Frozen agave (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Protect Your Succulents From Rain, Hail, Frost

Succulents from South Africa and Madagascar (such as aloes, jade and kalanchoes) thrive along the California coast because the climate and weather patterns are similar to those of their native habitats.

The farther you go inland, like my own garden---at 1500 feet in the foothills NE of San Diego---it gets too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer for many soft succulents (as opposed to agaves and cacti).

If I can do it, so can you

Yet without difficulty, I grow hundreds of species---nearly all those I show throughout this site and in my three books on succulents. How? Basically I understand my terraced half-acre's microclimates and position plants accordingly. (And I have a few other tricks up my sleeve.)

Even closer to the coast, you'll contend with changing weather patterns that provide less or more rain than these water-storing plants need.

The info on this page will help you get your chubbies through rainstorms without rotting. Here too are essentials about drainage, frost and hail.

The video above is one of several I've made about winter weather and succulents. Scroll down for other videos you'll find helpful. 

After rainstorms, check for:

-- Succulents with rotted leaves. Remove mushy leaves before rot spreads to the plant's stem or crown. 

-- Drainage issues. If soil stays sodden and muddy areas remain long after a storm, roots may drown. Move plants to higher ground. Install French drains.

-- Slope erosion. Create dams of rocks and diversion channels, and top-dress the soil with gravel or mulch to diffuse the rain's impact.

-- Stagnant water. Check pots, bins and barrels. If they've filled, dump the water before mosquitos find it and breed.

-- Weeds. Wherever soil is exposed to sun, weeds WILL sprout. Get them when small. All too soon they'll have deep roots, go to seed, and look you in the eye.

-- Hail damage. White dots from the impact of tiny bits of ice appear on upper leaves. Spring growth usually covers them.

-- Seepage. Check your home’s basement. Mine used to have an inch or two of standing water whenever the ground became saturated during storms. A few years ago, a friend suggested a simple solution: Coat the concrete blocks that form the basement’s walls with a special paint that prevents seepage. Works great. Any home improvement store carries it.

-- Shop for plants. Now’s a good time to accumulate plants you want to add to your garden. Rain-soaked ground is soft and easy to dig. Early spring is the best time to establish new plants, after all danger of frost has passed (here in Southern CA, mid-March). Plants will take off in spring and don’t have to contend with summer heat while putting down roots. Don't delay; if your garden is like mine, when the soil dries, it becomes hard as concrete.

-- Take photos as what-to-do reminders. When the weather clears, such issues are easy to forget.

The good news: Succulents tend to be opportunistic when it comes to rain. Given adequate drainage and frost protection, they love it!

When Frost Follows

Frost may settle in low-lying areas on cold, clear nights after a storm. If temps are forecast to drop into the low 30sF, cover vulnerable non-native succulents (aloes, aeoniums, crassulas, kalanchoes, euphorbias) with bedsheets.

Better yet, use a lightweight, non-woven fabric ("frost cloth," "floating row cover"). Keep in mind succulents open to the sky are more vulnerable than those along walls or beneath eaves and trees.

Related VIDEOS

See how I cope with less-than-ideal winter weather in my Zone 9b garden, and how I evaluate and contend with its impact on my succulents.

Why Succulents Rot and How to Prevent It

Sodden roots fall prey to bacteria and fungus that move upward into the body of the succulent, causing its tissue to soften collapse. Here's what to look for, and what to do.

The Squish Test for Succulents

Worried your succulents are getting too much water? Here's how I test and rescue succulents after rainstorms. Even if soft and squishy means rot, it's not always too late.

Post-Rain Must-Do's for Succulent Gardens

Have you checked your succulent garden after the rainstorms? I found a few things that needed taking care of and I bet you will, too!

Protect Your Succulents from Frost

Follow me through my own garden as I select and protect cold-sensitive succulents.

MORE Info on This Site

Rain on agave (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

How Rain Benefits Succulents

Here’s how rain benefits succulents: It provides dissolved minerals and washes away dust that inhibits photosynthesis; it dilutes and flushes salts and harmful chemicals that have built up in the soil from tap water; and it provides nitrogen essential to growth,

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Snail on Succulent

Prepare Your Succulents for Rainstorms

During rainy weather, 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 after one rainy winter with aeoniums. Fortunately, the rest of my succulents came through fine, despite double normal rainfall. After…

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Succulents and Too Much Rain, A French Solution

Want to protect your succulents from too much rain? Here’s how the Jardin Zoologique Tropical in southeastern France keeps their succulents from becoming waterlogged during seasonal rainstorms. Corrugated fiberglass panels atop metal bars tent the plants so excess rain doesn’t soak the soil. The structures are tall enough to allow good air circulation, and the panels are translucent, enabling maximum sunlight to reach the plants. The…

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Purple cactus in snow

Winter Care for Frost-Tender Succulents

Depending on where you live, here’s how to get frost-tender South African succulents—like crassulas (jades), euphorbias, senecios and aloes—through a North American winter.

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3 Comments

  1. Jinnefer Cabrera on February 25, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Adore your blog. Ty

    If you ever need a hand I am your lady.

    Ty

  2. Holly Poirier on November 26, 2021 at 3:43 pm

    Hello there Debra – we too get below-freezing nights here in Provence, France. My question is: how long can a frost cloth stay on the plants if there are several nights in a row with below freezing weather? I ask because Its hard to take off the frost cloths and dry them out when its cold and windy – even though it does warm up a bit during the daytime. Thank you!! xx

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on November 26, 2021 at 4:33 pm

      Hi Holly—

      Great question! I have friends at a higher elevation here in Southern CA who drape their garden with translucent non-woven fabric (frost cloth, remay) before the first frost in late October and leave it on all winter (until end-February). I don’t do that in my own garden— only for several days depending on the forecast— but I do use clothespins to make sure the wind doesn’t blow protective coverings off of them. Most succulents are dormant in winter, but they don’t like being cold AND wet, so there is a limit to what they’ll put up with before they rot. Sometimes it’s just too much trouble to grow succulents that aren’t really suited to a particular climate. Sometimes that’s trial and error. For example, I’ve given up trying to grow kalanchoes except in my garden’s warm (but not blisteringly hot), frost-free microclimates.

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