3 ways to overwinter those succulents you’ve collected

October 12, 2018

Succulents are currently among the most popular garden plants, especially for trend-conscious young gardeners. It’s understandable why these plants are adorning so many windowsills, porches and patios these days. They’re drought- tolerant and incredibly low-maintenance. Plus, the unique appearance of many succulent varieties makes them a real conversation starter.

Succulents are a category of plants with thick, succulent leaves that hold a lot of water. Old-fashioned varieties you may already be familiar with include jade plants, kalanchoes, hens and chicks, and even aloe vera plants. But, there are now hundreds of different succulent plants available at your local garden center, with a huge diversity of plant forms, leaf colors and growth habits.

Some of the most popular types of succulents include: Agave, Crassula, Dudleya, Echeveria, Sedum, Haworthia and Sempervivum species.

If you grew any type of succulents in your garden or in patio containers this year, it’s time to think about how to overwinter them. If the varieties you selected are fully winter hardy here in Western Pennsylvania, the plants can be left outdoors all winter long. Hardy hens and chicks fit into this category.

But, the vast majority of succulent plants sold in garden centers these days are not hardy in our gardening zone. Couple that with the expense of these plants, and you’ll probably want to find a way to overwinter them so you can enjoy them in next year’s garden, too. There are three basic ways you can overwinter succulent plants.

1. Overwinter succulents as houseplants. The majority of succulents perform quite well on a sunny windowsill inside. The trick to overwintering succulents as houseplants is to greatly limit the frequency of watering. Many succulents will actually rot if they’re kept too wet, so water succulents spending the winter indoors as houseplants only once every six to eight weeks. Be careful to keep the foliage dry as you water. You’ll also want to keep the plants in a room that’s neither too hot or too cold. Avoid cold drafts and forced air registers.

2. Overwinter succulents in semi-dormancy. Though succulents don’t shift into complete dormancy, it’s possible to force them into a semi-dormancy by completely restricting water, greatly reducing light levels, and keeping them in an area with temperatures just above freezing. This is how I overwinter the 50 or so succulents and cacti I grow outdoors in my garden during the summer.

When the nighttime temperatures start to drop into the low 50s, I move my succulent pots into our attached, but unheated, garage. We have two small windows in the garage. I line the pots along the sides of the garage and completely ignore them all winter long. I do not water or fertilize the plants. They shift into a semi- dormant state where no active growth occurs.

When we have a warm day in mid- to late-March, I take the pots outside and water them lightly, being careful to keep the foliage dry. Then, once the pots have drained, I move them back into the garage until the danger of frost has passed in mid-May when they go back up onto my patio.

3. Overwinter succulents as cuttings. Another way to see your succulent plants through the winter safely is to take cuttings of them. Most succulents are easy to propagate via leaf cuttings. To do this, fill a bunch of clean, plastic pots with a coarse, cacti-specific potting soil. Cut a single leaf off of the mother plant with a sharp knife and dip the cut end of the leaf into rooting hormone (available at local garden centers or online retailers), and then insert the cut end of the leaf down into the pot of soil by a half-inch or so. Do not cover the pot or leaf cutting, but do water it in at planting time and then whenever the soil is completely dry.

Within a few weeks, a new plantlet will form at the base of the cut leaf. The original leaf will eventually die, leaving just the new plant behind. Take many cuttings if you’d like to expand your succulent collection through the winter months. Be sure to keep your succulent cuttings on a sunny windowsill, but out of direct sunlight. Another option is to put them under grow lights for 18-20 hours per day. Taking leaf cuttings is very simple with succulents, as long as you don’t overwater them.

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