Succulents are fascinating, colorful, and easy-to-care-for beautiful plants that 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.
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Not to be wishy-washy with the answer in short above but let me first define what I mean by succulents in this post and video. Cacti are a sub-family of succulents, but this isn’t about them.
This is about those fleshy little beauties with unique shapes that you see in dish gardens, planters, living wreaths, and living walls, as well as growing in the garden in more temperate climates. That being said, there are some cold hardy succulents that’ll survive in zones 4 and 5.
I wanted to do this post because I’ve grown these succulents both indoors and outdoors. I lived in Santa Barbara, California (zone 10 a & 10b) for ten 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 (zone 9a & 9b) which is the land of cacti but not the ideal climate for most fleshy succulents. Nevertheless, they’re sold in almost every nursery along with stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, 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 the majority of them. This applies to other places like Phoenix, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas.
Succulent leaves, stems, and roots are full of water – they’ll burn in the full, hot sun. If they survive, the leaves will be thin and discolored and the plants most likely won’t reach their optimum size.
Here’s what I’ve learned from experience over the past 18 years:
Growing Succulents Along the California Coast
Succulents grow in the full sun here and are great additions to any low-water garden. I lived seven blocks from the beach and the maritime layer often set in first 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 in the summer than in Tucson and the sun is less intense. Because of this, I didn’t water my succulents as often there as I do in Tucson.
Sun exposure and watering are two of the most important factors in keeping your succulents thriving. As a companion piece to this guide, we have a post on How Often To Water Succulents.
Growing Succulents in the Sonoran Desert
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’s rays are already beating down. I grow my succulents in pots in the bright shade sheltered from the sun.
There were quite a few succulents growing in bright indirect light on my covered side patio (north exposure with trees shading it) at my former home but the early morning and late afternoon sun did angle in for a short period of time. For protection, I bought linen-like curtains on spring rods which filtered out some of the summer sun as it got more intense.
I’ve since moved into a new home (bye-bye HOA!) and my succulents still grow in pots on a north-facing covered patio.
I’ve seen succulents growing in full sun exposure here, namely Aloe Vera, Pencil Cactus, Sticks On Fire, Euphorbia trigona, Ponytail Palms, and Elephant’s Food. I think they look and do better with some protection from the intense heat of the afternoon sun. Plus, in dry climates like this, desert succulents require more frequent watering in the hotter months.
Succulents In Direct Sun
This depends on the succulent and the environment it’s growing in. As a rule of thumb, most fleshy succulents can’t take too much hot, direct sun (like here in the Sonoran Desert) and it can lead to burning. On the coast of central and southern California is a different story; a full sun exposure here is fine.
If your succulents are in pots, it’s a good idea to move them to a spot receiving less intense sun in summer if they’re showing signs of stress. This is especially true if they’re against a wall with reflected heat.
In winter, the opposite is true. You might have to move those pots to a spot with more sun.
Succulents in the Shade / Indirect Sunlight
Along the coast, there are some outdoor low-light succulents that tolerate and do fine in bright shade. They’ll burn in the direct hot sun. I grew several Aloes, a Variegated Jade, Kalanchoes, Aeoniums, Snake Plants, and Christmas Cactus under trees in partial shade in my Santa Barbara garden.
Here in Tucson, I think succulents look and do their best with protection from the hot sun at least from May through mid-October when the rays are relentless. I grow all my fleshy succulents in pots on the north side of the house protected from the strong rays.
In a climate with less intense sun and cooler temps, water your succulents less often.
What Exposure Do Indoor Succulents Need?
What exposure your succulents are in depends on where you live. In general, succulents need a lot of bright, natural light when growing indoors. I have two mixed succulent gardens growing indoors on windowsills here in Tucson. One grows in a north window and the other in an east-facing window, where they get enough sunlight to thrive.
If you’re in a climate with less sun, yours will need more hours of sunlight. 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. Succulent plants need higher light exposure in these places.
Four key factors will ensure healthy succulents. In addition to having enough light, watering properly (not watering too often), using a succulent and cactus mix, and having your succulents planted in pots with drainage holes are the ticket. Succulents are susceptible to root rot and too much water will be their demise.
I’m not going into too much more detail here because we’ve done a series of 14 posts and videos on growing succulents indoors. Learn more about Indoor Succulent Care Basics.
Which Succulents Grow Well Indoors?
If you’re a beginning gardener, these hardy succulents are proven to do well indoors: Aloe vera, Jade Plant, Pencil Cactus, Haworthias, Lithops, Gasterias, and Elephant’s Food. I’ve found that the type of succulent with a more vibrant color in its leaves doesn’t do as well.
I grew a Paddle Plant indoors in Santa Barbara and it eventually lost the red edging and turned solid green. Plants lose variegation if they’re not getting enough light or are environmentally stressed in another way. It did well for a few years and I ended up giving it away before moving to Tucson.
If you’re a more experienced gardener, you may have lots of different succulents that are doing well as indoor plants and that’s the beauty of plants. They’re always a learning experience!
How Much Sun Do Succulents Need Video Guide
How Much Sun Do Succulents Need FAQs
Succulents growing indoors do best in high-light exposure. They need sunlight, but not the direct, hot sun.
A west or south exposure is best. More details are directly below.
Near a south-facing window or a west-facing window is best. I have a couple of succulent pots growing in north-facing windows here in Tucson, but remember, it’s the 2nd sunniest city in the US.
Yes, they can survive on a windowsill. The exposure depends on where you live and the time of year. Near a sunny window (south or west) is best but not up against the hot window glass. Succulents up against hot glass will burn. Keep them out of windows with a full west or south exposure, especially in summer.
No, succulents aren’t suited for low-light conditions. If you have no or little natural light, they won’t live inside for very long. Some indoor succulents tolerate medium light but for the long haul, do much better in high light.
No, they won’t survive in a room without windows.
Artificial lighting and grow lights are something I don’t share advice on. I’ve always grown all of my indoor plants in natural light.
As much as you can give them. The days are shorter and the sun is less intense in the winter months. You may have to move your succulents to a spot with more sun at this time of year.
We’ve done a series of 14 posts and videos on growing succulents indoors. Learn more about Indoor Succulent Care Basics.
It depends on where you live. Here in Tucson, AZ, the early morning sun is better. In Santa Barbara where I used to live, the afternoon sun is fine.
Yes, there are some outdoor succulents that grow in the bright shade, but not deep shade. From experience, I grew Sansevierias, Aeoniums, Variegated Jade, Christmas Cactus, 3 Aloes, and 2 Agaves in an east exposure under a Jacaranda Tree. The lower the light levels, the less water you give them.
They will let you know! Leggy succulents that are reaching towards the nearest light source are 1 sign. If they’re not receiving adequate sunlight, other signs are smaller leaves, paler leaves, and stunted new growth.
Baby succulents and succulent cuttings need as much light as larger succulents do. It’s very important to keep them out of hot windows where too much direct sun could burn them.
Yes, succulents can get too much sunlight. Their leaves and stems are full of water so they can easily burn.
Yes, but it depends on the succulent, where it’s growing, and the intensity of the sun. The morning sun is different from the midday sun and the same is true for the late afternoon sun.
There are no succulents that I know of that will grow healthy in full shade. Bright shade and filtered sunlight are a different story.
As a companion piece to this guide, we have a post on How Often To Water Succulents.
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 of direct sunlight for some succulents to burn. Conversely, if they’re getting leggy, pale, or the new growth looks stunted, move them to spots with more light.
After all these years we’re still fascinated with succulents whether they’re growing indoors or out. Be sure to check out our succulents category for much more info. Have fun with these fleshy beauties!
Note: This post was originally published on 5/22/2019. It was updated on 2/2/2023 with new images & more information.
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Nell, the founder of Joy Us garden, was born into a gardening family and grew up in Connecticut’s countryside. After living in Boston, New York, San Francisco, & Santa Barbara, she now calls the Arizona desert home. She studied horticulture & garden design, working in the field all her life. Nell is a gardener, designer, blogger, Youtube creator, & author. She’s been gardening for a very long time & wants to share what she’s learned with you.