How to Use Sunlight to Grow Colorful Succulents 


Succulents are usually known for their rich, vivid green color—but have you ever noticed your succulents changing color over time? 

If you’re itching to add a pop of color to your succulent terrarium, planters, or landscape, we know just the trick! Tampa Succulents is going to shed some light on how and why succulents change colors. Read on to learn and try it out for yourself! 

Succulent Stressors

Some succulents may change colors according to the seasons, the frequency and amount they are watered, or according to daily temperature changes. Even succulents kept indoors or in the same conditions year round experience changes in color. These changes in color are often caused by mild to moderate forms of stress.

There are many environmental factors that can affect how vibrant or how dull your succulents’ colors are. Changes in temperature, water, and sunlight can all put moderate stress on succulents and consequently change their colors. For example, when succulents endure periods of drought, this stressor causes the succulent to produce high levels of pigmentation. However, the biggest external factor in succulent color changes lies in the amount of sunlight they receive. 

How and Why Does Sunlight Affect Succulent Color?

Just like our skin produces more pigmentation when we are exposed to higher levels of sunlight, so do our succulents! Succulents naturally produce more pigmentation to prevent their leaves from burning in the sun. Likewise, just as people’s skin color can pale or fade from a lack of sunlight, succulents also noticeably lose pigmentation and color from low-light levels. 

The three main pigments found in succulents are chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. Chlorophyll is responsible for the succulent’s green color while carotenoids are responsible for yellow to orange hues and anthocyanins for red, blue, or purple shades. Each pigment has a specific function in the plant cells and will become more or less active depending on the sunlight, water, and temperatures. When placed in the sun or extreme temperatures, carotenoids and anthocyanins accumulate in higher concentrations to protect the plant from excessive UV exposure, resulting in the brilliant shade changes to yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, purples, and blues. 

Signs that your succulents may be suffering from a lack of sunlight are fading, greening, stretching, and the centers opening wide and flat in search of sunlight. Signs that your succulents may be suffering from too much sunlight are colors brightening, colors shifting tones from green to red, and the centers closing and tightening themselves to protect themselves from the sun. Though a lack of light or too much light can stress succulents, it doesn’t create a point of no return. Most light problems can be completely fixed when the signs are caught early.

Of course, the idea of “stressing” your succulents with sunlight may concern you, but fear not. Succulents are incredibly hardy and can endure mild to moderate levels of stress. In fact, succulents growing in their native environments experience these kinds of external stressors year round as they undergo changes in temperature, water, and sunlight. 

How to Get Colorful Succulents by Increasing Sunlight 

Though succulents are resilient and can endure moderate levels of stress, it is recommended that you monitor your succulents closely during this process to prevent serious sun damage or possibly killing your succulent. In addition, monitor the weather. Don’t subject your succulents to either extreme heat or cold while increasing sun exposure. Extreme temperature changes will add too much extra stress to your succulent. 

The first step is to determine your succulents’ current light levels and what type of light they are receiving. Is your succulent an indoor or outdoor plant? Does your succulent enjoy partial shade, full sun, or both? How long does your succulent tolerate the sun daily? These are all questions you will need to answer before creating your game plan. If your succulents are used to partial shade, you should not introduce them to full sun immediately. You will want to gradually transition your succulents to full sun over a 1-2 week period. Succulents used to partial shade will most likely need the full 2 weeks to safely transition to full sun exposure.

As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended keep your succulent at the same light level to for a few days before increasing the light exposure. Most people will start with bright shade for about 4-7 days, then move to partial sun for 4-7 days, and then onwards to full, direct sun exposure. With each incremental increase, you can also extend your succulent’s time in the sun an extra 30 minutes. Continue this increase in exposure until you reach about 6-8 hours of bright, direct sunlight exposure daily. Succulents need bright sunlight for at least 6-8 hours a day to become “stressed” and display their bright colors.  

Continue to monitor your succulent’s color and reaction to the increased sunlight. In addition, continue watering your succulent when the soil is dry. The frequency of your watering may increase as more sunlight evaporates the moisture in the soil. Though temperature and water changes can also enhance a succulent’s pigmentation, it is wise to only use one color-enhancing method at a time. Too much stress can damage and kill your succulents!

Can All Succulents Change Color? 

Technically, yes! There are some succulents like Agave that will always remain green in color regardless of their environmental conditions and stressors. If you want to turn your succulents into gorgeous shades of pink, red or purple, Sedum is a great variety that tolerates full sun and turns into these striking shades. If you’re looking for cooler tones, try Blue Spruce, a variety of Sedum that features beautiful muted blue tones. Sempervivums, Echeverias, Aloes, Aeoniums, Kalanchoes, and Crassulas are also great succulent varieties that can change into vibrant colors! 

Got any questions? Drop us a comment below!

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