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Seasonal care for succulents

by Timber Press on December 4, 2013

in Gardening

These echeverias illustrate the tendency of succulents to stretch toward light (etiolate), a phenomenon especially noticeable when the plants form bloom spikes. If your potted succulents receive sun on one side only, rotate them once a week to ensure even exposure and balanced growth.

Echeverias stretching toward the light.

An in-ground garden in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 to 11 (based on the average annual minimum winter temperature) comprised primarily of succulents needs maintaining on average four times a year. The plants may need to be thinned, deadheaded, and have old leaves or branches removed; any that aren’t thriving, replaced; weeds and pests dealt with; and trimmings not suitable for planting, hauled away. If you’re unable to do this yourself, check with landscape professionals who design and install succulent gardens to see if they offer seasonal maintenance.

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FALL
As the weather cools and the days shorten, succulents start to nod off. Most will require little attention for months, other than protection from frost and excess rain. However, certain winter growers are waking up—mainly senecios, aeoniums, and sempervivums. If these are overgrown and leggy, trim them back and start cuttings. Fall is also the time to start lesser-known winter-growing succulents such as tylecodons, othonnas and certain aloes, notably Aloe plicatilis and Aloe dichotoma.

Fall is the time to trim winter growers such as blue senecio (Senecio mandraliscae)

Fall is the time to trim winter growers such as blue senecio (Senecio mandraliscae)

WINTER
As your succulents go dormant, keep them on the dry side and don’t fertilize. If you live in zone 8 or lower, decide how to shelter the plants from excessive rain and freezing temperatures. Sempervivums and sedums (with the exception of larger-leaved sedums from Mexico) are fine outdoors in zone 5 and above. Semps prefer dry cold, so rather than leaving their containers where rain will soak them, move them beneath an eave.

Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) is a cold-tolerant succulent (to 10 degrees F) that gets about a foot in diameter. Photo: David Cristiani

Queen Victoria agave (Agave victoriae-reginae) is a cold-tolerant succulent (to 10 degrees F) that gets about a foot in diameter. Photo: David Cristiani

SPRING
As the weather warms and succulents you’ve overwintered indoors emerge from dormancy, gradually increase water and sunlight as they become acclimated to the outdoors. For best form, growth, and color, most succulents need a minimum of four hours of sun daily (except the few shade lovers). To stimulate growth of container plants, apply a liquid fertilizer diluted half-and-half with water. Fertilize garden succulents if you like, but some experts say it isn’t necessary. Cuttings taken now from spring or summer growers—the majority of succulents—will root quickly.

Ice plants "blast forth with vivid-hued, shimmering, multipetaled blooms in spring." Flowers open in sun and close in low light.

Ice plants “blast forth with vivid-hued, shimmering, multipetaled blooms in spring.” Flowers open in sun and close in low light.

SUMMER
If you live in the Southwest, move your container-grown succulents into greater shade, reducing the number of hours they spend in hot sun. Keep in mind that the smaller the pot, the more quickly the soil is likely to dry out, especially if the container is a porous material like terracotta. Don’t be concerned if sempervivums, echeverias, dudleyas, and aeoniums close their rosettes to protect themselves from sun and heat damage. Beige patches on leaves indicate sunburn; this is seldom fatal, but sunburned leaves don’t recover and can be unsightly. If you water thoroughly before leaving on vacation, your succulents should be fine for up to two weeks, providing they’re well established, are out of broiling sun, and temperatures stay below 90 degrees F. Echeverias, kalanchoes, and small aloes are better over- than underwatered in summer (providing drainage is superb), so if possible, place them where they’ll receive automatic irrigation while you’re away.

Don't be alarmed if your graptopetalum rosettes close during the hotter months, they're simply preserving themselves until water arrives.

Don’t be alarmed if your graptopetalum rosettes close during the hotter months, they’re simply preserving themselves until water arrives.

Text and (unless noted otherwise) photos by Debra Lee Baldwin

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Have a peak inside Succulents Simplified by Debra Lee Baldwin

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Growing, designing, and crafting with 100 easy-care varieties.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessica Hopkins November 13, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Hi, I’m fairly new to succulent gardening, and love it. I have several beds. One bed, with echeverias, has dead, dried, leaves along the stem, with only the rosette peaking out the top. I see from you site that that is normal growth and that one remedy is to peel the dead leaves away. Another is to remove the succulents, cut them and eventually replant them. I’m wondering, if I just remove the dead leaves from the stem, will new growth develop along that healthy stem? Another question is that only this one bed is having this problem. It IS the oldest bed, so that’s probably the problem, but I’m wondering if too much watering could be making it worse. I live in zone 10a, at the top of a low hill, facing the ocean, if that information comes into play here. Thanks for your great website and for any help you might be able to afford me. Jessi

2 Jessica Hopkins November 13, 2013 at 3:17 pm

By the way, I’ve read Debra Lee Baldwin’s book at the Botanical Gardens library in San Francisco, and took extensive notes. It is a wonderful book and look forward to purchasing it with a future SS check! Thank you again for any help you can give me, Jessi

3 Debra Lee Baldwin November 15, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Hi, Jessica —
It depends on what kind of echeverias you’re growing. Some do form new plantlets and may branch along their stems. Email me a photo if you like, and I’ll let you know, Sunwriter7@cox.net. Yes, the older the succulents, the more likely they are to have elongated stems covered with dry leaves. It sounds like it’s time to refresh the bed by beheading the plants and replanting them as cuttings. If the stems aren’t squishy at the base, you haven’t overwatered them. I hope this helps!

4 Jessica Hopkins November 16, 2013 at 11:13 am

Thank you for your response Debra. Looks like it’s time to behead the plants and replant them, as you say. Your response has been helpful, getting me off my indecision. If I can attach a photo, I’ll send you one at your email address. Best, Jessica

5 Dimoff November 29, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Can you comment a little more about the stretching toward the light plants during winter. I grow many kinds of succulents in Bulgaria, Europe where we have hot summer and cold winters. Most of the plants i bring inside for the winter and they stay in direct winter sunlight and they are still stretching … !!!

Any suggestions are welcome !

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