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How to Grow Succulents by Season and Region

How to grow succulents by season and region

Where you live and the time of year make a big difference as to how well your succulents grow and perform, and even which kinds you should choose—especially if you’re growing them in the open garden. Indoors, you have much more control over the environment, but seasons will still affect cyclical aspects of growth such as flowering and dormancy.

This page is a launching point, so scroll down to see which page or video best answers your questions. (Please be patient, it may take a moment for the page to load fully.)

Also refer to “Seasonal Care for Succulents” on pages 74-75 of my book, Succulents Simplified.

Spring

My spring garden’s most vivid blooms are those of succulent ice plants.
Aloes, bulbine and numerous arid-climate companions are bright and beautiful from March through… [Continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:  Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Garden in Spring.

Summer

On my YouTube channel, see: Succulents, Sun and Summer (10:34)

Autumn

Winter

Region: Bay Area

Region: Coastal Southern California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Succulents for Northerly Climates

On my YouTube channel:

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Sempervivums  Part One of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Gorgeous new cultivars and design ideas.

Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Sedums and More Part Two of my presentation at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. More cool succulents for cold climates plus how to select, grow and design with them.


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Will Succulents Recover from Frost Damage?

Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s a southern California nursery’s display garden before nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid-20s F:

IMG_9517annotated_resized

Here’s the same Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata, after the frost:
IMG_1410_annotated_resized

Likelihood of recovery: Nil. Too much of the tissue was damaged. But what about the Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ behind it? It’s hope of recovery is excellent because only the top growth froze. It protected the stems underneath, which are still healthy.

IMG_3059annotated_resized

If something similar has happened to your plants, succulent or otherwise, once all danger of frost has passed, prune the dead top growth and the plant will be good as new…except smaller, of course!

How about the frozen aeonium below? Pretty much hopeless. But look a the Sedum ‘Angelina’ surrounding it. It’s a succulent too, and perfectly fine!
IMG_1237resized_annotated

Why does frost kill some succulents and not others? A lot has to do with where a particular kind of plant originated. Succulents, which store water in their leaves to survive drought, are mostly from dry, hot climates. But some are from dry, cold climates. See my Wall Street Journal article on this topic.

Related articles and info:

An excellent book about succulents that survive freezing temps is Hardy Succulents, by Gwen Kelaidis, illustrated by Saxon Holt.

Screen shot 2016-01-05 at 7.59.00 PM

My books also have info on growing succulents in challenging climates and how to protect them from frost and excess rain ~

 

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How to Grow Succulents Indoors

If you’re wondering how to grow succulents indoors, basically you need to outfit a basement, sun room, spare room or alcove with tables and shelves that can withstand moisture, plus lights and a fan that run on timers. Fortunately succulents need very little water. Dribble a little at the base of each plant every three weeks or so, enough to hydrate the roots but not so much it puddles on the floor.

Place your succulents near a window. Maximum sun exposure is on the south and west sides of your house. The farther north you live in North America, east will provide bright light, but not enough for crassulas, echeverias and aloes to maintain their red hues. [Read more] 

OR…

Install grow lights. Experts in growing succulents in gray-sky climates recommend T-5 grow lights.

Agrobrite FLT44 T5 Fluorescent Grow Light System, 4 Feet, 4 Tubes, about $120 on Amazon.

 

Create a “light island.” Shown below is arguably the ultimate indoor plant-shelf unit. Made of lightweight, powder-coated aluminum, it has adjustable lights with energy-efficient, full-spectrum bulbs; plastic drip trays; and wheels for easy positioning. Three shelves provide 18 square feet of growing space. From Gardener’s Supply Co.; about $600. 

Get a timer which automatically turns the lights on at, say, 7 a.m. and off eight hours later. I like this one, below, because it has multiple outlets:  Titan Apollo 14, about $26. 

Watch the temperature. If it falls below freezing (32 degrees F) many succulents may show long-term damage (or die). This indoor thermometer is digital and also has a humidity gauge. But what I love about it is that it keeps daily high and low temps for 24 hours!

AcuRite 00613 Humidity Monitor with Indoor Thermometer, Digital Hygrometer and Humidity Gauge Indicator, about $10 on Amazon.

 

Related info on this site: 


 

 

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Ways to Overwinter Succulents

These four ways to overwinter succulents give you several options, depending on how cold it gets where you live. Climate makes a big difference when it comes to the well-being of your succulents in winter. Most varieties go dormant in winter and are frost-tender, meaning they can’t handle temps below 32 degrees F.

These common winter conditions can lead to damage or death for dormant (not actively growing) succulents:
— soggy soil (causes roots to rot)
— excess rainfall (engorges cells)
— frost (causes cell walls to burst)

Some succulents do have a built-in antifreeze. Those indigenous to the Americas, such as cacti and agaves, or to northern climates like many sedums and sempervivums, tend to fare better than those from Madagascar and South Africa (kalanchoes, aeoniums, aloes and crassulas). But no succulents want a lot of water when dormant, nor high humidity at any time of the year. All prefer well-draining soil, bright but not intense light, and good air circulation.

If you live, as I do, where frost is occasional and lasts only a few hours (Zone 9b), plan to cover vulnerable, in-ground succulents with frost cloth or bed sheets when there’s a frost advisory for your area. In my YouTube video, Frost Protection for Succulents, I show how I do this in my own garden. In the foothills NE of San Diego at 1,500 feet, it’s subject to cold air that settles in inland valleys. My neighbors higher-up generally get no frost at all.

Ways to overwinter succulents

If you live in Zones 8 or lower, grow tender succulents as annuals or in containers that you overwinter indoors. These members of my Facebook community graciously shared their winter set-ups:

Pat Enderly of Virginia Beach, VA: Midwinter lows average 32 F. Pat brings her plants indoors and tucks them into shelving units she purchased online. Each shelf has a waterproof tray, and each unit is lit by two T5 bulbs. “They do a wonderful job of keeping my succulents from etiolating (stretching),” Pat says, adding that the lights, on timers, stay on from 7 am to 7 pm daily. Pat moves her succulents indoors in Sept. and Oct. and takes them outside in April.

Ways to overwinter succulents Ways to overwinter succulents

Candy Suter, Roseville, CA (near Sacramento): Midwinter nights may drop into the 20s F but seldom go lower than 25 F. Candy moves her succulents into a small walk-in greenhouse (center) or a gazebo (right), which she covers with 5mm plastic to hold in warmth. She anchors the plastic along the bottom, secures the seams with duct tape, and adds a small heater with a fan on the coldest nights.

Ways to overwinter succulents

Tenaya Capron of Buffalo, TX: Although average midwinter lows hover above freezing, occasional winter lows may drop into the single digits. Tenaya and her husband built this 24×20 free-standing greenhouse, which they outfitted with exhaust and overhead fans, an overhead heater, and double sliding barn doors on either end. I love the library ladder, don’t you?

Ways to overwinter succulents

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

More on this site:


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Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Depending on the type of succulent, how low temperatures drop (water freezes at 32 degrees F), and how long the cold snap lasts, “frost tender” succulents may show damage just on leaf tips or collapse into mush.

When moisture in the cells of a vulnerable plant freezes, it expands and bursts cell walls. A few succulents have a built-in antifreeze, and survive temperatures well below 32 degrees F—below zero, in fact. But these are the exception, and tend to be in the genera Sedum and Sempervivum.

Crassulas, aeoniums, euphorbias, and kalanchoes are among the most tender succulents. The majority of aloes, echeverias, cacti and agaves can go a few degrees below freezing for a short period.

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Unlike most agaves, thin-leaved Agave attenuata is the canary in the mine shaft where frost is concerned. After a brief exposure to 32 degrees, it looks like this.

Can succulents recover from a hard frost?

It depends. Let’s look at a southern California nursery’s display garden before nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid-20s F:

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Here’s the same Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata, after the frost:
Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Likelihood of recovery: Nil. Too much of the tissue was damaged. But what about the Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ behind it? It’s hope of recovery is excellent because only the top growth froze. It protected the stems underneath, which are still healthy.

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

If something similar has happened to your plants, succulent or otherwise, once all danger of frost has passed, prune the dead top growth and the plant will be good as new…except smaller, of course!

How about the frozen aeonium below? Pretty much hopeless. But look a the Sedum ‘Angelina’ surrounding it. It’s a succulent too, and perfectly fine!
Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Why does frost kill some succulents and not others?

A lot has to do with where a particular kind of plant originated. Succulents, which store water in their leaves to survive drought, are mostly from dry, hot climates. But some are from dry, cold climates. Among them are:

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Stonecrops (small-leaved sedums), like those above in a Colorado rock garden;

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

sempervivums (hens-and-chicks, above) of which there are numerous species and cultivars; certain agaves (like Agave utahensis, A. montana and A. parryi), lewisias from the Pacific Northwest, and cacti.

Frost and Succulents: What You Need to Know

Frost cloth protects jades and other vulnerable succulents in my garden. See the video. 

As temperatures begin dropping in the fall:

— Check the forecast, and if there’s a frost advisory for your area, cover susceptible plants with frost cloth (sometimes called garden cloth, frost blanket or floating row covers) or old bedsheets.

— When determining if a tender succulent needs to be covered, stand over it and look up. Plants beneath eaves or tree branches are not as vulnerable as those open to the sky.

— Cold air is heavier than warm, and flows down slopes and collects in low spots. Consequently, succulents in swales are more at risk than those atop berms.

— You may have heard that Christmas lights raise the temperature a few degrees. Yes, if they’re the old-fashioned kind. Those sold nowadays (LEDs) don’t generate heat.

— Wait until spring to trim damaged tissue. It’ll help protect the plants from further damage.

— Watch how I take care of my own tender succulents in my video, “Protect Your Succulents from Frost.”

 

More info:

Go to my posts: Four Ways to Overwinter Your Succulents
How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors

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

I also recommend Hardy Succulents, by Gwen Kelaidis, illustrated by Saxon Holt:

Screen shot 2016-01-05 at 7.59.00 PM

 


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Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Succulents from certain parts of the world, notably lower elevations of South Africa and Madagascar, are vulnerable to freezing temperatures. If the forecast is for temperatures below 32 degrees F, throw a sheet over your crassulas, kalanchoes, aeoniums, stem euphorbias and aloes before nightfall and remove it in the morning. See how I do it in my own garden in this video, Protecting Your Succulents from Frost.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Frost that nips your succulents may turn their leaves brown and unsightly. How do you know if a plant is worth keeping? It may depend on how patient you are. Even badly damaged succulents are surprisingly resilient, but it may take months before they look good again.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Temperatures below 32 degrees caused the fluid in this aloe’s cells to expand and burst, irreparably damaging the tips of many of its leaves. Luckily for the plant, those same leaves protected its core, which is still green and viable.

Aloe pruned_resized

If you decide to try and salvage a succulent with this sort of damage, wait until the weather warms in spring, then snip off the dead tissue. Because new growth forms from the center of the rosettes, pretty soon the old leaves will be barely noticeable.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

And now you know that this is one succulent that needs covering next time there’s a frost advisory for your area. Here’s how my garden looks when temps are predicted to drop below 32 degrees F.

Notice that Agave attenuata tucked beneath the tree on the left? It’ll be fine because the tree will protect it. The plants you have to worry about are those that are out in the open, with nothing above them. I sometimes stand over a succulent and gaze upward. If there are no tree limbs or eaves directly overhead, it gets draped. (I use old sheets. Several years ago a nongardening friend, stopping by for a visit, asked if I was doing my laundry.)

How do you know if you live in a frost-free area? Your neighbors grow Agave attenuata in their gardens, and the plants look fine. In my garden, this soft-leaved agave is the canary in the mineshaft where cold is concerned.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

It’s the first plant to show damage from frost in winter. A lot of succulents can handle cold below 32 degrees for short periods. But Agave attenuata will look like this the next day. This is a nuisance, but fortunately not fatal.

Agave attenuata cropped

See the healthy green part of each leaf? Wait until spring, then use scissors to trim off the tissue-paper-like frozen tips, cutting each leaf to a point. When you’re done, the damage will be barely noticeable. By summer new growth will have hidden the short lower leaves.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

What about a succulent that has frost damage only on its leaf tips? Don’t bother to trim them. It’ll lose those oldest leaves in a few months, anyway.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Kalanchoes tend to be quite frost-tender. One similar to this melted to the ground in my garden at 27 degrees, and I assumed it was a goner. Fortunately I didn’t dig up the damaged plant and discard it, because a few months later…

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

…it came back from the roots.

Jade plant is another widely cultivated succulent damaged at 32 degrees. The leaves turn squishy and putty-colored. This is not pretty, but if the plant’s stems are firm, it will recover and grow new leaves.

Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Actually, the jade plant in the photo was not a victim of frost. You know the term “frost burn?” This plant actually was burned…by a wildfire. The only indication that it wasn’t “burned” by frost is that frost tends to damage the top of a plant. This one was scorched on the side closest to the fire. (Which just goes to show, succulents cook rather than burn, but that’s a different post.)

If you live in an area where you can’t grow most succulents in the ground because it gets too cold, take heart…there are varieties that will do well for you. I recommend this excellent book: Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis, photos by Saxon Holt.Cold Weather Care for Garden Succulents

Go to my posts: Four Ways to Overwinter Your Succulents
How to Keep Succulents Happy Indoors

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

Snail on Succulent
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Prepare Your Succulents for Rainstorms

How to Prepare Your Succulents
for Rainstorms

While gardening between El Niño storms, I inadvertently threw a snail through the open window of a passing pickup truck. I realized this because, unlike previously tossed mollusks, I didn’t hear the sound of shell hitting asphalt. If the driver had stopped, I would’ve apologized and explained that it wasn’t personal—at least not where he was concerned.

Snail on Succulent

The snail photo is from the first edition of Designing with Succulents, which means the snail would be 10+ years old had it lived. Of course it didn’t.

 

Snails reproduce in abundance in wet weather and unless stopped chew unsightly holes in plants. This is truly a shame because succulents keep their leaves a long time. An environmentally friendly bait is Sluggo, but it’s expensive, as are decollate (predator) snails—which in any case are not legal in every California county. The most expedient method, squashing underfoot, leaves a sticky residue on shoes. So I step on a leaf instead, which is one reason I grow nasturtiums. Set a snail on the ground, place a nasturtium leaf atop it, and step on it. If there’s no crunch, find harder ground. But not your patio; snails stain.

An even bigger concern during El Niño is that succulents, which come from arid climates, may rot. Stems or trunks turn squishy and collapse. It may be possible to take cuttings from healthy top growth and restart the plants—as I did that rainy winter with aeoniums. Fortunately, the rest of my succulents came through fine, despite double normal rainfall. After all, it’s not water that causes roots to rot, but drowning from lack of oxygen (plus microbes). Consider: Agave attenuata, crassulas, yuccas and other succulents thrive in Hilo, Hawaii, shown below, where precipitation averages 200+ inches a year. Rain bathes the roots continually, but they stay aerated and healthy because the soil is fast-draining lava rock.

 

Succulents in Hilo, Hawaii

 

If succulents occupy low-lying areas of your garden where rain tends to puddle, and you don’t want to move the plants to higher ground, use a patio umbrella to keep them from being soaked. Channel run-off with rocks, sandbags or trenches; and top-dress soggy soil with pumice to absorb standing water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the best soil amendment for succulents is pumice, a lightweight crushed volcanic rock that aerates the growing medium and absorbs excess moisture. I mix pumice half-and-half with bagged potting soil for containers; and with equal parts compost and garden soil or decomposed granite for in-ground beds. [Learn more about pumice.]

Related info on this site: