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!

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
@sexysucculents_

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!

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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?

What’s the Difference: Soft vs Hard Succulents
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