with a concrete stand (so it won’t blow over), use it keep rain off the plant. But the bigger issue is what’s going on in the soil. Sodden roots are in danger of rotting.

      Reply
    • Perry
      Perry says:

      I live in SF near Daly City and it was suggested to me by Sloat Gardens to cover the more sensitive succulents with burlap. Many of my green aeoniums have had frost damage but almost all the others are fine! My soil is pretty sandy so the roots aren’t soggy, I assume South City soil is pretty similar?

      Reply
  3. Sarah Pearl
    Sarah Pearl says:

    Hi Debra, I just discovered your site and I love it…thank you. We live on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, and our garden is going to be on the Garden Tour this year, so I’m trying to spruce things up a bit. I recently made a few succulent wreaths, including a horse head (I’ll post a picture to your FB page.) I used two heavy wire frames, lined the bottom one with coco fiber, sandwiched them together with sphagnum moss in the middle, tied them together, added another layer of moss on top (secured with fishing line) then planted. I sprinkled a bit of potting soil over the top to help hold the tiny ground cover “hair” in place.
    We are experiencing our typical NW 40-50 degree rainy weather right now, and I’m hoping to hang the wreath in early June, so it has lots of time to root and fill in. Shall I leave it outside in the rain (it’s elevated on little cups for drainage), assuming the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing, so should I bring it in under the eaves? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Debra
      Debra says:

      Hi Sarah — It probably would benefit from a gentle rain that soaks it thoroughly. There’s nothing like nitrogen-rich rain for boosting growth. But don’t let it get pounded, and bring it under cover when it gets sodden. Give it bright shade to half-day sun, and rotate it once a week for even growth and sun exposure. Either put it back out in the rain when it begins to dry out, or rehydrate the top few inches of moss with a watering can filled with collected rainwater. Once the plants have rooted, give them a boost with a dilute balanced fertilizer. I like Annie Haven’s Moo Poo tea, but the important thing to remember is to cut the strength by half (dilute half-and-half with water). If it hasn’t filled in by the tour, fill bare spots with cuttings held in place with U-shaped florist’s pins. (It’ll be our secret, ha.)

      Reply
  4. Barbara Sicignano
    Barbara Sicignano says:

    I don’t know WHAT I was thinking by not bringing my succulents inside last night when the temps got down to 23! I live in Northern AZ, and I have had some plants that have been coming along nicely…until this morning! I am assuming to bring them in and see what spring brings, from reading your post? Should I also not water them right away? In our area we are at 5,000 feet of elevation, and the temps have a variance of about 30 – 40 degrees between night and daytime. They usually do well out here, except in the extreme heat we get and sun (100+ degrees), and then the winter temps overnight/early morning. I guess I am wondering if there is anything I can do to help “bring them back” in health and appearance other than bringing them inside? I was going to leave them out in the sun today since the high will be 62 today, then bring them in tonight. Anything I can add to their watering? Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Debra
      Debra says:

      Hi Barbara — I’m so sorry to hear your succulents were likely damaged by frost. It’s hard to say without seeing them, but it doesn’t sound like they’re among the few varieties that can survive temps to 23 degrees F. It’s possible that you can prune off the damaged tissue and they’ll sprout new growth from what’s left of the stem or even the roots, but it’s by no means a certainty. And in any case, once frost damages its leaves, the symmetry and beauty of a succulent may be compromised beyond repair. But take heart. In your climate, it’s best to consider succulents annuals. After all, many lovely ornamental plants (such as nasturtiums, pansies, petunias and the like) are not expected to survive the winter. Why should succulents? Discard the damaged plants, forgive yourself, and look forward to getting fresh ones in spring.

      Reply

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