If you know succulents as desert plants or container plants, you may not think they’ll survive in cold climates. We’ve got good news: Many succulent varieties will survive in cold weather, even in sub-zero temperatures. Learn more about the best succulents for frigid winter climates.
Know your horticultural zone
Before you look for cold-hardy succulents, know your horticultural zone.
Go to the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map and type in your ZIP code to find your USDA horticultural zone.
Why is this important? Most plant tags will list the growing zone for that plant. These zones are based on the “average annual minimum winter temperature” in your area. Plants will only survive in their preferred temperature ranges, so make sure you pay attention before you buy.
Remember, the most important step before you plant is to know you’ve got the “Right plant in the right place” (or zone, in this case).
We’ll list the hardiness zones with each item in this article, but here’s a slice (not the full list) of the USDA Hardiness Zones and their temperature minimums:
USDA Hardiness Zones
- 3a (-40 to -35 °F)
- 3b (-35 to -30 °F)
- 4a (-30 to -25 °F)
- 4b (-25 to -20 °F)
- 5a (-20 to -15 °F)
- 5b (-15 to -10 °F)
- 6a (-10 to -5 °F)
- 6b (-5 to 0 °F)
- 7a (0 to 5 °F)
- 7b (5 to 10 °F)
- 8a (10 to 15 °F)
- 8b (15 to 20 °F)
- 9a (20 to 25 °F)
- 9b (25 to 30 °F)
- 10a (30 to 35 °F)
- 10b (35 to 40 °F)
- 11a (40 to 45 °F)
- 11b (45 to 50 °F)
Pro Tip: Although local garden centers should stock plants that will survive in your region, some of the succulents you see in local stores will be for growing indoors only. Check the hardiness zone on the plant tag and use this list to ensure you buy one that’s hardy for your winter temperatures.
Note: Although these species are winter-hardy, many will go partially or fully dormant in the winter. This means some may lose leaves or completely die back to the ground. Check your plant tag, look online, or ask the folks at your local garden center for information on your plant.
If you’re in the market for a cold-hardy, evergreen ground cover, several species in the Delosperma genus are cold-hardy down to Zones 4, 5, or 6 (-30 to 0 degrees F).
Species such as Delosperma cooperi (hardy ice plant) and Delosperma nubigenum (hardy yellow ice plant) are popular, but check state publications before you buy. In California, for example, hardy ice plant grows so well in its dry soils that it is considered an invasive species. Just north, in the Pacific Northwest, areas of wet soils contain this plant (it stays in the areas with dry soil), so it is not an invasive species there.
Both hardy ice plant and hardy yellow ice plant put out purple and yellow daisy-like flowers in summer, respectively, and are popular in rock gardens and xeriscaped spaces. Hardy yellow ice plant is also a high-value plant for wildlife and pollinators.
So, even though some Delosperma species will tolerate low temps, they need dry, well-drained soils to survive outdoors year-round.
Cacti from the Opuntia genus, also known as prickly pear cactus, are some of the easiest and most hardy succulents to grow outdoors. These cacti can grow outdoors in Zones 3B (-35 to -30 degrees F) through 11 (40 to 50 degrees F). O. fragilis will withstand temperatures down to -35 degrees. (Yes, Zone 3B, you can plant this succulent outdoors.) In other words, Opuntia will grow in all of the lower 48 states except the northernmost regions of the Central U.S.
The prickly pear cacti are a great choice for a security border around your home or underneath windows. They grow from 3 to 20 feet tall and from 3 to 15 feet wide. Also known as “paddle cacti,” these plants grow flat, oval, paddle-shaped sections atop each other. Also, propagation is so easy that they are considered invasive in some areas.
The Opuntia cacti set flowers and edible fruit. The paddles are also edible and along with the fruits. For best results, make sure this drought-tolerant cactus has full sun and well-drained soil. It will tolerate alkaline soils, has good salt tolerance, and grows well along the oceanside or among rocks.
Orostachys plants are native to the mountains of Japan. These cold-hardy species, like all succulents, prefer well-drained soil with partial to full sun. The name Orostachys means “mountain” (oros), referring to its native environment and “spike” (stachys), referring to its cone-shaped flower stalks.
Species in this genus survive in temps as low as Zone 4 (-30 degrees F), but more often to Zones 5 and 6 (-20 to -10 degrees F). This genus is commonly called “duncecap” because of the cone-shaped yellow to white flower stalks that appear after two or three years. Orostachys will generally put out many offsets (AKA chicks or pups) and then flower and die, so you’ll need to replace them with their chicks periodically.
4. Prometheum and Rosularia
Some succulents in the Prometheum and Rosularia genera (plural of genus) are cold-hardy down to Zones 5 or 6 (-20 to -10 degrees F). These rosette-shaped succulents form a dense ground cover via stolons (above-ground stems) and stay under 4 inches tall. These succulents will grow in poor, well-draining soil and will bloom multiple times, putting out star-shaped white and yellow flowers.
Species in these genera are not always easy to find commercially, but some online nurseries and brick and mortar stores do carry a limited stock. Look online or call your nearest garden or succulent store to see if these plants are available in your area.
5. Ruschia pulvinaris
A native of South Africa, Ruschia pulvinaris, also called congested ice plant or shrubby ice plant, is a low-maintenance succulent that lives in Zones 6 (-10 to 0 degrees F) to 10 (30 to 40 degrees F). Shrubby ice plant is a ground cover that grows up to 4 inches tall and up to 1 foot wide.
This succulent puts out purple or pink flowers during summer and needs full sun and well-draining soil. If your soil contains a high level of clay, you may need to plant this succulent on a mound of purchased soil mix or choose another succulent ground cover. Shrubby ice plant is a popular addition to xeriscaped gardens and rock gardens.
Finally, one retailer notes that in colder regions of the country, this plant and Delosperma plants are better suited for the Western U.S. The concern is to avoid areas where snow stays on the ground for long periods as often happens in the northern regions of the Eastern U.S. If you live in a climate with a more mild winter, make sure the soil is well-draining year-round.
Bonus: This plant is famous for attracting pollinators and butterflies.
Also known as stonecrop, Sedum is a well-known and wide-ranging genus with many outdoor and cold-hardy succulents. Often used as a ground cover and in pollinator gardens, Sedum species offer a wide range of color and size options for a new succulent gardener. Many are ground covers, but some will cascade out of hanging pots (like burro’s tail) while others like Autumn Joy shoot up with stems up to 1 ½ feet tall.
Sedum is also well known for its chameleon-like leaf color changes throughout the seasons, from reds and oranges to greens, purples, and even blue hues. Most species also produce a variety of colorful blooms, making them ideal for pollinator gardens.
Most hardy (NOT tender) stonecrop species are hardy to Zone 5 (-20 degrees F) but some are hardy down to Zone 4 (-30 degrees F). Plant these succulents in stony, well-drained soil, or even in shallow soils in between rocks or stones. Most Sedum plants prefer full sun but some will tolerate partial shade.
What do hens and chicks have to do with succulents? Sempervivum are often called “hens and chicks” because the “mother” plant will grow “chicks” on its stolons. Before long, Sempervivum growers will have a plethora of chicks alongside the original mother hen.
Hens and chicks are tough, rosette-shaped succulents that will live for two to five years, put out many chicks, and then die after they flower. (Monocarpic is the Latin word for this.) Like stonecrop, the leaves on hens and chicks will change color throughout the year. If you prefer a more consistently colored plant, consider a Sempervivum heuffelii.
Most of these prolific growers are hardy down to Zone 5 (-20 degrees F) and thrive on deep but infrequent water, like most lawns. Like most succulents, hens and chicks prefer well-drained soil such as a cactus mix, sandy loam, or soil with lots of rocks. Plant these hardy plants where they will have sun in the morning but shade in the afternoon. Strategically placed larger rocks are great for aesthetics and can provide the afternoon shade they need.
Fun Fact: Sempervivum means “ever-living,” and may refer either to their hardiness or prolific nature.
FAQ about cold-hardy outdoor succulents
A succulent is not a family, genus, or species of plant. It is simply a way to group plants that have fleshy leaves. These plants, due to their penchant for water storage, are often used in xeriscaping, rock gardens, and other water-challenged climates. Succulents have recently become quite popular as houseplants, as well.
The good news is that growing succulents is one of the easiest plants to grow as long as their outdoor conditions are favorable. Even so, getting started can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips:
If you like browsing the internet, several major and independent online growers sell succulents. Also, consider your state’s Cooperative Extension online publications which are chock-full of state-specific information.
If in-person instruction is more helpful for you, go to a local garden center that has or specializes in succulents. If you live in areas where xeriscaping is popular, there should be several stores to choose from in your area. If you’re a beginner, though, go somewhere small or locally owned. These stores often pride themselves on spending more time with customers.
Pro Tip: If you search for succulent plants online, most larger retailers will have advanced sort and filter options for their online catalog of plants. Under “Filters” look for “Cold Hardiness,” “Hardiness Zone,” or a similar phrase. Then filter by your horticultural zone to see plants that meet those criteria.
When you’re out shopping for outdoor, cold-hardy succulents, steer clear of these plants that prefer toastier climates:
Each species is different. Most will enter some type of dormancy, which means they’ll need less or no water and no fertilizer. Some will lose all of their above-ground leaves and stems, others will drop their leaves like a tree, and others will remain evergreen. For most species, well-draining soil is essential because most succulents don’t like to stay wet. As we mentioned earlier, some cold-hardy succulents only do well in the West. Cold is not the enemy; wet and cold will kill most succulents, though.
If your cold climate leaves you with few summer months to enjoy, contact one of our local lawn care professionals. Our crews will mow and edge your lawn or weed your cold-hardy succulent garden so you have more time to do what matters.
Main Photo Credit: PxHere