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 they're in the open garden. Indoors or in a greenhouse, you have more control over the environment, but seasons still affect cyclical aspects of growth such as flowering and dormancy.
Most---but not all---succulents come from areas of the world that are hot and dry, with minimal rainfall. These plants are best suited to USDA zones 9 and 10, although they will survive outdoors in zones 8 and 11 with adequate protection from frost, excessive heat, and moisture.
This ideal climate for growing succulents is found sporadically in latitudes from 20 to 40 degrees, notably marine-influenced, nontropical areas of the US Southwest, Mexico, South America, eastern China, southern Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Mediterranean. In other zones, especially during seasonal temperature extremes, tender succulents are best cultivated indoors.
As with any plant---any living thing, for that matter---the more you understand it, the better you'll be able to keep it alive and thriving. For example, it may surprise you that aeoniums---which originate in the Canary Islands and the northwestern coast of Africa---love Southern CA but don't do well in Florida or Hawaii. The latter have high humidity and summer rainfall, which Southern CA doesn't. The same goes for echeverias, which are native to Mexico.
If you live where humidity and rainfall are high, consider succulents as annuals, get a dehumidifier, or grow "tropical" varieties (see pages 145-146 of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.).
Scroll down to find which page, post or video best answers your questions.
Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates, Sempervivums (9:03) - The basics, plus design ideas and exciting new cultivars.
Growing Succulents in Northerly Climates: Sedums and More (7:08) - Cool succulents for cold climates plus how to select, grow and design with them.
Debra Lee Baldwin’s Southern CA Succulent Garden in Spring (3:12)
See what's blooming and what needs doing.
Debra Lee Baldwin's Southern CA Succulent Garden in Summer (10:34)
On an 89-degree day I give a tour of my garden, noting what's in bloom, lookin' good (or sadly dreadful), and checking the health of succulents small and large.
"Seasonal Care for Succulents" on pages 74-75 of my book, Succulents Simplified.
"Cultivating Succulents in Challenging Climates" pp. 143-148 of Designing with Succulents (2nd ed.)
Seasonal Succulent Care
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 mid-May. Increasing temps tend to put the kibosh on delicate spring flowers. If you live near the coast of CA, you’ll enjoy a longer spring, but you may not get…
Don’t let summer sun and heat harm your succulents! Heat generally isn’t a concern. Although some succulents (like sempervivums) tend not to thrive in temps above 80 or 90 degrees F, the majority are fine. It’s heat plus sun that’s the concern.
Depending on how long temps stay below freezing (32 degrees F), “frost tender” succulents may show varying degrees of damage. When moisture in the cells of a vulnerable plant freezes, it expands, bursts cell walls, and turns leaves to mush. In a “light frost,” leaf tips alone may show damage. In a “hard frost,” temps stay below freezing…
Will succulents recover from frost damage? It depends. Here’s how frost-tender succulents looked before temps dropped into the mid-20s F, and after: Here’s the same Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata, after the frost: 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…
Regional Succulent Care
Bay Area Succulents
HOW TO GROW SUCCULENTS in San Francisco (Bay Area) Gardens A plant is “succulent” if it stores water in fleshy leaves and stems in order to withstand periods of drought. Cultivate species native to arid climates (the majority) in warm, sunny areas of your garden, in mounded, fast-draining soil. Protect from prolonged dampness,…
Coastal Southern California Succulents
Certain readily available succulents not only get by on rainfall alone, they’ll grow in nutrient-poor soil and can handle searing sun and frost. No-water succulents for Southern California gardens that are native to the Southwest and Mexico include dasylirions, agaves, cacti and yuccas. They thrive from south of the border to the Bay Area and…
In Baja California recently I was showing off my knowledge of native succulents when one “got” me. The friend who was taking a video with my phone gasped when I unsuccessfully tried to set a 3-inch-long chunk of cholla (“choy-ah”) cactus back onto a boulder. It resolutely clung to my fingers. When I…
Of the dozen or so types of cacti in my garden, I have more opuntias than any other. Also known as paddle cactus or prickly pear, Opuntia species have stems shaped like ping-pong paddles. New pads grow from older ones after rains drench the roots and help fuel new growth. Typically these new pads, and flowers that turn…
Succulents for Northerly Climates
How to select, grow and design with cold climate succulents—sedums, sempervivums and more. Becky Sell of Sedum Chicks plants cold-hardy succulents in repurposed wood-and-metal containers, hypertufa pots, wreaths and more. She grows the plants, too, where she lives in Turner, Oregon, near the Washington border. Becky’s compositions can overwinter outdoors in northerly climates (Zones 4…
Showy Succulents for Snowy Climates (Debra’s WSJ Article): A shorter version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, 3/9/18. This is the unabridged original. Is it a given that Northerners can’t grow succulents? Not at all. Granted, most of these moisture-storing, arid-climate plants prefer warm, sunny habitats. Yet in response to demand, major growers are…
The popular and readily available varieties shown here can handle northern winters, snow, rainstorms (if given excellent drainage) and summer dry spells. There are two main genera: Sedum and Sempervivum. Lesser known are Rosularia, Delosperma, and Orostachys. Notably, certain species of Agave and cacti don’t freeze in all but the coldest climates.
With the exception of sempervivums, jovibarbas, many sedums and yuccas, and certain cacti and ice plants, the majority of succulents are frost-tender. Although they can tolerate temps down to freezing and in excess of 90 (if shaded), between 40 and 80 degrees is ideal. But you can grow any succulent, anywhere, if you understand its needs.