Can Succulents Survive Winter Outdoors? Your Questions Answered

These days we seem to be seeing more and more extremes of temperature which can make it difficult to know what the best thing to do with your outdoor succulents is, especially if you prefer to keep them outside. I know that you’re probably thinking that, while succulents are tough plants they do need to be brought indoors during the winter but this isn’t necessarily the case. Read on to find out more about how you can keep your outdoor succulents happy throughout the winter. 

Can succulents survive winter outside? As a general rule succulents prefer to winter inside but hardy succulents (such as those with thinner, less bulbous leaves) can happily live outside in freezing temperatures. In fact, they can even thrive in such harsh conditions, often becoming vibrant in color as the weather gets colder.

Okay so I admit that not all succulents can live outside during the winter but what might surprise you is that there are some that can not only live outdoors all year round but will actually thrive during the freezing winter months.

Can all succulents survive winter outside?

If you’re new to the wonderful world of succulents (or even if you’re a seasoned grower) you may be surprised to know that some succulents can live outdoors even in the harshest of conditions. While all succulents are drought tolerant, some, especially those with thinner leaves, can also tolerate frost too (and even deep snow).

These frost-resistant succulents are generally referred to as hardy or cold succulents but they include varieties such as all sempervivums, as well as some types of sedum, opuntia, and euphorbias. These plants are more than happy in temperatures as low as -20°F (-29°C) although they have been known to survive -35°F (-37°C).

While hardy succulents can endure the coldest of winters, soft (or tender) succulents are far more sensitive to the frost and need to be brought inside as soon as the temperature drops below zero, if not before.

In order to know which succulents are okay to leave outdoors in your area, you’ll first need to find out what hardiness zone you’re in. You can do this easily by using the interactive map on the USDA’s website (or by using the image below). Once you’ve found your regional zone you’ll then need to find your plants designation zone, luckily though most plants bought today have this printed on their labels. Once you’ve got both of these you can work out which plants need to spend winter inside and which ones are okay outside. For example, if you live in zone 5 then any plant higher than that will be better off inside.

Plant hardiness zones

How does the cold affect succulents?

While soft succulents don’t like the cold weather at all and aren’t equipped to deal with temperatures lower than 10°F (-12°C), hardy succulents are a whole other kettle of fish and can exhibit some beautiful seasonal changes.

As the plant switches into winter mode, it often goes through extremely vivid color changes and can display vibrant purples and burgundies, rich blues and reds, and even turn black sometimes. Don’t worry though, these color charges are the plant’s way of coping with the low temperatures and won’t do it any harm at all. Within a few weeks of the weather returning to normal, the succulent will have returned to its original hue.

How to keep outdoor succulents alive during winter

If you have hardy succulents you can leave them out all year round but that doesn’t mean to say you can just forget about them, you’ll still need to protect them from the wetter winter soil. I also personally think it never hurts to protect them from the harshest of frosts too.

Some people like to move their succulents to greenhouses during the winter and this will work but if you don’t have one then don’t worry you can easily make your own DIY shelter for them with bamboo canes and plastic sheeting. Simply build a frame around the plants with the bamboo and cover the frame with 5mm plastic sheeting, making sure to anchor the plastic down so that it doesn’t blow away. You can leave them like that throughout the winter if you prefer to.

If you don’t live in a particularly cold zone and know the temperature is going to drop below freezing, you can cover your succulents with snow covers (which can be bought from Amazon). This will protect them if the temperature drops between 2° and 4° below freezing. You can even do this for soft succulents but if the frost is going to be around for anything more than 2 nights you should bring them in instead. It’s also worth saying that you shouldn’t leave them covered up for too long though as they still need sunlight.

Some succulents can survive heavy snow

Some people like to repot their plants just before the winter, but when it comes to succulents you shouldn’t do this unless, of course, they’re winter growers. You might think that it’s best to repot them when they’re not growing and there’s certainly some logic in that but if the plants are staying out for the winter repotting will only wake them from their hibernation, making it harder for them to survive the winter. 

Now that we’re talking about plants in pots it’s a good time to say that if your outdoor succulents are in pots and can easily be moved you should move them to somewhere with a little bit of shelter. Under an evergreen tree or under the house’s eaves are ideal and will help to keep the plant a little bit warmer as the heat won’t be able to escape so quickly.

Regardless of whether or not your succulents are potted or in the ground, you should also add a layer of gravel around the roots of each succulent, this will protect the roots from frost but will also stop dead leaves from falling on wet soil and increasing the chance of rot developing. Unlike a lot of other plants though, you shouldn’t use mulch with succulents. This will help to retain the moisture and we all know how succulents hate excess water and moisture.

How often should I water outdoor succulents in the winter?

Most succulents don’t need to be watered anywhere near as much during the winter because they’re in a dormant state so won’t drink as much water. That said though there are some plants, such as the aeonium or certain types of aloe that need to be watered more during the winter because they’re winter growers. That doesn’t mean you should drench them though, they should still only be watered when the soil is dry.

There’s no real right or wrong when it comes to how much you should water your outdoor succulents in the winter. Some people say that from November to March you should only water them every few weeks while others will say they only need a drink once a month. As I say there are no hard and fast rules so you should use your own judgment. Personally, I think the best option is to water them then, two to three weeks later see how they’re doing. If they need more water give them a little, if not check them again in a week’s time.

Some succulents change color during the winter

Why are my outdoor succulents dying in the winter?

If your outdoors succulents start to lose their leaves during the winter it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dying as the older, outer leaves will often fall off during the winter. Some plants, such as the sedum kamtschatiucm, have such a deep dormant phase that they actually lose all of their leaves and often look dead. Don’t worry though, they’re not and will normally grow new leaves as soon as the weather starts to warm up.

If the new growth on your plant is dying too then it’s more than likely you’re overfeeding or overwatering it during the winter and should stop immediately. If you stop early enough then there’s every chance your succulent will survive and make a fall recovery.

How do I know if my succulent is dormant?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a dormant succulent and a dying one which can scare a lot of new growers. The main difference is that the stem stays healthy and greenish on dormant plants while on dying ones it turns brown and becomes brittle.

Other signs that your plant is dormant are it stops growing and any fleshy leaves will start to turn yellow or brown, often falling off (or at least hanging limply from the stem). You may also find that if your plant has a rosette it starts to contract or develop a papery covering.

What succulents are okay to keep outside in the winter?

You should always check your plant’s hardiness zone in order to determine the correct winter care plan for them but that said there are some succulents that can generally live outside in most conditions. These include all varieties of sempervivum which can survive in hardiness zones 4 to 9 although their rosettes may close a little and their color can become more intense.

Likewise, a lot of sedums can happily winter outside although some of their leaves may drop and the color can become extremely vivid and vibrant.

The agave butterfly, oscularia deltoides, and opuntia (or prickly pear) are also more than happy spending the winter outside and can easily survive temperatures as low as -22F (-30°C).

Some succulents such as sempervivum are happy outside in winter

Related questions

Can succulents stay outside in the rain?

To put it bluntly no! Succulents need dry, well-drained soil and the constant rain many of us get in the winter is the complete opposite of what they like.

If you’re leaving your succulents out in the winter and live in an area that does get a lot of rain then it’s important to make sure the soil is well drained. Adding stones to the bottom of any pots will help with this.

Why can’t some succulents tolerate freezing temperatures?

Hardy succulents can normally withstand freezing temperatures but soft succulents (especially those that store the water in their leaves and stems) struggle. The reason for this is because the more water they store the more chance there is of the water freezing. This isn’t a problem in itself but when it freezes the surface area of the plant expands and is often damaged.

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