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Succulent Dormancy? Which Succulents Sleep When & Why

In many ways, succulents are a law unto themselves. I often think they are more challenging for experienced gardeners than for complete beginners. No other type of plant tolerates such crowded roots or happily lends its living cuttings to projects like these. One issue that really confuses beginners and experienced gardeners alike is succulent dormancy: Do succulents go dormant? Should you water dormant succulents? Give them light? Which are dormant in summer? Which are winter succulents? Understanding succulent dormancy is a crucial part of succulent care, and should be the first step for diagnosing problems. Look for my succulent dormancy table at the end for easy reference. Ready?

Succulent Dormancy Table & Discussion

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

What is Plant Dormancy

When trees go dormant, it’s very obvious

Many plants have a dormancy period when nearly all activity like growth, development, reproduction and water-processing come to a stop. It is a time of minimal metabolic activity, similar to hibernation in bears. And like hibernation, it serves the purpose of enabling the plant to safely ride out challenging seasonal environmental changes. During dormancy, the plant conserves its energies, while protecting itself from damage due to harsh weather. The tree above survives a cold winter by shedding all of its tender leaves, leaving strong wood and bark to brave the bitter cold.

When plants other than succulents go dormant — you know it. Whether it is a huge tree, a flowering shrub, vegetables, flower bulbs, fruit trees or perennials, plant dormancy is usually dramatic. All the leaves brown and drop away. All obvious signs of growth and life are gone. It looks as though the plant is dead. Garden designers go to great lengths to provide plenty of plants that never go dormant, or that are active during other plants’ dormancy, to keep the garden from looking barren during winter.

Not so with succulents. Most succulents do not drop their leaves, some don’t even appear much different while they are dormant. While this makes them lovely to look at, even while dormant, it can also lead to much confusion. Early on, a gardener learns not to worry that their peony looks completely dead in December. But what about a succulent that just seems… meh in the summer? Many times we launch into extra care, trying fertilizers, re-potting, a change of lighting — anything to coax our beloved succulent back to perky health. In the case of a dormant succulent, it is best to leave them alone.

When Do Succulents Go Dormant?

Aeonium zwartkop, in dormancy, the difference is clear

Not all succulents go dormant. And those that do, may go dormant in winter, or in summer, depending upon the climate they are native to. This Aeonium arboreum is an extreme example of a dormant succulent. Its once lush, full rosettes have dropped some of their leaves and contracted. This is the plant’s natural, protective response to harsh weather conditions in its native climate. Many succulents go dormant without dropping their leaves or showing such obvious signs of a change.

In the case of aeonium, they go dormant to escape the summer’s heat and flourish in the mild winter. There are a number of succulents that go dormant in the summer, like aeonium. These summer dormant succulents have evolved to withstand fiercely hot summers by drastically cutting down on their need for water and nutrients by dropping their metabolism nearly to zero. Come the cooler weather of fall, they wake up and resume active growth and development again. This is when they need more food and water. Summer dormant succulents are actively growing in the winter.

Other succulents go dormant in winter, to ride out frigid temps. Whether a succulent goes dormant in summer or winter is linked to the climate it is native to. Where summers are very hot and winters are mild, native succulents generally go dormant in summer and grow in the winter. In much colder climates, cold-hardy succulents often are winter dormant plants, actively growing in summer. You will find a detailed succulent dormancy table below, listing summer dormant succulents, and winter dormant varieties. But first, it is important to be clear that sometimes, succulents just don’t go dormant.

Do Succulents Always Go Dormant?

Aeonium Kiwi does not change much when it enters succulent dormancy

Where succulent dormancy really gets confusing is this: Not all summer dormant succulents go dormant if the summer isn’t that hot. For that matter, winter dormant succulents may not go dormant if the weather remains mild or they are brought indoors. Most succulents will continue their active growth so long as the prevailing conditions are favorable. Most succulents have an “opportunistic dormancy”, that is the ability to go dormant when it is advantageous to do so. This enables succulents to be more responsive to the variables in their environment. A brutal summer sees the plants go dormant, while a temperate summer allows them to continue to actively grow and develop.

Opportunistic dormancy may lead plants to behave differently in the same garden in the same weather, due to different conditions. I love Aeonium Kiwi, and I have it growing all over my garden — in full sun, some in partial sun, and some in quite a bit of shade. Every summer, the Kiwi in full sun always goes dormant. It does not shed its leaves, but they do contract a bit, and the plant stops growing. The plants growing in shade do not go dormant, they continue active growth right through summer. The partial sun plants will go dormant when we have a real heat spike, or during very hot summers, but continue to grow when summers are mild.

While you can affect whether your succulents go dormant by shielding them from severe seasonal changes, it must be done over a period of time. Simply moving a potted plant into more shade during a heat wave may not keep it from going dormant. Growing summer dormant succulents in the shade, or bringing winter dormant succulents indoors may prevent them from going dormant. However, it will also prevent them from developing brilliant colors due to stress, so bear that trade-off in mind. Some people wonder if they should make their succulents go dormant. Since this is an opportunistic survival mechanism, let your plant decide. There are a few succulents, Dudleya and Adenium come to mind, with an “obligate dormancy”. This means they will go dormant in the proper season regardless of how mild the weather might be.

Dormant Succulent Watering and Care

Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi Variegata closeup

Succulent dormancy is a response to naturally occurring changes in the weather. It enables the plant to power down its metabolic activity during severe weather conditions. Dormancy is not a sign your succulent is suffering or in need of care. By slipping into dormancy, your succulent is providing for its needs. So how should you care for a dormant succulent? What does it need in terms of light, water, food during its dormancy? As always, the better you can mimic the natural conditions it has evolved in, the happier your plant will be.

There is no need to put your dormant succulent into a dark place while it is dormant. As rooted plants, they have no way to do this for themselves in nature, so there is no need to do this for them. If your dormant succulent is subject to sunburn, you might want to ensure it has some shade during the summer. Or if the plant is not cold hardy, you should protect it in the winter. But this is no different than for succulents that are actively growing.

Processing water takes a lot of energy, and a dormant succulent slows this process tremendously. If you are taking care to observe your plants, and to water only when their soil is dry, you will see that you are watering far less often when the succulent is dormant. When you see that your succulent is dormant, cut back the watering further, and water only when the lowest leaves show some signs of wrinkling, indicating the plant needs more moisture. It is far easier on your plant to draw on the water stored in its leaves when needed than to try to process waterlogged soil. Similarly, processing and utilizing plant food takes a lot of energy. Don’t fertilize your succulents while they are dormant. Instead, wait until you need fresh, active growth.

Succulent Dormancy Table

Aloe nobilis displaying stress coloring while dormant

Now that you understand succulent dormancy, what happens and why, let’s take a look at which varieties are summer dormant succulents, and which go dormant in winter. Remember, your succulents may not choose to go dormant at all, depending upon their growing conditions. This succulent dormancy table should be used only as a supplemental guide to care. There is no substitute for closely observing your own plants.

Succulent Dormancy Table

Summer Dormant / Winter GrowingWinter Dormant / Summer Growing
Sempervivum change color all year round, even while dormant

Understanding succulent dormancy is a critical part of providing great succulent care. If you are concerned about the health of one of your succulents, check the calendar and this succulent dormancy table. If you find the plant is often dormant at this time of year, don’t make any dramatic care changes. Wait for it to resume active growth before you cut it back, or change its care. You may well discover that it was not suffering, but simply dormant.

Has this post has demystified succulent dormancy for you? Please take a moment to leave a comment and let me know. As always, please feel free to ask me any questions!

Kat McCarthy, The Succulent Eclectic

P.S. For more succulent information, please subscribe and receive my FREE course, 7 Steps to Succulent Success! Thanks!

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P.P.S. Why not join my Facebook Group for succulent-lovers? We talk succulent care, propagation, succulent identification and design. It’s a warm and welcoming group that would love to meet you!

Black Aeonium shown both growing and dormant

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This Post Has 45 Comments

  1. Linda Alexander

    Thank you for this wonderful article, Kat. You are great teacher, my dear; I’m so glad I discovered your website. Lol, I’m going to paste your chart on my nose so I can always find it!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Linda,
      SO glad you are finding this helpful!
      Next week, I have something planned to help you keep track of that list! 🙂

      1. Tammy Wheeler

        I need all the help I can get keeping track of the dormancy or non dormancy of these lovely plants.
        Still very much to learn.
        Thank you so much for all your useful insight.

        1. Kat McCarthy

          Hi Tammy,
          It is confusing with succulents, especially since many don’t look “dead” when they’re dormant!
          I’m glad you found this helpful!

      2. Kat,me fue muy útil tus conocimiento sobre mis suculentas. Me preguntaba por qué se ven sin vida ahora gracias a ti la mia esta inactiva.
        La cambiare de lugar donde tenga menos sol.
        Gracias kat.

        1. Kat McCarthy

          Maria –
          ¡De nada! Es muy importante reconocer cuando una planta está durmiendo, en lugar de morir.
          ¡Feliz jardinería!

  2. Thank you for this lesson. Since I put my succulents beneath grow lights inside year round does this hurt them if hibernators are in combination in one container with those that don’t? Also, my studio in the winter is usually in the 60’s or upper 50’s and I worry if this is going to be too cool for them. So far in the sudden Midwest temp drops, they seem to be doing fine inside. The tip about watering, which I usually do every 2 weeks, has me concerned. I am thinking about watering every 3 weeks with the cooler inside temps. Eeek.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Annie,
      The grow lights will not hurt your succulents that usually go dormant. One of two things will happen. Most likely, they just will skip going dormant, because you have varieties that do dormancy only when they need to. When conditions remain favorable, they continue active growth. If you have any obligate dormancy varieties, like say dudleya, they will still go dormant at the proper time. Either way, the extra light will not harm them in any way.
      Just be alert to any succulents that seem to remain wet when the rest are ready for a drink. And if you have any that seem unwell, with no obvious reason for it — check the dormancy chart. If it is time for it to be dormant, just give it a rest, and wait to see it perk back up for you! 🙂
      As for the change in watering – if your plants all seem to be brimming with health at every two weeks – stick with that. But if you have some that seem like they could be better – then consider backing off on the water a bit.

      1. I feel better now. Thanks for your reply.

        1. Kat McCarthy

          You are most welcome, Annie!
          Please feel free to ask any questions.

  3. Tawny Leste-Carlson

    I do I do I DO understand dormancy! I FINALLY I get it!!!!! Another succulent topic that I have scoured the internet seeking information about but unsuccessful in being able to fully understand, until you write about it. I’ve tried so dang hard to grasp the whole summer/winter dormancy thing but no one has been able to explain it (imho) in a way that it could be fully understood without having a PhD in biology, horticulture and/or General Science lol I want the very best for my succulents and Kat, with everything I learn from you, I’m able to provide it for them. I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this ~ you really should think about publishing a book. It would be CRAZY successful!
    Much gratitude and many hugs,

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Oh, Tawny!
      Will you be my very best friend? 🙂
      Thank you so very much! I cannot tell you how much it means to me that I can really help your understanding of succulents this way.
      You made my whole year!
      As it happens, I am starting work on a (first) book! I am so excited!
      I will keep you posted!
      Thank you, Tawny!

  4. elizabeth

    thanks again Kat. your information is so comprehensive but so easy to understand. Thanks for everything you do. You are a real treasure.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Elizabeth,
      Thank you so much!
      I am delighted that this is proving valuable for you!
      Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  5. Stacey August

    Wow. Fantastic new information for me. I garden in Perth, Western Australia. I am now going to identify the names of my succulents so i can work out dormancy vs ill health issues. Most of mine are in the ground. I have probably grouped them in ways that dont answer their summer watering needs. Haha. My eyes are opened. Thankyou. I subscribed.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Stacy,
      SO glad you found the information useful!
      I like your plan – it’s always best to determine whether there is a problem before you try to fix it! 🙂
      If I can be of any assistance, please let me know!

  6. Michele Jones

    Your wonderful! Thank you for info & chart! I agree with above comment…write a book/books! Thank you for all your hard work. Michele ?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Thanks so much, Michaele! 🙂
      And a book is in the planning stages! Stay tuned!

  7. Lyn Eagle

    That was very informative, I didn’t know that they could have a dormant period. I can understand why my dark aeonium looks like it does at certain times. Thanks for the article.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      You are most welcome, Lyn!
      Succulents are confusing when they go dormant, aren’t they? But now you know what to be looking for!

  8. Ashly

    I have an aeonium fiesta and it started off a bright green then turned maroon with green in the center of the rosettes but the stem and smaller floret branches stayed green. Within the last 2 days some of the smaller branches have turned black and I’m freaking out. I dont want it to die! Please help!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Ashly,
      Aeonium Fiesta is a beauty! The different colors of the rosettes is pretty normal for this variety, but a black stem is a big concern.
      Please feel the stem where it looks discolored – is it soft or squishy? If so, cut back ALL of the soft-feeling stems.
      Don’t worry – you will certainly be able to save any healthy stems from your plant, but you need to remove any rotting tissue now.
      Please let me know what you have left. Then we can work on rooting the remaining stem cuttings.

  9. July

    Hello! I’m new to succulents and I love them, I found a Kiwi by chance and is my favorite so far! And I was very concerned about the dormacy stage, because here is summer, a hot summer, but my kiwi has new leaves, and I was confused if she was sleeping or not. With this post now I have a little idea of what is happening. Thankyou.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi July,
      Awesome! Welcome to the wild world of succulent addiction enthusiam! 🙂

      As much fun as succulents are, they can be confusing, especially on the dormancy issue. I’m glad this post helped. You made my day! Please feel free to ask any questions!

  10. JoAnn Chouinard

    Kat, I just had an Ah-ha moment!! Thanks for demystifying my kiwi aeonium (spelling) and the red one too. I was thinking that something did seem “backwards” since I live waaaay up north in Canada, and these plants are living in California….so it only seemed natural that their bio-rhythm would be a bit off kilter. Now, I just learned I don’t know how to spell anymore either LOL.
    So happy you confirmed I wasn’t crazy after all 🙂
    I’ve been blessed! Thanks Kat !!
    Hugz from jo

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Jo,
      Gardening seems to have nearly as many rule-breakers as it does rules, and succulents have never read the rule book! 🙂
      You Aeonium Kiwi is a perfect example!
      Have fun with your succulents, and thanks for reading!

  11. Sonita

    Thank you so much!! I have been reading and trying to figure out how to categorize my succulents and cactus too. You have been a great help. I was wondering why some on the list are highlighted. Thank you again!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Sonita,
      So glad you’re finding it useful!
      The colored t4ext in the list are links. Just click on any link to go to an in-depth article about that variety.
      Thanks so much for reading!

  12. Christine

    Hi, I moved to southern Spain a year ago and I am learning a whole new way of life in many ways…… and gardening is no exception! After 40 years of growing plants in England, I am relearning due to this different climate in Andalucía but at the same time have just totally
    fallen in love with succulents. I can’t always know the exact name of each plant as Spanish suppliers are a bit hit and miss with labelling, and so your info is really invaluable to my learning. Thanks so much!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Christine,
      Wow! What a completely different climate you now have! Everything will be different – the types of shrubs, herbs, flower bulbs, fruit trees and more that you can grow successfully has all changed! 🙂
      Succulents will definitely be far easier to come by. Any time you need help figuring out what type of succulents you have, I have a blog post that will help you to identify different succulents. And I’ll be happy to help if I can!
      Please feel free to ask any questions!
      Happy gardening!

  13. Wendy Beak

    Hi Kat! Love your posts and teachings! Thank you!!
    However, I cannot remember names of plants. Is there any way possible that you could put a picture with the name in your dormancy table??

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Wendy,
      Good point! I’ll see what I can do – maybe add a different style of dormancy table.
      Thanks for the suggestion!

  14. Lynnette

    Thank you so much for all this information. I have just started my succulent “enthusiasm” and have learned that I have mixed many summer and winter dormant succulents in the same pot. I’ve killed two due to overwatering already, so hard to leave them dry out. I still have a few to identify as the garden center just labels them as ‘succ’. I’m sure I will be learning so much more as I spend the next little while reading and browsing your website.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Lynette,
      If you plant your succulents really close together, the roots of the actively growing succulents will take up the available water so the dormant ones don’t get over-watered!
      To identify your remaining succulents, why not join my new Facebook group? We have a few thousand members from around the world – we’ll all be happy to help you to identify your plants! 🙂

  15. greys4u

    Your article is great, what are the months they go dormant for summer and winter. That is a crucial point for beginners

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Actually, no! The crucial point for beginners is to know that the succulents don’t always go dormant, even in their season. A mild summer may not ever send an Aeonium into dormancy, especially if it is growing in partial shade. And while June may be the start of summer, in a state like Arizona “summer” heat may start in May, while in another climate, it may not happen until August. (Not to mention that summer and winter months are reversed in the southern hemisphere). The same is true for winter months. Where I am, in southern California, winter-dormant succulents almost never go dormant. That is my point. If you try to grow succulents by the months on a calendar or on a strict schedule of watering every x number of days, you’ll be doomed to failure. It is So much better to let the succulents be your guide!
      Than ks for the chance to clarify this point!

  16. Sally La Bate

    Hi Kat, Thank You for your great work….I really loved what you had to say and it really helped me as well…..I have taken out my front flower beds that line the front of my house. The area on one side is in direct sun all day long and the other has some shade. My question is where could I find help in getting ideas for what to plant in direct sun light.

    I really want to understand what would grow well in direct sun and also if I could find some ideas of what to plant that would great! If you have something that you sell that would assist me wit this project I would be glad to pay for your help as well….Have a blessed rest of your day! All my best Sally La Bate…[email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you.

  17. Kirsten

    I have a sizzle frizzle I ordered online. I watered it once every 2-3 weeks, it’s summer here, and it turned brown and died. Is it potentially summer dormant and if so will it come back in the winter?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Kirsten,
      Yes! Albuca spiralis ‘Frizzle Sizzle’ gores dormant in the summer, and it browns, dies back and looks completely dead. That’s perfectly normal! Leave the plant completely DRY for the summer! This is important! Do not water at all over the summer, and if you get summer rain, be sure to protect it and keep it druy. In the fall, you’ll see a small green sprout – that’s the time to resume watering. It will grow quickly for you.
      Enjoy this super strange and cool succulent!

  18. Khun Anne

    Hi Kat, again I’m super grateful I found this blog and you behind it. This absolutely helped me a lot. I killed my A. Little Spheroids because I read from another blog last year that they are summer growers, I even made a list of her suggested summer dormant and…. Anyway, I’m grateful to you in many ways, you’ve always been kind even from the beginning that I joined your community. Thank you so very much, please don’t stop sharing your knowledge. Khun Anne

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Khun Anne,
      Thank you SO much!
      It has been an absolute joy getting to know you and your succulents!
      I am so sorry you lost your spheroids – such a charmer!
      It can be hard to know which succulents go dormant when, because they don’t necessarily go dormant. If the other blogger lives in a mild summer location, her Aeonium may remain actively growing in summer. This is why I always stress going back to the succulent itself as the best source of information. Your succulents know what they need. We love talking to our plants – we need to get better at listening to them!

  19. Sandy

    I see this article is older but I just found you n I’m so glad I most likely saved my succulents .I am new to succulents.i just ordered a bunch and they are so colorful n nice I’m scared I’ll ruin them..I’m waiting for my 2inch pots to arrive to u think now (or in the next few mths.) Would be a good time to water them,beings they are dormant in winter or summer can I give them a drink since it’s spring?? I hope you get this and answer .I hope u still can get comments to this article .thank you so much for explaining dormancy n the list ..I appreciate it so much.ive never seen anyone give this much important info as you did .and I’ve read alot lately..thank you again..fingers crossed u reply.and I do good.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Sandy,
      Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of succulents! 🙂
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I am delighted you’re finding this information useful!
      No matter what type of succulents you have, and no matter when they go dormant, all are wide awake and actively growing in the spring! So, yes – go ahead and water your succulents in the spring if they need it. If you’re not sure how to tell when or if a succulent needs water, please read my post on How to Water Succulents.
      Please let me know if you have any more questions. I am happy to help!

  20. Susan

    Hi Kat, This was great. I’ve killed 2 Aeonomes this summer. Now I know, they were dormant. The list of when the plants are dormant is fantastic. Thank you so much!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Susan,
      Thanks so much for the awesome comment!
      Now that you know your Aeoniums didn’t really die, do you still have them? If so, you will be amazed to see them come back to their former glory.
      From now on, when you think a succulent is struggling, be sure to check the dormancy table before doing anything else. The plant just may need a change of season!
      Happy gardening!

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