Why Are My Succulents Turning Red?

A vast majority of succulents are green, with pale, deep, powdery, and glossy hues. However, their foliage can suddenly turn into a spectacular sunset color. This may get you thinking, why are my succulents turning red?

Succulents take on a reddish shade to protect themselves from the damage caused by some environmental factors, including exposure to sunlight, cold temperature, poor soil, and getting rootbound.

In this article, we’ll have a crack at the different reasons your succulents are turning red and what you can do about them.

Why Do Succulents Turn Red?

Red succulent

It’s a visual delight when succulents turn red. The discoloration starts from a rusty tinge at the tips of the leaves, and may then spread inwards and deepen into a dramatic burgundy or fiery red.

Surprisingly, this change of color is actually a sign of stress. It’s the plant’s adaptive response to unfavorable environmental conditions, which we’ll talk about here in more detail.

1.   Exposure to Sunlight

We’re all familiar with photosynthesis, which is how plants make their food. During this process, chlorophyll harvests energy from sunlight and gives the leaves their green color. Consequently, succulents that don’t get enough sunlight have pale green foliage. 

Carotenoids are accessory pigments that play a complementary role during photosynthesis. When days become shorter around fall, chlorophyll breaks down and gives way to the autumn colors of carotenoids.

Anthocyanins are another class of pigment that gives leaves a red and purple tint. They mitigate the damage that UV light inflicts on plants.

Anthocyanins are responsible for red autumn leaves. Plus, they help plants regulate their temperatures so they won’t overheat in the blazing sun.

Plants produce anthocyanins when:

  • They’re native to deserts and semi-arid regions.
  • They’re exposed to intense, bright light.
  • Cold temperatures suppress other protective chemicals from doing their job.
  • Their leaves are quite young and vulnerable.

Most succulents are native to dry, sunny landscapes. They produce plenty of anthocyanins to adapt to the extreme heat of their natural habitat. On top of their waxy coating, these pigments protect them from photodamage.

It’s perfectly normal for succulents to take on a reddish shade. In fact, many desert cacti turn purplish under the blistering sun. Some species may turn dainty pink, bright red, or even coppery.

This is known as high-light stress, which isn’t so bad for succulents. How can it be when they look so beautiful in their sunburnt shade? It’s one reason they’re highly desirable, apart from their unique shapes and minimal care requirements.

So, don’t fret if your green houseplants suddenly develop a rugged tan or a nice reddish stain. This only means that you’re keeping them under conditions that mimic their original environment.

It’s also worth mentioning that brightly colored species are notorious for being poisonous. So, herbivores know better than to mess with these red succulents.

Many aren’t even toxic, though! This high-level cunning greatly improves the red succulents’ chances of survival in the wild.

Red succulent

How to Treat Sun-Damaged Succulents

Too much sunlight can toast succulents and turn their leaves brown and shriveled. Follow these tips to save your sun-baked plants:

  • Get your succulent in the shade.
  • Snip off the dried parts as they’re just sucking nutrients away from the remaining healthy plant.
  • Give water only if the soil is dry to the touch. Otherwise, you can waterlog the soil and create a whole new problem.
  • Monitor the plant for signs of improvement.
  • Introduce your plant gradually to sunlight, preferably in the morning when it’s not too hot.
  • Make sure you know the lighting recommendations for your succulent to prevent them from getting sunburned again. 

Users Also Read: When to Water Succulents After Repotting

2.   Cold Temperature

Extreme temperatures can shock succulents and encourage a flush of red pigments. Usually, pink tips peek around mid-autumn. Some plants, on the other hand, don’t show their blush until late winter.

Several succulents are quick to flash their reds and purples in cold climates. Meanwhile, sheltered plants remain green most of their lives.

In addition, outdoor succulents are hardier than potted plants kept indoors. Because they’re open to the sun and the elements, they’re more compact and colorful too.

Now, a pop of color during chilly weather is fine. However, you don’t want to push your succulents past the threshold of their cold hardiness.

Some succulents are popular for being color chameleons during winter. You can leave your agaves, sedums, and sempervivums out in the cold, but you have to make sure that the temperature is above freezing.

How to Protect Succulents from Cold Stress

Even if cold-tolerant succulents can stand up to 40°F, they still need warmth and sunlight. A few hours below freezing may burn the leaves of tender plants and give them reddish tips. However, a prolonged freeze may be fatal even to hardy plants.

So, keep an ear out for frost advisories. To protect succulents from the severe effects of cold stress, you can try these tips:

  • Cover your succulents with a burlap, a frost cloth, or any type of cotton blanket. This will trap the warm air inside while keeping out the cold.
  • Place string lights under the cloth for added heat.
  • Move potted succulents indoors or in climate-controlled greenhouses.
  • Use a grow light when there’s no sunlight.

3.   Poor Soil

Soil with too much sand or clay stresses succulents. It’s rock-hard and heavy when dry and thick and muddy when wet.

Poor soil results in smaller and tighter succulents. The plants grow slowly and the foliage is rather compact and chubby. On the bright side, the color of the leaves will be more intense.

Remember that succulents are the happiest in coarse, loose, and fast-draining soil. Plants may still display red leaves, but they won’t be as vibrant as succulents grown in heavy soil. You may notice that the leaves are less dense as well.

In contrast, plain old garden soil will suffocate the roots and cause standing water in pots.

Red succulents

How to Enrich the Soil for Succulents

To make a growth medium for your succulents, feel free to try this recipe:

  • Two parts potting soil
  • Two parts sand
  • One part perlite

If you’re growing succulents in the ground, add a dose of high-quality potting mix. The nutrients will help the plants to grow bigger and faster while maintaining some deep reds.

4.   Getting Rootbound

Succulents eventually get rootbound if they stay in the same pot for too long. This means that the plant has overgrown its container, and there’s no more room to spread its legs.

Typically, the root ball takes the shape of its pot in a tight, knotted clump. Some roots may even poke out of the drainage holes.

Rootbound succulents have thick stems and grow quite slowly, much like bonsais. At some point, their leaves will produce a deep red or some unusual colors because of the stress.

Related: What Is the Difference Between Cactus and Succulents?

How to Repot Rootbound Succulents

Here are the steps for repotting overgrown succulents:

  1. Gently remove the succulent from the pot. Smash the container carefully with a hammer if you meet any resistance.
  2. Using clean fingers, loosen the tangles of the roots.
  3. Trim away any discolored and damaged roots with pruning shears.
  4. Discard the old soil and brush off the dirt that’s clinging to the roots.
  5. Fill ⅔ of the new container with a potting mix. The pot should be 10% larger in volume than the previous one.
  6. Place your succulent in the center of the pot and add more soil mix.  
  7. Wait for the soil to dry out before watering your repotted succulent.

Keep in mind that the best time to repot your succulents is right before their growing season.

Wrapping Up

Unfavorable growing conditions trigger succulents to take on a vibrant red color. As a matter of fact, gardeners deliberately put them under stress to bring out their beautiful hues. Now, if only we look half as pretty as stressed succulents when we’re swamped with deadlines at work!