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Succulents are drought-loving plants that generally don’t do well in cold, rainy climate. So it makes sense that they’d thrive in full sun on a hot summer day, right? Well, unfortunately this isn’t quite true. Succulents do enjoy plenty of sunlight, but too much of a good thing can be harmful.
If you’ve ever set your succulent collection outside to get a little sunshine and either left them out for too long or placed them in an area that gets full sun all day, you may discover that they’ve been sunburned.
It can be disheartening to discover that your precious plants have gotten too much sun, but is there anything you can do about it? That depends on the severity of the burn. Serious sunburn can put your plant’s life at risk, but minor burns may just be unsightly. Before deciding what to do about your sunburned succulents, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of sunburns.
Symptoms of Sunburn
Sunburned succulents will develop discolored patches on their leaves. If only part of the plant was exposed to the sun, there may only be certain sections showing signs of sunburn. Depending on the severity of the burn, the patches may be tan, brown, or black in color. The more severe the damage, the darker the discoloration will be.
The discolored patches on the leaves may also be a different texture than the healthy parts of the leaf. If the plant’s leaves normally have a smooth surface, you may notice that the burned areas feel rough. Minor burns may have little to no change in texture, but severe burns will turn a leaf’s surface from silky smooth to rough and scarred.
Will My Succulent Survive Sunburn?
Whether or not your succulent survives its sunburn will depend on the severity of the burns. If your plant has only had a day or two of too much sun, it may be just fine. If you’ve left your plants in full sun over the weekend, the outcome may be a bit more grim.
The discolored patches on your succulent’s leaves have been damaged in a way that leaves them incapable of photosynthesis. The unburned parts of the leaves will still be capable of photosynthesis, so depending on the severity of the burns, your plant may or may not be okay.
How to Treat Sunburned Succulents
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to repair the damage done to your succulents by the sun. Plants do not recover from sunburn the way we can, so any discolored patches you see on your plant are permanent.
While there is no treatment for sunburn, there are a couple options for dealing with damaged leaves. The first is to cut off the damaged sections of the plant. Since many succulents can be propagated from leaf cuttings, you may be able to use the damaged leaves to grow new succulents.
Another option is to let the plant grow. As your succulent grows and produces new leaves, the old burned leaves will eventually shrivel up and fall off. If you’re in no rush to remove the unsightly leaves, you can simply let nature take its course. Eventually, the plant will produce enough new growth that the damaged sections will fall off and there will no longer be any trace of sunburn.
How to Avoid Sunburned Succulents
Many types of succulent can thrive in full sun, but they must be allowed to adapt to that much sunlight. Instead of taking your plant from its indoor spot by the window and placing it in full sun on the patio, try slowly introducing your plant to increased levels of light over a period of about two weeks.
During this introductory period, consider placing your succulents into full sun for just a few hours at a time, increasing the time in the sun every few days. Once the plants have received enough sun for the day, move them to a shady area. If moving the plants is not possible, you may consider covering them with a shade cloth. Moving your plants or covering them during the hottest part of the day will help prevent them from being sunburned.
You also need to take in a few other environmental factors into consideration when exposing your succulent to more sunlight. Particularly hot weather can dry plants out quicker, putting them at a higher risk of sunburn. The water loss caused by higher temperatures simply makes the plant a bit more fragile and susceptible to burning.
Succulents planted in containers are at a higher risk of drying out than succulents planted in the ground. Succulents planted in the ground have the benefit of the naturally cooler temperatures underground. Containers tend to heat up quickly, especially in direct sun, which increases the rate of evaporation. Although you should still only water your succulents when their soil is dry, they may need water more frequently during hot weather, especially if they’re planted in containers.
To keep your succulents from drying out so quickly, try watering them in the morning or evening, when temperatures are cooler. This will allow the plant to soak up as much water as it can without having to worry about the water evaporating before it gets its fill. You’ll also be able to avoid the mistake of watering your plant with water from a hose or watering can that has been heated from the sun. Hot water can scald your plants, both on the leaves and the roots.
Although sunburn is a serious problem that can cause permanent damage, it’s important to understand that a little sun stress can be beneficial to your succulents. Stress can cause your succulents to deepen in color, or sometimes even change color completely. With a little stress, your garden can look more vibrant than ever!
Whether you stressed your plants out more than you intended, or exposed them to too much sun by accident, don’t be too disappointed. Caring for succulents isn’t always easy and sometimes you have to learn the hard way. There may be little you can do for sunburned succulents, but you can learn from the experience and be better prepared to avoid sunburn in the future.