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.
Aeonium Pinwheel – sun burnt leaves.
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 stems of a few of my succulents started looking dry and then they started to look shrivelled and brown. I was quite concerned. How would the succulent live if it could not get water from its roots? I did notice that there were some aerial roots above the shrivelled stem which would be the succulents way of trying to survive the lack of water it was receiving from its original roots in the soil.
Why did the stems shrivel?
This is ‘not‘ root rot or in this case ‘ stem rot’. Root rot on a succulent is black! and there is no sign of dried out stems when a succulent has root rot. This is due to the succulent having too much heat and not enough water for it to cope. Normally it would be the amount of heat – ie high temperatures. Succulents like sun with lots of air flow but some do not cope with high temperatures. ie 38-40C/100-104F. It may cope with a few days of high temperatures with the right amount of water but ongoing high temperatures with no water and the succulent’s survival tactics will kick in.
Will my succulent survive?
As in the case below, the stems have all shrivelled and the separated stems have put out new aerial roots in attempt to survive the heat. A sure sign it is willing to survive!
A healthy succulent when first planted!
Suffering from over heating and lack of water!
What can I do to save my succulent?
Firstly, do not panic! The reason we all love succulents is because they are amazing survivors. Cut the stems above the shrivelled part and replant into a new pot or a different spot in the garden. Move the pot/plant to a position with a bit more shade. Even if the stems do not have any tiny white aerial roots the plant will still grow some new roots in the soil and live on. Wait about 1 week before you water the new cuttings.
Some succulents do require a little more water than others. However, moving the succulent to a shadier position will most likely cure the problem. If you move the plant to a shadier position AND increase the water then you may then over water which will then cause root rot. So try the shadier position without adjusting the water first. If the stems shrivel again (in due course) then you should water more regularly. Some succulents do require more regular watering than others.
So why have the stems of your succulents shrivelled? Basically; to let you know that they are not happy and to do something about it!
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.
Puckered leaves can be a sign of an under watered succulent
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!
Which succulents grow in full shade?
Do Succulents really prefer Sun?
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.
I live in Adelaide, Australia, we have hot Summers every year. Some weeks are over 40°C/104°F+. Not forgetting that these temperatures are for the shade not in the sun. It can be at least 5°C more in the sun!
Some succulent species originate from the desert where the sun is very hot but most of the succulents that we buy are cultivated in nurseries and nurtured in the best possible conditions. When I visited the nursery a few months ago (Post: A great succulent nursery in McLaren Vale.) The plants were grown under a clear plastic shelter in the winter and then a light coloured shade cloth from spring onwards. They, therefore, have not been exposed to the harsh Australian sun from day one.
Protected by plastic in the winter and shade cloth for the rest of the year.
Obviously they sell a lot of different succulent species, and, as a business, cannot pander to each succulent’s needs with regard to shade/sun preferences. This does pose the average succulent buyer a dilemma when they buy succulents from anywhere. Should they plant them in direct full sun. Ok maybe I am the only one who seems to have this dilemma!….
As I have mentioned I initially became interested in succulents to grow in my garden as a plant that could survive a summer when we leave our house to travel. Since then I have realised there are probably some succulents that would not stand the Australian Summer heat/sun.
Last Summer was a hot one and I grew most of my plants on the side of my water tank. (Post: My Succulent Nursery.) During the heatwaves I put up an old beach umbrella to protect the plants from the sun at its hottest in mid afternoon. I did this because I had noticed that ‘normal’ plants can get a bit of leaf burn. (Also, being Australian and a red head with pale skin I am a bit scared of the sun and probably project my fears onto my plants.)
I would say that the answer to the question, is YES, they can survive heatwaves BUT, like any plant, they could suffer leaf burn and look bad – as with the hail damage my plants suffered. (Post: Succulents DO NOT like hail!!) However, they will survive as succulents are extremely hardy.
Over the past few years the Succulents that have definitely survived an Australian heatwave are my Agave Attenuata, Jade plant (Cra), Aeonium and the Aloe. These plants have survived without leaf damage and minimal water. (See below: From Left to Right -Aloe, Crassula Ovata, Aeonium Aboreum and Agave Attentuata.
If you water Succulents twice a week in a heat wave, they may get leaf burn but they will survive. When watering, water at the base of the plants not on the leaves. They would probably survive without the water but possibly struggle depending on which succulent it is. If you are not away travelling the world, you have the time and you are worried about your succulents, a piece of shade cloth draped over the plant would help immensely. Or if they are in pots move them into the shade until the heatwave is over.
On Christmas Day 2016 it was 39C/102F. I was very tempted to cover my Succulents in my front garden but resisted the urge as a true test to check if they could survive the sun. Not forgetting it was 39C in the shade and a lot hotter in the sun. They all did very well, some examples below. There are a few brown leaves on the ecehveria glauca in the middle photo but nothing to be concerned about. I also would like to point out I did not water them, but there were light showers on Boxing Day.