I am one of many who started collecting succulents in the last two years and I have gotten into it deeply. With a lot of work and money invested , I have tried to learn what it takes to have healthy succulents in Florida year-round. Succulents generally come from hot, dry climates and they have evolved to store water through periods of drought in the leaves, stems, or roots. Did you know that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti?
Florida has temperatures that range easily from 95 F in the summer to 30 F occasionally in the winter. We have a lot of rain mostly in the summer months. We can not assume that all succulents need the same conditions because they come from many different environments. Some such as hens and chicks are used to cold dry climates, so they are harder to maintain here in hot, humid, rainy Florida. Most of the thirty plus types I have collected grow well in Florida. I keep many of them in a carport which is like a porch, lanai or windowsill in terms of lighting. They get indirect light most of the day. Some types such as ghost plant, kalanchoe, and
echeveria get leggy under those conditions. When I have put these same plants out in full sunlight, they have suffered sunburn at first, but then adapt and grow fuller, stronger and bigger with time.
Just as porous soil is important for pots, it is also important when we want to plant succulents in the garden. The same goes for good drainage which help prevent root and leaf rot. My garden succulents did not even mind the days of rain that we had this last summer because the excess water quickly drained away. For my outdoor potted plants, I watered them once a week if it hadn’t rained and I gave them a shade cloth during the hottest months and took it off in October.
Winter has presented a different set of concerns. Most succulents can tolerate temperatures down to 35 F for an evening or two, but freezing temperatures can kill many very quickly. When we had a cold snap in early December with expected temperatures of 40, I wrapped my desert rose in tablecloths, covered some planters with sheets, and put tarps which I had cut to size over outdoors bookshelves. I have read that the plastic should not touch the plants and cloth is a better insulator. I brought inside a lot of baby plants and my kalanchoe and hoya. I used to water all my carport succulents except the cacti and hens and chicks once a week with the hose. For these winter months, I have cut back to about every 10 days.
After that first cold snap, I also changed part of my carport into a green room with clear plastic tarps and plastic, magnetic closure doors which are sold for construction projects. I have a 120 sq. ft area 90% enclosed so there is still air flow, but the wind and cold are kept out well. I compared temperature readings on cold nights and it seems my green room stays about 10 F warmer than the outdoors. It was an easy DIY project. I have moved many of my plants inside on plastic shelves and when a cold night is forecast, I can bring many more inside on the floor. They are receiving a little less light with the clear plastic walls and winter days are shorter also, so I set up two garage LED lights that I shine on the shelves about 10 hrs. a day. My plants might survive a few cold nights without my intervention. For the small amount of time and money I put into this project, I have more peace of mind and hopefully will lose fewer plants.
I meet a lot of people at my sales that seem very nervous about caring for their succulents. I have learned that succulents are tough, forgiving, and communicative. If the leaves are shriveling, they need water. If the stems are leggy, they need more light. If leaves are turning brown and soggy, they need help fast to get their roots out of wet soil and dry off. If they change colors, they are responding to lighting conditions and temperature changes which is a natural process for them. Enjoy the reds and purples winter weather causes and the richer colors that summer sunlight produces. If ever part of the plant dies, cut that off and replant what is healthy. When you buy succulents, make note of the conditions that they were used to and make changes gradually. Check that the pot has drain holes and that the soil is light and loose. Succulents can be repotted, divided, trimmed, and beheaded and they will grow back. Just be patient. They are not in a hurry, but they are experts at survival.