The winter months can be especially difficult for plants, especially outdoors. With how sensitive to cold succulents are, the wintertime can make caring for these beautiful plants quite difficult. If you live somewhere where it snows in the winter, frost may be your worst enemy: frostbite can easily kill plants if not taken care of, but in its early stages, frostbite and frost damage in succulents is manageable.
What is Frostbite for Plants?
Like frostbite in animals and people, frostbite in plants occurs when the plant’s outer cells become damaged due to cold temperatures. Cold damage in plants tends to vary based on location and the given plant’s hardiness to frost, and succulents, despite their hardiness, are quite susceptible to frost.
Temperature plays a large role in the level of damage your succulents may receive as well: for example, freezing temperatures at night that give way to warmer temperatures during the day will damage your plants less than a 24-hour cold snap.
How Frost Develops
As the biggest cause of cold damage in plants, frost is what you’ll want to look out for most. Frost occurs when water particles in the air freeze on contact with a surface; for this to occur, the object must be colder than the air surrounding it. The air’s dew point, or the temperature at which water particles become droplets, is higher than the frost point: for frost to form, temperatures must be below the dew point temperature. Commonly seen on the grass in late fall and early spring, frost is either the first sign it’s getting colder, or things are warming up. It’s also more common in low-lying areas, as cold air is heavier than warm air.
Succulents Susceptible to Frost
Succulents particularly susceptible to frost and cold damage are native to warmer regions. Unequipped to handle the cold, these succulents will often go dormant in the winter to conserve nutrients while temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Some succulents that are particularly susceptible to the cold include Echeveria, Ficus, air plants, Aloe, and Agave.
USDA Zone Guide for Frost-Tolerant Succulents
Just because your succulent goes dormant in the winter, it doesn’t mean your succulent will die from frost. The best way to check your plant’s frost hardiness is to look at the USDA agricultural zones it grows best in to see if your succulent is frost-tolerant. Some succulents, like the Sempervivum Cobweb, thrive in areas around USDA zones 5a to 8b, making it one of the few frost-tolerant succulents available. You can check your succulent’s zone hardiness by looking at the item description under the given plant before you buy.
The best way to cure your succulents of frost damage is to avoid it altogether. Overall, there are a few ways to prevent your plants from getting too cold:
1. Move your Plants!
If you have succulents outdoors and keep them in pots, bring them inside! A controlled, indoor environment, even for dormant succulents, can help prevent them from becoming too cold. When you move them, be sure to do so when temperatures drop below 50 degrees. It may be time-consuming, but it can save them in the long run!
For those who have outdoor succulents in the garden, it’s best to prepare them for the cold with insulation. While this may not be as safe as bringing them inside, a good layer of insulation can be the difference between life and death in the winter. Some key ways you can insulate your succulents for the winter include:
- Put over a fresh layer of mulch to insulate the roots.
- Using hay as a base layer for insulating leaves.
- Cover your succulents in frost cloth specifically designed for plants in winter.
- Installing a temporary greenhouse to create a more climate-controlled environment.
How to Tell if a Succulent is Frostbitten
So, how do you tell if a succulent has frostbite? For general reference, a frost-damaged succulent will appear as though it’s wilting: yellow, discolored leaves and shriveling. After a while, affected leaves will turn from yellow to black and shrivel further. In some cases, leaves may break off from the plant as well.
The Revival Process
If you still see some green, there’s a chance you can revive your frost-damaged succulents with a little pruning. Before you prune, bring your succulent indoors, let it dry out for a day or so, and acclimate to warmer temperatures. This process may take several days, so be sure to monitor your succulent leaves while you wait.
Similar to treating rotted roots, prune away frost-damaged leaves and stems using a clean, sharp knife. When you prune, cut a little further down than the damage goes to ensure it doesn’t spread, and let the leaves callous over before watering again. In some instances, you may need to repot your succulent.
If your succulent is too damaged to revive via pruning, you may still be able to save some of the plant via propagation. Propagate your frostbitten succulent as you usually would.
Once you’ve saved your succulent, keep it indoors! Unless your succulents are rooted outside, it’s best to keep them nice and toasty until their growing season begins again. For outdoor succulents, avoid any pruning or removal until the weather begins to warm up.
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