With an exception of a few species, succulents come from climates that are warm and do not experience frost. Because of their popularity, succulents find themselves in very different climates they are originally from and this can cause some problems.
Most succulents will not be able to survive frosts without suffering extensive burn marks when the frosts are mild (to about -1C/30.2F) and many are likely to die even then. In harsher frost and snow, the great majority of succulents will not survive.
But it is all not bad news as there are varities of succulents that will get through winter and there are also ways of protecting succulents when cold snaps are expected.
What Temperature Is Too Cold For Succulents?
Most succulents will survive outdoors without suffering damage to the freezing point of 1C/33F. When temperatures start dipping below this point that is when the frost can start burning succulents. Frostier it gets, the more damage succulents will suffer.
The water in the leaves of succulents and stems will start freezing and once a significant portion of the plant is frozen, it will collapse. Fleshy succulents with thick leaves will suffer the most while those with small, thin leaves will fare best.
There are however a lot of factors that will determine if succulents survive frosts or not. Mild frosts can freeze succulents in open spaces, but if there are trees around, they will stop the frost settling.
At our old nursery frost was a usual occurrence in winter and open areas around the greenhouses would be frozen over. But under the trees, and in our greenhouses that were only covered in shade-cloth the frost would not settle and all the succulents were fine. It would only get to about -2C/28.4F though.
If you live in a cold climate and snow makes an appearance every winter, then it is almost a given it will be too cold for most succulents and frost would reach everywhere.
In temperate and tropical climates, it is very unlikely that succulents will suffer in winter, even if there are cold nights of about 1C/33F.
Do Succulents Need Protection From Frost?
Most succulents will need protection from Frost. Depending on the severity of frost, succulents can stay outdoors with a frost cloth. This will stop the frost freezing the water in them but it will only be possible in milder frosts to around -2C/28.4F.
Any colder than that succulents will either need to be brought in the house or a greenhouse.
Will Succulents Die If They Freeze?
Yes, once succulents freeze, they will almost certainly die. Sometimes the process will take a couple of days, but in most cases the whole plant will collapse and turn into mush- similar to when a succulent rots.
Having said that it is possible that if the succulent is quite advanced, big and the roots well insulated, the rootball and a bit of a stalk can survive and have new growth sprout even if the rest of the plant above the soil level froze.
Will Cold Weather Kill Succulents?
It depends on how cold is cold. Most succulents will not die in cold temperatures to about 0.5 degrees Celsius/32F. After the temperature dips below the freezing point, succulents will start freezing and thus dying.
We established above that the majority of succulents will die once exposed to frost. But cold means different things to different people. Personally, I think it’s incredibly cold when the temperature falls below 10C/50F, but for others cold means snow and frost.
Will Frost Cloth Help Succulents In Frost?
Frost cloth will most definitely help succulents during frosts to a certain degree. It will not be sufficient during a harsh winter or if the temperatures drop too low, but during milder frosts and light sprinkling of snow, frost cloth can help get succulents through winter.
Frost cloth will help succulents survive in climates where only a bit of snow falls occasionally, and the frosts do not go much below -6C. If it gets colder than that and permanent blanket of snow settles, even a frost cloth may not be able to help succulents.
Most garden centers will have a frost cloth available. If not, head online to have it delivered to your door.
How To Put Frost Cloth Over Succulents
Frost cloth can be draped or preferably erected over succulents with a help of a simple structure (bamboo sticks tied together, for instance), but it has to cover the whole plant all the way to the ground, so there is no way for the frost to get in.
Frost cloth can stay over the plants for a while as it will let sunlight through and therefore help succulents stay warm enough. Most succulents need the sun to grow healthy and compact. Bringing succulents indoors for long periods can distort their growth and even kill them.
Unfortunately, there is not much choice when it just gets too cold. It will help immensely if they are placed on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse.
Which Succulents Are Frost Hardy?
Some Sedum (only the thin leaf species)
There is a limit to what these plants will be able to handle and it can get too cold even for these tough cookies.
The hardiest out of them all are Sempervivum. I have seen them in outdoor gardens of Botanical Gardens when I visited Latvia and Lithuania. It gets pretty cold in winter in these countries. The great thing about Sepmervivum is that there are quite a few species within the genus and the colours are quite nice too.
Agave along with the Yucca are good to about -6C or 20F. Thin leaved Sedum will suffer through a bit harsher frost.
Orostachys are native to cold climates and are quite frost tolerant. They almost disappear in winter and start growing again in spring.
In conclusion, most succulents will need some kind of protection from frost, all depending on the climate and how cold it gets in your particular location. If the frosts are only occasional and it never snows, all is well and succulents will only need a frost cloth over them on those frosty nights. If lots of snow settles for longer periods, succulents will need to be brought indoors/in a greenhouse.
Sempervivum and small leaved Sedum will survive some pretty cold conditions and can stay outdoors permanently.
If you have favourite frost hardy succulent, you can share with us below in the comments
All photos are of our own plants grown in our nursery Fern Farm Plants.