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Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns

Don't let summer sun and heat harm your succulents! Heat, unlike frost (temps 32 degrees F and lower), usually isn't a concern for succulents. Although some tend not to thrive in temps above 80 or 90 degrees F, the majority can handle more than you're personally comfortable evidenced by greenhouse temperatures that soar into the triple digits on summer days. However, heat plus sun can be deadly to succulents. Unless they're desert cacti or agaves, most smooth-leaved succulents need sun protection in summer, especially above 80 degrees.

Summer-stressed Aloe bainesii tree

If you live in an arid climate ~

  • Know your property's orientation to the sun. In North America, plants growing on your home's north side will get the least amount of sun exposure; those on the south, the most. East-facing gardens like mine get morning sun and afternoon shade. Gardens facing west have afternoon sun and morning shade.
  • "Bright shade" (no direct sun but not deep shade) is ideal for non-desert succulents in mid-afternoon when temperatures peak. Bright shade is essential for low-light succulents such as haworthias, gasterias, euphorbias, faucarias, sansevierias, sempervivums, and anything light-colored or variegated. (There are exceptions; for the requirements of specific plants, see the "Succulents A to Z" chapter of Designing with Succulents.)
  • Echeveria 'Sahara' in bright shade

    Above: Echeverias on the left benefit from bright shade; those on the right are in too much sun.

  • Whenever you buy a new plant, notice where it was located in the nursery. Was it out in the open or beneath shade cloth? Even if it's a "full sun" succulent---like an agave---if it was growing in a sheltered area, it'll need to be "hardened off" (shaded, especially in the afternoon) until it acclimates. Such exposure is similar to tanning: Start with 30 min. of sun and increase it by an hour or so each day.
  • Give aloes and crassulas enough sun to turn hues of red and orange but not so much that leaf tips shrivel or burn---at least half a day. (See "How to Stress Succulents and Why You Should.")

    Stressed jade plant

    Above: This jade (Crassula ovata) is stressed by heat and dryness. The plant is slowly draining its leaves to stay alive. But after irrigation or rain (which could be months away), leaves will be plump and greener.

  • Because sunburned stems are less able to transmit moisture from roots to leaves, be sure to cover exposed, horizontal stems of trailing succulents (aloes, senecios, othonna and the like) with dry leaves or mulch.
  • Protect newly installed plants and in-ground succulents susceptible to sun-scorch with temporary shade structures. I use old window screens secured with bricks, but you can buy shade cloth at any home improvement store. In a pinch, set leafy tree trimmings upright in the ground next to a plant you want to protect, on the side that gets the most sun.

    Aloe brevifolia, stressed

    Above: Beautiful but stressed, Aloe brevifolia has turned from blue to pink and closed its rosettes.

  • Understand how plants protect themselves. Succulents can't scurry off to shade when sun is intolerable, so some provide their own. Rosette succulents such as dudleyas, aeoniums and certain aloes will close their rosettes to protect their vital cores. Lower leaves that dry but don't fall off have a purpose: They shade vulnerable stems in summer and insulate them from cold in winter.
  • Plant trees and shrubs that'll provide shade where needed during long, hot summer afternoons. (For low-water varieties good in succulent gardens, see the Companion Plants chapter of Designing with Succulents, 2nd ed.).

What sunburn looks like

Sunburn on agave

This agave's leaves are floppy, which stretches (and weakens) the cells where they're most exposed to sun. 

White, beige or black patches on succulents indicate sunburn, meaning cells have been irrevocably damaged---an effect similar to frost. Although the plant is fine, scars will last as long as the leaf does.

Sunburned aeoniums

Sunburn on these aeoniums is mostly on the underside of the lowest leaves...which they'll lose anyway in a few months. Pretty efficient, wouldn't you agree?

Same aeoniums several months later. A few remaining burned leaves are barely noticeable. 

If marred areas are on outer leaves, so much the better; new growth from the center of the rosette will conceal sunburned areas over time. In any case, lower leaves---damaged or not---naturally wither and fall off. Depending on the succulent and the season, recovery from sunburn may take several months to a year.

Related Info:

How to Water Succulents in Summer.  OK, we all know that succulents are low-water plants. But they’re not “no-water” plants. Although they may survive without irrigation during the heat of summer, they’re unlikely to be lush and healthy. Be sure you... [continue reading]

Aloe nobilis, in bright shade on left, in full sun on right

How to Stress Succulents (and Why You Should). Plenty of sun brings out brilliant reds and yellows in certain succulents, but how much to "stress" the plants varies depending on... [continue reading]

On my YouTube channel:

Succulents, Sun and Summer. On an 89-degree day in my garden, I show you what's in bloom and lookin' good (or sadly dreadful), and explain how to evaluate the health of your in-ground succulents, small and large.

Twelve Low-Water Trees for Succulent Landscapes.  I help you evaluate garden areas in need of shade and select trees to plant when the weather cools in the fall.

Sun and Your Succulents. Most succulents are sun lovers, but how much do they really need? And what happens if they get too much or too little light? (Filmed at the Succulent Extravaganza.)

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  1. Joan Ligon on July 17, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    I appreciate all your information. I moved to Laguna Woods from Boston so I have a lot to learn about semi=tropical gardening.

    Thank you.

  2. Arsenia Serafica on July 14, 2019 at 8:38 am

    Thanks Debra, I check my succulents and most of them are burned. I check and read your books and newsletter and all the information that I need to know you mentioned everything, but most of my succulents that I got are from home depot and there are no information mention if they need shade or in full sun. Thanks that we have debra lee Baldwin that’s share her knowledge about succulents 😍

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