What’s the Difference: Soft vs Hard Succulents

Did you know that some succulents can survive in extreme, below freezing temperatures? A few species of succulents can even be outside when it’s negative thirty degrees!

Some succulents can withstand cold winter weather, but others just can’t handle it. You may be wondering… why? Succulents have similar characteristics and adaptations, so why can’t they all brave the cold?

The answer is that some succulents have adapted to colder temperatures because they grow in harsh, alpine climates. This group of succulents is called hard or hardy succulents.

Succulents that are native to warmer, arid climates don’t do well in chilly weather. They’re called soft or tender succulents. They can die if you leave them out in the winter, so it’s important to figure out which type of succulent you have so you can prepare it for colder weather!

If you want to learn the complete differences between hard and soft succulents and figure out how to identify and care for your own plants, then keep on reading!

What Makes Succulents Soft?

Soft succulents are much more sensitive to frost than hard succulents because they’ve adapted to warm environments like deserts. So when temperatures drop below freezing, they don’t have the kind of adaptations that they need to deal with the cold.

If you’re worried that your plants will suffer any frost bite during the winter seasons, something like this may help as a temporary solution.

The water that’s stored in their cells actually starts to freeze when it gets too cold. If your plant stays outside long enough and fully freezes, its leaves will turn brown and get soft and mushy.

Sometimes you can save frozen succulents by pruning the brown, soggy parts, but some succulents sustain such extensive damage that they die. That’s why it’s important to figure out whether or not your outdoor succulent is soft, and bring it in for the winter if it is!

What Makes a Succulent Hardy?

On the other hand, hardy succulents won’t freeze if you leave them out in below freezing temperatures.

Most hardy succulents will be fine down to negative twenty degrees. A lot of them are from cold, mountainous regions, so they’ve adapted to winter weather much better than soft succulents. They’re tough little plants that can withstand a lot!

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Is Your Succulent Soft or Hard?

Unfortunately, you can’t really tell if a succulent is soft just by looking at it.

Soft succulents all have different appearances. Some have tender rosettes that look like they’d be damaged by frost, but others have spiky, rigid leaves that look like they should be able to withstand it. So if you make assumptions about your succulent’s cold hardiness based on its appearance, you might accidentally kill it!

Instead of going off appearance, you’ll have to do some research to learn which species are soft and which ones are hard. Some of the most common soft succulents are Echeverias, Aeoniums, Crassulas, Haworthias, and Senecios, but those aren’t the only ones. The most common kinds of hardy succulents are Sedums and Sempervivums.

Soft vs hard succulent plants
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What we like to do to figure out if our succulents are soft or hard is to look up which growing zones they do best in. The USDA has a plant hardiness map that divides the country up into different growing zones based on the coldest temperatures they experience during the winter. (It’s quite neat!)

You can enter your zip code on the USDA website to find out which growing zone you live in. Then you can look up your succulents and see which growing zones they’re best suited to.

If there’s a mismatch between your growing zone and the zones your plants prefer, then you’ll know you need to bring them inside for the winter!

If you can’t move your succulents inside try using some type of plant protective covering like this for a temporary solution.

How to Care for Succulents in Winter

If you have soft succulents, the best thing you can do is bring them indoors when it starts to get cold. We like to move our succulents inside in September. That way we know there’s no chance of our succulents getting damaged by the cold!

Here’s some cute owl planters we found perfect for the fall season when you bring in your succulents. If you get one of these please share it with us on Succulent Plant Lounge, people would love this!

Sunlight is Key!

Make sure that your outdoor succulents get plenty of light when you move them indoors. They’re used to more sun exposure than they’re likely to get indoors, so put them near the brightest window in your home to keep them healthy.

If you live in those places where the sun shines for less than 4 hours in a day, having a grow light might be your best bet during the winter season. Here’s an inexpensive grow light we found for you.

You should also water them less frequently than you did when they were outside. There’s less airflow inside because there’s no wind, so the soil dries out slower. Many soft succulents also stop growing during the winter and go dormant, which reduces their need for water.

So be careful with the watering can!

Hard vs soft succulent plants
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Watering During the Winter

Even though your hardy succulents can handle winter weather much better than your soft ones, there are still a few things you should do for them to keep them healthy through winter.

Succulents in pots are much less insulated from the cold than ones in the ground. If you can, try to transplant your potted succulents into the ground a few months before cold weather hits.

You should also be mindful of how much water your outdoor succulents are getting. If they’re cold and wet, you can run into some problems. Try not to water your succulents too much in the days leading up to a cold snap.

If the winters in your area tend to be cold and rainy rather than cold and snowy, you may want to put your succulents under a covered porch or the overhang of your roof.

Tip: Use this manual air duster to get some of the water off that is sitting like a pool of water. Protect your succulents!

Snow can actually insulate your succulents from the cold without making them too wet, so it’s ok to leave them uncovered during a snowstorm. Succulents that have to deal with cold weather and rain at the same time, though, have a much higher risk of rotting. So if your area gets cold, rainy winters, try to shelter your succulents from the rain as much as you can!


There you have it! That’s the difference between hard and soft succulents. If this post helped you figure out what kind of succulents you have, let us know in the comments below. Happy planting!

Calling all succulents lovers— rookie or veteran! Succulent City has developed a line of 12 ebooks (see here), ranging on topics from indoor & outdoor succulents, essential tools, the best soil to use, and more! We even threw in a complimentary ebook to help get your succulent journey started you just have to insert your email on our front page for this. With our ebooks you’ll be a succulent guru in no time, have fun!

Also, if you didn’t know. We have a Facebook Group where fellow succulent lovers chat with each other and help grow succulent plants together. Think you would like to join the conversation?

Comparison: Air Plants vs Succulent Plants

So you’ve just been at a store and bought a plant but can’t really tell whether it’s a succulent or an air plant. You’re not alone…

Every succulent enthusiast has been there. Hordes of plant lovers mistake air plants for succulents and we totally understand why.

Both have massive decorative powers adding a natural spice to your home décor design. Quirky and unusual in looks, you’d be forgiven to think they hail from a different planet.

Despite the confusion, there is a world of difference between succulents and air plants. Several factors differentiate the two, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, aren’t we? What exactly are air plants and succulents?

Differences Between Air Plants and Succulents

Tillandsia, commonly known as Air plants, get most of their nutrients from the air, which is the origin of their name. They are quite a sight to behold due to their beautiful appearance. They are very easy to maintain and up-keep making them the obvious choice for many environments like offices, schools, homes, restaurants and any other settings at all seasons.

If you want to brighten any area, then these beauties, which grow without dirt and come in various colors and sizes, will come in hand.

Air plants do not need soil to grow or depend on water like traditional plants. These make them a popular choice for indoor plants and home décor.

Air plants have thin, spiky, tendrils. Whereas succulents possess thickened and fleshy leaves or stems, a feature which helps them retain water. If you are a forgetful farmer, then these plants will do you service as they can survive in limited water areas for extended periods. They are easy to care for and to maintain and if well handled, succulents can brighten any indoor space and make it beautiful.

Succulents can be planted alone or with a combination of their peers to bring out a stunning look. They come in a variety of colors and an attractive quality which encourages you to touch them. These beauties do not attract bugs and it is very difficult for most of them to overgrow. Their leaves may be rounded, spiky, needle-like, ruffled or berry-like.

Distinguishing air plants from succulents can be quite confusing. If you’re in a quandary deciding whether to go for the alluring succulents or the delicate and wispy air plants, the following pointers will prove valuable.

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Air Plants

Air plants are a small group of plants made up of one genus known as Tillandsia. The genus has approximately 650 species all showing marked similarities in their phenotypes.

On the other hand, succulents are a much bigger and varied plant group. Although succulents are not recognized as a plant group on their own, they’re part of larger families in the plant kingdom. With about 25 families and tens of genera to choose from, succulents offer a wide variety for gardeners to choose from.

See a wide variety of popular succulent types here or check out the rare ones.

Growing Air Plants

Air plants are epiphytes, which means that they don’t need the soil of any kind for them to grow. Their roots are exposed and their main purpose is to attach or wrap themselves on objects to keep the plant from moving.

Since they do not need soil, all you have to do is soak them in a container of water for 30 minutes, then allow them to dry completely, preferably overnight, while placed upside down. Once dry, flip the plant to its right position then place it in its container.

On the other hand, succulents just like any other plant, need soil and water to grow. When growing them in pots, ensure that the pots have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain out.

Succulents also need direct sunlight to develop their best colors, therefore, ensure that wherever you place them, they can get access to a few hours of direct sunlight. A south or west facing window is your best bet when growing indoor succulents.

Read more in depth about how you can take care of your succulent plants.

Maintenance for Air Plants

Air plants are tough in nature which makes them pretty easy to care for and a good choice for a wide range of people. These low-maintenance plants do not need regular watering, which means you can water them once in a week.

To water them, soak them in water for anywhere between fifteen minutes and an hour, then allow them to dry completely before putting them back to their container. This is done to avoid molds.

On the other side of the ring, to keep your succulents healthy and happy, ensure that they get enough sunlight for about six hours in a day. Rotate them often so as to ensure that they get sunlight on all sides to avoid leaning on one side. They tend to lean towards the sun – a phenomenon popularly known as etiolation.

They do not need to be watered too often since they have water-storage tissues which store water for a long time. However, if the weather is too dry, you may need to increase the frequency of watering. Ensure that before watering, the soil is dry as too much water can kill the plant. The best soil to use is commercial cacti mix which is well-draining to ensure the plants don’t sit on wet soil for a long time. They hate it.

(If you want to see more gold tinted planters like the picture above, view more here).

Colors of Air Plants

Depending on species, air plants come in a variety of colors. A certain species can also have a variety of colors, so the color range is almost endless! Although air plants are typically green in color, they have beautiful multi-colored hues. Some of the colors include bright red color, violet, deep burgundy, deep red and more.

The colors change depending on factors like sunlight and lifecycle.  Indirect sunlight is the best for air plants and the gentle morning sunlight, which is diffused by the clouds, encourage color changes.  These plants change colors during their lifecycle as they bloom and most of them change colors as they start to bloom.

Succulent plants come in a variety of colors and you can mix them to create a stunning appearance in your space. Some of the colors you can find include blue-green, variegated, white, chartreuse, red, burgundy, pink, yellow almost black, and more. To get your succulent plant to produce better colors, ensure that they get enough sunlight.

Watering Air Plants

Contrary to the thought that air plants do not need water, they actually need some water as to have the right moisture for their leaves.  You can water your air plant through misting, where you use a spray bottle to sprinkle water on the plants every two days.

The other method (better) is to soak the air plants in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes.  After watering, allow the plant to dry before putting it back to its container.

While air plants have to be dipped in water and soaked, succulents only take up water from the soil. An excellent way to do this is by using the “soak and dry” method. Simply let loose a deluge and let the excess water drain off. Good thing most pots have drainage holes, so the excess water runs out without much fuss. Do not water them again until they are completely dry.

Houseplants are a great way to liven up homes and while there are many options to choose from, succulents and air plants are top on the list.

They are both low- maintenance, easy to up-keep plants which make them ideal for a majority of people. They are hard to kill and easy to use on a variety of spaces to provide a beautiful look and feel. What’s more, you can have these plants together, as the air plants only require a place to wrap their roots around for support.

Air plants can be displayed is diverse ways like hanging from the ceiling, on branches of larger houseplants, on driftwood, on the walls like art, and many more ways. Succulents can only be grown on soil which means they have to remain upright, though you can place them in different parts of the house.

Whether you’re an air plant or succulent plant fan, we hope you realize some of the major differences between these two plants now after reading this article.

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Enjoyed learning about Air Plants vs Succulent plants? If so, you’ll really enjoy the ebook about All the Types of Succulents for Indoor & Outdoor. With this ebook you’ll find yourself more detailed answers that’ll help your succulent grow even better! With thousands of succulent lovers enjoying our ebooks, you don’t want to miss out on what works the best to grow your succulents.

Please let us know what you’re favorite is. And like always, happy planting!

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