With succulents at the height of popularity, there is now a great variety of interesting new plants available for the home garden. There are so many beautiful and decorative specimens, you very well may have collected some succulents that you would like to grow for years to come. This is how I overwinter succulents, both hardy and tender, so that they continue to thrive in my garden.
What is a Succulent?
A succulent is a fleshy-leafed plant that is tolerant of drought due to the retention of extra water in the leaves or stems. Plants such as Sedum, Sempervivum, Echeveria, Aeonium, Crassula, Aloe, Haworthia, and Cacti are considered succulents as the term is used to generally categorize plants that have fleshy parts and a similar need for some water, bright light, and a tolerance of drought. And while there are about 60 families of plants that fall into the category, not all plants in all of those 60 families are succulents. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to have a care standard for “succulents” as there is a wide range of plants that fall into the category.
That being said, I tend to separate them into three categories and use those guidelines to care for my plants and know how to overwinter them: cacti, hardy succulents, and tender succulents. I don’t grow any cacti outdoors and so I will focus on overwintering hardy succulents and tender succulents.
Hardy Succulents to Overwinter Outside
Before getting started with overwintering, I clean up my plants and transplant the pups or offshoots into their own containers as you can see in this article. Any tall or spindly succulents that I don’t love the look of, I remove the tops and transplant them as you can see in this article.
There are some winter-hardy varieties that don’t need a lot of special care. In fact, some love to have a cold period in the winter to thrive the rest of the year. Winter-hardy succulents like many Sedum, Sempervivum, Agave, Ice Plant, Lewisa, and Yucca will overwinter well up to Zone 5-6 and higher. Again, this is a generalization and many of the varietals in each family will have more or less cold-hardiness.
If these hardy succulents are planted in the garden, I generally leave them over winter and just clean up the brown leaves or transplant them in the spring. If they are in containers, I move the containers under cover. Simply placing the pots under a bench, deck, or eaves near the house saves both the pots and the succulents some wear and tear.
Tender Succulents to Overwinter Indoors
More tender succulents such as Aeonium, Echeveria, and Crassula are worth doing what you can to protect them when the temperature drops. These are beautifully decorative succulents and they can add a lot of wow-factor to next year’s containers and projects.
Just as I do with the hardy succulents, I clean up the plant as much as possible and transplant any offshoots. It’s not worth saving a plant that is looking a bit rough around the edges or one that has disease and pest problems. Just compost those plants and focus on the healthy ones.
If your plant is a little bit overgrown, then it might be worth taking some cuttings and propagating those for new, young plants next spring.
Replace the soil by removing the plant from the pot, shaking off any soil from the roots and replanting the succulent into a sterile cactus & succulent mix. This will keep the critters that are in the soil from overwintering along with your succulents.
Location Needs: Temperature, Light, and Humidity
Move the plants indoors into a cool location like a garage or basement that gets at least a couple of hours of light per day. When the succulents go dormant in the winter they don’t need 8 hours of bright sunlight (but if you keep them indoors where it’s quite warm then they will need sunlight because they won’t be able to go dormant).
Keep the succulents in a location that gets enough heat to dry out the air. In areas that get quite a bit of moisture in the winter (like where I live in Vancouver) I find that an unheated garage or cold space in a basement can have too much moisture and cause the succulents to mold. I set my succulents on a north-facing window in a heated garage that I keep much cooler than the house and they are happy as can be.
When tender succulents have gone dormant for the winter they don’t need as much water. You can give them some water every 1 to 2 months and allow the soil to dry out between watering. The soil shouldn’t be soggy or else it will promote rot.
With these tips, both hardy and tender succulents will have a nice winter’s rest. In the spring when the temperature warms up, they may look a little bit scraggly. Pop them outside again, pull off any brown leaves, and place them out in the garden. In no time your succulents will be bright and beautiful again. Let’s hope they even multiply!