Despite succulents being hardy plants that can survive many situations other plants cannot, they have a weakness- the need for sunlight. Some succulents will grow and thrive without being in direct sun but, unfortunately, they are in the minority, and they will need bright, indirect light.
For most succulents, being in a spot with at least a few hours of sun is essential to maintain shape and colour. But what if you just wanted to, say, send succulents in a box or keep a pretty arrangement indoors while you have guests. Will succulents live without light for a while?
Yes, they will. Succulents can survive without any light whatsoever for short periods. How long will depend on the particular species, but in general, if they are in a place with minimal or no light, most succulents will live without deteriorating too much for 10-14 days. Some shade-tolerant succulents may go for longer.
Our small nursery sells the majority of our plants online and posts them all over Australia. Prior to starting with the business, I have tested a lot of plants by putting them in a box and leaving them in complete darkness for up to 2 weeks.
All plants tested would live for two weeks without any major sign of stress, though I could see a loss of colour after day 10. Ideally, we try and get plants to our customers within seven days as most succulents will look no different to when they were packed.
Succulents would survive even past 14 days, but the growth would likely start distorting. The leaves would grow larger and far apart, the plant would start stretching from the centre in search of light and on the whole it would become more fragile. After about a month of no light whatsoever, many succulents would start dying. Same goes for sun-loving succulents such as Echeveria or Graptopetalum species indoors without enough sun (5+ hours).
There are many scenarios where you may need to keep succulents in darkness. It could be sending succulents in the post, decorating a house or an office for special events, storing wedding favours, keeping succulents safe from a spell of bad weather etc.
To not stress the succulents too much, limiting the time they are in no light to under 10 days is important. As mentioned above, after 10, succulents will slowly start deteriorating.
The plants should also be kept dry. Watering succulents when they are in darkness is never a good idea. This includes misting, which is also not helpful, even under normal circumstances. Wet or soggy potting mix is very likely to aid fungal diseases and rot to establish which would be accelerated by the lack of light.
If succulents are stored in a dark place as wedding favours, or a bonbonniere it can help to space them out a little, so they are not close together. This can reduce humidity in the plant's immediate environment. Places without light can also be a bit damp, which succulents really dislike.
If, for some reason, there is a need to keep succulents in little or no light for longer than 14 days getting plant growing lights will help keep them happy. The best lights for the job would be cool daylight LED that are 1000-2000 lumens. Good growing lights will help maintain succulents during winter in cold climates (most succulents are not frost-tolerant), during bad weather or if you just want to keep succulents indoors.
There are a few shade-tolerant succulents that will not need exposure to direct sun, though again, most will need a bright position close to a window.
Succulents from Aloe, Ceropegia, Gasateraloe, Gasteria or Haworthia genera are very likely to survive in good light indoors. There are others as well, such as Senecio Rowleyanus, many cacti species or even Lithops, but they will need a super bright spot and good airflow to survive and look pretty.
There is only one succulent genus that we know should survive in very low light areas and it is Sansevieria (if you know of any others you can share with us in the comments below). Many will be familiar with the Mother in Law Tongue (Sansevieria Trifasciata) which will live in dark rooms. It is important to note that darker the room, slower the growth. When there is very little light available, the plant is very likely to not grow much, if at all. So if you’re hoping to put a small plant in a poorly lit room hoping it will grow nice and big, it is unlikely to happen.
Whether it has been 10 days or a few weeks, succulents will need a little bit of time to re-adjust to being in the sun again. After spending too long in little or no light, they will become more sensitive and prone to sunburn.
To get succulents used to sunshine again, they will need baby steps even more so if they have started losing colour and stretching as a result of their confinement. The plants should first be placed in a couple of hours of morning sun followed by a bright shade for the rest of the day for about 3 days. The exposure to the sun can then be gradually increased every few days until they can handle the 5 + hours they need.
Reintroducing succulents to the sun is a lot harder in summer as the sun can be too strong. In extreme cases when temperatures are around 40C (104F) the sun can even kill the plant off. Healthy succulents do not like strong sun when this hot either and should be kept in a bright shade outdoors until the heatwave passes.
In the cooler months, putting succulents back in the sun is much easier and quicker as the UV is not too strong.
In conclusion, succulents thrive on sun/ plenty of bright light. Unless it’s only for very short period, no light will spell almost a certain death for a succulent.