Summer Sun, Light Stress, & Color Expression

Summer Sun

Summer sun is out and so are your succulents… But are they getting an unhealthy amount of summer rays?

Succulents - the plants known to thrive in sunny southern California and Mediterranean climate regions world-wide - can actually become damaged from an excess of solar rays. 
Today you’ll find out how much light is optimal for your specific collection of succulents, and learn how to spot signs of light stress and overheating.  Then we’ll explore ways to keep your succulents safe from over-exposure, and thriving all summer long.


Low-Light vs. Full-Sun Varieties
Some species of succulent are more sun-loving than others.  Varieties with spines, spikes, and blue and gray hues are more tolerant of direct sunlight and high heat.  Think cacti and agaves – natives to North America’s hot dry desert region.  

Aloe Vera

Sun-loving succulent varieties include:

In contrast, some succulents are more sensitive to high temperatures and direct sunlight. These varieties benefit from a few hours of shade when outside, and tend to do well in-doors in indirect sunlight. 
Shade-loving succulents evolved in the wild to live in shady cracks between rocks, or under larger plants. They tend to have higher amounts of chlorophyll and are naturally greener in color.  Shade-loving varieties of succulents include:

It is important to be mindful of the specific varieties of succulents in your collection, so that you can properly accommodate their needs.  
Light and Heat Stress
So what’s the worst that can happen when a succulent is left outside in a high-heat, high-light environment?  
Just like people, succulents can get sunburned.  When exposed to light beyond optimal levels, sunburned succulents will develop brown spots, wrinkled leaves, and dry, crispy edges.  In severe cases sunburn will result in necrosis: leaf tissue will turn black, die, and fall off.

Sunburned Succulent

Heat stress can cause problems as well.  When plants overheat due to hot soil temperatures, their roots will be damaged, negatively affecting their root’s ability to nourish the plant. Plants in dark colored plastic pots are more susceptible to heat stress than those in ceramic pots or in the ground.
Is light stress always bad?
Before you rush to shade all your succulents, note that some people choose to induce light stress for their succulents.  
Mild light stress can cause a spectacular change in color, as the plants shift their pigment production in order to better protect themselves from the sun’s rays.  Many varieties, like these echeverias, will take on a vibrant reddish-orange hue. 


It is important to be aware of your particular plant’s light needs, and to proceed slowly if you choose to induce light stress.

Tips for a thriving summer succulent garden:
So how can you ensure the success of your own special succulent garden? 
Some tips to follow include:

  • Increase sun exposure gradually

  • If plants were inside all winter, you will want to introduce them to the outside slowly over time.  This will allow them to acclimate to the outdoors while minimizing their stress.

  • Know your plants

  • Are your particular varieties of succulents sun-loving or shade-loving?  Young plants of all species are more sensitive.  
    Plants in poor health are also more susceptible to light and heat stress. Make sure that your plants are receiving adequate nutrition and the optimal amount of water.

  • Don’t stress them out

  • Your plants are already experiencing a certain amount of stress as they adapt to changing weather.  Don’t increase their stress by re-potting or taking cuttings during heat waves.
    Following these tips and tricks will help your succulent garden become the bountiful oasis you’re looking for this summer!


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