How to Care for Succulent Plants in the Winter

Succulents are often exotic-looking plants with thick, fleshy leaves and stems designed to store water and help the plants thrive in warm, dry areas. Succulents grow throughout the world and include such diverse plants as jade (Crassula argentea), which grows as a perennial outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11, and greenii hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum subspecies greenii), which is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9. Although certain succulents must be moved indoors during the winter months in some U.S. locations, many thrive outdoors in even very cold temperatures when they receive proper care.

Close-up of a cactus plant, Balboa Park, San Diego, California, USA
credit: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
Hens and chicks (*Sempervivum spp.*) are a popular succulent.

Plant Winter-Hardy Varieties

Choose winter-hardy succulents for the easiest winter care. Those plants include greenii hens and chicks, hardy ice plant (Delosperma cooperi, USDA zones 5 through 11) and 'Golden Sword' yucca (Yucca filamentosa 'Golden Sword', USDA zones 4 through 9). Although these succulents may wither or change color during cold weather, that is normal, and you will not have to provide them with winter protection.

Keep the Soil Dry

In northern U.S. states, succulents need far less water during the winter months than they do in summer. Stop fertilizing and watering succulents in late fall to prevent hydrated plants from freezing during winter. During cold months, keep their soil as dry as possible, and ensure your succulents receive enough air circulation to prevent dampness. If the soil around your succulents appears wet, then add sand to the soil to keep the plants' roots dry. A mixture that is one-third loam, one-third sand and one-third peat moss is reliable.

Protect Them from Frost

If freezing temperatures are expected, cover the succulents with fabric, such as an old bed sheet, or with a frost cloth, which is available from plant nurseries. Completely cover the succulents with the material, and place cinder blocks or other heavy objects on the material's edges to keep it in place. Avoid using a plastic cover, which prevents air circulation and makes sunlight too intense for plants.

As soon as the danger of frost passes, remove the material to encourage air circulation and provide sunlight.

Relocate Them as Needed

If your succulents are in pots, then place them in the most ideal conditions possible for cold weather. For example, put the potted plants in a sunny location under a porch or eaves if winters in your area are rainy. If temperatures become cooler than normal, place the container succulents near boulders, shrubs or walls that face south or west; those structures and plants retain heat.

Another option is to move potted succulents indoors to help them thrive during frosty weeks or months. Place them in front of a bright, sunny window, and water their soil to prevent the plants from withering; water thoroughly, until water comes out the pots' bottom drain holes. Allow the soil to dry out completely before you water again.

Do not fertilize the succulents during the winter months.