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How to Spot and Treat Winter-Damaged Succulents

7 min read

Winter damage signs of succulent, Succulent's popular problem


Succulents are a beautiful and low-maintenance way to keep any living space looking lively and gorgeous. However, once the weather becomes too offensive, and the temperatures get extremely low and cold, they will still get damaged no matter how hard we try to protect them.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways to avoid such a nightmare from happening; and here in this article, we will share all possible issues that you may encounter during winter, as well as some tips on how to properly care for them to help lessen and mend the damage.


Frost Damage 

Succulents Frost Damage

Plunging, cold weather often results in frost damage to most succulents. It usually occurs when ice crystals form within their tissue, which will damage their cells. When that happens, you will slowly notice some symptoms of frost-damage, such as your succulents’ leaves appearing wilted, then the wilted growth will turn brown or black, and eventually becomes crispy. In other words, your succulents are slowly dying at this point.

However, if there are still some healthy leaves or even parts of healthy leaves with frozen tips, there is still hope!


  • Do not prune right away. Instead, wait for the weather to get warmer or until you see new leaves sprouting from the plant. Once confirmed that there's new growth at the base, carefully cut off the affected parts by using clean, sharp scissors. Using disinfected scissors will help prevent bacteria from harming your plants even more.

  • Resist watering. Newly trimmed plants should not be watered right away. Subjecting your infirm succulents to premature watering can cause them to go into shock. Wait until all the cuttings have calloused over before watering. Once they do, give your plant a good drench once every 2 weeks.

  • Avoid spots with direct sunlight. Simply placing your succulents on a sunny windowsill should get the job done. Direct sunlight, although weaker in the winter, can still cause damage or sunburn depending on your climate zone. Partial or filtered sunlight will be enough to help your plants heal themselves.
  • Wait Patiently. Normally, a few weeks after trimming the plant, some leaves will die and fall off. Once you notice the leaves starting to die off, do not be alarmed! Eventually, your succulent will recover as new leaves will grow from the middle.


Precautionary measures

  • Avoid pruning in late summer or early fall. Pruning allows for new growths (leaves or offshoots) to form, so avoiding this helps prevent those new growths from forming. Due to the extreme cold, they would have a hard time surviving, thus causing your succulent to expend more energy to try to grow as they are trying to heal.
  • Water the soil thoroughly. This will help warm the air near the soil, as well as protect your plant’s roots since wet soil retains heat better than dry soil.
  • Cover them for protection. You may simply use blankets, or any sort of warm cloth, to cover any fragile plants. Just do not forget to uncover them when temperatures rise the next day, as leaving them covered may cause them to wilt.
  • Place your succulents under a grow light. A typical grow light will be around 35~40 watts and should provide sufficient light and warmth to keep your plants thriving in the winter
  • Use an anti-transpirant spray. These sprays help plants from losing their moisture. Wintertime usually brings about crisp, dry winds, and the anti-transpirants provide a clear, flexible protective coating to prevent moisture loss. It will not interfere with your succulent’s natural growth, osmosis, or photosynthesis. Apply it on the foliage of sensitive plants to seal in moisture.
  • If your plants need to remain outside, pot them close to each other and keep them under a sheltered area, such as your patio, or another easily accessible area so you can tend to them and keep them alive and healthy!



Succulents Desiccation



Winter desiccation occurs when the plant is rooted in frozen ground but is still trying to carry on its metabolic process, or there is something which removes more moisture than it would normally release, such as a very dry wind. The first scenario is a lot easier to fix than the second, but both can be treated and prevented the same way.



  • Avoid and resist premature pruning. Pruning desiccated plants can cause new growths to be subjected to harsh conditions too soon, and they will die. Do no remove dead leaves until the new growths push them away, or they will just fall off by themselves. Once the new growths are strong enough, any remaining dead leaves can be carefully removed by hand
  • Give them water. Since desiccated succulents will most likely lose many roots, it is recommended to water them just a bit at first and slowly increase the watering after a few weeks. It is easy to overwater succulents that are in recovery, so a syringe or watering bottle with measurements on the side can help gauge how much water each plant receives.

Precautionary measures

  • Water sufficiently. Watering needs to be pursued through late autumn to early winter. Preferably, give them at least 1 inch of cup of water per week.
  • Provide a cover. A cover such as pots, buckets, baskets or large garbage cans helps deflect wind from the plant.
  • Mulch application. Putting organic mulch around the plant will lessen moisture loss.


Frost Heave

Succulents Frost Heave



Freezing and thawing in repetition often lead to frost heaving, which causes the soil to contract and expand, pushing up some plants out of the soil, exposing the crown and its roots to cold temperatures and dry winds, which may severely damage them or even worse, kill them.



  • Put them back in place. If you see that your succulents are being pushed up from the ground or soil, simply place some soil around its base to cover any exposed roots. You may try to carefully put your plants back into the ground as well, then cover it with straw to avoid further freezing and thawing.
  • Insulate mulch into the soil. After putting your succulents back to its place, prevent another frost heave from occurring by enveloping the soil with mulch like wood chips. This should help moderate temperature fluctuations and lessen frost penetration.
  • Precautionary measures

    • Maintain a well-drained soil. Soggy ground or soil will freeze and thaw repeatedly and vulnerable plants will rise.
    • Mulch application. Apply about a depth of 4 inches of organic materials such as straw and ground leaves to promote good soil drainage and help moderate soil temperatures lessening the heaving of root systems. Do not put too much mulch as it may lead to soggy ground and rodent infestations. 
    • Keep an eye on vulnerable plants. When you see a visible root, simply coat it with soil and re-apply mulch to hide exposed, heaved crown.


    Hail Damage

    Succulents Hail Damage

    Succulent have plump and large leaves which make the damage from hail more viable. Plants will get shot holes through the leaves and shredded tips on foliage. All hail damage can affect the health and beauty of plants.


    • Wait Patiently. A day or two after the hail event is the best time to clean up the damage and begin pruning. It is best to give them time to heal until you know for sure that they will no longer produce new leaves.
    • Remove affected parts. Carefully clean up any debris and remove any broken stems and leaves from your plants.
    • Give your plant a drink. More than anything, your plants need consistent watering to heal. However, giving them too much or too little will just add extra stress to them. So check if they need watering by sticking a finger into the soil (about 2 inches deep). If it's dry, give them a drink. If the soil feels soggy, let the water drain and check again the next day.
    • Feed them. Giving fertilizers to the affected plants will help it grow new leaves.
    • Use a fungicide spray. This would help wounded plants with exposed tissue to recover. Apply it within 72 hours of damage.

    Precautionary measures

    • Add extra soil around the bases of plants. This is for your plants to keep them upright and prevent the soil from being washed away.
    • Cover fragile plantsPlacing buckets or baskets over your plants can protect them from hail. Then remove all coverings as soon as the hail passes to avoid heating the soil of your plants.


    Broken branch

    Succulents Broken Branch


    Breakage of branches is usually caused by the weight and careless removal of snow, and the high winds compound damage ice-covered plants. Damage may take the form of thawn plants, or may actually lead to broken branches and split trunks.


    • Prune all damaged branches. All loose branches should be removed first to avoid further damage. Next, remove cracked or broken branches. Cut off bent branches as well, they may don’t have any visible damages, but they might have internal cracks that might be harmful in the future. Doing this will also help reshape it and stimulate new growth.


    Precautionary measures

    • Dispose of any weak or dead branches. Do this before winter to help lessen or prevent future injury due to breakage.
    • Prune at a suitable time. It is important to avoid pruning during late-summer as it will allow new growth to appear and lessen any available nutrients they have to help them through the winter.
    • Remove any snow collecting on shrubs. Since breakage is usually caused by the weight of snow collected on the branches, removing them before they get too much to be handled is strongly recommended. Do this by simply sweeping upward with a broom. However, if the branches are frozen and brittle, avoid touching them and just wait until the weather warms up or until ice naturally melts away.


    All in all, succulents are exceptionally adaptable. So if you see any signs of winter damages to your plants, don’t panic. Instead, stay calm and perform all the necessary treatments and defensive measures to protect them, so they can shine again in spring.

    See more about How to Prepare Your Succulents for Winter

    Click here to get all the details.

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