Do succulents go dormant? And, if yes, what is succulent dormancy?
Succulents do go dormant seasonally in their native environments. Succulent Dormancy is described as a temporary period when a succulent is not actively growing and is in a state of rest but can grow again later.
I’ve fallen victim to succulent dormancy and tried to be over-kind to my plants – watering them when they really wanted to hibernate and rest. The result? Rotting succulents or succulents that never flowered.
So, I’ve dug deep into the topic of dormancy in succulents, tested it on my own plants and here is what I’ve learned and you need to know.
In their native environments, all plants, succulents and cacti included, experience seasonal variations when the temperature and number of daylight hours alter. In some parts of the world, particularly those close to the equator, the temperature and number of daylight hours don’t change much over the course of a year.
However, most parts of the world do experience climate seasons with warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours in summer and colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours in winter.
Some animals hibernate in winter, resting and gathering their strength for the next spring.
In the wild, most succulents will go into a dormant state – a hibernation so to speak – to protect themselves from less favorable conditions, such as extreme heat or cold. They preserve their energy so they are ready to grow and reproduce when conditions are more favorable.
Dormancy allows succulents to avoid battle with extreme conditions and conserve their strength to repair, grow, flower and reproduce when conditions are easier. During dormancy, succulents go into survival mode and shut down all but the most essential processes. They still need light and water, but less of it.
Why Does It Matter When My Succulent Goes Dormant?
If your succulents are grown inside, the effects of succulent dormancy will be less pronounced. Our homes often have artificial heating, cooling and lights that iron out seasonal variations for indoor succulents. You may not need to worry about succulent dormancy at all, other than some adjustment in your watering routine (which we’ll go into further down).
Succulent dormancy really starts to matter if:
- You want to plant different succulents together in an arrangement in the same container
- You want your succulents to flower
- Your succulents are growing outside
1. Planting Succulents Together
If you want to create an arrangement of multiple succulent species, you should, ideally, combine plants with similar growing seasons.
Winter-dormant plants will require very little, if any, water during winter and frequent watering during spring and summer. Summer-dormant plants will want you to follow a different watering schedule, particularly during summer and winter.
2. You Want Your Succulents To Flower
If you want your succulents to flower, you might want to take note. The seasonal changes that signal it’s time to go into dormancy trigger your succulent’s reproductive system to start getting ready for the next growing phase.
Flowers are part of the succulent’s reproductive system. If your succulent never gets its cues to go dormant, its flowering triggers may never be received, and it may not bloom.
Some species, such as sansevieria, gasteria, senecio and haworthia are difficult to get to flower anyway when kept in pots inside and dormancy may not be as important to you if you are growing those species.
Popular flowering species, such as crassula, sedum, schlumbergera, kalanchoe, echeveria, aloe and most cacti will benefit from conditions that allow them to go into a seasonal dormant state if you want them to bloom.
Read more about flowering succulents and how to encourage them to bloom.
3. Your Succulents Are Growing Outside
If your succulents grow outside and experience seasonal temperature and daylight changes, they are more likely to go into seasonal dormancy according to their species. If you water your outdoor succulents, you’ll need to make sure you adjust your watering accordingly.
How To Know If Your Succulent Is Dormant?
It can be difficult to tell if your succulent is dormant. Succulents don’t tend to show many obvious signs of dormancy. Deciduous trees, for example, lose their leaves in the fall and that gives us a clear sign the tree is ‘hibernating’ and preserving its energy until spring.
Most succulents won’t lose their leaves when they are dormant. Instead, a dormant succulent just won’t grow. It looks the same, but no growth appears to be happening.
If you don’t know about seasonal succulent dormancy, you might think there’s something wrong with your succulent. Why isn’t it growing? Where aren’t any new leaves appearing?
You might think your succulent is dying and be tempted to shower it with love in the form of water and fertilizer, but don’t be tempted. In reality, your succulent is completely normal and is saving its strength for its next growth phase. Let it rest. Nobody likes being woken from a deep sleep.
Lithops, for example, go into full dormancy during winter, and you shouldn’t water this succulent type at all during the winter months.
Your Lithops may look as though it is shriveling and dying. But what’s happening is the old outer leaves are drying up and new ones are forming underneath.
If you water your Lithops at this stage, your succulent may divert its energy to trying to keep the old leaves alive rather than forming the new ones. Once the new leaves have emerged in the spring and the old leaves have died off, you can start the watering cycle again.
How Do I Look After My Dormant Succulents?
During dormancy, succulents and cacti prefer slightly lower light levels, slightly lower temperatures and less water. Less light and water means your succulent doesn’t have to work hard at processing light through its leaves or water through its roots. Lower temperatures mean less evaporation and your succulent can hold onto the water it is storing more easily. Your succulent can take a break.
Some succulents need no water at all during their dormant phase. Others may require occasional water if the leaves look very wrinkled and start to brown and crisp up.
In terms of light, succulents still prefer bright light, and the seasonal changes to shorter days are probably a sufficient reduction in light for your plant.
For temperature, we are only talking about slightly lower temperatures. If your succulent is inside and you have a room that is rarely heated, a spare room, perhaps, would be the ideal place to move your succulent to, provided there is still plenty of light around. A temperature in the region of 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) would help your succulent. If you don’t have a room that won’t be heated, try to put your succulent in the coolest place you can find inside.
If your succulent is outside and you experience frosts and freezing temperatures, you should bring it inside to protect it unless it is a cold-hardy succulent type, such as sempervivum and some sedums and agaves.
If you don’t have anywhere else suitable to move your indoor succulent to, at least try to change your watering habits to suit the seasons.
Once the temperature starts to rise, your succulent will start to show new growth and you can return to you usual watering schedule.
Don’t fertilize during dormancy. Remember, you’re trying to give your plant rest not stimulate it with water, light and fertilizer – all things it needs to process.
Don’t repot. Don’t prune. Don’t try to propagate.
Should I Water My Dormant Succulent?
The answer to that is – it depends. Here is a rough guide to how to water your succulents through dormancy.
We’ll start off by saying that all succulents require less water in winter because the cooler temperatures mean water evaporates more slowly from the leaves and soil and your succulent can hold onto its water stores for longer.
Winter Dormant Succulents
Water as usual during spring, summer and fall. Check the soil and only water if the soil is completely dry. Check the leaves also for signs of over or underwatering. Underwatering will mean wrinkled leaves with brown, crispy tips. Overwatering will show as soft, yellowing leaves, particularly on the lower leaves and close to the stem.
How often you will need to water will depend on the species of succulent, its size, the temperature, humidity, soil and pot, but you are likely to have to water around every 7 – 14 days.
In winter, you may not need to water your succulent at all from late November until early March. Think Thanksgiving to St Patrick’s Day (March 17) as a rough guide. That’s in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, cut back your watering from late May to mid September.
We’ve got a full list of winter dormant succulents below, but species like cactus and lithops, in particular, need very little water. Others may need the occasional water, particularly if they are inside in a heated room or your climate is still quite warm even in winter.
Summer Dormant Succulents
Summer dormant succulents are winter-growing succulents. That means they will need watering during winter, albeit at a reduced rate, because evaporation will be slower in the lower temperatures.
Even though they are dormant in summer, the higher temperatures mean evaporation will be happening and your succulent will still need some water.
If that sounds confusing, think of it along these lines. If you usually need to water every 7 days during spring and fall, you might need to water every 14 days during winter and summer. Having said that, always check that the soil is completely dry before watering rather than blindly sticking to a timed schedule.
Should I Water My Dormant Succulent
Winter Dormant Succulents – Water as normal during spring, summer and fall. Water very little during winter.
Summer Dormant Succulents – Water normally during spring and fall. Aim to water half as often during summer and winter.
These aren’t hard and fast rules. But it gives you a starting point. If you are not a succulent expert, don’t want to be, and don’t have the time to spend charting your succulent’s moods, this is a good general guide.
Most importantly, notice the soil and don’t water if the soil is damp. Only water when the soil is completely dry. Observe the leaves. Is the plant growing? Water if the leaves are looking distressed, dry and wrinkly (unless it’s a lithop and it’s winter!)
When Do Succulents Go Dormant?
As we’ve mentioned above, some succulent species are summer dormant, while others are winter dormant. It would be easy to assume that all plants are winter dormant, but that isn’t the case for succulents.
Some succulents that are not summer dormant may also experience some summer dormancy and ‘shut down’ if temperatures get too high. In these cases, the plant will go into survival mode until the temperature drops and the conditions are better.
List Of Winter Dormant Succulents – Summer Growing Succulents
Listed below are winter dormant succulents. These succulent species grow in spring, summer and fall and go into a dormant state in winter. In addition, they may slow down their growth and experience some dormancy during summer if it is particularly hot or conditions are extreme. This is a list of the most common winter dormant succulent species.
- Cactus (most)
List Of Summer Dormant Succulents – Winter Growing Succulents
These species are summer dormant succulents – they grow in fall, winter and spring and go into a dormant state in summer. These are the most common summer dormant succulents.
For a beginner succulent parent who is just trying to keep their plants alive, the only real concern with seasonal succulent dormancy is watering. When to change up your watering or when to slow it down.
If you want to start creating multi-succulent arrangements, ensure your succulents flower, or you want to achieve optimal growth for your succulents, you’ll need to take note of your succulent’s dormancy needs and ensure it gets changes to its watering, light and temperature during its dormant season (be that winter or summer).
We have only listed the most common succulent and cactus species in this article. Refer to the South Coast Cactus & Succulent Society for a fuller list.