Most people imagine succulents basking on a windowsill, complementing their living room or kitchen decor. But these hardy, low-maintenance plants can grow outdoors too and not just in warm or tropical climates. Some species can wow their caretakers, weathering the cold and coming back year after year.
Choosing the right plants and giving them the right care ensures you'll have an enviable outdoor succulent display.
Frequently Asked Questions
People who live in warmer climates — think USDA hardiness zones 10 and up — don't have many limitations when it comes to growing succulents outdoors. Just be sure to cover your plants if there's an errant frost or the temperature dips a bit lower than normal.
In colder climates, there are several hardy succulents that will do just fine. Hen and chicks, or sempervivums, are one of the most popular. Stonecrop or sedum is also cold-tolerant. These succulents can grow in zones 3 through 9, depending on the specific species. Particularly healthy Oscularia deltoides and agave butterflies can also survive minor frost exposure.
Succulents are plants that don't require a lot of water. They're drought-resistant and retain moisture. Cacti fall into this category. Though they thrive in desert conditions, not all types are limited to these hot, dry regions. Eastern prickly pears, or opuntias, are one type of cacti that can survive freezing temperatures. Come spring, they may look dead, but they'll bounce back.
Hardy succulents can come alive year after year if they're hardy enough. The best time to get these perennials into the ground is in spring, when it's their natural time to sprout. Because of the trauma of replanting, wait til the last frost has passed so they won't initially face harsh temperatures.
Succulents have a shallow root system and don't require much depth. Usually digging only a few inches will suffice. Three inches is typical for a smaller variety, but you may have to go down a bit further for larger plants. Six to eight inches is ideal for most outdoor succulents.
Succulents need gritty soil. You can buy a cactus mix, or make your own using sand and potting soil. Adding lightweight stones like pumice and perlite will help move water through the soil. Drainage is critical —their roots will rot if they sit in constant moisture.
Organic matter like coconut coir and pine bark will help the soil too, just like gravel, and even chicken grit. Stay away from any materials that hold water, such as vermiculite and clay. To plant your hardy succulents, rid the area of natural soil in those spots, replacing it with your preferred blend.
As long as neighboring plants prefer gritty soil, you can grow your succulents with them. These friendly plants are fine with having a few cohabitants. Pairing them with other hardy varieties tends to work pretty well.
Consider using succulents like stonecrop as groundcover amid a colorful garden display to enhance your landscape aesthetic.
If you use the right soil and drainage elements, rain shouldn't harm your hardy succulents. Ideally, plant them on higher ground, so any water that accumulates is running away and not toward them; pooled water can harm even the most durable of outdoor succulents.
Succulents only need watering every week or two. Depending on your climate, the rain should take care of most, if not all, of this when you've planted them outdoors.
This depends on the succulent. On average, they want a solid six to eight hours of full sun per day. But some varieties are more temperamental than others and prefer indirect light. Brown or red stress marks on the leaves will indicate sunburn, so if you see this, replant them in an area that gets a bit less direct light.
Always do your research before digging to figure out the ideal environment for the varieties you've chosen.
Fertilizing a hardy succulent isn't necessary, but it can't hurt to do it once or twice per season after the first year. Never feed a plant during its dormancy. Wait until the weather breaks so the succulent has what it needs to start its growing season with a bang.
It's okay to use a liquid fertilizer. You can also make your own infusion with leftover scraps like banana peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Soak these components in water, then strain the liquid for a nutrient-rich compost tea. For great results, use the same ingredients in your compost mix when first planting your succulents.
It's not a good idea to overwinter potted succulents outdoors if you live in a non-tropical climate. Instead, bring them inside once the weather gets chilly. Even cold-hardy succulents don't do well outside in pots. Because they're above-ground, they are essentially exposed, losing much of their subterranean insulation and natural protection.
If you forget to take in your potted succulents, a bit of frost for a few hours will damage their leaf tips. Cut off this frost burn with a sterile blade. Houseplants left outside longer than this could die. The water the succulent stores will freeze and expand, causing the plant to burst.