Succulents are becoming very popular landscaping plants due to their resilience and the ability to survive in poor soil without much water. But there is a lot of confusion about how much sun they need/ can withstand.
So can succulents be in full sun? The short answer is that the majority of succulents can and should be grown in full sun, though there are a few exceptions as some succulents prefer shade.
The type of succulent, whether the plants are grown in pots or ground and the part of the world you live in will determine whether you should grow your plants in full sun.
Let's start with the types of succulents that like and need full sun to maintain their colour and shape. Most succulents are native to arid, sunny and exposed environments. They need the sun to keep their compact shape and very often the colour as well. Colour is also dictated by the weather and the seasons, but that is a topic for another post.
In our experience these succulent genera are suitable for a full sun position:
Others can be added to the list but we think these are the most popular and we also have experience growing many species from the above mentioned in our nursery and succulent gardens.
There are exceptions within the genera, however. For instance, Aeoniums like Kiwi, Suncup or Aureum do not grow well in full sun in countries with very hot summers, where temperatures can reach over 35 degrees Celsius (95 F). Arboreum and Schwartzkopf varieties cope fine, though. Same with all the others- there is always an exception. Many people make the mistake of thinking all succulents are the same and what is good for one is good for the rest. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While some succulents will be fine in full all year round, others will perish. It is always best to check the label or check with the person you’re buying plants from how much sun can a plant withstand on hot, cloudless, summer days.
Next thing to consider is pot vs ground. In our experience, succulents grow best in the ground. They cope with extremely hot sun and heatwaves much better than their counterparts in pots. Even on days that are 40 C plus (104 Fahrenheit) succulents planted in the ground tend to be ok in all day full sun without any issues. We think this is because the roots can stay relatively cool in the ground as the temperature is more constant. Pots, however, can heat up to high temperature (especially if a pot is black) which can stress the plant making it more prone to burns or even cooking it. There were many an occasion where we found potted succulents left in full sun all day in a heatwave have turned to mush. It is important to keep in mind that temperature is always measured in shade. So when you see the weather forecast, it predicts shade temperatures. In direct sun the heat is much more intense, especially if the sun is hitting a dark surface (it is synonymous with wearing a black shirt on a sunny day). That is how your succulents feel in a black pot exposed to full sun.
Although some people are dead against putting succulents in the garden as they believe the plants will rot if it rains too much we think, as long as the garden is not in a flood-prone area and the soil is fairly well draining, sun-loving succulents will do just fine in the ground.
If you live in a country with harsh winters with snow and frost, we advise keeping your succulents in pots so they can be moved indoors during the worst of winter. Most succulents are frost tender and would not survive freezing temperatures.
Different parts of the world will have different summer temperatures and here in Australia, we struggle with heatwaves from about December to February. Unless you are one of the lucky ones and live by the coast, the mercury inland often climbs above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the shade. It is almost impossible to be in direct sun for long periods of time. As mentioned above, succulents in the ground will cope better than potted plants. If you live in Australia and have a collection of succulents in pots, we would recommend to move them out of the full sun/ make a temporary shade-house using 30% shade cloth when the temperature climbs over 35 C. Same for other parts of the world that readily experience these kinds of temperature in summer. For the rest of the year when the weather is milder, the great majority of succulents can be grown in full sun.
To conclude, most Succulents can be in full sun but always check that the particular plant you’re getting is suitable for a sunny position as there are succulents out there that prefer part or even full shade, especially in summer. If you live in a country experiencing scorching summers, succulents have a better chance at survival in full sun in the ground. Those in the pots should be protected from hot afternoon summer sun.
We understand that different people may have experiences that do not correspond with ours. You can share your succulent stories related to this topic in the below comment section.