Succulent Dormancy

Seasons change and so do our succulents. With shorter days and colder temperatures approaching, it is important to remember that we aren’t the only ones whose daily needs change. In fact, just like our friends who can’t wait for the first snowfall, some succulents are patiently waiting for that thermostat to take a healthy dip while others are doing everything to soak up the last rays of summer sun. 

Seasonal plant care is essential to year-round succulent success, and one of the key aspects is succulent dormancy. Dormancy is a little like hibernation for plants. Rather than facing the stresses of changing light and moisture, succulents will take advantage of the optimal growing months and then “rest” during extreme conditions. Some succulents prefer the summer. Some prefer the winter. And all of them love the mild temperatures of spring and fall.

Dormancy for succulents generally means less water and little fertilizer. Whether a succulent is dormant in the heat of the summer or during the icy winter months, the important thing to realize is that they aren’t trying to grow, and overdosing them with nutrients could have disastrous effects. In general, plant care for dormant succulents can be summed up in three words: less is more.

Green and pink succulent close-up

Winter Dormancy

Many succulents take the winter off. Agave, echeveria, and euphorbia are just a few of the many plant genera that thrive in the warmth and settle down in the cold. Winter brings less light and cold temperatures which means soil will retain moisture longer and the daily doses of sunshine will be shorter and more spread out. Thankfully, winter-dormant succulents aren’t trying to actively grow in this period and will welcome a hands-off, attentive approach.

General Winter Dormancy Rules

  1. Infrequent, intermittent watering is the best way to avoid drowning your plants. As usual, let the soil dry completely in between thorough waterings. With lower temperatures and light, this will take longer in the winter.
  2. Do not repot your succulents during dormant months. The best time to repot winter-dormant succulents is in the spring, right before peak growth season. It’s best to avoid drastic changes to a succulent’s home environment while they are in survival mode.
  3. Indirect light is best. Bright light is hard to come by in the winter and 3-4 hours per day of consistent, indirect light will allow succulents to take in what they need without burning or overheating.
  4. Avoid extreme cold. Nobody loves freezing temperatures, and succulents are no exception. Bring succulents indoors if temperatures fall below 40 degrees.
  5. Check the leaves. Dust, dirt, and pests can pop up and cause unnecessary harm to succulent leaves. Spraying the leaves with a non-toxic insecticide before the winter can help avoid pest problems throughout the season.
Cacti in indirect light on windowsill

What about Indoor Succulents?

Succulents that live inside don’t have to deal with extreme shifts in climate, but their environments still change in the winter and many succulents still want to have that necessary period of dormancy. With regards to sunlight, plants can be removed from bright, hot windowsills and placed somewhere else in the house such as a desk or a coffee table. This will allow them the chance to receive consistent light that isn’t too intense and won’t burn their leaves. Also, we tend to close our windows and crank up the heat in the winter, meaning that the air can become extremely dry. A humidifier can be a great solution to satisfying a succulent’s needs and giving them the best shot at longevity during the dry, winter months.

A Note on Summer-Dormant Plants

Some plants actually thrive in the winter, and now is a great time to collect summer-dormant plants and prepare them for their peak growth season. Aloes, crassula, and cotyledons are just a few of our favorite plants that will thrive through the winter months and can see tremendous growth in the colder temperatures.

Succulents grow seasonally, and knowing their dormant season will give them the best opportunity to stay growing for a long time.