Are you wondering why a succulent no longer looks as good as when you bought it? If a succulent is otherwise healthy, the first thing to consider is light.
Succulents growing in less than optimal light lose color from their leaves. They'll turn from red, yellow or orange to faded shades of blue or green, and may flatten or stretch (etiolate). On the opposite extreme, when given too much sun, succulents may show beige patches on their leaves or close their rosettes.
At the nursery, don't just look down, look up. When you bring your purchases home, give them the same or similar sun intensity that they're used to. As they settle in and seasons change, they may surprise you. With the benefit of time and room to stretch their roots, it's not unreasonable to expect them to look even better than before.
How Much Light Do Succulents Need?
The answer is "it depends." What's the type of plant? Where do you live? What's the climate like? Even altitude can make a difference. For example, most haworthias and gasterias prefer shade but can handle some sun along the coast. Many but by no means all cacti are fine in desert sun. As a general rule, the majority of soft-leaved succulents want half a day's sun (in mild climates) and dappled or "bright" shade the rest of the day.
Light is essential to any plant's survival, but too much can damage it. Too little can ruin its shape. Providing optimal light often comes down to observation.
Above: If these succulents could talk, they'd say, "The light is over there." When succulents lean, it's usually because they're seeking more sun. The phenomenon of growing toward light is "phototropism." Stretched growth in low-light situations is "etiolation."
Not enough sun
Too much sun
Above: This aloe closed its rosette to protect it's vital core from too much sun and resulting dehydration. Pigment similar to that of autumn leaves protects it from burning. The plant is "stressed" -- not necessarily a bad thing. It'll recover when the rains come and sun is not as harsh, just as it would in the wild.
Above: A large agave in my garden has leaves that bend and curve. Stretched cells are vulnerable to sunburn. There's not much I can do to prevent it. I don't like looking at burned patches, so I trim the damaged leaves back to the trunk.
Above: Hot, sunny days can come so quickly that garden succulents don't have time to adjust. I probably could have prevented sunburn on these aeoniums if I'd tossed a sheet or (even better) floating row cover on them. They eventually outgrew the damage, but it was evident for months. See "Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns."
Above: This Agave 'Cream Spike' has recovered from sunburn. You can still see the damage on the outer leaves, but new growth is fine.
Above: Here's another sunburn survivor. The damaged tissue is white and the new growth, green.
Above left: Aloe maculata, late summer; right: same plant in spring.
Related info on this site:
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