How Much Light do Succulents Need?
If you’re new to growing succulents, providing the right growing conditions (including light levels) can be tough. Gardening expert Madison Moulton explains how much light succulents need and signs that they may be in the wrong spot.
If you’ve never tried growing succulents before, understanding their needs can take some trial and error. This vast group, known for storing water in their plump leaves, has slightly different requirements from the plants you may be accustomed to.
When it comes to the ideal lighting requirements for the best possible growth, there is (unfortunately) no straight answer. That’s because succulents are incredibly diverse, with thousands of plants from a variety of different environments. To choose the perfect lighting conditions, you’ll need to understand where your specific succulent comes from and how light impacts growth.
Understanding Light Levels
Before we dive into light and succulents, it’s helpful to understand why light is so important in the first place and how changes in lighting impact overall growth in our plants.
The Role of Sunlight
Sunlight is needed for photosynthesis, the process that essentially allows plants to create their own ‘food’ for survival. For this, they use chlorophyll, largely responsible for the green pigment within leaves. Succulents need sunlight to keep themselves alive and won’t be able to live long without it.
Each plant has specific lighting needs linked to the conditions in their native habitats. These are the environments they have adapted to grow well in, so replicating them as best as you can is key to a thriving plant.
You’ll usually see labels like full sun, partial sun, or shade on care guides for plants. These describe the amount of sunlight exposure the plants require to grow their best. Full sun is typically more than six hours of direct sunlight exposure per day, partial sun is around four hours, and shade is anything less than two.
Sun and Indoor Plants
For indoor plants, the terms are slightly different. Direct sun describes a position in front of a sunny window that receives a few hours of sun. Bright indirect light is found near these bright windows but kept out of the path of the sun’s rays. Moderate and low light is also protected from direct sun and further away from windows or in front of north-facing windows.
While some plants can adapt to different environments than they are used to, choosing the wrong light level will have some negative side effects. If the light is too low, your plants will struggle to grow and may stretch out. If the light is too high, the leaves may become scorched.
Succulent Native Environments
The term ‘succulent’ describes a large group of plants that store water in their leaves to stay alive in times of drought. These plants have adapted to typically harsh environments where rainfall in some or all seasons is scarce. To survive, they store water in their plump leaves to keep as reserves when the roots dry out.
Succulents are incredibly diverse, with thousands of different species originating from different environments. Some are accustomed to gritty soil and harsh desert-like conditions, while others grow as epiphytes in forests, and so on. This diversity translates to a wide range of lighting preferences, depending on where that particular species comes from.
How Much Light do Succulents Need?
As succulents are such a huge group containing plants from all over the world, there is no straight answer to how much light succulents need.
Although they are grouped together for their water-storing capabilities, there is no single light level that will satisfy all plants in the group. Some are also better at adapting and handle lower light levels better than others.
This complexity is actually a benefit for gardeners, as you can find succulents suited to whichever area you want to fill in your garden. Low-light succulents are ideal for growing indoors, where light quality tends to be lower, while moderate-light succulents can grow in front of bright windows or on covered patios. Full sun succulents are most common, requiring a healthy dose of direct sunlight each day to avoid stretching.
Low Light Succulents
Let’s start with the category gardeners are most interested in – low-light succulents. Succulents are usually considered full sun plants, but this presents a problem for those who only have space to grow indoors.
Rather than sacrificing the health of your plants and risking leggy growth, choose species that handle living in lower light than usual. These include popular houseplant favorites like snake plants, string of hearts, and Christmas cactus (if you’re happy to live without flowers).
Low light is usually found in bright rooms but further away from the windows, where less sunlight reaches the foliage. It does not mean dark rooms with no natural sunlight at all. As tough as snake plants are, they still die eventually if you place them in the darkest corner of your home.
While these plants adapt to lower light, it’s also important to remember that these conditions are not ideal. Your succulents won’t grow particularly quickly, and you may see some stretching in the leaves. I would say they’re closer to ‘dying slowly’ than thriving. If you do have a spot with better light, instead choose that to keep the plants alive long-term.
Moderate Light Succulents
Moderate light succulents are those that grow well in bright, indirect light indoors or partial shade outdoors. They appreciate some gentle, direct sun but survive mostly on indirect light and often become burnt when exposed to harsh direct sun.
Again, this group mostly consists of succulents, often grown as houseplants. Kalanchoe are a great example, including the adorable and fluffy panda plant. Jade plants (Crassula ovata) are another popular choice known for their resilience and beginner-friendly nature.
String succulents are also suitable for bright indirect light and often burn if exposed to direct sun. String of pearls, string of bananas, or any of the related species can be hung in front of bright windows indoors or on your balcony out of the path of direct sun.
Full Sun Succulents
The largest group by far is the full sun succulents. These typically originate from desert environments and receive around eight hours of direct sunlight per day on average. Many popular genera fall into this category, including Echeveria, Sedum, and Sempervivum.
These are best grown outdoors, where they receive as much sun as possible. You can keep them indoors in front of a south-facing window, but the lower light quality is often not enough for them, and they begin to lose their shape.
If you live in a region with intense afternoon sun, your succulents benefit from some protection later in the day to prevent damage. But usually, they are happiest in as much sunlight as you can provide.
Signs Your Succulents Need More Light
When light levels are not quite right for your specific succulents, you’ll notice a few signs of stress. While this can be related to excess sunlight (indicated by bleached or crispy marks where the light hits), the problem is usually too little light.
The most obvious sign is leggy stems that thin out and stretch toward the nearest light source. These are usually accompanied by diminished leaves that don’t ever grow to their full size. Lack of light causes compact succulents to grow upwards and lose their shape in an effort to survive.
Other signs that are tougher to spot include a general lack of growth or soil that remains moist for longer than usual.
Once you notice these signs, it’s time to change conditions. Avoid any drastic and sudden changes, like low light to full sun, as this shocks the plant and causes more damage. Introduce them to brighter light slowly to allow them to adapt to their new homes. You can also trim back leggy growth, as it won’t return to normal once moved.
If you only have low-light positions available and are set on growing succulents, a grow light is essential. These emulate direct sun outdoors, keeping your succulents compact and happy.
Unfortunately, there is no light requirement that fits all succulents. Make sure you understand their native environments and look out for signs of stress to provide the perfect conditions.