Succulent Dormancy: What you really need to know

Seasonal succulent care goes beyond a succulent dormancy table. Find out what patterns succulents go through and when to expect active growth.

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The amazing thing about succulents is they are find their way into gardens all over the world. They are beautiful, drought tolerant, and can be a great plant for new gardeners. However, with this universal love come some confusion about active growing seasons.

Wow! I had no idea succulents go through a dormancy period!

Succulent dormancy explained

Like most plants, succulents won’t grow at the same rate all year round. With fluctuations in temperature, most succulents will go through phases where they grow less (dormancy) or grow more (actively growing).

The extent to which a succulent will go dormant, and variation in care needs based on dormancy, has a lot to do with the climates where they are grown. As you might imagine, a succulent grown in Phoenix, AZ is going to need different care than a succulent growing in New York City, NY.

Succulent dormancy is not a widely known idea but makes a big impact on how well succulent grow year round

While succulents can be placed into general categories of summer growers or winter growers, this is not a hard and fast rule. In fact, most experts agree that succulents are “opportunistic growers”–meaning they will grow when conditions are right, and slow down when they’re not ideal.

I love this comment from a succulent forum on dormancy, “Your plant will tell you when it is growing. That is the #1 thing you should learn to recognize. That, in essence, is the art of horticulture.”

So, let’s dive a bit deeper on what being an opportunistic grower means in terms of succulent dormancy and, therefore, succulent care.

Succulent Temperature Needs

The range of temperatures succulents can tolerate is quite impressive, but not all species can handle the same temperatures. There are cold hardy succulents like Sempervivum, and very tender succulents like Echeveria.

Sempervivum succulents can handle freezing temperatures but don't like extreme heat

Sempervivum will tolerate frost but don’t love heat. Echeveria don’t mind the heat, but can’t handle freezing temperatures.

Interestingly, both Echeverias and Sempervivums will thrive during spring and fall when temperatures are more temperate. This tends to be true with most succulent species.

Extreme heat and extreme cold will cause most succulents to go into survival mode (aka… dormancy) until things get back to a more tolerable temperature.

Echeveria succulents appreciate warm climates, but not too hot

There are going to be exceptions, for sure, but the majority of succulents will really thrive in mild temperatures.

Succulents need water… most of the time

The biggest discussion around succulent dormancy is when succulents are in need of more or less frequent watering. When a succulent is dormant, it’s trying to survive, not grow. This means it won’t take up as much water and prefers to be left alone.

However, if it never really goes into survival mode it will just keep growing and taking in water. This is why succulents grown indoors can be watered at nearly the same rate year round.

Succulents grown indoors, like this Haworthia, rarely go through true dormancy

The key to keeping succulents happy is watering only when the soil is dry and paying attention to the leaves. Like the forum member said, your succulents will tell you what they need… you just have to know what to look for.

As a general rule, succulents going into survival mode during cold periods will need little to no water–it just depends on how cold the temperature gets. Assuming the plant is frost tolerant, if “cold” is 50 degrees Fahrenheit they’ll keep growing more than if cold is 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Succulent dormancy for heat is a different story. While they may not be actively taking up water when temperatures reach their peak during the summer, most succulents want their roots to stay cool and are likely focusing on developing deeper roots so they can better withstand heat and drought.

Aeoniums look best when they are in cooler weather and avoid extreme heat

Watering during extremely hot times of year may prevent unnecessary leaf sloughing and keep your succulent a little happier.

Aeoniums tend to really show off whether they’re enjoying the weather or want to go into hiding. Take a look at this discussion for some great examples.

If you have Aeoniums outdoors during extremely hot temperatures, they’ll appreciate some water to keep their roots cool.

Winter vs Summer Succulent Dormancy

Traditionally, succulents might be divided into categories of “Winter Dormant” and “Summer Dormant”, but this categorization has too many exceptions to be helpful.

To aid you in your quest to care for your succulents I want to divide succulents in a similar way, but we’re going to give the categories different names. These names will hopefully help you understand what encourages these succulents to grow.

After the brief overview of each category below, you’ll find a table of succulent genera that fit into these categories.

Cooler Temperature Loving Succulents

These are succulents who prefer cooler temperatures for actively growing. In a true 4 season area you’ll find these succulents will grow mostly during March, April, May, September, October, and November.

They’ll do their best to survive the heat in June, July and August, but will likely get more dried up leaves than normal. Giving them some water during this time will help the roots stay cool and prevent heat exhaustion and sunburn. During the winter they will continue to grow some unless temperatures get below 35-40 degrees.

Bright Orange Aloe and Zwartkop Aeoniums - Succulents and Sunshine

If they can tolerate freezing temps (and experience them) they will go into complete dormancy. You’ll notice leaves get limp and thin. However, with some water in early spring they’ll be back stronger and better than ever.

Warmer Temperature Loving Succulents

The active growing season for these succulents is not dramatically different than their cool temp loving counterparts. However, you’ll find they need warmer temperatures to get actively growing.

In a true 4 season area you’ll find these succulents will grow mostly during May, June, July, August and September. They will slow down for a bit during the weeks in July or August with peak temperatures. You’ll want to make sure they get plenty of water throughout the summer.

The beautiful pink and yellow flowers on an Opuntia Pina Colada cactus

In the winter, you’ll find they grow very slowly and need much less frequent watering. This is especially true if temperatures get below freezing and they can tolerate freezing temperatures.

Succulent “Dormancy” Table

Now that we’ve laid some groundwork… I do want to provide you with a table of some of the more common succulent genera and when they tend to grow most actively.

This is based on research and personal experience. The months of the year are for the northern hemisphere (anyone down under will want to flip flop everything).

If you've been struggling with keeping your succulents healthy, reading this post on succulent dormancy may be the answer!

As I’ve previously mentioned, this is a generalization. Some species within a genus may be different. Your climate or growing area may affect the growth cycle. The list below can be a good starting point.

Also, you can click on the names of the succulents in the table to purchase some of that genus from one of our favorite sellers through an affiliate link.

Some Observations

I wanted to point out a few genera of succulents from each list above and point out why it makes sense in that particular category. This should help you determine which plants you own fit into these categories.

Cooler Temperatures

Let’s start with Sempervivum. So dear to my heart, as it’s one of the few succulents that survives harsh winters in Utah.

These succulents really flourish in the spring. They put off so many new chicks you won’t know what to do with them.

During spring Sempervivum succulents will produce dozens of new chicks

During the warm, but not too hot months of spring they get large and their leaves will be plump and firm.

Once temperatures start getting over 90 degrees Fahrenheit you’ll notice these hens and chicks start to tighten up. They may even seem to shrink. They just aren’t fans of the heat.

When fall arrives, with it’s cooler temperatures, they’ll open up a little more. Along with the trees, they’ll display some stunning color changes before they hibernate for the winter.

Sempervivums turn beautiful colors in the fall when temperatures start to drop

These can survive most of the winter without being watered, assuming it rains and snows somewhat frequently. If it gets dry and warm for too long, you’ll want to give them some water, but avoid it if there is a freeze in the forecast.

Once the weather begins warming up you’ll want to begin watering slowly but increasingly. Add some fertilizer around April and these hens and chicks will really take off!

Warmer Temperatures

When you think about the desert heat, what comes to mind? Cactus and, since you’re a succulent lover, giant Agave. These fall into the warmer temperature category above.

While these succulents will do just fine in temperate climates, they do most of their growing when temperatures get warmer. They still take a little break when it gets really hot (over 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and aren’t too keen on growing during the winter.

In fact, many cacti won’t bloom unless they experience a period of cold weather (around 40 degrees) for at least 60 days. They just like to experience more extremes to bring out the true beauty.

Opuntia Orange Chiffon - A cold hardy succulent with stunning flowers

Pay attention for pretty succulents

Let’s bring it all back to the comment from the beginning of this post… Your succulent will tell you when it’s growing. It will tell you what it needs, and when it needs it.

If you’ve read many articles on this site, you’ll know I stress paying attention to your succulents. There are guidelines and rules all over and they are helpful! But you also need to become familiar with your succulents, your growing area, and your tendency to “over love” or “neglect” your succulents.

Water a little more frequently when your succulent seems to be growing more quickly. Cut back if it seems to be slowing down. Look at the leaves… if they’re happy, firm and look healthy, wait a little longer to water.

Thick firm leaves are a sign succulents, like this Aloe, are getting enough water

Limp, dull and wrinkled? Give them a little more. Yellowing, translucent and about to burst? Slow down a bit and let things get back to a more normal state before watering again.

Succulents are generally opportunistic growers. Kind of like Goldilocks… not too hot, not too cold. Just right will make them happy and they’ll grow!

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2017-11-09T20:30:56+00:00