Guide to Succulent Dormancy

Succulent Dormancydormancy A temporary cessation of a plant's active growth and a slowing-down of its other functions, usually in winter, in drought or in extreme heat or cold. Some succulents can produce flowers when otherwise dormant.

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Succulent dormancy is kind of a weird topic because plants go in and out of dormancy based on a bunch of different factors, but for some reason, the succulent world has divided succulents into two groups- summer dormant and winter dormant. 

Then, in some parts, succulents don’t go completely dormant. For example, my in-laws live near the coast and their Aeoniums look GREAT all year round. I live about 20 miles inland and my Aeonium take on drastically different looks when they’re dormant vs. growing. 

aeonium arboreum 'Atropurpureum'
In the cooler months, Aeonium species really come alive and awaken from their dormancy that had them looking pretty shabby over the summer. (Pictured: Aeonium arboreum 'Atropurpureum')

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What's Inside:

What Causes Dormancy?

In plants these things can cause dormancy:

  1. Decreasing temperatures
  2. Shortened daylight hours
  3. Less rainfall
sedum rubrotinctum aurora pink jelly beans succulent plant care guide and identification card
Sedum rubrotinctum 'Aurora'

Nothing about succulent dormancy is absolute

echeveria imbricata with stressed winter colors on the edges and tips
Photo from January 2019. Echeveria are winter dormant and while they don't really grow any new leaves, they take on really brilliant stress colors on their edges and tips.

Succulents grow at different rates during different times of the year. Generally, they’re either summer dormant or winter dormant meaning their growth slows way down or even comes to a halt in those periods. The conditions (temperature, daylight, rainfall) which signal succulents to enter a dormant state vary in amounts so this is not absolute.

succulent dormancy chart

To water or not water during succulent dormancy?

In most cases for winter dormant succulents, you don’t really even need to water them when they’re dormant. Their roots won’t absorb the moisture. You can give them a sip of water if you notice that it is suffering from extreme dehydration, but you really would be surprised at how much they bounce back when growing starts back up again. 

For summer dormant succulents, you’ll need to water them so that they don’t completely dry up but just not as much as you would normally water them in the winter while they’re growing.

sedum clavatum in an old round terracotta pot
This pot of Sedum clavatum looks great all year round, but really gets growing when temperatures cool down. In the summer, when Sedums are dormant, they tend to take on their stress colors.

Succulent Dormancy Observations

It might take a few dormancy cycles to get a feel for which of your succulents like to be watered more and when, but I hope this gives you a better idea.

Side note: if your succulents are indoors, this really doesn’t apply as much because the fluctuations in temperature aren’t as great as they would be outdoors so just look for signs of dehydration in the plant before you water.

Common Summer Dormant Succulents

Summer dormant succulents still need water during their dormant period to keep roots cool and viable. Some summer dormant succulents include: adromischus, aeonium, aloe, anacampseros, crassula, cotyledon, fenestraria, graptopetalum, graptoveria, haworthia, kalanchoe, lithops, pachyveria, pachyphytum, sansevieria, sedum and senecio.

Common Winter Dormant Succulents

Winter dormant succulents are like animals that go into hibernation. Leave them alone for the most part until the beginning of their growing period. Some winter dormant succulents include: agave, ceropegia, echeveria, euphorbia, sempervivum and tillandsia

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