While many succulents will grow in shade outdoors, they are likely to be less compact, not very colourful and susceptible to fungal diseases or rot. Most succulents are not suitable to grow in shade indoors, though there are species that will thrive in full shade outdoors and a bright spot inside.
Succulents have a reputation of being extremely tough and hard to kill. This, in many cases is true, but the various succulent species available these days can be quite different in their need for the sun, water and general needs. The term succulent covers a vast amount of plants, and unfortunately, they are not all alike.
In my nursery there are currently over 300 different species of succulents growing in pots, gardens, shadehouses with different shade factors & plastic tunnels. Most grow outdoors in the sun, but scorching summer heatwaves mean they need protecting from strong UV. Providing some shade in summer is essential in a climate like ours, but there is more to it than growing plants in full shade in order to avoid sunburn.
Below I will cover some FAQ’s about growing succulents in shade, list succulents that tolerate shade and what growing succulents in shade will likely do to their growth and look.
Do succulents need shade or sun?
Most succulents prefer exposure to the sun for at least 4-6 hours followed by bright shade. However not all succulents are created equal and some will require more sun than others. Sun is important as it allows plants to photosynthesize.
Photosynthesis happens when suns’ rays reach a plants surface. It is a chemical reaction where chlorophyll in plants transforms suns’ energy into growing energy. Although energy for growing is also provided by nutrients in the soil, the growing energy from the sun is essential. Without the sun plants would not be able to live.
However, sun and its UV can also damage succulents and other plants when it’s too strong. During heatwaves succulents can suffer sunburn, just like human skin can, and even die.
Then there are succulents such as Haworthia or Gasteria that grow best in filtered light. These plants have adapted so they photosynthesize enough energy from much smaller amounts of sun exposure.
In colder climates, where sun is not too strong during summer most succulents, even the shade lovers, can easily be grown in sun, but once the mercury starts rising closer to 30C/86F they will start suffering.
During summer, morning sun followed by bright afternoon shade should keep most succulents happy. Your climate will dictate how much sun exposure succulents will be able to take.
Ideally, a good balance of sun and shade should be provided for succulents to grow as they are meant to. In colder or temperate climates with temperatures that are unlikely to cause sunburn, more sun than shade is best. In tropical and subtropical climates where summers can see temperatures well into their 30’s or even over 40C/104F protection from strong sun will be needed.
What will happen to succulents in full shade?
A fully shaded area with little to no sun coming through can see succulents grow leggy and pale. Sun loving succulents can even die in an area that is too dark.
A leggy succulent will either grow a long stalk or, in case of some rosette type succulents, start growing from the middle. The leaves will become thinner, wider and more prone to breaking.
Succulents in full shade are also less likely to grow well, produce offsets and flower unless they are species that are shade tolerant, like the above mentioned Haworthia.
More worrying is the fungal diseases, rot, rust and others that are likely to affect sun loving succulents placed in full shade. Shaded areas can become more humid and the soil, as well as the roots of plants, dry out slower. Many succulents prefer the soil or potting mix, if planted in pots, to dry out and dislike being continually wet. Some species are more susceptible to disease associated with humidity and full shade than others, but for most the combination of wet, humid and dark environment can spell trouble.
Succulents that are happy in shade are unlikely to suffer from any of the above and should happily grow even if the soil is moist.
Will succulents grow in full shade indoors?
Very few succulents will grow well in full shade indoors long-term. Most plants need at least a little bit of sunlight to survive, though the amount of direct sun exposure required can vary from succulent to succulent.
Shade tolerant succulents such as Gasteria, Haworthia, Rhipsalis or Sansevieria are likely to live in full shade indoors, but they will merely be surviving and not growing much. Moreover, the shape will not be compact, with leaves stretching.
Small plants will not grow to their full size (if at all) and so if putting a shade-tolerant succulent in full, dark shade indoors, getting a larger/fully grown plant may be best.
It is highly improbable succulents will survive in very dark rooms or when blinds are drawn every day. Even leafy indoor plants would have a problem with this setting.
For succulents to somewhat keep surviving in full shade indoors the brightest setting should be chosen. This would be a spot close to a window or under a skylight. Avoid dark corridors or middle of large rooms.
It will become apparent when a succulent is struggling indoors, in full shade. The first sign is the plant stretching towards the light, then growing very pale and have some leaves turn yellowing, dying off.
If interested, you can read another one of our articles on growing succulents indoors.
Will succulents grow in full shade outdoors?
Most succulents will grow in full shade outdoors but are likely to stretch in search of the sun. Succulents may also suffer diseases in full shade, unless they are species that can tolerate shade and humidity.
Generally, succulents will tolerate full shade much better outdoors than indoors. The light will always be brighter outside and the breeze and fresh air will also help.
The downside is that in full shade the humidity and soil moisture levels will always be a bit higher. For more sensitive succulents such as many Echeveria hybrids this combination can cause problems such as fungal diseases or even rot.
Which succulents are shade-tolerant?
There are a few species of succulent that in their natural environment grow in shaded areas, jungles or mostly buried under sand. Some of these are Aloe, Gasteria, Haworthia, Rhipsalis, Sansevieria and a few more.