Closeup of a sunburned succulent

Succulent Sunburn: How to Treat, Heal, and Avoid Sun Damage

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In the past, one of my succulents started showing signs of sunburn in just a matter of hours! I was shocked when I realized just how quickly the damage took place. Later, I realized that moving your succulents from one environment to another must be done gradually.

Succulents are a type of plant that is known for their ability to store water in their leaves, stems, or roots. This adaptation allows them to thrive in arid environments where other plants would quickly wither and die. While succulents are accustomed to hot conditions, they can still be susceptible to sunburn if they are not properly cared for.

If you’re wondering what sunburned succulents look like, how to prevent sunburn, treatment for sun damage, and the difference between sunburn and sun stress in succulents, this guide is for you. By the end, you will be an expert on all things related to sunburned succulents!

What Does Sunburn on Succulents Look Like?

The first step to properly care for your succulents in the harsh summer weather is being able to identify when they are sunburnt. The most obvious symptom of a sunburnt succulent is discoloration of the leaves. The leaves may turn white, yellow, or brown and may appear papery or crispy.

In severe cases of sun damage, succulent leaves may begin to curl or drop off entirely. Sunburned succulents may also have stunted growth or produce fewer flowers than usual. If you notice any of these symptoms in your succulent, it is likely that it has been sunburnt and will need some extra shade or care intervention.

Related: How to Care for Succulents Indoors

How to Prevent Succulent Sunburn?

The best way to deal with a sunburnt succulent is to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. One way to do this is by placing your succulent in an area that receives indirect sunlight rather than direct sunlight.

Another way to reduce the risk of sunburn is by gradually acclimating your plant to direct sunlight instead of exposing it immediately. Start by placing it in an area with indirect sunlight and then slowly move it into an area with more direct sunlight over the course of a week or two. By slowly acclimating your plant, you can prevent any sudden changes that might lead to sunburn.

Some succulent enthusiasts give their plants a little too much love by touching and cleaning their leaves. Doing this will wipe away the natural farina that helps protect the leaves from the sun. Farina is a white, powdery residue that forms naturally on the leaves. It’s important to only handle your succulents when necessary and to avoid touching or cleaning the leaves if possible.

If you live in an area with very hot summers, it might be a good idea to invest in some shade cloth to drape over your plants. Shade cloth comes in a variety of densities and can be found at most gardening stores. A shade cloth will help filter and reflect some of the intense summer rays and prevent your succulents from getting sunburned.

Finally, make sure that you are watering your succulents regularly (preferably at night) and not letting them sit in direct sunlight for extended periods of time without water. Water the well-draining soil around your plant and not the leaves. Wet leaves that are exposed to harsh sunlight can become sunburnt in just a matter of hours.

Related: Why Is My Succulent Dying? How to Troubleshoot and Fix It

Treatment for Succulent Sunburn

If your plant does get sunburnt, there are a few steps you can take to help it heal.

The first step is to move it out of direct sunlight and into an area with indirect sunlight or shade. This will help to reduce the risk of further damage.

Next, determine whether or not your succulent needs a drink. If the soil is well-draining and completely dry, and the leaves are puckering or shriveling, it’s time to water your plant. Don’t assume that sunburn automatically means your plant is thirsty. I like to use this soil moisture meter to decide if it’s time to give my succulents more water.

Once you’ve moved your succulent to a shadier location, you can simply allow it to grow as normal. As long as the plant isn’t falling apart, it will continue to grow and thrive. However, sunburn causes permanent damage, and while part of a leaf can continue to grow, the burnt scar tissue may look unsightly. If you can live with the scars, your plant will be okay.

If the leaves of your plant are severely damaged or begin to curl up and fall off, it is best to remove them so that the rest of the plant can focus on putting out new growth. You might even need to save the future well-being of your plant and use the good parts to propagate new succulents.

Succulent Sunburn vs Sun Stress

Bright colored sun stressed succulents

It is important to note that there is a difference between sunburn and heat stress in succulents. While both phenomenons can be caused by overexposure to direct sunlight, heat stress generally refers to coloring that occurs gradually over time while sunburn refers to damage that occurs suddenly after exposure to excessive heat (usually as a result of being placed in direct sunlight after being grown in an area with indirect sunlight).

Heat stress manifests itself as vibrantly colored leaves while sunburn manifests itself as dry/crispy or brown-spotted leaves. If you think your plant may be experiencing heat stress, you can either try moving it into an area with more shade or providing it with a layer of shade during the hottest hours of the day.

Related: Beautiful Black Succulents

Succulents Need Plenty of Sunlight

Talking about sunburned succulents can make any beginner gardener sun-shy. But truthfully, most succulents love just about any amount of sunlight you can send their way.

The real thing to worry about is whether your succulent is ready for the intensity of sunlight you’re about to provide. As long as you acclimate your plants to any changes in light over the course of 10 to 14 days, they can typically handle plenty of sunlight.

Sunburned succulents are a common problem among gardeners, but one that can easily be prevented with proper care. If your succulent does happen to get sunburnt, there are a few things you can do to help it recover including moving it into indirect sunlight, trimming the damaged leaves, and adjusting its watering schedule.

Just remember that there is a difference between heat stress and sunburn so make sure you correctly identify the problem before taking action.

Related: How to Choose the Right Grow Light for Your Succulents

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