There are a few reasons why your succulent leaves have turned brown. The first and most common is that the older leaves on the underside of the plant have died. The second is that the leaves have sun burn.
Why are the leaves dying on the bottom of my succulent?
It is natural for leaves to die on any plant and is part of the cycle of the plant as it makes way for new growth. On a succulent they are on the underside/outside of the plant. Succulents naturally grow new leaves from their centre. Once they have turned brown and dried they can be gently pulled off. You can also snip them off with a pair of secateurs. Secateurs are required for succulents such as Agave as their leaves stay firmly attached to the stem of the plant. If you do not pull/snip the leaves off they will eventually dry and fall off by themselves and rot into the soil/ground. The benefits of pulling them off, when they are ready, is two fold. Firstly, they can be unsightly so the look of the succulent is much more pleasing. Secondly, without the dead leaves, there is better air flow to the underside of the plant and this discourages any bugs/diseases to take up residence. It also makes more room for new plants (pups) to grow.
Examples of dead leaves on underside of succulents.
Examples of dead leaves on underside of succulents.
Why are there brown patches on my succulent leaves?
If you’ve recently purchased a succulent and have had it for a week (or less) and the plant suddenly has brown patches on the leaves – do not worry. This is probably sun burn on the leaves. Many succulents are propagated under shade cloth and therefore used to these growing conditions. If the succulent is then put in direct sun, the leaves (which are not used to direct sun) can then burn. See below for two examples of sun burnt leaves.
The leaves which have been burnt cannot be repaired. However, most succulents will enjoy the direct sun and in time become used to it. As long as you can see new growth in the middle of the plant then the succulent will survive. Eventually the sun burnt leaves will mature, turn brown and drop off. As per the above paragraph.
If your succulent looks similar to the one below this is not good. It is a dead succulent and there is nothing you can do. If you are unsure what went wrong read the following posts which may identify the reason: Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part 1 and Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part II.
If the leaves turn any other colour such as yellow/orange and feel quite spongy this means the plant has probably been over watered. These leaves will fall off very easily. It may be too late for the succulent. The best remedy for this is to stop watering or to move the pot under the eaves if it is Winter and getting too much natural rainfall.
Echeveria Agavoides is a succulent that is readily available in our local hardware stores. It is a relatively common species of the Echeveria genus. It is native to the rocky areas of Mexico, therefore does not like a lot of water, can grow well in full sun and is drought tolerant. There are a few different species – Red Edge and Lipstick are the most common.
It grows to about 8–12 cm (3–5 in) tall, 7–15 cm (3–6 in) in diameter. They will grow easily in well drained soils in full sun or partial shade. Perfect for rock gardens. They can be propagated by stem or leaf cuttings. Mature plants can produce offsets (pups) which can be transplanted. They do not produce as many pups as other species of Echeveria. Agavoides has crimson/red tips which are more prominent when grown in full sun. They have the usual echeveria flowers – a pinky orange colour on long stems.
Without sun they are 100% green without any crimson/red tips. The following plant was totally green when I purchased it. It now spends approximately 3 hours of full sun during the day but only has tiny crimson tips. I have purchased another specimen to plant in full sun for most of the day to see if the colour is more prodominent.
When I bought the Agavoides below it was light green and healthy. I believe it was grown predominantly in shade. I placed it in a sunny position which received full sun in the afternoon. A week later it looked quite ill. If I was a novice with succulents I would have thought it was dying and thrown it out. The leaves on the plant were/are sun burnt as it was not used to full sun. As there are new leaves forming in the middle of the plant (as you can see in the photo) then the succulent will survive.
Echeveria Agavoides – full sun has burnt the outer leaves.
If water sits in the rosette(middle of the plant) for too long (days) this can cause problems with fungal disease or rot the plant. As with all succulents Agavoides can be attacked by mealy bugs. If the plant has been growing in partial shade and moved to a full sun position the leaves will burn but it should recover within a few months, as per the photos below.
Looking healthy but with no red tips.
One week later, burnt leaves after growing in the afternoon sun.
Four months later after growing in afternoon sun- looking fabulous
This is another Echeveria species, like Echeveria Black Prince that is hardy, can be grown in full sun or partial shade and is readily available in hardware stores. (see post: Echeveria Black Prince Succulent )
I have often wondered whether I should fertilise my succulents but have never really bothered to do so. It is a question that many succulent lovers would ask themselves. Plants can grow without any fertiliser, my garden has survived 20 years without regular applications of fertiliser. The occasional watering with some Seasol (seaweed solution) when I remember is the only additional fertiliser they received. They receive some natural fertiliser as possum poo is a regular addition to my soil.
To fertilise or not to fertilise?
There are positives and negatives for fertilising.
Here are some positives.
- Succulents can benefit from regular fertilising, as with all plants succulents use nutrients to help them grow.
- They can get nutrients from the soil. However, as they are succulents they generally need less fertiliser and not as often as other plants.
- Fertiliser can help them to grow and produce more vibrant colours.
- Fertiliser can also help your succulents to flower profusely.
Here are some negatives.
- Fertiliser causes succulents to grow more quickly which can cause stretching if the succulent isn’t getting enough light.
- If you use a fertiliser that is too strong it can burn the succulent.
- Succulents are, by nature, slow growing, fertiliser will not speed that up.
example of stretched (etiolated) succulent
If I do fertilise how often should I do it?
Generally fertilising once per year in Spring should be enough. For many succulents this is the beginning of their growing season so this is a good time to fertilise. However, some succulents which have their growing season in the Winter should be fertilised in Autumn.
Succulents grow in stone crevices!
Succulents grow in stone crevices, sandy soils, paths and in rockeries where there is hardly any soil. Succulents are tough plants that can survive without the luxuries of the plant world. Yes succulents will do well with some fertiliser but they will survive without it and probably be a lot hardier because of the lack of it.
I doubt these succulents received any fertiliser
So if you want to fertilise your succulents make sure you check out the best type at your local nursery or hardware store. If you do not want to fertilise them they will be fine without it I have used Seasol (seaweed concentrate) on my succulents on occasion which is not ‘by definition’ a fertiliser but more of a plant tonic. It can help the plants roots growth and help plants cope with stress.
It is great to know that if you want a garden full of succulents that there are plants for every area. Whether it be sun or shade, or a bit of both. Succulents are a great plant to grow under a tree because they can grow well in the shade. Succulents grown in the shade need even less water than those grown in the sun.
In general, succulents grow the best in the sun for at least part of the day; many will get leggy and weak (etiolated) and will not flower without at least six hours of sun; some are more colourful and flower with eight or more hours of direct sun.
However, some will scorch in the intense heat of full sun; these need to be shaded from mid-day from afternoon sun. Some will cope with growing in full shade.
One of the few Agaves that can thrive in shade is the Agave Attenuata – also known as Foxtail. They are amazing and versatile as they can thrive in full sun as well. One point to note: if your Agave is growing happily in the shade if you move it to full sun it will look a unwell at first and would take a while (a few months) to adjust to being in full sun.
This agave has grown from a small pup in full shade.
Crassula Ovata (Jade Plant) grows very well in the shade and is a lovely deep green colour due to the lack of sun. Crassula is one of those succulents that you can snap off a piece and stick it in the ground and it will start growing without any care or attention. It also looks great when it flowers every year.
Crassula Ovata grown in the shade.
Flowering Crassula Ovata
Crassula Ovata grown in the sun.
Even though Aeoniums prefer some sun I have grown them successfully in the shade. They are not keen on hot Summers so if they have shade in the Winter and a bit of dappled sun in the Summer this is perfect for them.
Grown in full shade this Aeonium Aboreum has survived a long hot Summer and dry Autumn.
Grown in 90% sun. A hot Summer and warm Autumn with minimal rain- not looking too good!
Haworthia grow in a rosette of spiky, chubby foliage, and form a clump of smaller rosettes. They prefer to be grown in the shade, however, it should be bright light shade rather than deep darker shade. They are great plants to grow inside on a bright windowsill or light room. If they get too much sun they turn orange.
This Haworhia has grown in my well lit bathroom for the past six months.
There are a lot of succulents that can be grown in the shade, the succulents above are only a few that I have had success growing in the shade. Succulents that prefer the sun ‘can’ be grown in the shade but they will not be as healthy as if grown in the sun. Succulents are very adaptable so if you want to try growing a succulent in the shade do so, You will know if the succulent has too much shade as it will start to stretch (etiolate) and possibly change colour. Cutting/pruning it back and putting it in the sun should bring the succulent back to its correct shape and colour.
Every garden in Australia (and the Southern Hemishphere) would have a full sun area. Full sun can mean temperatures getting up to over 50ºC (122ºF) for more than a few hours. There are succulents that can survive these sorts of conditions; which is why I love succulents. As I’ve mentioned in other posts not all succulents will survive full sun, they require some shade or their leaves tend to get sun burnt.
A number of succulents produce a waxy or powdery sun-protecting coating, often in delicate shades of pink, blue or pale lavender. It is called ‘farina’.It’s thought to be the plant’s natural protection from strong sun (like their natural sunscreen).. This coating will rub off at the slightest touch revealing the green photosynthesising surface underneath. Try not to rub the leaves as the farina will rub off very easily and it will lose its protective coating.
The following succulents ‘have’ survived full sun in my garden. They have survived heatwaves of 3 days or more, which means 40ºC+ (104ºF) heat.
I know this is a common favourite among succulent lovers and I can see why. They are one of the prettier types of succulents with their gorgeous rosettes, they are quite hardy, do not need much water and YES they love full sun. They are also very photogenic as you can see below. There are lots of different types and forms of this amazing succulent. When they are growing in ideal conditions they will produce ‘pups’ – little babies that grow to the side of the parent plant. They are low growing but eventually they will spread and form a beautiful carpet across your garden. All of the Echeveria below have grown in full sun during this Summer through several heat waves. Some echeveria have a wax or powdery layer on the leaves, this is a natural protection against the sun so try not to touch it or wipe it off.
There are some very hardy Crassula succulents. The most common one is the Crassula Ovata – Jade plant. Hardy to me – meaning they love full sun. They also cope with some shade. In full sun they have orange tipped leaves, in shade they are mostly green. There are some interesting varieties. I love the Crassula Aborescens – or Ripple Jade that looks like a lettuce (to me). See below photo on the left.
I have had varying results with the Agave Attenuata in my garden. Yes they definitely love full sun. However, they sometimes take a few years to really grow well in a full sun position. Once established however, they do very well. I have also had success growing Agave Attenuata in full shade.
Another succulent that is hardy, loves full sun and is also spectacular is the Aloe succulent. They come in many shapes and sizes with the most common being the Aloe Vera. There are some large Aloe succulents and some smaller varieties.
The Kalanchoe species is another succulent that can survive in full sun. They flower prolifically in the Winter and come in lots of different colours. This is another succulent that you can snap a piece off and stick it in the ground and it will sprout roots and grow.
Aeonium Aboreum cope very well in full sun. However, take note that this succulent has its growing period in the winter and is dormant in the summer. So it will look very different in the summer but will survive full sun heat wave.
Succulents in pots will not tolerate full sun as well as succulents in the ground!
These are a few of the succulents that I grow in my garden that love full sun conditions. Keep in mind that sun tolerance in a pot is much less than in the ground. The soil in your pot heats up on hot days and it can be fatal for plants. Even when air temperatures are mild, pots standing in full sun become hot. The temperature of potting mix inside a pot can be 10 degrees or more above the air temperature. The roots in pots cannot cope in extreme temperatures and die. Keep this in mind when you buy a new succulent in a black plastic pot from the nursery.
The succulents that love full sun also do not require a lot of water. That is a win win situation. They can make do with annual rainfall or a good watering if you get the time.
Agave Attenuata – The Big Boys of Succulents
Can Succulents survive heatwaves?
Do Succulents really prefer Sun?