Sunburned agave (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Summer Care for Succulents: Heat and Sun Concerns

Don't let harsh sun and high 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. Learn more on the Shade Succulents page of this site. See my Shade Succulents video.

    Echeveria 'Sahara' in bright shade

    Above: Echeverias on the left in bright shade are healthy but have lost color. Those in greater sun have red edges, but being somewhat stressed, are smaller.

  • 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 floating row covers (ideally), shade cloth, old sheets or temporary shade structures. I use old window screens. 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. Or use outdoor furniture, keeping in mind the sun moves throughout the day.

    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.
  • More tropical succulents like kalanchoes and anything with thin leaves can't handle desert heat and scorching sun. Move them under a covered patio or indoors near a window. If you're going out of town during a heat wave, set the A/C to turn on at 80 or 90.
  • 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.

Video: Come with me as I prepare and evaluate my own garden. 

Related info on this site

Dormant aeonium (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Post-Summer Succulent Concerns

After a brutal, early-September heat wave, I address ten common, post-summer succulent concerns. You’ll see them in my a new six-minute video: Post-Summer Care for Succulents (6:49). It’s a candid, warts-and-all, behind-the-scenes, damage-control tour.

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Sun and aloes (c) Debra Lee Baldwin

Don’t Let a Heat Wave Ruin Your Succulents

You have two options for protecting your succulents from heat waves that follow cool weather:
1. Move them. Of course this is only possible if they’re in pots. But don’t forget to do it! When sudden heat and sun hit, succulents that haven’t had time to acclimate may sunburn. There’s no reversing the resulting brown or beige patches. 

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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 😍

  3. Charles Gizoni on June 10, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    So do you have a retail location? Thanks Chuck Gizoni Vista, Ca

    • Debra Lee Baldwin on June 10, 2020 at 1:24 pm

      Hi Charles — Not exactly, but I do recommend tools, plant nurseries and other sources on my website, in the menu under Resources.

  4. Nicholas Staddon on July 9, 2020 at 11:52 am

    Hello Debra, super article.

    This is Nicholas Staddon from Tree Town USA, formally Village nurseries. Suzie W. and I still on the same track. The Agave that is pretty fried up in the opening picture. What is the variety please? Thank you so much.

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