I absolutely love shopping online for succulents and gardening supplies. If you aren't already saving money by comparing prices online, give it a try! Here are six of my favorite things that I have purchased online as I build my own succulent oasis:
- Serene Succulent Coloring Book for Adults
- Half-moon plant shelves
- Hexagonal wall shelves
- Succulent fertilizer
- Soil moisture meter
- Bright white grow lights
- Terracotta pots
Since I live in the harsh northeast area of the United States, I wondered if it was even possible for me to grow succulents outdoors. While they are resilient plants by nature, they still need certain conditions and the proper climate to thrive.
Succulents are native to hot, arid climates like Africa and Asia. So raising them in an area with cold, snowy winters just didn’t sound possible. But there are ways to grow succulents outdoors in most regions of the world where there is a decent summer season for succulents to enjoy.
If you’re thinking about growing succulents outdoors year-round in pots or garden beds, this guide is for you. Even in cooler climates, you can enjoy a beautiful outdoor succulent garden.
Here are some of my top tips on how to care for succulents outdoors, and how to know which succulents can survive cooler climates.
Lighting Conditions for Outdoor Succulents
The nice thing about succulents is that when it comes to sunlight, they are relatively flexible. Most succulents hail from arid zones that don’t feature much in the way of taller foliage, so they’re used to full-sun conditions. If your garden or balcony gets a couple of hours of sun a day, you’re all set in terms of lighting.
Make sure you acclimate any succulents that came from indoors over the course of a few weeks before placing them in full sun. They can burn due to the sudden sun exposure if you don’t!
If conditions are a bit more extreme, here are some species you could consider:
- Good for harsh sun (desert climates with full exposure): Opuntia (prickly pear) and Cylindropuntia (cholla) cacti, Euphorbia trigona (African milk tree), Agaves, Ferocactus (barrel cactus), Beaucarnea (ponytail palm), Yucca, Cereus (night-blooming cactus), Sedum, Sempervivum
- Don’t need much sun, mostly indirect light: Aloe, Gasteraloe, Gasteria, Haworthia, Sansevieria (now classified as Dracaena), jungle cacti (Schlumbergera, Rhipsalis, Epiphyllum)
Ideal Temperatures for Outdoor Succulents
Once you’ve figured out lighting, it’s time to think about another important factor: temperature. Almost all succulent species hail from warmer climates and do well from 50-90 °F.
Unless you live in a zone that stays inside the desired range (roughly USDA Zone 3 to 9), you’ll have to bring most species of succulents indoors during the winter months to prevent them from turning into mush as a result of cold damage. A little hotter is usually not a huge issue, but you may have to offer some extra shade.
Does this mean that it will be impossible for you to maintain an outdoor succulent garden year-round if you live further up north? Not necessarily! Note that I said most succulents would have to be brought inside, not all.
Here are some examples of frost-hardy succulents that can do well year-round in a wider range of climates:
- The genus Sempervivum, also known as hens and chicks, is a classic for colder climates. Most of the commonly sold varieties should be fine down to -20 °F.
- The genus Sedum is another popular option. The pretty Sedum reflexum and album, for example, can take a whopping -30 °F and keep kicking.
- Some Agaves, like Agave parryi and victoriae-reginae, should be hardy at least down to 10 °F.
- Some Yuccas, like Yucca baccata and glauca, are very frost-hardy. They will do fine at least down to -20 °F.
- The purple-blooming Delosperma cooperi and some of its cousins from the same genus (the ice plants) will be able to take at least down to 0 °F and very likely even colder.
- Orostachys iwarenge, better known as the Chinese dunce cap, is a very decorative rosette succulent that should do well at least down to -10 °F.
- Many prickly pear cacti from the genus Opuntia, like Opuntia cycloides, stricta and macrocentra do surprisingly well down to 0 °F, maybe even as low as -10 °F.
In cases where temperatures suddenly get lower than is to be expected in your zone and you can’t bring your frost-tender succulents inside, you may have to take some measures. Most species can survive temps down to just above freezing as long as they’re kept dry, so if you haven’t been watering much, you’re likely in the clear. You can throw some special frost cloth over the plants or even go for a portable cold frame.
Soil and Planter Preferences for Outdoor Succulents
Pay attention please, this part is important for your succulents’ survival! As you probably know, succulents have evolved to adapt to arid climates by storing water in their leaves. They are not adapted at all to being in moist soil all the time, and their roots are sensitive to rot. Once root rot sets in, an entire plant can turn to mush in a surprisingly short time; so it’s definitely best to prevent it altogether.
Both indoors and outdoors, the above means that proper drainage is key to keeping succulents alive. This especially applies if you’re growing yours outdoors in an area where they can be affected by sudden bursts of rain! The excess water MUST be able to drain quickly, or your plants are at risk of drowning. Whether you’re growing in planters or in a garden bed, taking some special measures is important.
Soil for Outdoor Succulents in Pots
Both in planters and if you pop your succulents directly into the ground, it’s very important to avoid dense garden soils. Instead, go for something light and airy that allows plenty of oxygen to reach the roots. It should let excess water flow right through.
An easy mixture for succulents in pots is one part perlite, two parts coarse sand, and three parts non-water-retaining houseplant soil. In wetter climates, you could even consider a lower soil percentage and sub in some fine orchid bark for extra quick drainage. Avoid coco coir and peat, as these materials can clump around the roots and become hydrophobic (unable to take up water) if they go too dry, suffocating your plants.
Pots & Planters for Outdoor Succulents
When it comes to planters for succulents, there’s only one rule: it has to offer drainage, so a hole in the bottom is mandatory. After all, that special soil you mixed wouldn’t be very useful if the water just sits at the bottom of the planter!
Terracotta planters work well for succulents that will be getting a lot of water. It’s a porous material that lets excess water evaporate, but it’s not a must to use it. You can let loose your creativity when it comes to repotting succulents.
Here are some basic options for potted outdoor succulents that I love:
- Individual planters: I like the look of succulents in individual planters of different sizes on a balcony or in a garden. This way, each of these beautiful plants gets the attention it deserves!
- Mixed planters: Combine tall succulents at the back of the planter with medium rosettes in the middle and hanging types spilling from the front for a colorful mixed planter full of different textures. Creepers can fill up any unused spaces.
- Hanging planters: There are many trailing succulent species out there that do well in a hanging planter. Just make sure you hang them in a spot that isn’t prone to getting a lot of wind, because you don’t want your beautiful succulents to go flying off into a storm!
Succulents in Landscaping & Garden Beds
Succulents don’t have to be grown in planters. In fact, a full succulent and cactus garden, also known as a xerigarden, is especially ideal in arid areas where water is scarce and has to be conserved. Why go for a lawn that has to be watered when you can fill your space with colorful ice plants (genus Delosperma), which bloom beautifully? Why would you need a thirsty deciduous tree when you can go for a huge, beautiful African milk tree (Euphorbia trigona)?
Being such hardy plants, succulents can survive in many areas of your garden as long as their light and temperature requirements are met. I’ve seen Sempervivum succulents growing in cracks between rocks, and it’s even possible to make a “live roof” for sheds and similar storage buildings using the tough members of the Sedum genus!
If you’d like to grow your succulents in a bed, that’s easy enough as well. Dig down around 12” and fill the area with a mix of 50% garden soil, 25% potting soil, and 25% perlite. You can also throw in other stuff that helps loosen the soil, like pinecones, terracotta pot shards, small rocks, and bark. Consider using weed control fabric to help protect your succulents from weeds encroaching on their space.
Related: How to Propagate Succulents
Watering Needs for Growing Succulents Outside
Basic Watering Guidelines
If you’re used to growing succulents indoors, you’ll know that most of these plants thrive on an “infrequently, but a lot” type of watering schedule. They’re from arid regions and their roots are not adapted to being in wet soil all the time, but they do love water. As such, you should be leaving the soil to dry out fully, and then watering deeply. Think of a desert rainstorm that comes and goes suddenly, not a northern drizzle that can last for days.
In summer, when it’s warm and light, you may end up watering as often as once a week indoors. During the cooler and darker winter months, it could be as little as once a month or even more infrequently.
Adapting to The Outdoors
Keep the indoor watering guidelines in mind when you start your outdoor succulent garden. The basic rules for watering are similar, just a little more extreme! After all, things get hotter and sunnier outside during summer than indoors. This means that you need to keep a close eye on your plants’ soil. It can go dry within a few days, so your succulents may want a drink multiple times a week.
During winter, the outdoors is generally chillier than inside. It’s important to reduce waterings, especially if you’re in the “danger zone” close to the low-temperature cut-off for these plants. As mentioned in the section on temperature, succulents that are kept dry can handle lower temperatures than those in regularly moistened soil.
In very rainy climates, it’s important to offer your succulents some shelter, especially during winter. It can be handy to grow them in pots and planters so you can place them under a cover if the rain is incessant. This helps lower the risk of root rot and allows you to stay in control of watering frequency.
Outdoor Succulent Troubleshooting
As you’ve hopefully concluded so far, growing your succulents outdoors is a great option for almost everyone, whether you bring them indoors during winter or not. There are so many different types of succulents out there that the possibilities are practically endless! However, you do need to keep in mind that as with all species of plants, you can run into certain issues with succulents.
Here are some of the most frequent problems specific to outdoor succulents:
The bane of every gardener’s existence, and unfortunately something that succulents are not exempt from. Aphids, mealybugs, and all their creepy crawly cousins love these plants’ fleshy, water-filled leaves. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to get rid of pests like mealybugs.
Be sure to check for them regularly, especially before taking non-hardy succulents indoors for winter. Combat infestations with home remedies like neem oil and dish soap, or whip out the big guns and go for a (natural) pesticide.
Unfortunately common in wetter climates, especially if you’ve forgotten to shelter your succulents from the latest rainstorm. An overwatered succulent may develop root rot, dropping its bottom leaves and yellowing. As the rot progresses, stems can become blackened and mushy. The only remedy is to remove any and all affected parts.
This can be an issue if you live in an arid climate or if you’re away from home a lot. Underwatered succulents can begin to look crispy and wrinkled due to dehydration, eventually shriveling up entirely if the problem isn’t fixed. Luckily, there are some things you can do, including using less gritty material in your soil mixture, going for larger containers, and choosing plastic planters instead of terracotta. You can also move affected succulents to a more shaded spot, though be sure not to deprive them too much of light.
Can I Grow Succulents Outside?
Almost anyone can grow succulents outdoors during certain seasons. If you’re in an area where temperatures fall below your favorite plant’s minimum requirements, simply keep it in a portable pot or gently move it to a pot before winter hits.
Some succulents can handle the lowest temperatures you can throw at them but will go dormant for much of the time. The more protection you can give your plants against frost, snow, and harsh rain conditions, the better chance your succulents have to survive.