After a searingly hot summer, winter weather is fast approaching. If you’re wondering can succulents survive winter — the short answer is yes! But details matter. Very mild winter climates are safe for all succulents to remain outdoors year-round. In colder climates,winter-hardy succulents thrive outdoors, despite sleet and snow, with care. Protect your potted succulents and those in the ground this winter with some simple preparation.
Understanding Winter Hardiness
It is important to understand which of your succulents are hardy in your climate. In my southern California garden, where temps never drop below freezing, all of my succulents can happily remain outdoors. If you live in a colder climate, you need to know the average coldest temperature in your area. In the United States, these divided into climate zones and U.S. residents can find their climate zone by entering their zip code on this USDA website.
As an example, if you garden in climate zone 7, (average coldest temp 0° F or -17°C) succulents that are hardy to zone 7 or below can survive your winter. But this doesn’t mean they will. Hardy succulents should be planted 6 weeks before the first frost so they are fully established before the cold weather arrives. Otherwise, as the wet ground around the plants expands when the water freezes, newly-planted succulents will be literally spat out of the earth to lie atop the soil. This is called “soil heave”, and it can lead to dead plants. Next, the average coldest temperature can be broken through in a particularly cold winter. The last thing to watch for is rain and thaws. Cold hardy succulents do far better in cold, dry conditions or buried under a snowpack than in soaking wet soil.
Plan well, then be sure to remain vigilant throughout the winter. Start by identifying your succulents. If you are uncertain of a succulent’s identity or whether it is winter hardy in your climate, assume that it is not. Better to protect a hardy succulent than to lose one that is tender to frost.
Can Succulents Survive Winter in Pots?
Can succulents survive winter outdoors when they are growing in pots? Assuming the succulents are hardy in your climate, this is doable. Again, while the short answer is yes, the details really matter. First, pay attention to the material the succulent container is made from. Concrete and metal both transmit cold to the roots far more than something like wood. Ceramic and terracotta also transmit cold but these containers may break when the moisture contained in the soil expands as it freezes.
Because the pot is surrounded by cold air, a potted plant will experience a full climate zone colder than it would if it were planted in the ground. In the ground, a plant’s roots are insulated by all the earth around them. In a container, there is little between the roots and the winter weather. Even in a wooden container, a potted plant experiences a full 10° F colder winter than does it’s neighbor planted in the ground.
Because potted succulents are more vulnerable to winter’s chill, take some precautions with them. Rather than leaving a pot on top of a wall, set it on the ground next to the wall for much more protection. If you bring it from the center of the garden to sit at the base of your house wall, it will be protected even further. Essentially, you are taking advantage of small micro-climates in your own garden to protect your succulents in winter.
Can Succulents Survive Winter if They’re Not Hardy?
So far, we’ve been discussing hardy succulents, those that can survive freezing weather outdoors. But what about tender succulents? Can succulents survive winter if they’re not hardy? Absolutely — but they must be protected from frost and freeze. There are a number of methods for protecting them, depending upon the climate you live in. If you have the room, plan to bring your tender succulents indoors to protect them from winter’s chill. Pay close attention to preparing succulents to winter indoors and how to care for them.
If you don’t have the room indoors to keep all your succulents safe from freezing or frost damage, there are more options to consider, depending upon your climate.
Protecting Succulents Outdoors in Winter
To protect tender succulents that are not winter-hardy, you can create additional micro-climates in your garden by adding protection the same way farmers protect their crops. Where occasional frosts occur, a light, breathable cloth like a frost blanket or even a bed sheet can be applied at night and removed during the day to prevent frost damage. Cover your plants in the late afternoon, trapping the warmth of the soil under the cover. Do not remove it until the sun has warmed up the air the following morning. Do not use something like a plastic bag to cover your plants — they will smother and die. Where frost is more frequent, choose floating crop covers made of spun nylon These are lightweight, breathable fabrics that can be left covering your plants for a few days at a time. They allow enough light, air and water to penetrate that the plants won’t suffer.
In colder climates, that frequently drop below freezing, a low hoop structure with a spun polythylene cover like the Tierra Garden Cover can be used. It can remain in place, allow sunlight and moisture to penetrate while keeping insects and small animals at bay. It traps in heat, and traps still air, which is an excellent insulator. For a bit of added warmth, lay a strand of Christmas lights under the cloche! (You’ll be amazed how effective this is.)
Portable Greenhouse So Succulents Can Survive Winter Outdoors
For large, extensive succulent collections in frigid climates, consider getting a greenhouse. While a large, permanent greenhouse with safety glass is the gold standard, you may need to work up to this. Consider a portable greenhouse to secure your beloved tender succulents from damage due to winter. You’ll find options from small closet-size to walk-in greenhouse structures that are simple to assemble, can be heated if need be for winter, then packed away again in the spring. Set it up close to the house so you can easily run a cord to a heater, and your succulents will remain healthy and happy all winter long.
Can succulents survive winter outdoors? Absolutely! It’s just a matter of preparation and care. Be careful and make a plan. If succulent care is helping you to hang onto your sanity this year, it is worth your time and effort to secure them for the winter!
If you have any questions or concerns, please leave me a comment. I will get right back to you!
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