Succulents That Don’t Suck in Winter

Succulents are my one true love (sorry, honey). Even though everyone is now drinking the succulent Kool-Aid and they’ve become more ubiquitous and overexposed than the Kardashians—I still covet them, design with them, and plant them with abandon.

Succulents are the ultimate in no-fuss plants.  That is, until the winter season hits. We all know that (blah blah blah)—succulents are filled with water which will freeze once the temperature drops. This will cause your once-pretty little plant to suddenly look like something the Swamp Thing smeared behind him when he came crawling out of his marshy bog.

We also know that, if a succulent has marginal hardiness, you’re supposed to venture out into the icy night and cover up your precious babies before the frost descends. Hmmm. Am I the only one that doesn’t have time for that crap? There is nothing worse than having to babysit a damn plant. I, for one, have way better things to do, like curling up on the couch with a pug, a Fat Tire, and an episode of “Portlandia.”

The answer, then, is to plant succulents than don’t need to be babied. Here are some of my tried and true plants for the Bay Area that seem to take all that frosty air in stride, and continue to add a “wow” factor even when it’s winter. This is not a comprehensive list, but just a few of the plants that are in my yard at the moment that are looking kinda’ purdy. And I almost forgot—freezing temps aside—if ANY succulent doesn’t have reeeeeally good drainage (add a boatload of 1/4″ lava rock or pumice to the planting hole) it will rot out in the rainy season. Keep it loose, people.

SENECIO MANDRALISCAE: HARDY DOWN TO 15 DEGREES, AND A BITCHIN' ICY BLUE.

ECHEVERIA SECUNDA: SUPER HARDY AND ADORABLE, EVEN WITHOUT IT'S SUMMERTIME CANDY-CORN FLOWERS.

AGAVE POTATORUM 'KISSHO KAN': HARDY DOWN TO 20 DEGREES, AND SERIOUSLY FABULOUS. A REAL CONVERSATION STARTER.

COTYLEDON ORBICULATA VAR. OBLONGA 'FLAVIDA': A MOUTHFUL OF A BOTANICAL NAME. MY FAVORITE SUCCULENT OF ALL TIME. IN SUMMER, IT SPORTS PEACHY FLOWERS THAT THE HUMMINGBIRDS DIVE BOMB.

SEDUM RUPESTRE 'ANGELINA': A ROCK STAR IN THE GARDEN. ALWAYS LOOKS GOOD. CAN TAKE ON A REDDISH TINT IN WINTER. SO HOT.

DUDLEYA BRITTONII: A CALIFORNIA NATIVE. CHALKY WHITE/GREY. 18" ACROSS. STUNNING, EVEN IN JANUARY.

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8 thoughts on “Succulents That Don’t Suck in Winter

  1. There’s a whole long list of cold hardy succulents and cactus on Debra Lee Baldwin’s book ” Succulent Container Gardens” that are Cold Hardy. “Designing with Succulents” . I refer to both of the a lot for designs, what grows how tall, how short etc. I have a limited number of them for sale. Send me an e mail Dawn. If you don’t already have them and want one or both I can meet up with you tomorrow, Wednesday. I will be in Santa Clara area near Scott Blvd.

    • Thanks, Laura, but I’ve had both books since they came out. I also run my own succulent “test garden” so I can utilize a variety of succulents in my client’s gardens with complete confidence. I’ve been growing and designing with them for thirteen years, and am still completely smitten.

      • Awesome Dawn. Maybe I can learn from you then. Succulent is so huge that there’s so much to learn. I am teaching classes on Succulent at some of the Libraries in the area . For the first time, I will be making a presentation at the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County this coming Thursday. Would love to see your garden sometime. I am looking forward to many more of your postings.

      • Wow, Laura. I wish I could see your presentation! I would love to hear you speak. I enjoy changing client’s perceptions of succulents (especially after they’ve told me they “don’t want the garden to look like a desert”). I like weird, graphic plants and I’m a lazy gardener, so they fit me perfectly. p.s. My garden is going to be on the Santa Clara garden tour in Spring. I’ll keep you posted.

  2. Hi Rebel Gardener,
    As always, I found your article to be inspiring. I had never thought of planting succulents. I have a Lemon tree in my front yard and a fairly moderate sized area around it. Would it be possible to plant succulents there or would it be too much water from which the tree needs? THANKS FOR THE PHOTOS AND INSPIRATION. Keep your blog going. It’s fantastic. Juliana:)

    • Hi Juliana,
      I have found that many succulents can take quite a bit of water, provided they are in well-draining soil. The key is to use a planter mix specifically designed for cactus and succulents, and to add in additional pumice or small lava rock. Lemon trees like well-drained soil, too, so this shouldn’t be a problem. One succulent in particular, Bulbine frutescens ‘Hallmark’, seems to not care in the slightest if it’s in the sun, in the shade, wet, dry—whatever. And I personally think it would look fabulous under a lemon tree. It’s worth a try! p.s. Glad you like the blog! Thank you so much.

  3. Hi Laura,
    I am about to re-landscape my front yard. The main feature will be a labyrinth with small succulents to deliniate the lines for the paths. I am also planning to put in a rock/succulent garden in one small area about 7′ x 5′. I have a southern exposure and am choosing an area that gets some shade. Any suggestions for either? Thanks so much for this post.
    Kathleen Virmani

    • Hi Kathleen,
      I love your idea for your front landscape! So much more interesting than a giant swath of lawn. Regarding what succulents to use that can deal with shade? My answer: lots of them! Aeoniums seem to really appreciate afternoon shade–my personal favorites are Aeonium canariense and Aeonium ‘Voodoo’. There’s one agave that performs well in shade: Agave attenuata (keep it in an area protected from heavy frost). Any of the echeverias will also do just peachy in some shade, and the tiny Echeveria secundas can be useful in delineating your path area. Good luck and happy planting!

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