I absolutely love shopping online for succulents and gardening supplies. If you aren't already saving money by comparing prices online, give it a try! Here are six of my favorite things that I have purchased online as I build my own succulent oasis:
- Serene Succulent Coloring Book for Adults
- Half-moon plant shelves
- Hexagonal wall shelves
- Succulent fertilizer
- Soil moisture meter
- Bright white grow lights
- Terracotta pots
For many succulent enthusiasts who live in cooler climates, it’s a constant challenge to make sure our fat plants get enough light. But what of those among us who inhabit more arid, sunny areas?
In zones like the southeastern United States (hi Californians, Arizonians & co.!), the European Mediterranean and parts of Australia, things outside can get so blazing hot that even tough succulents sometimes begin to struggle.
In these parts of the world, we need drought tolerant full sun succulents if we want to be able to grow anything in the less shaded areas of our gardens. The more “moderate” species often can’t handle the intensity.
Let’s have a look at a few of the best succulents for full sun – based on personal experience and years of research! I’ll also tell you a few species that you’re better off avoiding for the sunniest locations.
What Do We Mean by Full Sun?
When discussing the best succulents for full sun, we’re not talking about plants grown indoors. In the home, it’s very rare for succulents to be negatively affected by the sun – in fact, it’s much more likely that you’ll end up having difficulty making sure they get enough sun. That’s also why grow lights are so popular among indoor succulent growers.
No, when it comes to full sun, we’re talking about bright, outdoor midday light on a cloudless day. In terms of light intensity, this can be up to 10,000 foot candles. Compare that to the measly 400 or so foot candles that will reach your succulent indoors on an overcast day, even if they’re right next to a window.
Many tropical houseplants, including popular genera like Philodendron, Monstera and the like, aren’t fit for these conditions. The same goes for some succulents (we’ll discuss those below).
However, luckily, a lot of our fat plants have evolved specifically to handle the harsh light, drought and sometimes extreme heat in arid desert climates. This makes them perfect to grow outdoors, even in full sun, if you need tough plants that don’t shrivel in the blazing summer sun.
The Best Succulents for Full Sun
There are a bunch of perfect heat tolerant succulents to grow on your Arizona deck or a balcony in Spain. You can start with these amazing types of succulents, even as a new plant owner.
1. Echeveria ‘Perle von Nürnberg’
This one is a world-wide favorite due to its beautiful powdery blueish purple foliage, but many succulent enthusiasts don’t have much success with it: it needs a lot of light to keep it from becoming stretchy and sad.
To see your Echeveria ‘Perle von Nürnberg’ in its full splendor, give it a nice and sunny spot in your garden, at least during the summer months.
2. Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus Grusonii)
You probably won’t be surprised to see a good few cacti on this list. Most of the plump cactus species (not the thin-leaved jungle cacti) have evolved to be very tolerant of inhospitable full-sun conditions and drought.
One example is the golden barrel cactus of the genus Echinocactus. This cactus is also sometimes known as mother-in-law’s cushion – someone must really not have liked their mother in law, because the spines on this one are quite unpleasant.
Still, it makes the perfect addition to a xerigarden because of its nice yellow color, and it can be grown pretty much anywhere.
3. Century Plant (Agave Americana)
Members of the genus Agave, like the popular Agave americana, are very tough plants. They can take pretty much whatever nature and the sun can throw at them: I’ve seen them growing on barren mountain slopes, so life in a comfy big planter in your sunny garden should be no problem at all.
Other beautiful Agaves to consider include the foxtail Agave (A. attenuata), the spectacular Queen Victoria Agave (A. victoriae-reginae) and my personal favorite: the thread Agave (A. filifera).
4. Candelabra Tree (Euphorbia Ingens)
Although the candelabra tree looks like a cactus, its lack of spines reveals that it’s actually something different. It’s an example of convergent evolution: in order to deal with its harsh natural habitat, this African member of the genus Euphorbia evolved in a similar manner to American cacti, even though they’re not related.
A candelabra tree is a great choice if you want a plant that can grow truly huge. Mature specimens develop a thick, woody stem and an amazing array of branches on top. Do be careful: the latex-like sap is toxic and a skin irritant.
5. Paddle Plant (Kalanchoe Luciae)
The genus Kalanchoe contains a good few species that would work excellently in a sunny xerigarden, but the paddle plant (Kalanchoe luciae) is one of my favorites.
When grown in medium light, this species produces inconspicuous pale green leaves with red tips. That changes when you expose it to plenty of full sun, which will cause it to explode with fiery shades of red and orange!
Other drought tolerant full sun succulents in this sizeable genus include the fuzzy felt bush (Kalanchoe beharensis) and Kalanchoe marnieriana. The latter can produce beautiful flowers.
6. Ice Plant (Delosperma Cooperi)
If you’re in need of some ground cover for a hot and sunny garden, ice plants of the genus Delosperma are what I’d recommend every time. Not only do these guys truly not care at all about sun and light levels, they also produce the most gorgeous flowers in summer.
I particularly love Delosperma cooperi, which is appreciated for its large purple blooms. However, there are loads of different types and flower colors available, so you can always opt to mix and match.
7. Ghost Plant (Genus Graptopetalum)
A very common sight on Mediterranean balconies is the ghost plant. At first glance, this rosette succulent looks a lot like an Echeveria, but there’s a difference.
Over time, the ghost plant develops long dangling stems that can be hung downward through the openings in a balcony railing, hence its popularity for this purpose.
If you’re looking for hanging succulents that like full sun, Graptopetalum makes an excellent choice.
8. Stonecrop (Genus Sedum)
Another one of those excellent genera whose species can take pretty much anything nature throws at them is Sedum. Also known as stonecrops, there are some 500 species of Sedum out there, the majority of which is extremely hardy.
Choose S. tetractinum if you want a vigorous grower, S. spurium for pretty foliage and S. rubrotinctum (the jellybean plant) for an option that colors up very nicely in the sun.
9. Hen and Chicks (Genus Sempervivum)
If you liked Sedum, you’ll love Sempervivum. The fact that this genus’ name literally means ‘living forever’ reveals a lot about its hardiness and sun tolerance!
Its species are naturally found in arid mountainous regions in such places as Morocco, the Caucasus and Iberia, so it’s not surprising that they’re not all too fussy in our gardens.
The most popular member of Sempervivum is the rosette-forming S. tectorum, sometimes also referred to as hens and chicks.
10. Yucca (Genus Yucca)
Okay, I’ll admit it: there’s some slight discussion about whether the genus Yucca (not to be confused with the edible root vegetable called yuca or cassava, which is not the same plant) is actually a succulent or not. It’s closely related to Agaves, though, so I’m gonna go with yes.
Yuccas are native to arid zones in the Americas and surrounding islands, which explains why they’re such big favorites for desert gardens around the world. Just be careful, as the leaves on some species are very pointy and can deliver a serious prick!
11. Tree Aloe (Aloidendron Barberae)
Previously categorized in the genus Aloe but recently moved to Aloidendron, the tree aloe is a neat plant if you ask me. Sure, regular old aloe vera is cool and all (plus quite sun-tolerant), but have you ever seen a version that grows like a tree?!
Like the candelabra tree from the genus Euphorbia discussed earlier, the tree Aloe grows to eventually develop a tall woody stem. On top, mature specimens sport an array of branches, each topped with a rosette. Quite lovely to look at, and at a maximum height of around 60 feet, it makes a perfect desert garden centerpiece.
12. Desert Rose (Adenium Obesum)
One of those plants that really just has it all, the shrubby Adenium obesum is perfect for flower enthusiasts, bonsai lovers and anyone looking for heat tolerant succulents that can handle a lot of sun.
This species is native to inhospitable regions in Africa and the Arabian peninsula. In response to its environment, it evolved to develop a thick base (caudex) that can become very wide and store plenty of water for harder times.
A similar genus from the Americas is Beaucarnea, which unfortunately doesn’t bloom as nicely but is equally tolerant to direct sun.
13. Prickly Pear Cactus (Genus Opuntia)
Prickly pear cacti from the genus Opuntia aren’t just useful for their edible segments (called nopales) and tasty fruits: they also make one of the best possible additions to an arid garden.
I’ve seen these guys growing anywhere and everywhere, not caring at all about being battered with sun daily and going weeks without rain.
An added bonus is that, like many other cacti, Opuntias bloom beautifully. Opuntia humifusa, the species that grows prickly pear fruit, produces delicate pale yellow flowers during spring. I love a plant that’s both beautiful and functional!
14. Cholla Cactus (Genus Cylindropuntia)
If you live in the southwestern US, the mere mention of the cholla cactus may just have made you shudder. Sorry! If you want to skip Cylindropuntia due to previous bad experiences, I understand.
The thing is that although this “jumping cactus” is known for its mean spikes that seem to literally launch themselves at people, it can make a great addition to xerigardens as long as it’s properly contained.
The cholla castus is highly tolerant to drought and sun. The closely related genus Austrocylindropuntia would also make an excellent choice.
15. Baby Toes (Fenestraria Rhopalophylla)
How funky is this little species from Namibia? The only member of the monotypic genus Fenestraria, this window succulent is also known as baby toes. It evolved an ingenious way to survive in the harsh habitats of arid Namaqualand: staying partially buried. In the more inhospitable (semi-)desert gardens, you can grow yours in a similar manner by placing it a bit deeper in its planter.
The principle is simple. The tops of Fenestraria leaves are translucent. This means that even if only those little tips stick out of the soil, light can travel through them into the rest of the plant, which is buried and therefore well-protected. No matter how scorching the sun gets, the plant can enjoy the natural “sunblock” of the sandy soil, as well as slightly lower temperatures.
Succulents that Don’t Like Full Sun
In case you went shopping for succulents prior to researching its sun tolerance level, let’s have a look at a few species that you’re best off avoiding for those ultra-sunny locations. You’ll just need to learn when to bring them inside for the season.
When it comes to succulents that prefer more indirect light, jungle cacti are at the top of the list. As the name suggests, genera like Epiphyllum, Rhipsalis, Disocactus, Schlumbergera and more naturally grow in (rain)forests.
Although jungle cacti do fine with a little bit of direct sun, in their natural habitat, they tend to be protected from the harshest rays by the canopies of higher trees. As a result, they’re perfect to grow indoors next to a bright window, but direct summer sun can cause them to burn.
The popular succulent genus Haworthia, which contains species like the zebra plant and Cooper’s Haworthia, can handle a bit more sun than most jungle cacti. However, I still wouldn’t recommend them for the brightest and most blazing spots in your garden: they prefer half shade outdoors.
This is especially relevant for window varieties of Haworthia. When given a lot of sun, they take on an orange-brownish shade, which is harmless but takes away from their unique looks.
Although the genus Gasteria is naturally found in sunny South Africa, it’s not a huge fan of being exposed to intense heat and direct sun. Sure, it needs plenty of light, but I’d reserve this one for my half-shaded indoor windowsills instead!
xGasteraloe is a man-made hybrid of Gasteria and Aloe, two succulent genera that tend to do better with bright indirect light than lots of direct sun. Not surprising, then, that this one is not the ideal choice for the more scorching locations in your garden.
The Blazing Sun Can’t Kill These Succulents
As you’ve hopefully concluded, if you’re looking for drought tolerant full sun succulents to xeriscape with, there are plenty of species to choose from. And you never have to worry that they will be killed when given tons of sun.
This list doesn’t even cover them all: there are many more options! Add some of the best succulents for full sun to your garden and enjoy watching them shimmer in the blazing summer sun.