Last updated on August 25th, 2023 at 12:30 pm
A sunburned succulent that suffered from heat damage will likely require more than a good cleaning to recover and thrive again.
Succulents are known to be one of the most heat-tolerant plants in the world, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get sunburned! When succulents get overheated or baked in the sun too long, they can suffer sunburn on their leaves or even experience total leaf loss and die.
When this succulent got a little too much sun, things got ugly in a hurry. Sunburn can be dangerous to succulents because of their thin, dry skin that tears so easily and doesn’t heal quickly.
Sunburned succulents will either be yellow or brown and become shriveled and limp, so it’s important to take proper care of sunburned succulents as soon as possible.
If you’ve ever accidentally put your succulent in the sun on a particularly hot day, you know it can lead to serious damage, what we like to call it sunburned succulent syndrome.
They say you should spritz your succulent’s leaves with water to keep them healthy and green, but what do you do when your beloved plant gets too much of a good thing? Heat damage can cause sunburned succulent leaves that shrivel up and get all dried out, turning brown and brittle, but you can fix it? Yes.
Here’s how to care for sunburned succulents so they can recover fully and be healthy again.
Do succulents need sunlight?
One of their most important requirements is sunlight. In fact, if you don’t give your succulents enough light, they can grow elongated and weak.
But how much light do succulents need?
That depends on what kind of succulent you have. The higher the heat index in your area, the more hours of sun exposure a succulent needs to thrive. The key is to find the right balance between getting too little or too much sun exposure. For example, some cacti need lots of sun but other succulents like to be kept shaded during the day so that they can recover at night when it cools down.
What happens if succulents get too much sun?
Well, they get sunburns! Like humans, succulents can suffer heat damage if exposed to too much sun at once. This can take several days or happen suddenly in extreme heat.
The signs of a succulent with sunburn are brown and yellow spots on leaves along with curling and wrinkles in leaves. These leaves might even begin to fall off your plant. Although rare, a succulent with sunburn will not recover completely. There is no cure for succulents that have been over-exposed to the sun.
Your best option is to give it some shade and wait for the plant to heal itself (usually within two weeks). If you want your succulent back as soon as possible, it’s time for some prevention. Move the pot into an area where it gets less direct sunlight or covers the pot with a sheer cloth for protection during hot months.
What does a sunburned succulent look like?
Sunburnt succulents are dry and shriveled and overall not very healthy. Since succulents aren’t equipped with deep roots, they need to absorb water through their leaves, so if these leaves have been damaged by too much sun or heat, it’s nearly impossible for them to retain any moisture at all.
In addition to that, sunlight also helps these plants photosynthesize, the process through which a plant converts light into energy. Without enough of this, the plant can become unhealthy in no time. But don’t worry! There are some ways you can help your succulent get back on its feet again.
Can succulents recover from sunburn?
The quick answer is yes, succulents can recover from sunburn. As long as they’re watered and kept in partial shade, they will bounce back from their unfortunate experience with a little bit of TLC. However, some succulents are more resilient than others when it comes to heat damage.
There are several factors that affect how a succulent will handle the sun, so be sure to keep an eye on your plant for any signs of distress during this time.
How to save sunburned succulents
You may have heard you should put sunburned succulents in ice water to revive them. In many cases, that won’t work. If a plant has actually been cooked and is brown all over, it likely won’t recover even if you put it in an ice bath.
But if a leaf or two is damaged but not completely charred, you can give your plant a fighting chance by following these steps.
(1) Place the entire pot into the fridge for at least 24 hours.
(2) Remove the cooled pot from the fridge and rinse off any debris on top of the soil with cold water.
(3) Transfer the pot back into a safe location away from direct sunlight, such as on a porch or patio with good air circulation, where temperatures are below 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Allow it to re-acclimate for a few days before moving it back inside where temperatures are above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Once it looks healthy again, start watering more sparingly and slowly bring up the temperature to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The goal is to keep the succulent warm enough so that it doesn’t start cooking again.
Other treatment steps
Before doing anything, make sure it’s really heat damage
If you can’t tell if it’s heat damage or just a bad sunburn, a good rule of thumb is to check for brown spots. If you see them (or if your succulent isn’t bouncing back), it probably has heat damage.
Also, sometimes kids will grab your potted plant and run around with it in their bare hands, burning their skin in direct contact with your plant. In that case, it may not be just heat. Be sure to use cold packs for at least an hour.
As far as treatment goes, there are two options:
1) let the soil dry out then water sparingly;
2) trim off any burnt leaves and replant the succulents in fresh soil.
Move it to a dark place
If your succulents have been experiencing a sudden shift in heat, they may be showing signs of heat damage. Move them to a shadier place, but not directly into sunlight. This will help your succulents recover as quickly as possible.
Depending on how much heat has affected your succulents, they may take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to fully recover. During this time, you should water sparingly to avoid over-soaking the soil and causing root rot.
A common misconception is that succulents need plenty of water when recovering from heat damage. In reality, most plants need less water during this time period because the soil around their roots is too moist and can lead to root rot.
Cuttings are one of two ways to propagate your succulents. Take a cutting (also called a tip) and place it in a pot with soil, just like you would for any other plant.
In about a month, roots will have formed and you can gently pull it out of their pot and transplant them elsewhere in your garden or give them away to friends. If the air is too hot, put the pots on ice cubes to keep them cool.
Give them shade when they need it and water as needed. Make sure they’re getting enough light, but not so much that they’re being fried by the sun’s rays. The best temperature range for most succulents is between 65°F-85°F
Feed it new soil
The first step for helping a succulent that’s become too hot is to give it some cool soil. Remove as much of its old soil as possible, and replace it with new potting soil, or a mixture of half potting soil and half perlite or vermiculite.
Be sure to water gently after adding the new soil to make sure it’s moistened completely. Give your plant time to recover in its new environment before returning it to direct sunlight.
Once you do reintroduce it back into the sun, keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get too hot again. If you see any wilted leaves when you water, take them out of the sun and let them perk up before returning them back outside.
Can sunburned succulents come back to life?
In many cases, yes! When succulents are exposed to too much heat, their protective wax coating is compromised. This leaves them at risk for infection by harmful bacteria, a condition called sunburn.
If you notice your plant’s color has faded or it looks shriveled and limp, it could be sunburned. The best thing to do in this case is replant the succulent in a pot with fresh soil and give it plenty of water so that it can recover its health and beauty.
First, remove any damaged plants from the garden or container where they were growing. Use a shovel or spade to dig up the roots and shake off as much dirt as possible.
Second, fill up a new container with potting soil and gently pack it down around the roots.
Third, place your new succulent plant back into its original location.
Fourth, care for it according to regular watering instructions (which will vary depending on the climate).
Finally, keep an eye out for signs of re-growth such as new stems or green leaves, which should appear within about two weeks. And remember to stay out of the sun next time if you want to avoid more unnecessary heat damage!