Do Succulents Go Dormant? Why it Matters

BearMost plants and some animals have a heavy growing time (active) and then a slow-growing time (inactive). In animals, we call it hibernation and in plants, we call it dormancy. Knowing if and when your plants go dormant can help you determine water, sunlight, and temperature needs along with the best times to re-pot.

Do succulents go dormant? Let’s take a look.

Opportunistic Growers

Succulents come from harsh environments where other plants can’t survive. Because of this, succulents are “opportunistic growers” meaning they grow when they can for as long as they can, they are always “putting away food for the winter” or are in “survival mode”.

So, this makes the question a little more tricky.

If you have indoor succulents that are in a consistent temperature with consistent sunlight and water, they may grow all year. If your succulents are outdoors and the temperatures fluctuate, they may go dormant.

What Causes Dormancy?

Like animals that hibernate, dormant succulents are conserving resources and energy, they aren’t fighting for what little is available, instead they are just waiting until what they need is plentiful again.

There are three basic events that cause dormancy.

  1. Temperature – We tend to think of plants going dormant in the fall/winter because we see leaves changing colors and falling off of Maples, Oaks, Aspens, and others. While succulents may go dormant in the fall/winter to avoid the cold, they may also go dormant in the summer to protect themselves from hot, dry conditions. Plants sense consistently rising/falling temperatures and act accordingly.
  2. Sunlight – We notice when days are getting longer or shorter and this tells us what season is coming. Plants do the same in a very sophisticated way using photoperiod.
    1. Photoperiod is the amount of daylight in a 24-hour period. Plants release a chemical/protein to measure the amount of daylight/nighttime they receive. As the days become shorter/longer, the plant regulates its flowering and growing (which may lead to dormancy). This reaction, or how they react to different amounts of light (photoperiod), is called photoperiodism.
  3. Water – We tend to know our rainy and dry seasons (April showers bring May flowers) and plants do the same by taking note of the humidity or how often they get a really good drink of water. Some succulents are more drought-resistant and others are not, both of which will affect their dormant period.

How do I Know if My Succulent/Cacti is Dormant?Tree with no leaves

This can be confusing, it’s not as obvious as the picture to the right, actually, the signs are very small. Knowing the origin of your succulent will help you know its usual dormant period but again, if the conditions are right, succulents will not go dormant (not all of them do anyway).

Other things to look for…

  • Slowed growth, very slow. It may look like no growth but there is always something going on, even if you can’t see it
  • The leaves may become droopy, yellow or brown
  • If it has rosettes, they may contract or close up

Before assuming a plant needs more water or is sick, check out the chart below to see if it could be dormant. This chart is a guideline, plants in the same species may differ from each other. Also, this chart is for the northern hemisphere so if you are in the southern, just flip it.

Grows in the Summer - Dormant in the Winter

Grows in the Winter - Dormant in the Summer

Adenium

Adromischus

Agave

Aeonium

Alluaudia

Aloe

Aloinopsis

Anacampseros

Brachystelma

Astroloba

Bursera

Avonia

Calibanus

Bowiea

Ceropegia

Bulbine

Cissus

Ceraria

Cyphostemma

Conophytum

Didieria

Cotyledon

Dorstenia

Crassula

Echeveria

Dioscorea

Echinocactus

Dudleya

Encephalartos

Fenestraria

Euphorbia

Fouqueria

Ferocatus

Gasteria

Ficus

Gibbaeum

Fockea

Graptopetalum

Huernia

Graptoveria

Ibervillea

Haemanthus

Ipomoea

Haworthia

Jatropha

Kalanchoe

Mammillaria

Lithops

Monadenium

Neohenricia

Moringa

Othonna

Notocactus

Pachycormus

Operculicarya

Pachyphytum

Opuntia

Pachyveria

Pachypodium

Pelargonium

Pedilanthus

Peperomia

Plumeria

Portulacaria

Pseudolithos

Sansevieria

Pterodiscus

Sarcocaulon

Raphionacme

Sedeveria

Sempervivum

Sedum

Siningia

Senecio

Stapelianthus

Stomatium

Synadenium

Sulcorebutia

Tillandsia

Talinum

Titanopsis

Tylecodon

Trichodiadema

Xerosicyos

What to Do, and Not Do, if Your Succulent is Dormant

For succulents that grow in the summer and go dormant in the winter, follow these guidelines during dormancy.

  • Growing months are May-August
  • May slow down in the hottest months
  • Do not re-pot during dormancy – who likes to be woken up?
  • Only water if you see the leaves looking a little dry or wrinkled
  • Do not fertilize
  • A change in color is not caused by dormancy – it is a sign of too little light – keep the light the same minus no more than 2-4 hours (if a plant normally gets 10 hours of light per day during their growing period, they still need no less than 6 hours of light but 8 would be better)

For succulents that grow in the winter and go dormant in the summer, follow these guidelines during dormancy.

  • Growing months are September-April
  • May slow down with prolonged temperatures below freezing
  • Do not re-pot during dormancy
  • Since these are dormant in the hot heat, they will still need semi-regular watering to keep them cool (wait double the time, for example, if you normally water every 7 days, water every 14 days)
  • Do not fertilize
  • A change in color is not caused by dormancy – it is a sign of too little light – keep the light the same minus no more than 2-4 hours (if a plant normally gets 10 hours of light per day during their growing period, they still need no less than 6 hours of light but 8 would be better)

If your plants aren’t looking normal, check the dormancy chart before changing other major things.

Should I Make My Succulent Go Dormant?

In general, the answer is no. Most succulents are happy always having what they need (who isn’t?) so there is no need to stress them. However, stressing them can bring out great colors.

Also, there are some succulents/cacti who won’t bloom unless they experience some extremes. Changes in temperatures and light are a sign for them to reproduce. For example, some summer cacti only bloom if they experience temps around 40°F for about 60 days. No blooms equal no seeds equals no new plants, but of course, we can grow new succulents from cuttings.

A hedge with a heart shapeCan You Sum This Up for Me?

Sure, the most important thing, as always, is to keep an eye on your succulents. Are they noticeably growing, is their soil dry or staying damp longer. Your home temperature and humidity may be completely different from mine and therefore our succulents may act differently.

If your succulents are looking a little off – check the dormancy chart along with the “what to do and not do” list before changing other things.

Questions or Comments? Leave them below, I love to hear from you!

8 Responses

  1. Great post!
    I have a few succulents that I keep indoors and they seem to always be growing.
    There is a lot of useful information here and I will try to use on my plants.
    I did not know that there were so many things not to do when a succulent has gone into dormancy but now I know.
    Thanks for the helpful advice!

    • Hi Jesse,
      So glad you learned some things, that is always my goal…to educate.
      Please let me know if you have questions, I’m more than happy to help!
      Lisa

  2. Thanks for sharing. My mom has tons of flowers and plants back home and I’m sure she’s going to enjoy this article. I’ve learned a lot from your article as well. I used to study forest science back in college so I’m familiar with dormancy in plants. It’s good to know how to treat each plant the right way. Great work with your site! Ivan

  3. Thank you so much for the great information Lisa!! We had a small succulent in our house that we bought last year, but it eventually died:/ Pretty sad I know. I really didn’t know much about them before I read this but I have a much better idea now. I never realized that they could go dormant. I wish I knew a little more about them before ours died because it would probably still be alive. I’m going to share this post with my wife as she has been looking to buy another one! Thanks again for the great information!

    • Hi Dan,
      You are not alone, a lot of people don’t realize they can go dormant! I hope you do find another succulent, they are great! Please let me know if you have any questions!
      Lisa

  4. I have two locations that I have succulents in my home, it gets too cold outside for them. The aloe plant does great in a window that gets a lot of sunshine, I just have to watch the water in the soil. I add water when it looks droopy. It has not gone dormant that I have noticed.
    The other succulents are in a window that does not get direct sunlight and they do quite well all year long.
    Should I move my succulents to a darker area to let them go dormant, or just leave as they are. The Aloe plant is several years old with several new plants growing in the pot.
    John

    • Hi John,
      Great question! If your plants are happy where they are, just let them be! No need to mess with a happy plant!
      If they become unhappy, they will let you know and if they never go dormant, it won’t hurt them.
      Let me know if you have other questions.
      Thanks,
      Lisa

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