Surprisingly, it does not take much for a succulent to get sun burnt! There are a few reasons why and how your succulent could/would get sun burnt and there are a few things you can do if it does.
It was not that hot and my succulent still got sun burnt!
If you move a succulent into a sunny position from its usual shadier spot there is a very high chance that the leaves will get sun burnt. Of course there are variables to consider. Summer sun is a lot stronger than winter sun, so should you move your succulent to a sunnier position in the winter chances are they will enjoy the sun and be fine but should you move your succulent to a sunnier position in late spring or summer the end result could be sun burn. It really depends on the intensity of the sun.
My brand new succulent got sun burnt as soon as I put it in the sun!
Keep in mind that succulents grown in nurseries are grown under shade cloth. This is how all succulents are propagated and grown. Even a baby succulent offshoot/pup grows in the shade of the parent plant until it is old/strong enough to survive the strong rays of the sun. So if you purchase a new succulent and put the plant in the sun there is 90% chance that the leaves will get sun burnt. Every succulent that I buy I put straight into the sun knowing this will happen, but I know that in the end the succulent will be stronger and used to growing in the sun (assuming it a succulent species that likes sun). It can actually take a few months for the succulent to acclimatise and during this time can look a bit worse for wear but I believe it is worth it.
Above are a few of my succulents that were sun burnt this summer.
If you do not want your succulent to get sun burnt but ultimately would like your succulent to grow in a full sun position you need to start the plant off in a semi-shaded position and gradually allow the plant to receive more sun (time) as it matures.
My succulent suddenly has sun burnt leaves and I did not move it into the sun?!?!
If you are growing your succulent in a half shade/half sun position and one day (during summer) you find the leaves have sun burn this would probably because it was a very hot day (ie 40c/104F) and the intensity of the sun was stronger than the succulent was used to, The heat of the sun on these hot summer days will easily burn your succulent’s leaves.
What can I do about my sun burnt succulent?
Leave the burnt leaves on the plant.
There are a few things that you can do about your sun burnt leaves. Sun burnt leaves do not look at all attractive and the first thing you will want to do is to get rid of them. However, if you are experiencing a heatwave or know there is more hot weather on the way and you are unable to move your succulent to a shadier position (as it may be planted in the ground!) then it is best to leave the sun burnt leaves on the plant. They will protect/shade the lower leaves on the plant below that did not get sun burnt.
Cut the burnt leaves off the plant.
Yes you can carefully snip out the sun burnt leaves to make the succulent look nice again, this will not be detrimental to the plant. Usually the leaves that get sun burnt are the outer leaves so they should be fairly easy to access.
If you leave your sun burnt leaves on the plant they will eventually complete their natural cycle and go brown, dry up and drop off the plant in due course.
Will my sun burnt succulent die?
No it will not! Usually only a few leaves will burn. The new leaves forming in the centre of the succulent actually look amazingly healthy in comparison. Conversely, you would expect the new (inner) leaves to be burnt and the older leaves (to the outer edge of the plant) to survive. This is not the case, the succulent is preparing its new growth for the hotter more intense sun. The older leaves have not been prepared for these conditions and have not been grown to cope with the sun’s intensity – this is why they burn.
What can I do to prevent sun burn?
You can protect your succulents from sun burn by moving them into the shade when it is a hot day out of the intense heat from the sun. So either move your pots into the shade for the duration of the heatwave or if they are planted in the garden cover them with some shade cloth. This will deflect some of the intensity of the sun.
The answer to the question – which locations do succulents thrive in – is : any and all locations! There are so many succulents that there will always be a species that will thrive in a location in your garden.
If you are a succulent novice or a well seasoned succulent gardener there will always be a new succulent that you acquire that you will be uncertain about which location to put it in. Does it cope with full sun, is it a shade lover?
If the succulent you buy comes with an ID tag (that’s if you are very lucky) its possible it ‘might’ give you a ‘vague’ idea of the sort of growing conditions the succulent would thrive in. General suggestions like ‘full sun’ or partial shade’, ‘fertilise in spring’. They are generalised by the nursery for all plants that they grow. For further explanation on some of these see: (How much sun do succulents need? Morning or Afternoon? Full or Part? )
This ID tag contradicts itself – may tolerate dryness but the soil must not dry out! – not helpful!
But how will you know if your succulent is just surviving or if it is thriving?
Signs that your succulent is just surviving.
There are signs that will tell you that your succulent is not doing well. Such as, stretching (etoliation) from not enough sun/light, wilting leaves from over watering, puckered leaves from under watering and burnt leaves from too much sun. It is surviving but not as well as it could. These signs do not mean that it is dying but it could be doing a lot better in a different location.
Stretching succulents: If your succulent is not receiving enough sun/light and is stretching then it needs to be moved straight away into a position that gives it more light. Stretching (also known as etoliation) is not reversible, the only remedy is to prune the plant back so that it can start again in its new sunnier position where it wont stretch and will grow compact and healthy.
This is an example of an etioliated/stretched succulent. Tall and lanky rather than short and compact.
Burnt leaves: If your succulent has burnt leaves it may be because it has been previously grown in a part sun/part shade situation at the nursery. The good news is that having burnt leaves will not kill a succulent, once the burnt leaves become the oldest leaves they will shrivel and die. The new leaves that grow from the centre will be strong and healthy and will have acclimatised to full sun and will not get sun burnt. Succulents will acclimatise to new locations in 2-3 months
Note: The only exception to this rule is if there is an abnormally hot day/week (around 40C/104F) the chances are that even a succulent growing in full sun can still get sun burnt leaves.
These leave are suburnt.
Wilting/Pale leaves: Over watering can cause the leaves to look pale or yellow and they will wilt. If you notice this on a few leaves then do not water the succulent until you see signs of recovery. This could be weeks or even a month! It may already be too late and the plant will die but you may catch it in time. See post: How often should I water succulents? Do succulents need water?
Puckered Leaves: It does not happen very often but sometimes you can underwater your succulent and it will have puckered leaves. Give the plant a drenching of water and leave it to dry out. Do not make the mistake of then giving it too much water.
Signs that your succulent is thriving
It can take some time to know if your succulent is thriving. It is not something you can know within a week of receiving the plant. The signs that it is thriving are:
– not showing any of the above mentioned conditions
– new growth – especially in the succulent’s growing season
– flowers – a succulent will only flower in the right growing conditions
– pups/babies -succulents will only produce offspring if it has the right growing conditions to do so
– getting to its maximum species size
Succulents can thrive and look different!
A succulent will always adapt to its growing conditions. See example below. Both of these succulents are the same genus/species and are producing babies/pups ie thriving. Sempervivums (House Leeks) are grown on roof tops in Europe so would receive full sun at some times of the year and no sun at others and would therefore look different during different seasons.
These Sempervivum are exactly the same species. The Sempervivum on the left are growing in partial shade. The Sempervivum on the right have 8 hours of full sun.
Whether your succulent is grown in the ground or in a pot. If it is not doing well do not be scared to dig it up and move it or put the pot somewhere else. The majority of succulents are very hardy and if it is not doing well in one position there is no harm in moving it to another location.
I have found that planting a succulent in the garden, that is not doing so well in a pot, makes the world of difference. As long as the soil conditions and drainage are correct the roots of the plant will fair better in the ground, as the conditions are not so variable, compared with a pot which can heat up and dry out quicker and constrict the roots.
The difference between a succulent ‘surviving’ and a succulent ‘thriving’ is location, location, location!
This a question that people ask a lot. A common misconception is that succulents are indestructible. I was under this same impression when I started with succulents. It can certainly seem that way when you see them growing on the side of the road. However, like any plants, succulents have their likes and dislikes. Too much of their dislikes and they will curl up and die.
I hardly watered my succulent! Why did it die?
Common misconception number one is that succulents do not need ‘any’ water. Only misting a succulent with water is not enough and even though some varieties of succulents can survive without water for years not watering a succulent can also kill the plant. Succulents ‘do’ need water like any other plant. Misting a succulent will not give their roots the water they require. A good watering once a week in Summer, ensuring the water drains through the soil would be sufficient. Once per month in Winter.
I watered my succulent every day and it still died!
On the reverse side of the watering coin, over watering is the number one killer of succulents. As soon as I buy a succulent I wait at least a week before I water it. Hardware stores and sometimes nurseries will over water succulents as they have a watering regime for all their plants and include succulents in this regime. It is a natural human instinct that to care for a plant you need to water it. You have to trust the science of succulents- less water is good. Too much water can rot the roots as per the photo below.
Does your succulent get enough light?
Some succulents will survive inside as long as they are near a window that receives strong sunlight/light for part of the day. Some will survive in a partially shady spot in the garden. There are so many different types of succulents with different light requirements. Some succulents will not survive inside and require full sun to grow and thrive. If your succulent is not receiving enough light then it will grow long and lanky (called etioliation) and not look right.
Is your succulent really dying?
You may think your succulent is dying or looking decidedly ill when actually it is just growing to its circumstances. If you identify the problem for the type of succulent you have then you can change the position and/or watering conditions and your succulent should perk up in no time and be the healthy looking plant it was when you first bought/received it. See post: Where can I identify my Succulents? to find out what conditions your succulent prefers.
Why are the leaves on the bottom of my succulent dying?
It is natural for leaves on succulents to turn brown and shrivel up. They will then drop off. This does not mean that your succulent is dying. They are the oldest leaves on the succulent. You can pull them off or cut them off with secateurs. See post: Should I prune my Succulents?
Succulents will usually not die without water alone and will not die without sunlight alone. It is usually a combination of the two.Some succulents will look different in their dormant season. The succulent below – an Aeonium Aboreum has its dormant period during the Summer. It will come to life again in the Winter.
Even those of us who love growing succulents have succulents that die. Most of the time we can pin point a reason as to why they die but sometimes plants just die and we do not know why! Do not let this stop you trying again or getting a different succulent to nurture. See post: Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part 1 and Succulents 101: A Beginners Guide to Succulents – Part II for some tips if you are a beginner.
It is certainly ok to prune your succulent. You can prune your succulent any time you feel they are getting stretched or overgrown. You can also take cuttings to propagate new plants or to encourage new growth. There are a few other reasons why you would prune a succulent.
Should I prune dead or rotting leaves on my succulent?
If your succulent has dead leaves or you buy a succulent with lots of dried/dead leaves around the base of the plant the leaves can be removed. It’s natural for leaves to die on a plant. It’s like hair falling out your head.
If you pull them gently they should easily come away from the stem or you can cut them off with secateurs. This encourages new growth, deters any bugs or mould and improves the look of the plant.
Should I prune a plant that has stretched/etiolated?
If you have a succulent that has stretched due to lack of light, pruning is the best way to rectify this. The succulent will look a bit worse for wear at first but in time new growth will be more compact and the succulent will look healthier.
Should I prune the flowers on my succulent?
Most succulents flower, some are more prolific than others. My Echeveria plants seem to flower all the time. When the flower dies you can prune it. Some flower stems have leaves on them which are great for propagating a new plant as the stem has more hormones from producing the flower. The best time to prune a flowering species of succulent is after it has finished flowering.
If you have a large succulent that flowers the best time to prune is after the plant has finished flowering. If, however, you do not have the time or inclination to prune, don’t worry, the flowers will die and drop off by themselves eventually with no adverse reaction to the plant.
Should I prune my succulent to make it a nicer shape?
Succulents often need pruning just like any other type of plant when it comes to shape and to control size. The succulent you buy will grow bigger and will not look so cute and compact after a while so pruning is a necessity if you want to keep your plant compact. However, do not panic, succulents are fairly slow growers. So you won’t be out there pruning all the time!
What instrument should I use for pruning succulents?
I use normal garden secateurs to prune, or if the leaves are dry enough I pull them off with my fingers. Some leaves are ready to come off and fall off as I touch them. If you have pruned a succulent that has a disease make sure you clean the secateurs thoroughly so that the disease is not transferred from plant to plant.
Where do I prune my succulent?
Do not worry! you cannot hurt a succulent by pruning it. There is no wrong way to prune it. If there is a part that is protruding that looks out of place, prune it off as far back as you like. Pruning is really trial and error. If you have not pruned before give it a go and learn from your mistakes. The photo below is a Graptoveria succulent I have. It was pruned by a passing German Shepherd!! I was a bit annoyed at the time but didn’t throw it out and here we are quite a few months later with a new shoot!
Succulents are very adaptable and can grow in many different conditions. They will change their shape and colour depending on these conditions. When you become more experienced with different types of succulents you will get to know how your succulent is coping with the position it is growing in.
Why does my succulent change colour?
Colour change in succulents is fairly common and is a response to growing conditions. Some people use the term ‘stressed’ for plants that change colour but I like to use the word ‘adaption’. A plant grown in part shade will differ in colour to the same plant grown in full sun. Some plants will be grown in the same light conditions but if one is watered more than the other they can be different colours. Some plants are a different colour in the winter than they are in the Summer. (see below)
See full post : Why has my succulent changed colour?
You can buy a succulent because it looks amazing and then it will change colour once you have brought it home and put it in a different position/condition.
How do I know if my succulent gets enough sun?
As I have mentioned in my previous post: Do Succulents really prefer Sun? Succulents can change shape and/or look different when they do not have enough sun. A succulent that would normally be short and compact will grow long and spindly. The scientific term is: etoliation or the layman’s term is: stretching. This just means that the plant will not grow as compact as it would if it had sufficient sun and stretch upwards in search of brighter light. Unlike over watering, not enough sun is easily fixed. Move the plant to a sunnier position! Either in its pot or transplant it. The plant will stop stretching. Please note however: the part of the plant that has already stretched will not correct itself. The best option for this would be to prune the stretched part of the plant. This will not harm the plant in any way. Or you can leave it as it is as the plant can look amazing on a long stork as in the photo below.
How do i know if my succulent has ‘enough’ water?
This is not a question that you need to ask yourself but I know that there are people who worry about this. There are some species of succulent that show signs of not having enough water (see below) and would like a drink but on the whole you should be asking yourself if you have watered too much! Succulents can survive without water for extended periods. How long that period is depends on a wide variety of factors including light, soil, drainage etc. In my experience if you do not water your succulent for a year, as long as it was not under the eaves and receives annual rainfall then it will be fine.
Aeonium swortkop’s leaves become droopy if they have not had enough water. Crassula Ovata’s (Jade Plant) leaves can look wrinkled and withered if they do not receive enough water. Echeveria and Graptoveria hold water in their leaves so they will be very flat if they do not have enough water.
Can succulents survive inside?
Not ‘all’ succulents will grow well in an indoor environment but there are a lot that will. I have quite a few jars of echeveria succulents growing on my kitchen window sill, they receive about an hour of sun every morning and then bright light for the rest of the day. I also have one in the bathroom which receives no direct sun just bright light.
I only give the small succulent jars a table spoon of water every other week and the bathroom succulent about the same. I also have a few terrariums with succulents – see below.
Note: I do not profess to be an expert on succulents and do not have a horticultural qualification. My blog is simply my opinion and details my experience with succulents in my garden. All photos are taken by me. If there are photos of succulents not taken by me this is mentioned.
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