As the seasons change, we must keep a close eye on our succulents as they could be coming in or out of dormancy. One of the most common mistakes I see happening is a misunderstanding about what happens when succulents go into (or out of) dormancy. So, let’s take a quick look at the changes you should make while caring for your dormant succulents.
What is Dormancy?
Most succulents go into what is commonly referred to as dormancy. Which this can roughly be translated into hibernation. While it’s not exactly the same thing, but the concepts are similar as the plant goes into a sleep state. When in dormancy, the plant will use fewer nutrients/water/sun/etc. Almost as if it’s sleeping, which means growth comes to a near stop during this period.
Why is this important for the plant?
Most plants fall into a dormancy period during rough conditions that it would otherwise die in. So, for instance, some warm weather succulents will change the structure of its cells when falling into dormancy to help protect against freezing weather. Others will start to reproduce as the last action before going to dormant. (As a side note, this is one of the many reasons that certain species of cactus may not bloom unless allowed to cycle through dormancy.)
Tip 1: Not all Succulents are dormant in the winter
Some succulents growing season is in the winter months which is contrary to what is normally stated when talking about dormancy. Due to the sheer number of species, it’s difficult to list out all the winter dormant vs summer dormant plants. However, doing a little research into the plant’s origin will usually help decipher the mystery.
The general rule of thumb I follow is if the plant’s native environment has mild winters but harsh/hot summers then it’s probably a winter grower. However, if the winter weather is cold/freezing then it’s probably a summer grower. Watching the plant over time, you’ll learn it’s growth patterns and understand when to water it.
Tip 2: Dormancy Avoidance
Depending on where your plants are, you may find that they never go dormant. While there appears to be some debate on if this is healthy for them, it’s good to understand so you can continue to care for them correctly (or change the environment to force dormancy depending on your viewpoints).
This will mostly occur if you’re succulents are indoors with a controlled environment and grow lights. You can help the succulents go dormant by slightly reducing light intensity and allowing for cooler temperatures. Since my house usually varies significantly between winter and summer, my succulents normally fall into dormancy relatively easily. Some of them I’ll move slightly away from my grow lights to reduce light intensity.
Tip 3: Less Water
Since the succulents are dormant, they will consume less water over the course of the dormancy period. This can cause a succulent to sit in wet conditions leading to root rot if you’re not careful.
How much less water should you give?
It’ll depend on your conditions/succulent/etc, but on average I tend to double the amount of time between watering. So for a plant, I was watering once every other week, I’d end up watering about once a month.
For my winter dormant plants, I’ll usually start changing my watering schedule sometime between September and November. To do this, I will start letting longer periods go between watering to see how each plant reacts. If it starts showing signs of thirst, then I’ll water the plant. By keeping a close eye on the plants, I can ensure they’ve fallen into dormancy before I continue with the dormancy watering schedule. Each plant will be a little different due to the individual environmental conditions.
Tip 4: Do not Fertilize During Dormancy
When a plant goes into dormancy, it’s not attempting to obtain as many nutrients through the soil. This means the fertilizer you give it will probably get washed away during the watering before the next growing season.
So there’s no reason to waste your fertilizer, just wait until the next growing season so the plant will have a chance to consume all the fertilizing goodness.