How to move, care for indoor succulents in winter

Maureen Gilmer
Tribune News Service

Whether you live in Chicago, Detroit or Denver, when temperatures decline in autumn it’s time to move your tender summer succulents indoors for the winter. They thrive in a south-facing window or glass sun porch. Care for them well and they’ll come back outside the following year so you don’t have to spend a dime replanting your pots.

Prepare your plants to come inside, considering these tips:

Divide. If you bring your densely packed color pots indoors, they may be subject to rot due to moisture accumulating at the soil surface where it can’t easily evaporate. Make sure each plant benefits from its winter hiatus by dividing the mixed color pots into lots of individual smaller plants. Slide the large root ball out of the pot on a sheet of newspaper, then gently pick apart the plants and roots to separate each one with minimal damage.

Repot. Once divided, replant each succulent in its own pot. Select red clay flower pots that are low and wide with a big drain hole. Wider pots give you a more realistic sense of moisture levels in the soil. Avoid deep pots as they maintain moisture deep down that causes rot. Utilize only potting soil designated for cactus and succulents to ensure adequate drainage.

Furnace. Be aware that your furnace combined with dry cold can stress out wintering succulents. The ones that really suffer are those from the Cape of Good Hope where the climate is much like that of San Diego. When growing indoors, beware of furnace register locations close to where your succulents live so they don’t prematurely dehydrate.

Bottom-up water. Despite the short days, succulents overwintered indoors aren’t dormant so they may need an occasional drink. Keep an eye out for the first sign of wrinkles or softening of the tissues that indicate moisture loss. Before watering, check the drain hole first to make sure it’s open, free and dry. Don’t pour water into the top of the pot, set the pot into an inch of water in a bowl. Let it sit as long as it takes for the dry potting soil to wick up enough water through the drain hole to show surface dampness. Next remove from the water and let the pot drain out in the sink for a few hours. This bottom-up method keeps standing water away from the crown of the plant where it’s most vulnerable to rot.

Keep ’em clean. Don’t let winter dust build up in the fissures of these plants since it’s very hard to remove without damaging the skin. A good way to dust succulents is with a soft, clean artist’s paint brush to clean all the nooks and crannies. Once they’re clear of dust, mist with distilled water to enhance overall color. Use scissors to remove any dead, dying or damaged plant parts that could foster problems in the future.

The rate succulents grow during the winter months will vary according to where you live, how warm your home is, and how much light they are provided. So long as they are not exposed to freezing temperatures you can count on enjoying them throughout this colder season.

When the growing season rolls around next year, these individually potted succulents reach a much greater size. Grow alone or group them in fresh color pots to re-create that coastal garden beauty without buying a whole new batch of plants next year.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at