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Cool weather brings out the stress colors

If you’re a succulent lover, you know that these unique and drought-tolerant plants are a great addition to any home or garden. But how much sun do succulents actually need? The answer may surprise you.

In general, succulents need plenty of sun to thrive. In fact, most species of succulents prefer bright, indirect lighting and will do best when placed in a location that gets at least 6 hours of indirect sun per day. This means that a south- or west-facing window is often the ideal spot for your succulents.

But what about those species of succulents that are labeled as “full sun” plants? While it’s true that some succulents can handle direct sun, it’s important to remember that even these sun-loving species need a little bit of shade. Too much direct sun can actually cause your succulents to become sunburned, leading to unsightly brown patches on the leaves.

So, how can you ensure that your succulents are getting the right amount of sun? Here are a few tips:

  • Monitor your succulents regularly to see how they are responding to their lighting levels. If the leaves are starting to stretch or become discolored, it may be a sign that they are not getting enough sun.

  • Avoid placing your succulents in low-light areas, such as north-facing windows or dark corners of the room. These locations may not provide enough sun for your plants to thrive.

  • If you live in a climate with very hot, direct sun, consider providing your succulents with some shade during the hottest parts of the day. This can help prevent sunburn and keep your plants looking their best.

Overall, succulents are tough and adaptable plants, but they do need plenty of sun to thrive. By following these tips, you can ensure that your succulents get the sun they need to grow and flourish.

So, how much light DO succulents need?

Short answer is that the light that succulents need depends on a few things and not every succulent can handle the same amount of sun. Real helpful, huh?

Read on to find out what it looks like when succulents need more light. 

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How to Acclimate Your Succulents to Brighter, More Direct Light

When transitioning succulents from one light condition to another, it’s important to do so slowly to avoid shocking the plant. Here are some tips for acclimating your succulents to their ideal brightness conditions:

  1. Gradually increase light exposure: Start by placing the succulents in a spot with indirect light and gradually move it to a spot with more direct light over the course of a week or two. This will give the succulents time to adjust to the change in brightness intensity.

  2. Monitor for signs of stress: Keep an eye out for signs of stress in your succulents, such as yellowing leaves or wilting. If you notice any of these signs, move the plant back to a spot with less light.

  3. Provide shade: If you’re moving a plant from a low light environment to a high light environment, provide the plant with some shade during the transition period. This will help prevent sunburn and other damage caused by too much direct sunlight.

  4. Give the succulents time: It can take several weeks or even months for a plant to fully acclimate to its new light conditions. Be patient and give your succulents the time they need to adjust.

  5. Keep an eye on the humidity: Transitioning to a new light environment can also affect the humidity in the room. Keep an eye on the humidity levels and adjust the humidity accordingly to prevent any issues.

By following these tips, you can help your succulents make a smooth transition to their ideal brightness conditions and keep them healthy and happy for years to come.

Portulacaria pink 1

Aim for about 6 hours of sunlight every day to start

Etiolated variegated echeveria subsessilis/desmetiana needs more light
This echeveria is in the early stages of etiolation. The bottom leaves are bending down. This is reversible by giving it more light.
Now you can see where they got the nickname moonstone succulent 1

Six hours would be the median amount of time your succulents should be getting direct sun in order to stay healthy. Some like more, some like less. Get to know your plants and observe them to learn what kind of sun requirements they have. 

Succulents need lots of light for photosynthesis whether it is from the sun or from supplemental grow lights. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert sunlight into energy.

Learning how much sun to give your succulents is a process of trial and error. Do observe your succulents and learn the signs that they’re not getting enough sun. As soon as you see one of those signs, adjust the lighting situation by moving the succulent to a different location.

Another thing to observe and learn is the sun exposure of different parts of your yard or house so you have an idea of where to move your succulents when they’re telling you they need more or less sun. 

Aeoniums need some hours of direct sunlight
Many succulents have evolved a specialized form of photosynthesis known as crassulacean acid metabolism 1
Severely etiolated echeveria bluebird
This echeveria 'blue bird' is completely unrecognizeable because it has been deprived of adequate sunshine for way too long underneath a shelf.
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What exactly IS bright, indirect light?

Bright, indirect sun refers to light that is bright and intense, but not direct or harsh. It is typically found in locations that are near a window or other source of natural light, but that are not directly in the sun’s rays.

For example, a room with large windows that face east or west is often a good source of bright, indirect sun. The sun’s rays will be filtered through the window glass, providing plenty of sun without being too harsh or direct. Similarly, a location that is shaded from direct sun but still receives plenty of reflected light, such as a porch or patio, can also provide bright, indirect sun.

Bright, indirect sun is ideal for most plants, including succulents, as it provides the intensity of light needed for photosynthesis without the risk of sunburn or other damage. If you’re not sure if a location has bright, indirect sun, you can try the “shadow test”: if your shadow is shorter than you are tall, the location is receiving direct sun; if your shadow is taller than you are, it is receiving indirect light.

 

Aeoniums can be propagated by cuttings or by removing offsets from the base of the plant 1

Signs That Your Succulents Aren't Getting Enough Light

When a succulent doesn’t get enough sun, a few things can happen as a natural response to light deprivation. This is called etiolation. Below are the characteristics of an etiolated succulent.

Etiolated echeveria chroma succulent plant
This echeveria 'chroma' could definitely use some more light. It has completely lost its compact rosette shape.
Cactus and succulent fertilizer 1
  1. It’s color will become less vibrant and more pale. (Reversible)

  2. Leaves will bend downwards to increase the amount of surface area exposed to light. (Reversible)

  3. The main stem will elongate or curve in order to reach more light. You may have heard people refer to leggy succulents and this is what they mean by that. (NOT Reversible)

When succulents get too tall
When can i put my succulents outside

Pale Color

An etiolated succulent is also often paler than its well lit counterpart. This is because less light means less photosynthesis and less chlorophyll production which produces the deep coloring.

This can be reversed by giving your succulent more light gradually so it doesn’t burn.

Stretched out echeveria olivia succulent plant
See how long the stem of this graptoveria 'olivia' has gotten?
Learn the best practices when caring for pachyphytum oviferum moonstone succulent 1

Leaves Bending

Leaves bending down or flattening is usually the first sign that a succulent is not getting enough light. This is especially noticeable in rosette shaped succulents like echeveria or sempervivum. Their reaction is to increase the amount of exposed surface area in order to receive more light.

This can be reversed by giving your succulent more light by gradually moving it to a sunnier location or by using a grow light.

Be aware of which types of plants are safe for your furry friend 1

Stretching

Another way succulents show that they’re not getting enough light is by stretching. Some succulents are naturally “leggy” so if you’re not sure, just look up the name of your succulent and you’ll be able to see what they should look like if given proper light conditions. When starved for light, succulent stems will elongate rapidly to reach a light source.

The stem grows faster than the plant can create new leaves, so there’s lots of extra space between leaf sets or nodes. This also allows more light to penetrate between the leaves. While all of this new, quick growth may look neat, the plant is weaker and unhealthy. 

Stretching cannot be reversed so it is important to know what the first 2 signs look like in order to avoid the stretching.

Aeoniums are more tolerant of cooler temperatures and can handle a light frost 1

Etiolated plants are not thriving. They are weaker than their appropriately lit counterparts because their energy is being used to search for a light source rather than grow as nature has intended. Their leaves are also smaller because they simply don’t have the energy to make bigger leaves.

Etiolated plants are thus, more susceptible to opportunistic bacterial and fungal diseases. They are also more susceptible to mealy bugs. Why? Mealy bugs LOVE new growth and etiolated plants have lots of that. 

String of dolphins gets flat to increase the light catching surface area.
String of dolphins gets flat to increase the light catching surface area.
How to take care of succulents

What is Etiolation?

Etiolation refers to the process of a plant becoming elongated and spindly due to a lack of sun. This can occur when a plant is grown in low sun conditions or when it is partially shaded.

As a plant grows, it relies on the sun to produce energy through photosynthesis. When a plant is not getting enough light, it will stretch and become thin in an attempt to reach the light source. This can cause the plant to become weak and prone to falling over.

Etiolation can also cause the plant to produce fewer leaves and flowers, as it lacks the energy it needs to produce these structures. In severe cases, etiolation can even cause the plant to die.

To prevent etiolation, it is important to provide your plants with adequate sun. This will allow them to grow strong and healthy, producing plenty of leaves and flowers.

Sedum clavatum prefers full sun on the coast and light shade inland 1

How to fix an etiolated succulent

Etiolated echeveria blue bird
Echeveria 'blue bird' showing the first signs of etiolation with its bottom leaves bending down to create more light catching surface area.
Echeveria blue bird succulent propagation 1

Another option is to prune your succulent to remove the leggy growth. Simply use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or a knife to cut off the elongated stems at the base. This will encourage the plant to produce more compact, bushy growth.

It’s important to note that pruning your succulent may cause it to stop flowering for a while. However, once the plant has had a chance to regrow, it should start flowering again.

Artichoke agave succulent 1

Behead the leggy succulent and replant the top because it won’t shrink back down to normal size. If the lighting situation doesn’t improve, the new growth will continue to etiolate and further weaken the succulent.

Give it the appropriate amount of light for the new growth to come in compact. 

To fix this, you can try moving your succulent to a location with more light. A south- or west-facing window is often a good choice, as these locations tend to receive plenty of bright, indirect sunlight.

Finally, you can also try fertilizing your succulent to encourage more compact growth. Use a balanced succulent fertilizer according to the package instructions, and be sure to water your plant regularly to keep the soil evenly moist. With the right care, your succulent should start producing more compact, healthy growth in no time.

Should you repot succulents when you buy them

You might also be watering your succulents too much.

Etiolated succulents grow really fast. Could your watering habits be contributing to etiolation? If you have etiolated succulents, try holding back their water to slow the stretching. 

See my Guide to Watering Succulents So They Don’t Die

How to get pink succulents 1

Signs your succulents are getting TOO MUCH light

Sunburn damage on an echeveria afterglow
This echeveria 'afterglow' has sunburn damage on its leaves after i didn't acclimate it to full, direct sunlight slowly enough.
Variegated agave plant 1

If your succulent gets too much sun, too quickly, it will burn. You’ll see rough, brown patches on the leaves which were previously beautiful and unblemished.

Sunburn on succulents is physical damage that can’t be reversed. You’ll just have to wait for it to grow out. 

In the meantime, protect your succulent from further sun damage by putting it under an umbrella. Sun damaged succulents are more susceptible to pests and diseases because that tissue has become weakened. 

Succulent adaptations allow them to thrive in harsh conditions 1

While succulents are known for their ability to tolerate hot, dry conditions, they can still be damaged by too much sun. Most species of succulents prefer bright, indirect light and will do best when placed in a location that gets at least 6 hours of indirect sun per day.

However, it’s important to remember that even “full sun” succulents need a little bit of shade. Too much direct sun can cause the leaves to become sunburned, leading to unsightly brown patches on the plant. In extreme cases, too much sun can even cause the plant to die.

To prevent sunburn, it’s a good idea to provide your succulents with some shade during the hottest parts of the day, especially if you live in a climate with very hot, direct sun. This can help keep your plants looking their best and prevent damage to the leaves.

In general, it’s a good idea to monitor your succulents regularly to see how they are responding to their sun levels. If the leaves are starting to stretch or become discolored, it may be a sign that they are not getting enough sun. On the other hand, if the leaves are starting to look sunburned, it may be a sign that they are getting too much sun. By paying attention to your plants and providing them with the right amount of sun, you can help them thrive.

Select a healthy succulent 1

What succulents look like when they haven't gotten enough light.

Succulents grow light 1

Bringing Out the Best in Your Succulents: Sun-Stressing 101

Have you ever seen succulents outside with bright, beautiful colors? This is because of something called sun-stressing. This is when a plant is exposed to a lot of sunlight and heat, which causes a special pigment called anthocyanin to activate. This pigment helps protect the plant from the sun’s harmful rays and makes it turn red or yellow. But, how can we do this safely for our succulents?

To start off, when putting your succulents outside, it’s best to put them in a bright spot but not in direct sunlight for a week or so. This will help them get used to the change. After that, you can move them into morning sunlight for a few hours a day for a few more days before finally putting them in full sun. You should start to see color in your succulents after a week or so. Remember, succulents like cacti and those that come from dry, hot places are best for this type of treatment.

It’s important to keep in mind that your succulents will need more water when they are outside because the sun and wind dry them out faster. But, too much water can also be bad for them. They are used to dry conditions.

Another thing to keep in mind is that as the weather gets cooler in the fall, your succulents might turn even more colorful. Just remember to bring them inside when the temperature drops below 45-50°F.

Succulents are able to survive prolonged periods of drought by going into a state of dormancy 1
Stressed red tips from anthocyanin production

It’s important to keep an eye on your succulents while they are being sun-stressed. If the colors look washed out or the leaves have burns or look crispy, it means they are getting too much sun and should be moved to a shadier spot.

Overall, sun-stressing is a great way to bring out the best colors in your succulents but it’s important to do it safely by gradually moving them into the sun and keeping an eye on them.

Can i repot a stressed succulent 1
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