Today I talk about the theory behind succulent leaves turning red, how to change the color of succulents to red, and what succulents can be used. I will also be sharing some pictures.
It was with the Crassula Capitella Campfire that I first observed color change in succulents. The plant was green when I purchased it in the nursery, and had the edges of the leaves red. I put it in full sun at home, and after a couple of days it looked like fire, all the leaves had turned red.
You’ll need to have experience with them to change the color of succulents. Beginners really aren’t recommended. Today I explain why, and how, succulents change color to red.
Why Do Succulents Change Color to Red
The succulents absorb water and carbon dioxide by photosynthesis. Then, they convert it into oxygen and glucose. The pigments used in this process called:
- Chlorophyll – shows green color
- Carotenoid – shows color from yellow to orange
- Anthocyanins – shows red, purple or blue color
Most succulent plants in the shade are green, as chlorophyll is responsible for absorbing sunlight to maintain the cycle of photosynthesis.
Carotenoid are present in higher amounts in plant cells when the succulents are put in the sun or at intense temperatures. These protect succulents from over-exposure to UV light and high temperatures.
Anthocyanins, on the other hand, are more stable at lower temperatures. This is why we often see succulent greens in the summer and bold colors in the fall and winter.
The process of making succulents change color is known as stressing succulents.
How to Change the Color of Succulents
We need to recreate their natural environment to change the color of the succulents. This tends to work with desert succulents. We need to subject them to extreme conditions such as:
- Poor soil
- Increased lighting
- High and low temperatures
How would you describe the soil in the desert?… An arid soil.
For succulents the only prerequisite for soil is that they drain easily. Some plants don’t care whether or not the soil is fertile. For succulents, the general potting soil is not suitable because it retains a lot of water. It is better to make a soil mix of your own or buy one made for cacti and succulents.
Is it constantly raining in the desert? Nope.
Resist the urge of watering the succulents too much. These plants can stay in completely dry soil for weeks.
In the desert, rain is scarce and may occur for short periods of time. Succulents quickly absorb water before it evaporates due to extreme heat. If you want your succulents to change color, water them less frequently. But when you water, water them thoroughly.
Water them until the water drains out from the drainage hole. If the substrate drains too fast, water them several times in a row to make sure the roots absorb the water.
By exposing them to more light we can change the color of the succulents. This however does not mean that you place them in full sun immediately.
Although succulent plants are in full sun in the desert, they generally grow close to rocks, or under taller cacti. So they can enjoy some shade during the day.
Gradually increase the exposure of your plants to the sun. It will cause the succulents to produce higher concentration of carotenoids to protect the plant against sun damage.
To increase the lighting for succulents grown indoors, invest in a good grow light which is bright enough to replace the natural sun. See our recommendations on grow lights here.
High and Low Temperatures
Succulents protect themselves from high and low temperatures. During the summer the leaves of the succulents are closed to reduce evaporation. On the other hand, in winter some do the same to protect themselves from the cold.
In both cases the succulents get stressed and change color.
Do not fertilize when you stress your succulents. If you do they will return to their original color for some time.
Succulents that Change Color to Red
Most succulents will not change to red, pink, or orange when stressed. Among the succulents that do change color to red are:
You shouldn’t stress your succulents all year long, just a few months. Now, how can you tell if you are giving your succulents the right amount of stress?
You have to be observant. If you see the leaves burned or with the brown or black tips you are hurting them. The wrinkled leaves are evidence of abuse too.
Have you been able to change the color of some of your succulents? Let me know in the comments.