If you live in a climate with 4 seasons, especially one with harsh winters, there are some succulents that will grow outdoors year round for you! Find out more about cold hardy succulents in this episode.
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Adrienne, I love this question! Most of the succulents in your photo are Sempervivums and there are a few cold hardy Sedums mixed in as well. These cold hardy beauties are very over-looked in the world of succulents! A lot of people don’t realize they exist, or that there are so many of them!
Sempervivums, sedums, and their cold hardy Opuntia cousins are all great options for maintaining a gorgeous succulent garden outdoors year-round, even if your climate gets below freezing.
My succulent adventures began when I was living in Utah. Like many others out there, I didn’t realize cold hardy succulents existed. I grew succulents indoors on my window sill for most of the year, only bringing my plants out during the summer months when it was warm enough for them to survive.
Fortunately, I was introduced to Mountain Crest Gardens, and my succulent garden was dramatically changed, and improved. Mountain Crest Gardens is the largest supplier (to my knowledge) of cold hardy succulent varieties.
Their nursery is actually in a mountain valley in northern California, and they get snow throughout the winter. They have the most beautiful collection of cold hardy succulents you’ll see.
The great thing about these Sempervivums, Sedums and Opuntia (or “Prickly Pear cactus”), is that they can also live in more temperate climates as well!
While I did plant a lot of Sempervivums and Sedums in the ground for my parents in Utah, I also have several large pots full that made the trek and are now growing here in Arizona. I also plan to add some cold-hardy Opuntia to my collection here.
If you’re not familiar with what these succulents look like, Sempervivums form perfect rosettes and are much tougher than other rosettes succulents, such as Echeverias. There are also some really stunning color combinations: everything from pinks, reds and purples, to greens, yellows and blues. You really get the whole rainbow!
The cold-hardy Sedums form more of a ground cover, but they also come in a variety of shapes, textures and colors. They look great paired with Sempervivums, and you’ll find that some of them create a nice trailing effect over the edge of your succulent pots.
The cold-hardy Opuntia have really caught my attention. A couple of years ago, I was able to go down to Waterwise Botanical Gardens in Escondido, California., when they launched a line of cold-hard Opuntias. While they may seem like normal “Prickly Pear” cactus on the outside, in the spring they produce the most beautiful flowers you’ll ever see on succulents.
One of my absolute favorites was Opuntia “Pina Colada,” which has a flower that actually changes colors. One day it’s an orangey-pink color, and the next it’s yellow with pink and orange stripes in the middle.
So, all of you in areas with four seasons, be sure to consider these amazing succulents! I think you’ll find it’s extremely rewarding to be able to see some color and life in the middle of winter. And, there’s nothing quite like seeing those Opuntias bloom at the beginning of spring!
It’s so fun to see how these tough plants come back with beautiful, bright colors, even after being under inches–or feet–of snow over the winter. Succulents never cease to amaze me!
Now, it just so happens that the succulents Adrienne sent a photo of were all cold hardy varieties. As I’ve alluded to already, not all succulents will survive freezing temperatures, and some won’t even tolerate more than 2-3 nights with a frost. Most of the more common succulent varieties you’ve likely heard of or seen fall into this “tender” or “soft” category.
In the case of succulents such as Echeverias, Aeoniums, Haworthias, and most Aloes, along with a lot of other succulents, you won’t be able to keep them outside during a winter with snow and ice.
The video below shows you information on succulents that can handle a four-season climate:
A few species that are great for a 4-season climate include Sempervivums (also known as Hens and Chicks) which are cold hardy, and can also withstand summer temperatures, especially when planted in the ground. Stonecrop Sedums also make excellent ground cover; they grow quickly and spread like wildfire! Rosularia also make great ground covers and can generally withstand freezing and heat.
Succulents that are in the ground naturally stay cooler because the ground doesn’t heat up as quickly as pottery. Newly planted succulents will still need some shade or protection to keep them cool as they begin to take root in the ground. Once their roots are more established however, they will be much more likely to tolerate high temperatures.
When the temperatures get above 90, I’ve found I need to water my plants much more often (sometimes even every other day) to keep the roots cool and the leaves plump.
You can also look up the names of your succulents to see what they are “rated” for cold. In the US you’d be looking for plants that are Zone 5 tolerant.
If you’re not sure what you can grow where you live, start by learning about your growing zone. If you’re in a zone 9 or above, you should be able to grow most succulents outdoors year-round. But, if you’re in a zone 8 or below, you’ll likely need to bring tender succulents inside for the winter.
Zones 7 & 8 can sometimes get away with using frost blankets, but to really protect your succulents they’ll need to be brought indoors or out of freezing temperatures. But, no matter what growing zone you’re in, Sempervivums, along with some Sedums and Opuntias, will do well all year outdoors!