The subject of how much sun succulents need is always a hot topic among succulent lovers, newbies and experts alike. How much is too much? Is morning sun ok but afternoon is a no no? Will my succulent die if it gets too much sun? What is the definition of full sun, partial sun, dappled sun, partial shade and full shade?
Photosynthesis is a process used by plants to convert ‘light energy’ (the sun) into chemical energy that can be released to fuel the plants’ growth. In low light, plants need to absorb maximum light for photosynthesis if they are to survive. In high light the plant needs to reflect some light for photosynthesis if they are to survive.
What is the definition of Full Sun/Partial Sun/Partial Shade/Dappled Sun & Full Shade?
Some succulents prefer full sun and some prefer partial shade, partial sun and a few prefer full shade, but what does this mean. I found the definition below on a gardening website which clarifies the meaning of these requirements.
- Full Sun means 6 full hours of direct sunlight. The six hours could be from 8 – 3 or 12 – 6; anytime during the day. The hours can also be three morning hours, plus three afternoon hours.
- Partial Sun / Partial Shade: These two are interchangeable to mean 3-6 hours of sunlight each day. While the terms are interchangeable, there is a default understanding. Partial shade refers to morning and early afternoon sun, while a plant listed as partial sun means relief from the intense late afternoon sun ie requires shade from a structure or a tree.
- Dappled Sun is similar to partial shade. The plants are getting partial sun as it makes it’s way through the branches of a tree.
- Full Shade means less than 3 hours of direct sun each day, best if it’s morning sun. But even in the absence of direct sunlight, full shade can be bright light. Plus, full shade likes a filtered sunlight the remainder of the day. Every plant needs some sun; even those that thrive in full shade.
The above would only be a guideline. This does not mean that if your succulent has more than 6 hours of sun you need to move it to shade or it will die. Some areas of my garden receive sun from early morning to late afternoon which is more than 6 hours. These have succulents growing and coping well with the large amount of sun they are receiving.
What is the different between morning and afternoon sun?
Many succulent enthusiasts advise that succulents prefer morning sun for optimum growth. I am unsure why exactly. From a Iayman’s point of view I would say that morning sun is less strong/vibrant than afternoon sun. Morning sun is less intense and less heat is generated from the sun in early morning. However, I have searched the internet and I am unable to find any science to explain the real difference between morning and afternoon sun. As per the previous paragraph ‘full sun’ can be 6 hours of sun whether it be in the morning or the afternoon.
E. Strawberry Heart
The succulents above have survived and thrived 6 hours of afternoon sun!
Can you tell by looking at the succulent if it will cope in full sun?
There are some succulents which have characteristics that give us a clue as to whether the plant will grow and cope with full sun. Succulents such as the Cotyledon Orbiculata, some Echeveria and some Kalanchoe have a waxy coating on their leaves. These succulents grown in full sun will produce copious quantities of the white waxy coating.The coating reflects a high percentage of the sun’s light. The coating is thicker in full sun and less so when not required. Similarly a coat of hairs on Sempervivum leaves protect the plant from a high percentage of the sun’s light. In general, plants that cope in full sun have small thick leaves as opposed to shade plants have large thin leaves.
Examples of succulents with waxy coating protectant
Can succulents get sunburn?
Yes succulents ‘can’ get sunburn! It looks exactly what you think it would look like – brown or black markings along the leaves that are facing the sun. The good news is that it will not ‘usually’ kill the plant, the succulent will recover. It happens when a succulent has been grown in the shade or partial shade and then moved to sun/full sun. The new leaves that are produced while in the sun position will cope with the sun and not get sunburn. When the leaves that have been burnt get older they will shrivel and die just like any other non sunburnt leaves on the plant.
This Sedum was sunburnt when i moved it to full sun. As you can see the leaves on the top are strong and healthy.
Some points to remember.
– Even though a succulent may be able to survive full sun be aware that air flow is very important.
– Succulents will adapt and evolve (acclimatise) according to the amount of sun/shade they receive.
– Plants can change their leaf angles and orientation in response to a change in sun conditions.
Being a lover of the hardier kinds of succulent, Sempervivum are certainly up there in my top 10. They are just as hardy as any Echeveria, Crassula or Agave succulent in my opinion. They can survive heat, drought, frost and general neglect and still look fabulous. In Europe their common name is House Leek, in the United States it is Hen & Chicks. Here are a few facts and pointers for the Sempervivum genus.
A member of the Crassulacae family Sempervivum are native to the mountains of central and southern Europe and can grow at 3000-8000 feet above sea level. There are about 50 different species. They vary in size, form and colour and grow in rosette formation. The name Sempervivum comes from the Latin words semper, meaning “always,” and vivus, meaning “living.” Which describes its everlasting nature. Pronounced: Semper Vee Vum.
Sempervivums come in many colours such as pink, orange, yellow, red, green and brown. To see its colour in full glory they need to grow in full sun. If not grown in full sun they will grow as green in colour. Mature plants can be from half an inch to 6 inches (1 to 15 cm) in diameter.
Even though Sempervivums are native to Europe which is not well known for its hot summers. Sempervivum cope, and dare I even say ‘love’, full sun. They do not need a lot of water and are drought tolerant. This is great news for hot Australian Summers, however I would be inclined to cover them if the temperature if forecast over 40C/104F as their leaves may get sun burnt. I would suggest that this would not kill the plant but probably just look a bit unsightly until the sun burnt leaves shrivel and drop off.
On the other side of the coin Sempervivum are one of the most frost resistant succulents. This would be due to their origins being in mountainous regions of Europe. They can survive in extremely cold temperatures, most will survive temperatures as low as -30F/-34C apparently.
Light and Water Requirements
Sempervivum can survive in full sun and tolerate drought conditions. They do not require a lot of water but can also survive a wet winter as long as they are growing in well drained soil or on a slope if grown in the garden. If grown in pots move them under the eaves of the house to avoid temperature fluctuations and avoid wet winters.
Some species of Sempervivum are…….. hairy. That is the only way to describe them. They have tiny white hairs growing along their leaves and also on the tip. This is the best way to distinguish a Sempervivum from any other rosette forming succulent. Only Sempervivum have these tiny hairs.
Hairs on Sempervivum
Sempervivum covered with cobwebs
Sempervivum Arachnoidium looks like it is covered in spiders webs. (see below). It is another amazing succulent. The cobweb starts off in the middle of the plant and eventually spreads to cover all leave in the rosette. It can then spread to cover the clump of Sempervivums.
Sempervivum Arachnoidium Pygmalion
Most Sempervivum are prolific at producing offsets which grow off the side of the parent plant and produce a large clump. However, some Sempervivum produce offsets on the end of long stems which are called ‘stolons’ these then set down roots at a distance from the parent plant. Once the roots have developed the plant can be grown independently from the parent plant.
Sempervivum Tectorum with stolons
Flowering – and the bad news
Flowers are shades of pink, red and sometimes yellow. If and when Sempervivum flower it happens in mid to late Summer. The bad news with regard to Sempervivum flowers is that Sempervivum succulents are monocarpic which means that the parent plant dies after flowering. It will shrivel and die. It can then be easily pulled out and this will allow room for the pups to spread. Sempervivums are perennials so they live for at least 3 years or more before they flower. Sempervivum flowers produce a star-shaped fruit containing seeds which can be collected and grown. See Post : Which succulents die after flowering?
In Europe Sempervivums were traditionally grown on roofs. They were thought to ward off evils spirits and raging storms. Below are a couple of examples from Pinterest. I assume they would need to be grown on a pitched roof for water to run off so as the roots are not sitting in water.
Being as hardy Sempervivum are they do not have many additional problems to deal with. Any succulent is prone to mealy bugs or powdery mildew and root rot from over watering.
I was shocked and a bit devastated when I found out that some succulents die after flowering. It’s not something you should blurt out to a novice succulent lover! But do not worry, of the thousands of different succulents there are only a very small number that are ‘monocarpic’.
Monocarpic plants flower, set seed and then die. Other words with the same meaning are hapaxanth and semelparous. However monocarpic is the term that is used to describe the succulent process. Probably because it is easier to say!
Monocarpic plants can be divided into annuals, biennials and perennials. Annuals flower and set seed in one year, biennials two seasons and perennials sometimes take many years to flower.
So the question is: how long does a succulent live before it flowers?? The good new is: Succulents that are monocarpic can still live a long life as they are perennials. Below are the succulents that I am aware are monocarpic.
Agave – Attenuata/Americana (Century Plant)
The above monocarpic Agave’s can take 10 -25 years before the parent plant flowers. When it is ready the plant uses all its energy to produce a thick stem which grows from the centre of the rosette in a relatively short period of time – sometimes less than a week. The stem can grow up to 2.5 metres (8 feet) high. The Americana (Century Plant) has a stem that can grow to 9 metres (30 feet). Once it flowers the parent plant will wither and die, Compared to other succulents the Agave parent plant can take months or even years to die. Agave pups grow along the stem of the flower, these can be harvested and replanted. Any pups that have grown off to the side of the plant will not die, only the rosette that has produced the flower stem.
Some, but not all, Agave are moncarpic.
All succulents in the Sempervivum genus are monocarpic. At first this made me think twice about buying Sempervivum succulents. Each rosette only flowers once and then dies. However, most species produce lots of offsets which makes up for any loss after flowering. It will take 3 to 4 years for the rosette to produce a flower and die, in this time the parent plant would have produced many pups/babies to continue on in your garden.
In Europe they are known as ‘houseleeks’ but in the USA Sempevervivum are known as Hen & Chicks. However, some people call the Echeveria genus Hen & Chicks as well. Thus, it can get very confusing and people think that their Echeveria succulents are monocarpic. It is ‘only’ Sempervivum Hen & Chicks which are monocarpic not Echeveria.
There are some Sempervivum and Echeveria that look very similar, they both have rosettes. If you think your succulent is a Sempervivum and it flowers – from the centre of the rosette- and does not die – suffice to say this is an Echeveria.
The photos of the sempervivum below show small offsets from the sides. These can be mistaken for flowers. They are not flowers but new plants/pups sprouting. When a Sempervivum flowers it is from the centre of its rosette, not to the side.
Some Aeonium will flower within two years while others may take 10-20 years before they flower. They die completely after flowering but before do they will have produced offsets as well as large numbers of seeds. Not all Aeonium die after flowering, but for the one’s that do it is too late for the plant once the flower stalk starts to develop.
I found this Aeonium (below) in a nursery. It looks very pretty, but as it was flowering I figured it wouldn’t have a very long life span in my garden if it was an Aeonium that was monocarpic! Something to be aware of for monocarpic succulents.
The Kalanchoe ‘Flapjack’ is a monocarpic plant, once the Kalanchoe flowers new “baby plants” can be seen at the base of the plant and along the flower stalk. They can easily be propagated from the stalk.
So, if you have any of the monocarpic succulents you should be prepared for its dramatic flowering death at some point!
In the Crassula family there are plants that closely resemble other plants leading to confusion. Echeverias are one of the most popular and beautiful succulents (see post: Echeveria Genus ) Often overlooked or simply confused with Echeverias are two other plants that look like Echeveria: Graptopetalums (see post: What is the difference between an Echeveria and Graptoveria succulent? ) and Pachyphytums. They have been hybridised with Echeveria and are called Graptoveria and Pachyveria. Pachyveria is a hybrid between Echeveria and Pachyphytum.
The word Pachyphytum comes from the Greek word ‘ thick leaves’. Their leaves are plumper than an Echeveria hence their name. Below are photos from Pinterest of some Pachyphytums.
Pachyphytums are similar to Echeveria. Other than their appearance they are also drought-tolerant, cope with winter rain and cold temperatures, tolerate full sun and poor soil. However, they are more delicate, their leaves can fall off with the lightest touch. The falling leaf will easily propagate. Like Echeveria they grow in clumps. Pachyphytum’s are also native to Mexico.
Below are photos of some Pachyveria from Pinterest. As you can see, to look at, some species are very similar to Echeveria. If the plant did not have an ID you may think it is an Echeveria. Also, it would not surprise me if it had been labelled incorrectly by the nursery or the store you are purchasing from.
Pachyveria Blue Haze
Pachveria Elaine Reinelt
The species traits that give away that it is a Pachyveria and not an Echeveria are:
– plump leaves. Blue Haze, and Haagei are good example of this.
– elongated leaves. Glauca and Haagei are good example of this.
What are the differences between an Echeveria and a Pachyveria?
– Pachyverias are more cold tolerant succulents enduring quite low temperatures compared to Echeveria
– Their leaves are more likely to fall off at a mere touch where most Echeveria are quite hard to pull off
What are the similarities to an Echeveria?
– their growing periods are in the summer
– they flower in spring/summer
– drought tolerant
– love full sun
– prefer well drained soil
– propagated by leaves
– native to Mexico
In conclusion, if you have a Pachyveria and you believe it is an Echeveria and you cared for it as you would an Echeveria it would not really make any difference. The plus side being that if there were some low temperatures that you were not expecting the Pachyveria would be less likely to be effected than an Echeveria would.
The only tip for when planting a Pachyveria in the garden would be not to plant them where they can easily be knocked by passing pets or humans as their leaves may be knocked off on a regular basis.
Lots of people keep their succulents in pots so they can control their environment. If you live anywhere in Australia you can grow almost any succulent in your garden. Landscaping with succulents is a great idea as once they have established they do not need a lot of attention. There are many more reasons to landscape with succulents ………
Succulents for all areas of the garden
There are hundreds of different succulent species and varieties available. There are succulents that grow and cope with full sun (see post : Which succulents survive in full sun? ). Succulents that grow in full shade. (see post: Which succulents grow in full shade? ) Succulents that cope with humidity. Succulents that can survive frost. (see post : Which succulents can survive frost? ) I think you get the idea. So wherever you live and whether you have a sunny or shady garden you can landscape with succulents.
Heights and Sizes
Succulents come in all shapes,sizes and colours. So if you require low growing ground cover or bushy succulents there should be one that suits your situation for full sun, full shade or part shade/part sun position. Remember to find out how large a succulent grows. Plant the larger growing succulents at the back of the garden bed so they do not shade the lower growing succulents in the front.
My front succulent garden with larger succulents at the back such as agave and a larger aloe. Smaller succulents at the front.
Mass plantings of any plant look great. However, mass planting of succulents looks amazing. Unless you buy succulents in bulk, which of course can be expensive you can start your mass planting with one plant and then use cuttings and offset plants to add to your mass planting. The photos below are from Pinterest of some examples of mass plantings of succulents.
Succulents are known as water wise plants but they also have fire retardant properties, so they are also fire-wise. Due to their ability to store water in the their leaves and stems succulents do not really burn – they cook, bake or boil but they do not burst into flames or spread flames. While succulents cannot stop a fire, they can help protect your property from embers and slow the passage of flames. This is a great reason to landscape with succulents. (see post: Fire-wise succulents – surviving a bush fire with a succulent garden! )
I built the Gabion wall below myself (ok with a little help from my husband-he cut the wire to size). The rest was all me. It took about 4 weekends. Along with my love for succulents I also admire gabion walls. The two look great together. I must admit the position of this gabion is not the best for succulents. The succulents only receive afternoon sun for a short while in the winter which is not really ideal. However, they have still increased in size and grown really well. A gabion has great drainage which succulents love.
Succulents love growing in walls
Below is another part of my garden that I used succulents. Many succulents grow in rock crevices in the wild. A wall is an ideal place to grow succulents due to the excellent drainage. The wall receives full afternoon sun so it will be interesting to see how they cope in the height of summer. I have used Echeveria as they have coped with full sun in my front garden.
This succulent wall is amazing but would take a lot of time and dedication. Pinterest photo.
Established Succulent Gardens
I found the following photos on Pinterest of established succulent gardens. They look amazing and its great to see that people do landscape with succulents. Succulents grow well with other succulents and also look great in mass plantings.
Tips for planting in the garden
When planting succulents in the ground make sure you plant them on a mound rather than in a depression as you would with a non succulent plant. This will ensure that rain will run off the mound rather than pool in the depression around the plant. Succulents can survive with a fair bit of rainfall as long as the water does not pool around the roots. (see post: Should I grow succulents in a pot or the ground? )