Do Succulents Need Sun?

Succulents are popular houseplants thanks to being low maintenance. But with thousands of plants from various climate conditions categorized as succulents, questions regarding their care requirements are bound to pop up. One of the most popular is: do succulents need sun?

Yes, all succulents need exposure to sunlight. The typical amount of light that succulents require is medium to high, but the intensity and duration can differ depending on the plant species. While most succulents do best with several hours of bright direct or indirect sunlight, some species can survive just fine in low-light conditions.

In today’s article, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the light requirements of succulents. I’ll also talk about over-exposure, under-exposure, and tips to help your plants thrive. Let’s jump in!

Is Sunlight Necessary for Succulents?

Succulents are hardy plants. They can survive in harsh environments and withstand long periods of rare watering.

However, when it comes to lighting conditions, most succulents require exposure to the sun — plenty of it at that.

Succulents, in general, thrive in bright light. Some species are absolute sun lovers that demand receiving direct light, whereas other species prefer indirect light.

Succulents do best in bright sunlight so much so that many species can be challenging to grow indoors. You see, the light intensity that plants get through windows -whether filtered or not- isn’t nearly as strong as outdoors.

Still, some of the succulents that prefer less light have successfully adapted to low-light environments.

What Are the Light Requirements for Succulents?

As I mentioned earlier, different species of succulents have varying light needs depending on their species. To determine the proper amount of sun to provide for your succulent, you should determine the type of plant you’re caring for.

Generally speaking, succulents thrive when exposed to direct or indirect light. However, some succulents can also do well in low-light conditions.

Here’s a breakdown of what each light requirement involves:

Direct Sun

If a succulent does best in direct sun or direct light, this means that it needs exposure to unfiltered sun rays landing directly on the plant.

For indoor succulents, they’ll get the most direct light if you place them in front of an open window that faces south or west. Although the exposure duration depends on the succulent variety, around 6 to 8 hours should be enough.

Note that if you’re moving your succulent from indoors to outdoors, you should do so gradually to avoid sudden changes in sun exposure. Consider starting with only morning light or indirect light in the shade of a taller plant for the first 2 to 3 weeks outside.

This transition is necessary as direct light outdoors is stronger than indoors and can burn the plant’s leaves if you’re not careful.

Which Succulents Prefer Direct Light?

The following are some examples of succulents that enjoy full sun and thrive under direct sunlight:

Succulents in the sun
  • Golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii), also known as the golden ball or mother-in-law’s cushion.
  • Desert cacti
  • Echeveria
  • Opuntia, also known as the prickly pear cactus.
  • Fred Ives (Graptoveria)
  • Hoya carnosa, which is commonly called the porcelain flower or wax plant.
  • Jade plant (Crassula ovata), also referred to as lucky plant, money tree, or money plant.
  • Copper pinwheel or Aeonium ‘sunburst’.
  • Aeonium arboreum, commonly called the tree anemone, tree houseleek, tree aeonium, Irish rose, or desert pinwheel rose.
  • Senecio mandraliscae or blue chalk sticks.
  • Oscularia Deltoides, also known as pink ice plant.
  • Agave plants, also known as century plants.
  • Senecio, including groundsels and ragworts.
  • Sedum, also known as stonecrops (for example, Coppertone stonecrop).
  • Adromischus cristatus, also known as crinkle leaf plant or key lime pie plant.
  • Widow’s thrill or paddle plant (Kalanchoe)
  • Sempervivum, also known as houseleeks, live forever, or hens and chicks.
  • Euphorbia tirucalli also referred to as firestick plants, milk bush, pencil cactus, or pencil tree.
  • Aloe carmine

Indirect Sun

If a succulent does best in indirect sun or indirect light, it needs exposure to sun rays filtered through window glass, curtains, or some other way. This means that the room is bright but the rays are landing indirectly on the plant.

Which Succulents Prefer Indirect Light?

The following are some examples of succulents that prefer less light or more shaded conditions:

  • Sansevieria, also known as the snake plant (Dracaena trifasciata)
  • Peperomia plants. These are also referred to as the radiator plant, baby rubber plant, shining bush plant, pepper elder, and emerald ripper pepper.
  • Haworthia, which is also referred to as cushion aloe, pearl plant, zebra cactus, and star window plant.
  • Crown cacti (Rebutia)
  • The string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus)
  • Ponytail palm tree (Beaucarnea)
  • Scarlet ball cactus (Parodia Haselbergii)
  • Kalanchoes, including flaming Katy.
  • The string of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii)
  • Hoyas (also known as the Hindu Rope or Wax Plant)
  • Fishbone cactus (Epiphyllum anguliger), also called zig-zag cactus.
  • ZZ plants (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
  • Schlumbergera, also called the Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus.
  • Mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis genus)
  • Ox tongue or cow’s tongue (Gasteria genus)
  • The aloe genus (aloe vera included).

Low Light

String of pearls succulent plant

When it comes to low light, some succulents will tolerate it just fine.

Notice how I said “tolerate” not “thrive” or “do best”? That’s because I mean it — succulents that can stay alive in low light only survive.

Most succulents prefer bright direct or indirect light, but some species are fine being placed in low light. Think a few feet away from a window without any bright unfiltered or filtered sun rays landing on the plant’s leaves.

They’ll demonstrate duller colors, look less “full”, and grow slower, but they remain alive nonetheless.

Which Succulents Tolerate Low Light?

A decent range of succulents can tolerate or adapt to low-light environments as they already prefer receiving indirect light. The following are some examples:

  • Aloe (including aloe vera)
  • Beaucarnea (including ponytail palm tree)
  • Ceropegia woodii (also known as string of hearts)
  • Epiphyllum (including fishbone cactus, also known as zig-zag cactus)
  • Gasteria (also known as ox tongue or cow’s tongue)
  • Haworthia (other common names include cushion aloe, pearl plant, zebra cactus, and star window plant)
  • Hoyas (also known as wax plant or the Hindu rope)
  • Kalanchoes
  • Parodia Haselbergii (also known as scarlet ball cactus)
  • Rebutia (also known as crown cacti)
  • Rhipsalis (also known as mistletoe cactus)
  • Schlumbergera (also known as Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus, and Easter cactus)
  • Senecio rowleyanus (also known as string of pearls)
  • Snake plants (Dracaena trifasciata)
  • Zamioculcas zamiifolia (also known as ZZ plants)

What Happens If Succulents Get Too Much Sun?

While most succulents thrive in full sun under direct light, this doesn’t mean they can’t get enough of it!

Just like how succulents suffer without enough exposure to sun rays, they can also get damaged if they receive too much light.

The following are signs of stress in succulents getting too much sun, especially intense direct light. Be sure to watch out for these indications in your plant if you’re not confident about the amount of light you’re providing it.

Sunburn

The main symptom of overexposure to light in succulents is leaf burn. In this case, the first thing you’re likely to notice is the appearance of brown edges or blotches on the surface of the plant’s leaves.

Damage from sunburn can happen in under an hour. It can be even faster if the weather is particularly hot or there’s a heat wave.

Stress resulting from too much sun is also accelerated if you expose your succulent to a sudden, drastic change in lighting conditions.

But the good news is that if you pick up on sunburn damage early, there’s a high chance you’ll be able to save your succulents. simply placing the plants in a shadier spot as soon as you see the scorching effects.

Unfortunately, if you don’t notice your succulent getting sunburned and leave it unattended, your plant will probably end up fried to a crisp.

Read more: No Light? No Problem: 15 Low Light Succulents to Know About

What Happens If Succulents Get Too Little Sun?

As we mentioned earlier, succulents do best when they get plenty of bright sunlight, whether direct or indirect depending on the species. Some succulents can even survive for long periods in low-light settings — yes, they’re hardy like that.

I also talked about the negative side effects of too much exposure to sunlight on succulents. But what about too little exposure?

By now, you know that sunlight is necessary for the growth and thriving of succulents.

So when these plants go too long without receiving enough light, you can bet there’ll be consequences. Succulents that get too little sunlight can show significant visible changes as follows:

1. Color Fading

You can tell a lot about a succulent’s health from the condition of its leaves. Even if your succulent has plain green leaves, they should be bright and glossy as long as the plant is getting enough light and water.

As such, if the leaves on your succulent start to lose their color and vibrancy, it’s probably a sign of inadequate sun exposure.

2. Stem Elongation

One of the most common giveaways that your succulent isn’t getting enough exposure to the sun is stem elongation.

You see, succulents are meant to be compact with tightly arranged stems and leaves.

When their light requirements aren’t met, the stems of your succulent will start to grow longer to develop more surface area so it’s more likely to reach sunlight.

This behavior results in succulents with a tall profile, slim stalks, and thin growth on top.

3. Sparse Leaves

As I said above, succulents are meant to have tightly-packed leaves on their stems.

But when light is scarce and elongation takes place to seek more sun, you’ll notice that the space between the leaves on the stem becomes wider.

4. Rosettes Flattening

This is yet another measure that succulents can take to find more light. While species will develop longer stems and turn spindly, other plants will change the shape of their leaves.

In this abnormal growth pattern, the rosettes on your succulent will flatten instead of the usual thick shape that helps them store water. Yep, it’s a pretty sad look.

5. Low Leaves Arching

After a while of not receiving enough light, the lower leaves of the succulent start to droop pointing downward. When this arching happens, it’s usually the cue for the plant’s collapse from the bottom.

How to Provide Succulents with More Light

Beautiful colorful succulents on the wooden log

If your succulents are getting enough sun, you’re probably looking to save them from under-exposure symptoms by providing more light. The question is, how can you do that?

You don’t need to worry about searching for the right method as there are only two ways to get the job done. I’ll explain them below.

1. Transfer Outdoors

The first way you can make sure that your succulent is getting sufficient light is by simply moving the pot outdoors.

This is most effective during the summer since it’s the season of active growth for most succulent species, so they’ll have maximum benefits from the ample light and warm temperatures.

If you live in a warmer climate, it’s best if you keep your succulents outside for the most part. If you live in a cooler climate, you should bring the succulents inside once the temperatures drop (succulents are practically dormant during winter).

Transferring your succulents outdoors isn’t a good idea if your area is experiencing a heat wave. I’ll discuss this later on.

2. Use Grow Lights

If your house arrangements prevent you from keeping your succulents outdoors or you can’t provide your plants with enough natural light for any other reason, you can rely on grow lights to solve the problem.

Remember, for plants to grow, the light doesn’t have to come from the sun. What it does need, however, is to contain the necessary spectrums to achieve light reactions inside the plant that are essential for growth.

It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact light spectrums that a plant needs. This is why artificial grow lights are effective.

These special LED lights shine with the full spectrum of light just like sunlight does. As such, the results are guaranteed.

Guidelines for Using Artificial Grow Lights

To ensure an efficient operation, consider the following points before using an artificial grow light.

  • The intensity

First, you need to figure out whether or not the light’s intensity will be enough for your succulents.

LED grow lights are usually less intense than fluorescent grow lights. Also, smaller grow lights aren’t as intense as larger models.

In these cases, you may need to run the grow lights longer to provide adequate intensity for your plants.

  • The heat

Along with the intensity of the light, you should think about the generated heat.

Not only are LED grow lights usually less intense than fluorescent grow lights, but they also use as much electricity and don’t get as hot. It’s up to you to choose.

If you’re keeping the grow lights indoors, be careful as the temperature can get pretty hot. The smaller the room and the longer you run the lights, the higher the temperature will get.

  • The duration

Besides the intensity and the heat of the grow lights, you should consider how long you’re planning on keeping it on.

If your grow lights emit higher intensity, you won’t need to run them as long as you’d need if using lower-intensity lights.

Not to mention, extended periods of operation can add up and result in a higher electric bill than you can afford.

  • The size

Another aspect you should pay attention to is the size of the grow light. If your house doesn’t have much room, a large model can be a problem.

Additionally, beginners should start with a smaller unit to test the operation and aesthetics without being overwhelmed.

  • The cost

Finally, you should think about the amount of money you’re willing to spend on a grow light.

You may want to invest in a more expensive model if your house garden is large enough to require that sort of lighting.

You may also go for a more affordable option if you’re not keeping many plants or if you’re planning to use it in the office or outside the house.

Also Check: Tall Succulents: 18 Amazing Plants That You Can Grow

How to Grow Succulents in Low Light

If you’re set on keeping succulents in low light, you need to consider a few aspects to give your plants the best possible chance of surviving.

Species

By now, you should know that not all succulents can tolerate low-light conditions to the same extent.

So first, you need to make sure that your plant belongs to a well-adapted succulent species. There’s a fine list of recommendations that you can check out above.

Soil and Pot

Next, think about the proper type of soil and container for your succulent.

Succulents thrive in well-drained soil. This means you can’t use dirt from your yard or rely on a regular potting mix.

Soil that drains fast is an absolute must in low-light conditions. Since the lighting will be poor, the soil condition has to be impeccable to ensure the survival of the plant.

In this case, the best choice is to mix cactus soil, perlite, and coarse sand in equal parts.

As for the type of pot to use, choose something that supports good drainage. Sitting in drenched soil is just a recipe for root rot.

A container with enough holes will allow excess water to move out and boost aeration within the soil.

Watering

The amount and frequency of watering succulents depend heavily on the season.

Succulents require more water during the active growth months of spring and summer. In the colder months when the plants are nearly dormant, you don’t need to water as much.

If you’re not sure whether or not it’s time to water your succulents, stick your finger in the soil to test it. Water if the top inch of the soil is dry.

Additionally, don’t spray your succulents. Some plants do well with misting, but not succulents.

Their leaves already contain a lot of water, so adding extra water to the surface of the leaves would be an invitation to mold.

Also, never overwater succulents unless you want to kill your plants. Allow the soil to thoroughly dry out between waterings.

How to Handle Succulents During a Heat Wave

When the temperatures remain extremely high for days or weeks, then your area is experiencing a heat wave.

You may think that this is good for succulents because it involves plenty of sunlight, but the lack of relief can be very harsh on outdoor plants that love humidity like succulents.

To help your outdoor succulent overcome a heat wave, consider the following tips:

  • Move the succulents to a shaded spot outdoors -like next to a larger tree or building- or even indoors. If your succulents aren’t potted, then you may cover them with a shade cloth.
  • Make sure the succulents are getting enough humidity by regularly checking their soil for moisture. Watering is vital during heat waves, especially for smaller or more fragile plants. You may need to water once or twice a week.
  • Don’t fertilize your succulents during a heat wave. Although fertilization can promote growth, a period with persistent extreme heat isn’t the right time. The plant won’t be concerned with growing as much as with surviving.
  • Save propagating your succulents to a less harsh time to ensure the successful growth of healthy plants. If your succulent is stressed and you try to propagate from it, the results won’t be optimal.
  • Avoid putting your succulents through drastic changes such as repotting. Stressful events aren’t welcomed when the plant is already struggling to survive the heat, so wait until the weather is less hostile to repot your succulents if you want the transition to succeed.

Final Thoughts

So, do succulents need sun? The answer is yes for the most part.

All succulents need exposure to light. Their typical requirements are medium to high, but the intensity and duration can differ depending on the species.

While most succulents thrive in several hours of bright direct or indirect light, some species can survive just fine in low-light conditions.