Have you ever wondered why succulents change color? If so, perhaps you’ve also wondered whether there’s anything you can do to make them more colorful.
Maybe you’re an admirer of succulents that are pink, red, purple, and even ombre? If so, I don’t blame you; I love them too!
When I first learned that succulents can actually change color, I was amazed. I figured they stayed the same shade their whole life.
But I was wrong. And it only made succulents more fascinating to me.
The truth is, when succulents change tones, it’s actually due to stress.
The only way they don’t change is if their environment and watering never change. I think we all know that that’s pretty impossible to accomplish!
While many succulent varieties don’t really take on different shades, many do.
Today, I’m going to teach you exactly WHY succulents change color and how you can help them do so if that’s your wish.
Let’s get to it!
Succulents Change Color When Stressed
It’s hard to believe that a colorful succulent that looks healthy is actually stressed, but it’s true.
In fact, changing color is their defense mechanism against sudden changes in watering, sunlight, or temperature.
If you had a succulent that was once green and now it morphed into a different color, then that succulent is most likely existing in a state of stress.
Don’t worry, though! Most of the time, this type of stress isn’t enough to harm your plant.
There are 3 main factors that can cause succulents to change color and those include:
We’ll talk about them each in the sections below.
How Sunlight Causes Succulents to Change Color
In my experience here in Southern California, my succulents tend to change color as a result of more (or less) exposure to direct sunlight.
You see, reduced sunlight causes a once-colorful succulent to revert back to green. This loss of color can lead people to believe that they did something terribly wrong when in fact they didn’t!
Here’s the thing: if you’ve ever purchased a colorful succulent from the garden center and noticed that it started to lose its color, it’s probably because you placed it in a spot that gets far less sunlight than it was used to getting at the garden nursery.
That’s right – you most likely gave your succulent too much shade!
(This is a common occurrence when growing succulents indoors; it’s pretty difficult to maintain colorful succulents when they’re indoors, even with artificial light.)
This is what you can do: try placing it in full sun and give it a few days to react.
You might see it change its color again in a few days or weeks. Be careful when doing this during the summer, though, especially during heatwaves.
Keep in mind that moving a succulent from full shade to full sun on a day that’s above 90 degrees may lead to severe sunburn; sunburn is one of the worst things that can go wrong with your succulents.
If you’re doing this during the summer, then I recommend doing it slowly over a period of several days. Don’t just leave your succulents out in the hot sun without acclimating them to more light, first.
The three images below are of the same variety: Aeonium Black Rose. The dark purple version has spent its life in full sun while the green plants have been shaded by taller plants and trees.
Many succulents like jade plants (Crassula) will be more of a dark green shade if grown in full or part shade.
Give them a few days in direct sun, however, and they’ll start to lighten and form a red or pink lining along the rim of their leaves – it’s remarkable! See the photo below for proof.
This change in color has to do with science: succulents are able to produce carotenoids and anthocyanin to deal with sudden and longer exposure to sunlight.
Carotenoid will produce an orange, yellow or reddish color while anthocycanin will produce a more purple or blue hue.
This is the plant’s way of protecting itself, similar to the way we humans protect ourselves from the sun’s rays.
Fortunately for those of us who love colorful succulents, their reaction to more sunlight results in quite a colorful show!
Succulents Change Color After Temperature Fluctuations
Yes, temperature definitely affects your succulents.
Many succulents are able to handle high temperatures and full sun, but this doesn’t mean that sudden temperature fluctuations don’t stress them out.
As the seasons change, your succulents react to the drop or rise in temperature by changing colors. It’s their way of self-preserving.
And with a significant drop or increase in temperature comes a change in sunlight exposure, too. So you see, temperature and sunlight usually go hand-in-hand – that’s double the stress for them!
This is why you’ll notice that your succulents are more colorful in the spring and summer when the temperatures rise.
As the days cool, you might notice some of your succulents revert back to green.
*If live in an area that experiences winters that drop below 30 or 20 degrees, then you’ll have to move your succulents indoors (unless you grow cold-hardy succulents, like Sempervivum Hens and Chicks).
How Watering Causes Succulents to Change Color
I want to preface this by saying that improperly watering your succulents is the fastest way to kill them!
Over-watering and under-watering can cause serious harm to your plants and this is what people struggle with the most when it comes to succulent care.
With that being said, it’s important to note that well-watered succulents are more prone to being green because they’re not stressed-out!
Sometimes, holding back on watering for an extended period of time can stress out your plant so much that it will change color.
As stated above, succulents change color when they’re under duress so making huge changes to your watering schedule can be tricky if you take it too far; you don’t want to dehydrate your plants to the point of no return.
While you never want to deprive your succulents of water for very long periods of time (especially in the summer, this is a no-no) holding back a little will stress them out and thus cause them to change their hue to something other than green.
It might sound reckless, but many people purposefully skip one or two waterings for this very reason.
I usually water my outdoor succulents once a week (two or three times a week during heatwaves), so if I wanted to test this out, I would try watering every 2 weeks to see if there’s any change in color.
However, I would never do this here during the summer months because most days are over 90 degrees and we get many triple-digit days, too.
Root systems need moisture in order to deal with the heat, and this is especially important for succulents that are in full sun.
If you go this route, test things slowly and don’t make extreme changes as you don’t want to cause irreversible damage.
For a refresher on how to water succulents properly, this watering post is great for both indoor and outdoor succulents.
Understanding proper watering, soil needs, and proper planting goes a LONG way in helping to keep your succulents healthy, especially when you’re experimenting like this.
Aside from proper watering, the right kind of soil is crucial and it should be fast-draining. It should NOT hold onto water – that’s the last thing succulents need. (If you’re the DIY type, here’s my DIY succulents soil recipe).
Planting correctly also gives succulents a good start and this post about how to plant succulents gives a good step-by-step tutorial.
How to Make Succulents Change Colors
At this point, you’re probably wondering about how to make succulents change color.
I don’t blame you since colorful succulents are so beautiful. Green succulents definitely have their place, though, and many of them liven up indoor spaces with their deep-green shades.
Take Snake Plants (certain varieties) and Haworthias for instance; they stay different shades of green no matter their environment or watering schedule.
But other succulents, like Jade plants, Echeverias, and Graptosedum rosettes do in fact adjust their coloring when they experience changes in light, temperature, and watering.
I think the easiest way to help your succulents change color is by moving them into direct sunlight. It’s as simple as that.
Moving them out of the shade and into full, direct sun is a big enough change to cause a reaction.
This change is easy to achieve during mid-spring and early summer when the temperatures starts to rise and the days become longer with more hours of sunlight.
This Euphorbia Fire Stick cactus below is usually green during the colder months and red during the hotter months when it gets stronger sunlight.
Hopefully by now, you have a good understanding of why your succulents changed color, why they lost color, or why they reverted back to deep-green.
While not all of your succulents are able to turn red, pink, orange, yellow, or purple, many do and it’s always fun to notice those!
I’ll leave you with one last tip: if you brought a colorful succulent home from the garden nursery, try keeping it in direct sun because that’s probably what it’s used to.
You can also ask the nursery what they recommend.