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Succulents are resilient and can look beautiful all year round, but in fact, there are some times of year they become inactive. You need to know when to expect their active growth season as well as dormant period to adjust appropriate succulent care techniques.
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Dormancy is a period in plants when their growth, and physical activity are temporarily slowed down. This is often stimulated by unfavorable changes in environments such as extreme temperature, dryness, etc. When a succulent goes into dormancy, it will minimize metabolism activity to conserve energy until the environmental conditions get better.
Different succulents grow at different rates within a year depending on the temperature. Some of them can become dormant and grow more slowly when the weather is too hot or too cold, and turn active again when the temperatures are ideal for their growth. That’s the reason why succulents are known as “opportunistic growers”. Most succulent species tend to thrive in the temperate weather of the spring and fall.
Most succulents can also be put into two categories - summer growers and winter growers. Summer growers are succulents that grow in the hot months of summer from May to August and become dormant in the winter. On the contrary, winter growers are those that grow actively in the cold of winter from November to February and slow down in the summer. It’s not recommended to repot your succulents during their dormancy and disturb their “deep sleep”.
Check out this dormancy table below to get a rough idea of the dormant period for different succulent species.
The temperatures at which succulents go dormant vary depending on the species. Sempervivums are cold hardy, can tolerate frost, and might go dormant at below freezing temperatures. But Echeverias are more tender and can go dormant at a higher temperature. Some signs indicating that a succulent starts “sleeping” is that it stops producing new growth completely, the leaves might turn yellow/brown and either drop or hang limply off the sides of the succulent stem. In some rosette succulent species, the rosettes might contract.
The first method is to do a “Snap-Scratch” test. This method is suggested by Oklahoma State University and has been used to test many kinds of plants. Simply pick a small branch and bend it sharply. If the succulent is healthy, it won’t bend easily and when it snaps, you can see the fleshy green insides. If it’s dead, the branch will bend easily and the insides look dry. For a succulent with no branch, you can try to scratch the stem. If the succulent is alive, it will be green and feel moist underneath.
Another way to tell if your succulent is dead or just need some extra rest is to check its roots. Even though the plant might look dead, the roots are healthy. You can remove your succulents from the pot to see if their roots look shriveled, dry or mushy. If they’re not, your succulents are likely to be in dormancy. In case of succulents with caudex like Adenium Desert Rose, they often lose leaves during dormancy but their caudex still looks healthy and plump.
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It’s important to research and determine which time of the year your succulents tend to go dormant so you don’t give it too much water and accidentally kill it. When a “summer growing” succulent starts its dormant period in the winter, it enters a survival mode and stops growing actively, therefore, doesn’t need a lot of water. Give it a little water if you notice the leaves get dry and wrinkled. Otherwise, in most cases, you don’t even need to water it at all and just leave it alone until its growing season comes around.
It’s different for “winter growing” succulents—they go dormant in the heat of summer but still need water during this time to help their roots remain cool and prevent the leaves from drooping. More importantly, if you grow your succulents indoors, they most likely never go dormant and you can continue to water them on the same schedule all year round.
This article including the dormancy table above serves as a general point of reference giving you some preliminary information on succulent dormancy. But each variety in each genus is different and requires detailed research when it comes to their dormant period. The rule of thumb is to pay close attention to the condition of your plants to determine their needs and keep them happy.
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