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Stressing Out: How to safely achieve stress colors in your succulents

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stress colors echeveria minibelle variegated

Stress Colors in Succulents

Hot pink, golden yellow, neon orange; we’ve all seen pictures of succulents in these bold hues, but how can a plant owner achieve them? In this blog post, I’ll detail the steps you can take to brighten the color of your succulents through stress, without causing them excessive harm. Follow my tips, and you could see brilliant results with your succulents soon!

What causes stress colors?

There are three key elements that can create stress colors: light, temperature, and water. When specific succulents are exposed to more, less, or an unusual amount of any of these three things, they will respond by producing unique pigments. Specifically, if you give your plant more light, less water, or a colder temperature, they can respond with brighter, more interesting colors in their leaves. 

That said, some succulents are just meant to be green or white or whatever their natural color is, but it’s often still worth seeing how they respond to these elemental stressors. With this process, it’s important to remember that experimentation is key. If you have a succulent that looks too bland, move it to a spot with a bit more light, or follow any of the other options here. Each plant is unique, so you might have to try a variety of strategies before they achieve their full rainbow potential.

Let the light in

Light is the most influential factor in creating color; the more light a plant gets, the brighter and deeper the color will be. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just putting your plant in direct sunlight all day. Most succulents, but not all, prefer to get a good amount of sun, with some protection in the hot afternoon. You will have to experiment to find the right amount of sun for your plant.  

Here are some ideas to try for increasing light exposure: Take a look at the places you have where you can put your plants. This could be inside at different window sills, or outside in different areas, like on a fence post. Take note of the amount of sun or shade that is present at different times of the day. With some observation, you can identify the spots you have that get more and less sun exposure. Now you can start to experiment to find which of your plants are happier in which places. Another trick is to put a shorter plant behind a taller one to provide some shade. Of course, be sure to note the changing of the seasons as you plan. 

Try moving your plants around to see what happens. Soon you will learn what they need, and you’ll be better at predicting what will make them grow bright. When moving plants, be careful about changing the conditions too rapidly. If you had a plant in full shade and then you move it directly to full sun it, will most likely get sunburned and it could get fried to death. However if you gradually increase the amount of light, then the plant is more likely to handle the new condition.

Be sure to make sure your plant doesn’t sunburn with all the extra light. A little bit of sunburn is not a big deal; the plant won't look as nice for a while, but the new leaves won't be burnt. Sadly, a lot of sunburn can kill the plant, so make sure you’re paying attention as you leave your plant babies out in the sun. 

Get them thirsty (ish)

Decreased watering can lead to brighter, more interesting colors in your plant. As a succulent uses the water from the leaves, the leaves might get slightly softer or wrinkled and will often develop more color. 

Don't take this too far though; your plant can also die from lack of water, especially if it's also getting a lot of sun. However, you might be surprised to see how long some succulents can go without being watered. I've found lost and forgotten plants months later that somehow managed to hang on, but too much water stress can lead a plant to shrink up and lose a lot of leaves. Generally I try to make sure my plants have just enough water to be happy and rely more on the sun for color instead. 

Of course, never try to overwater your succulents, for color or any other reason. A succulent that is overwatered might die of rot. It's important to let your succulents dry out completely before watering again. They are adapted to the desert and they store water in their leaves, so they don't want their roots to be wet all the time.

Turn down the temperature

Photo by JV Gardens from Pexels

Cooling your plants down is an easy and quick way to see results, particularly in the winter months. Many succulents start to get really nice color from cold stress when they’re left in chilly situations. Be sure to monitor any cold exposure very carefully, most succulents can handle temps down to freezing, but only a few can handle getting colder than that. 

See the Rainbow

stress colors crassula capitella

With any of these adjustments, your plants could start turning brighter soon! If you have any special tricks, tell me about them in the comments below, I’d love to hear your stories of stress color success! Also, if you have great results with these strategies, be sure to tag me on Instagram, @vividroot! I would love to share your success with the Vivid Root community. Happy stressing! 

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