Autumn is my favourite season. I like driving along the country roads near my house and seeing the contrast of red, yellow and brown among the tree tops, I love the gradual additions of outdoor clothing as the days get crisper – a jacket, a scarf, my beloved fingerless gloves. I look forward to the feeling of cosiness – the return of logs in our wood burner and long, lazy Sunday roast dinners.
Unfortunately, as far as my succulents are concerned, it isn’t as simple as adding a wooly hat to keep them happy over winter. Autumn marks the beginning of shorter days, lower light levels and low temperatures – not a naturally pleasing combination for most exotic plants
Recently I made the annual haul and moved all my succulents indoors for the winter. I would normally wait until mid-October to do this, but on account of a disappointingly wet and cold September, I felt it necessary to do it earlier. Now, almost my entire collection hangs out in the attic room of my very obliging mother’s house. I felt this room met the requirements of my succulents in the following ways:
An important requirement if you don’t want your succulent to stretch to Jupiter, and I know the attic room, with its skylights and south facing window, will provide the best possible amount of light for my plants short of moving them outside or to a greenhouse.
Sadly, etiolation is likely in winter, especially for particularly light sensitive succulents like Echeveria. If this happens, it is not necessarily anything you are doing, it’s just a natural consequence of keeping a sun loving plant indoors during the un-sunniest part of the year. Don’t worry – it won’t kill your plant either – stretched succulents can be easily re-propagated in spring, so, apart from the aesthetics, it isn’t the end of the world if they do start to look a bit lanky, like the Crassula shown here (far right).
Just try to get your succulents as near to a west of south facing window as possible, so that they can benefit from as much exposure to the shorter hours of sunlight as possible. If you do not have a south or west facing window, any window is better than nothing. You can also buy nifty little table-top grow lights to position over your succulents to supplement their light levels.
It is often said ‘if in doubt, don’t water’ when it comes to succulents. This couldn’t be truer than in the winter. The combination of wet soggy roots and low sunlight levels is a recipe for a rotten succulent! The perk of keeping succulents indoors is that you can control how much water they receive – it can rain as much as it wants outside and it won’t get to them. The attic room where I have stored my succulents is also dry. In damp rooms I would think about getting a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air.
However do consider the fact that central heating means homes are usually much warmer in winter than other times of year. So if your succulent is really looking puckered and parched, do oblige and give it a small drop (and I mean a drop – just enough to moisten the root ball) to keep it going over winter. Check out my previous post on watering succulents for more guidance.
Personally, I like to give all my succulents one final water early to mid October, and then only water in very small amounts as and when I feel it necessary over the winter. However I leave cacti bone dry until the spring.
Succulents take cues from their environment, particularly temperature. My main reason for choosing the attic room as a storage space for my succulents, in addition to the ample light levels, is the fact that it isn’t heated like the rest of the house and I know it will be nice and cool. Low temperatures of about 10 degrees celsius will encourage the plant into dormancy until the spring. In dormancy, their growth rate will slow right down, an they will be less likely to stretch in response to the lower light levels. Therefore if you keep a succulent in a warm, heated room of your house during winter, it is unlikely to go into dormancy and more likely to stretch.
If you are lucky enough to own a greenhouse or conservatory, I would suggest using it to overwinter succulents that aren’t particularly sensitive to low temperatures. I was discussing this with a succulent nursery owner earlier this year, and he said that as long as you keep your plants dry in cold weather, many will withstand very low temperatures indeed, even as low as freezing. However it always pays to do your research; some succulents are very tender, and so need to be kept indoors the majority of the year. By rule of thumb, most succulents are vulnerable to frosts, and so it is always safer to bring them indoors during winter.
Air circulation and hygiene
To keep your succulent in good health, and discourage pests and diseases, I recommend ensuring they have plenty of breathing room. I have had to cram my succulents in under the skylight – ideally they would have a bit more space between each other. However I have a big collection, so I have had to compromise.
Just before the long dark nights really kick in, I like to do a health check of all my succulents. I check for signs of pests and dieseases, remove any yellowing or dead leaves to improve air circulaation and cut off any areas showing rot. I clean up any fallen leaves and debris from around the crown of the plant, as these provide shelter for pests. You might go as far as to gently ease the plant from its pot and check the roots for any signs of pests, disease and rot too. If you have the time and inclination, I suggest keeping this up routinely through the winter, the earlier you spot any signs of trouble, the more chance you have of saving the plant.
Summer dormant/ Winter Grower succulents
You may have heard that some varieties of succulent are active in the winter, and therefore will need more frequent watering at this time. Aeoniums are a classic example, as are Haworthia, Kalanchoes, Senecios, Portucalaria and Crassula. However these plants originate from places like the Canary Islands, South Africa, Central America – countries with very different climates to the UK and that don’t experience a winter quite like ours. Winters in these countries are more comparable to Autumn and Spring here. So please don’t be watering your summer dormant/ winter grower succulents in the depths of December and Janurary like you would do in June! Consider that you may need to give them more water and attention in early autumn and early spring and make sure they have plenty of sunlight.
I hope this was helpful to you if you are looking to prepare your succulents for winter. If you have any tips or tricks, I am open to hearing them, so please do get in touch on instagram and facebook. Please give this blog a shout out below.
Thank you for reading – have a great week!