Succulent plants, like all plants, have seasonal growth patterns. Plants in this category come from numerous genera, and have a wider variety of forms, textures, and colors, but they can be divided into just two principal growth patterns: Winter Dormant (“summer growers”) and Summer Dormant (“winter growers”) (see lists at the end of this page).
It would be comforting to find that Winter Dormant succulents are native to the Northern Hemisphere and Summer Dormant plants are from the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s not that simple. It could be that growth patterns sometimes reflect a genus’s adaptation to its adopted environment.
In any event, a succulent plant’s growth cycle affects its need for water and its bloom period. These plants require minimal watering during their dormant period and will produce blossoms during their growth period.
If you have a large and varied collection of succulents, a good practice is to cluster separately the Winter Dormant and Summer Dormant plants, to simplify watering.
Except for their blossom periods, many of which are delightful but rather brief, succulent plants are favored mostly for the shape, texture, and color of their foliage, which changes little through the seasons, except for size.
Most popular plant genera have very specific annual cycles. Shows and sales of roses, irises, dahlias, tulips, daffodils, and amaryllis, for example, are very seasonal events. Succulent plant shows and sales, however, could occur at any time of the year.
In contrast, California’s cactus & succulent societies hold their sales during the period from April through September. These sales offer the greatest variety and best prices, but gardeners can find at least the more common plants at their local garden center throughout the year.
For local gardeners, important dates for cactus & succulent sales include the spring and fall events organized by the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. These occur each year in late April and late September or (this year) early October.
Another noteworthy occasion is the Succulent Extravaganza, presented with free admission by Succulent Gardens, a commercial entity. A highlight of this year’s event, on September 23 & 24, was Debra Lee Baldwin’s talk on “Bulletproof & Beautiful Succulents for your Garden.” Ms. Baldwin, called the Queen of Succulents, described a variety of attractive plants, emphasizing various forms of the genus Echeveria. I brought home an unusual and rare carunculated (warty) hybrid, Echeveria x Barbillion, which is shown by the accompanying photograph.
During our brief conversation, Debra Less Baldwin and I exchanged stories about “midnight acquisitions” of succulent plants from both public and private gardens. I’ll write on that topic in another column.
The next important opportunity for gardeners to build their succulent collections is the Fall Show & Sale of the Monterey Bay Area Cactus & Succulent Society. This event offers opportunities to talk with other gardeners who are enthusiastic about these plants and choose from an amazing array of small, inexpensive plants. There will also be a display of exceptional specimens, which you can vote on for a People’s Choice award, and a selection of unique containers that are right for artful presentation of succulent plants.
The following lists of Summer Dormant (Winter Growing) Succulents and Winter Dormant (Summer Growing) Succulents are extracted from The Highland Culture Guide, a web page provided by Highland Succulents, “Specialist Growers of Super Quality Succulent Plants since 1976.”
SUMMER DORMANT Usually referred to as the “winter growers”, these genera are dormant during the warmer months of May through August. Their primary growth actually occurs during autumn and spring while slowing considerably during true winter. Many will exhibit marginal growth during the summer months as well especially in the Lily and Crassulaceae families.
WINTER DORMANT This group is generally regarded as the “summer growers”. They have adapted to our northern hemisphere cycle and are dormant from November through February. Many of these will also enter pseudo rest period for a few weeks during the hottest part of the summer before putting on a final burst of growth in September and October.