If you have decided to try your hand at growing plants, it makes sense to start with succulents. This is because succulents are well known as one of the lowest maintenance types of plants out there; however, low maintenance does not mean no maintenance. It is still possible for succulents to suffer, as is the case when they develop sunburn.
You might be able to heal your sunburned succulents by giving them the right amount of water, limiting the amount of sunlight exposure, and removing sunburned leaves. If there are white areas on the leaves, this indicates minor sunburn; darker patches indicate severe sunburn.
If you are growing succulent plants with sunburn, it can be easy to get frustrated. However, instead, you should read on to see what you can do about it.
Succulents’ Need for Sunlight
Even though succulents can get sunburned, this is not to say that they don’t need sunlight at all. In fact, sunlight is quite essential for these plants, as they are for any plants.
Plants, including succulents, need sunlight to be able to undergo photosynthesis and create food for themselves. However, if the plant tissue is sunburned, it will not be able to photosynthesize; only healthy surrounding tissue will be able to do so.
The key is making sure that your succulent plant is exposed to an amount of sunlight that is just right. Usually, succulents do well in sunshine and warm temperatures (80 degrees Fahrenheit or above). However, the combination of the two can sometimes prove to be overwhelming for these plants.
Ultraviolet rays, combined with the intensity of the sunlight itself, can end up burning the flesh of the plant. Besides, the heat associated with all of this sunlight can lead to a loss of water and higher core temperatures, which will leave the plant more vulnerable to sunburn.
Too much sun for a succulent will cause stress. If the stress is introduced gradually, the plant might produce bright pigments to adapt to a large amount of light and heat. In fact, some gardeners want to stress their succulents out a little bit in order to create bright and vibrant colors that will give their garden a particular look.
However, if exposure to direct sun happens suddenly, sunburn will occur.
What Are the Signs of Succulent Sunburn?
If you’ve never seen a sunburned succulent plant before, you might want to know what it looks like. Although variations are depending on the specific succulent plant, there are few general rules of thumb.
Generally, patches of discoloration are a pretty good indication of sunburn on a succulent. Typically, you will see brown, red, or black patches located close to the tip of the leaves. These patches will also have a rough texture, in contrast with the rest of the leaf’s smooth texture.
If you see white marks on your outdoor succulent plant, these indicate a light case of sunburn. If the marks are darker, the sunburn is more severe.
Typically, the more severe the sunburn on the succulent plant, the darker the discolored patches will be. Darker patches are also more likely to have a rough, scarred texture, while lighter patches may be the same texture as the rest of the plant. On indoor or shaded succulent plants, sunburn is more likely to be exhibited in yellow or golden areas on the plant.
Just as is the case with any problem, the sooner you address the damage, the better. This means that the damage will be easier to address and treat if you take care of it when the burns on your succulent plant are still white. If you catch the sunburn at this stage, you can often make the marks disappear.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should throw it out if there are brown marks on your plant. You could potentially still salvage it if you take the right steps. At this point, you should be aware that the marks on the leaves will be permanent, as plant tissue doesn’t recover from sunburn the way human skin can. The good news is that the damage can be mostly cosmetic.
The parts of the plant that are not burned will still be capable of photosynthesis, so as long as you have enough healthy plant tissue, the plant could be okay. The plant will also keep growing from the center, and the burned leaves will eventually fall away.
In some cases, sunburned succulents don’t have much of a chance. If you leave them out in the sun and allow the damage to continue, they can die completely. Usually, as long as the newer leaves in the center are still healthy, the plant has a chance.
How to Avoid Succulent Sunburn
If you want to stop sunburn from doing a lot of damage to your succulent plants, prevention is the best solution. It’s important to take good care of your succulent from the very beginning. Even though it needs sun, you don’t want to overexpose it to the sun right away. It will need time to adapt to this amount of sunlight in order to be able to tolerate it.
You should make sure to acclimate your plant as gently as possible. Here are some good general steps to follow:
- Only expose your plant to indirect sunlight in the first one or two weeks that you have it.
- During the second and third weeks, expose your plants to direct sun for between 30 and 60 minutes every day.
- Each week after this, expose your succulent to more sun gradually until you see that the increase is no longer beneficial to the plant.
Of course, it’s important to remember that not every succulent plant is created in the same way. Some will tolerate direct sun better than others. Most of them thrive when exposed to direct sunlight in the early morning and then in direct sunlight and shade for the remainder of the day.
Additionally, you do need to use your judgment when it comes to the surroundings of the plant. You want to make sure that the weather isn’t too hot as you are trying to acclimate your plant since this can dry plants out and put them at more risk of sunburn. How long soil takes to become dry (meaning how frequently it needs water) can vary based on the environment.
Keep in mind that the specific type of succulent matters, and you should do research on the particular plant before maintaining one. Typically, Aeoniums do better in cooler temperatures, while Cacti, Agaves, and Aloes tolerate heat better, for example.
Additionally, larger succulents are less likely to be affected by hot temperatures because they are stronger and have deeper root systems. Succulents that have been around awhile are also not going to be as fragile as newly planted succulents.
Prevention in the Form of Damage Control
If you see a succulent with white patches, meaning it is in the very beginning stages of sunburn, you can avoid any additional damage if you take action quickly.
If you are taking care of an outdoor succulent, the best thing to do at this point is to move the succulent to an area with a lot of shade. Also, water it at that point in order to avoid excessive dryness.
It is best to water these plants during the mornings or evenings when it is relatively cool outside. If you water it when it is too hot outside, the sun-heated water can end up cooking the roots and making the damage even worse.
Additionally, if you water succulents when it is really hot outside, this will increase the likelihood that the water will just evaporate before the plant can take advantage of it.
A shade cloth or net might also be a good idea in order to stop the excessive amount of sunlight; this is a special type of fabric that can protect the plant from heat and block out a lot of ultraviolet rays.
For an indoor plant that you are keeping near the window, you can move it away from the sunlight. Alternatively, you can cover the window so that less light will pass through it to get to your plant. It would also be a good idea to put your burned succulent under the shade of another succulent.
You may need to water indoor succulents in containers more frequently than you would need to water outdoor succulents. This is because containers tend to heat up more quickly than outdoor soil, which will be influenced by the naturally cooler temperatures present underground. The water also evaporates more quickly from a container.
It’s always a good idea to water a succulent in this situation, but you do need to remember that overwatering a succulent can lead to root rot and be disastrous for the plant. If you decide to water the plant when you see that it is sunburned, make sure that you are cautious while doing so.
If you act quickly in the beginning stages of sunburn, you might be able to restore it to optimal health within just a few days. Make sure not to put the plant back out in direct sunlight until you see that all the white marks are gone from the leaves.
One thing that you should know is that if the damage is severe, there is no way you will actually be able to heal sunburn on a succulent. Once plant tissue is burned to the point where it is brown or black, the tissue can’t be recovered.
However, this doesn’t mean that the entire plant is unsalvageable. Eventually, with proper care and maintenance, the burned parts of the plant will fall away, and you can continue to nurture the plant and help it grow.
There are few things that you can do in order to salvage your burned succulent.
Change Its Location
A very common first step in the situation is to change the location of the plant. If you have it in a really sunny spot, it would be a good idea to move it to a place where it isn’t constantly going to be exposed to sunlight.
However, one thing that you should avoid doing is taking the plant inside the house. This change will lead to a sudden shock that will put more stress on the plant and potentially inhibit healing. The best thing to do is move it to a shady or location that is still outdoors.
Alternatively, you can keep it in the same location and provide shade, whether you want to use a shade net, prop up an umbrella over the plant, or put another plant over it to block out the sunlight.
Give It Morning Sunshine
If your succulent can get a minimum of six hours of sunshine early in the morning, this will be great for it. This is even true if it is already sunburned. Even if some of the tissue is damaged, the plant will still need a certain amount of sunlight in order to stay alive.
You want to expose the succulent to morning sunlight instead of afternoon sunlight so that the afternoon sun is typically much too hot for many types of succulent plants.
Also, the ultraviolet rays are significantly stronger in the afternoon and will make the problem even worse. The morning sun is less intense and will not burn your succulents the same way the sun does later in the day.
Remove Damaged Leaves
If you see any leaves on your succulent plant that are 70 to 80 percent sunburned, it would be best to remove these leaves. This is because they are really just sucking nutrients away from the rest of the plant without being able to contribute anything anymore.
However, leaves that are still mostly green can stay on the plant since the healthy tissue can still make food for the plant.
Once leaves have brown and black spots on them, they won’t heal. You can simply cut them off with either a pair of scissors or a sterilized knife.
You may even be able to use the damaged leaves to grow new plants. One major property of succulents is that new plants can often be propagated using leaf cuttings. If the leaf has enough healthy tissue, this might be an option.
Keep Temperature in Mind
Even though your succulents are capable of tolerating high temperatures, an excess of high temperatures combined with too much sunlight can result in sunburn. However, you want to make sure that your succulents still have enough heat, so you should not put them in a cold environment.
The majority of tropical succulents will need to have surroundings with temperatures of at least 50° to 60°F (10° to 15.55°C) in order to be healthy. They will usually be okay at 65° or 70°F (18.33° or 21.11°C) as well, but temperatures of 80°F (26°C) and above can be harmful. It would help if you researched your specific variety of succulent since not all succulents are the same in their tolerances.
Pick the Right Shade Cloth
If you’re going to use a shade cloth to shield your succulent plant from the sun, you should choose the right one. Many succulent plants originated from tropical areas and need indirect, rather than direct, sunlight.
Since it can sometimes be quite arduous to keep moving your succulent plants around, sometimes the shade cloth is the best solution. Typically, they will come in densities of between 5 and 95 percent.
Your succulent will need a shade cloth that is capable of blocking out between 35 and 70 percent of sunlight in the summertime. This is particularly true if you live in a very hot area.
You should make sure that you read the product specification and know the specific needs of your plants before you purchase a shade cloth. Don’t assume that a darker color of the cloth will be more effective and give you better coverage since this isn’t always the case.
Mist the Soil
Typically, you don’t have to water succulents every day. However, you should make sure that the soil is at least moist. You can do this by putting a light mist of water onto the soil to keep the roots sufficiently cool and allow the leaves to retain enough water to battle the heat effectively.
Every day, you can check the medium to see how dry it is and add a small amount of moisture into the soil early in the morning.
If you find that your succulents are sunburned, all you can do is be as proactive as possible now. Take all of the proper steps to save your plant. Depending on the stage of sunburn, you might be able to nurture your plant into a full recovery or at least stop any further damage.
However, if you are not able to save your succulent plant, this doesn’t mean that you should beat yourself up over it. In many cases, you just have to learn from your mistakes and act differently to take care of your succulent plants in the future.