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How Much Sun Do Succulents Need?

How much sun do fleshy succulents need? I've gotten this question a few times & the answer is: it depends. Find out about sun & succulents growing both indoors & out in different climate zones.

Nell Foster with joy us garden holding a succulent in a terra cotta pot with another succulent behind her

I love succulents just as much as the next plant obsessed person. They’re fascinating, colorful, easy to care for, and have reigned high on the popularity charts for many years now. Are you new to the wonderful world of succulent gardening? Have you ever wondered how much sun do succulents need? 

Here’s the answer in short: it depends.

Not to be wishy-washy but let me 1st define what I mean by succulents in this post and video. All cacti are succulents but this isn’t about cacti. This is about those fleshy little beauties you see in dish gardens, little planters, living wreaths, and walls, as well as growing in the garden in some more temperate climates.

Close up of a beautiful Purple Prickly Pear growing in Tuscon, Arizona

These succulents grow in full sun here in Tucson. In general, anything with spines can tolerate this sun. These plants have spines which not only protects them from predators but provides a little bit of shade from the extreme summer sun. The beautiful plant in the foreground is a Purple Prickly Pear. The color is more intense in the cooler months.

I wanted to do this post because I’ve grown these succulents both indoors and outdoors. I lived in Santa Barbara, California for 10 years and grew oodles of succulents which were planted  in the garden and also in containers. The coast of Southern California (San Diego, Escondido, Newport Beach, Santa Monica, Ventura, Santa Barbara and right up the Central Coast) is the ideal climate for growing succulents outdoors. 

I now live in Tucson, Arizona which isn’t an ideal climate for fleshy succulents. Nevertheless, they’re sold in almost every nursery along with stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joes etc. The Sonoran Desert is hotter in summer and colder in the winter than the Cali coast. And, most notedly, the intense summer sun will fry them. This applies to other places like Phoenix, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas.

Check out where some of my succulents are growing:

Good to Know:

Succulent leaves, stems and roots are full of water – they’ll burn in full hot sun. If they survive, the leaves will be thin and discolored and the plants most likely won’t reach their optimum size.

Close up of a Aloe Vera plant & pups growing in purple/blue container

This is my Aloe vera which grows in the back of my garden in a container in bright shade. 

Aloe vera with orange/bronze leaves due to stress growing outdoors in the ground

This Aloe vera is thriving in the ground in full sun here in my neighborhood. Notice how much thinner & bronze/orange these leaves are. Discolored plant leaves are due to some type of environmental stress. Not as much gel in these leaves!

Here’s what I’ve learned from experience over the years:

Growing Succulents Indoors

What exposure depends on where you live. In general, succulents need high light when growing indoors. I have 2 mixed succulent gardens growing indoors on windowsills here in Tucson. 1 grows in a north window & the other in an east window. 

If you’re in a climate with less sun, yours will need more light. Somewhere near but not in a south or west window would be best. For instance, I grew up in Connecticut and lived in both New York City and Boston. Succulents need a higher light exposure in these places.

Good to Know:

Succulents up against hot glass will burn. Keep them out of windows with a full west or south exposure especially in summer.

Which Succulents Grow Well Indoors?

If you’re a beginning gardener, these succulents are proven to do well indoors: Aloe vera, Jade Plant, Pencil Cactus, Haworthias, Elephant’s Food. I’ve found that many succulents, especially those with more color in their leaves, don’t do as well.

Dozens of 4" String of Pearls plants growing in a nursery

Oh, how we do love those String Of Pearls! Many gardeners struggle to grow them indoors – this post & video might help you out.

I grew a Paddle Plant indoors in Santa Barbara and it eventually lost the red edging and turned solid green. Plants loose variegation if they’re not getting enough light &/ not happy in their environment. It did well for a few years and then I gave it away before moving to Tucson.

If you’re a more experienced gardener, you may have lots of succulents which are doing well indoors & that’s the beauty of plants. They’re always a learning experience!

Good to Know:

In a climate with less intense sun & cooler temps, water your succulents less often. 

Colorful succulents growing outdoors in the ground in Santa Barbara, CA

This planting grew under the Giant Bird Of Paradise at the edge of my driveway in Santa Barbara. I had many fleshy succulents in this garden & gave away SO many cuttings.

Growing Succulents Along the California Coast

Succulents grow in full sun here. I lived 7 blocks from the beach and the maritime layer often set in 1st thing in the mornings and then again in the early evenings. I had succulents growing in full sun, morning sun and bright shade. The evenings are cooler here than in Tucson and the sun less intense.

Good to Know:

I didn’t water my succulents as often here as I do in Tucson. 

trays of small succulents for sale at Green Things Nursery

These little succulents are for sale at Green Things Nursery. They have them growing under shade cloth. 

Growing Succulents in the Sonoran Desert

End of May through the end of September the sun is brutal here. I make sure I’m back from my morning walks or out of the pool by 7:30-8 because the sun is already beating down by then. My succulents grow in pots in bright shade here.

There are quite a few succulents growing on my covered side patio (north exposure with trees shading it) but the early morning and late afternoon sun does angle in. For protection I bought linen-like curtains which filter out some of the sun and spring rods to put up as it  gets more intense.

I’ve seen succulents growing in full sun here, namely Aloe vera, Pencil Cactus, Sticks On Fire, Euphorbia trigona and Elephant’s Food. I think they look and do better with protection from the afternoon sun.

looking down on a variety of succulents planted in blue container

This mixed planting of succulents grows near my front door. I’ll move it right up next to the front door at the end of May to get a little more sun protection. Just a few feet can make a difference. You can see how I cut this planting back completely here. It’s grown back beautifully in 8 months time.

I’m going to answer a few questions you may have.

Do Succulents Need Sun to Grow?

It depends on the succulent, where it’s growing & the intensity of sun you have. Morning sun is different from midday sun & the same is true for late afternoon sun.

How much direct sun can succulents take?

Again, it depends on the succulent & environment it’s growing in. Fleshy succulents generally can’t take too much direct, intense, hot sun.

Good to Know:

You may have to move your succulents to a spot with the less intense sun in summer. In winter, the opposite is true.

Beautiful succulents displayed in a long, shallow planter in Santa Barbara CA

These beautiful succulents grow in this shallow planter in downtown Santa Barbara. They would fry in the full sun & need watering way too often here in the desert.

Can Succulents Grow in my Bathroom?

If you have no or little natural light, not for very long at all. Some succulents growing indoors can tolerate medium light but for the long haul, do much better in high light.

Are There Succulents Which Grow in the Shade?

Along the coast there are some succulents which tolerate & do fine in bright shade. I grew some aloes, variegated jade, kalanchoes, aeoniums, Christmas cactus & a few others under trees in Santa Barbara.

Here in Tucson, I think they look & do their best with protection from the sun. At least mid-May through mid-October when the sun is relentless.

a display with two vintage chairs planted with mixed succulents & succulents in small containers surrounding them

I’m including this pic for fun because I love it & have never gotten to use it in any post.

How Much Sun Do Succulents Need?

In conclusion, how much sun your succulents need depends on where you live and if they’re growing indoors or outdoors. If they start showing signs of sunburn, move them right away. Just know that it only takes a few hours for some succulents to burn.

After all these years we’re still fascinated with succulents whether they’re growing indoors or out. I’ve done many posts and videos on succulents which I hope will be of help. Have fun with these fleshy beauties!

Happy gardening,

Signed by Nell Foster

Want to learn more about growing succulents? You might also enjoy:

How To Grow A String Of Bananas Plant Outdoors

Aeonium Arboreum Care

How to Grow Christmas Cactus

Take A Tour Of My Container Plants In The Desert

How to Plant & Water Succulents In Pots Without Drain Holes

Aloe Vera 101

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