Even the slightest changes in their plants can cause alarm in succulent owners and for good reason as even small changes in the color can be a sign of serious issues with the plant. This is, however, not always the case. Read on to find why succulents change color and when it is something to worry about and when something that you may event try to accomplish on purpose.
Why do succulents turn red?
Succulents turn red because of extreme conditions such as sun exposure, extreme temperatures, under-watering, inadequate nutrition and poor soil. Basically, succulents change colors when they are under stress. That change in color is an adaptive response to the changes in the environment.
For example, if you have recently taken your succulent to an outdoor location after being kept indoors for months, your plant will try to adapt to that new location. Changing colors is one sign that your succulent has begun making key adjustments.
You will also notice that many types of succulents change their colors coinciding with the changing of the seasons, especially during summer and winter. Again, this is a manifestation of your plants adapting to their environments.
However, changing colors is not just a sign that your succulent is adapting to its new environment.
Sometimes, succulents change their colors due to owner neglect. When you deprive your plants of adequate nutrition or water or if you keep them in infertile soil, your plants will tell you that they need your attention, sometimes in a subtle manner, sometimes through bold signs that immediately catch your attention.
This includes taking on a different hue.
Stress in succulents
What does it exactly mean when you say that a plant is stressed? Is stress bad for your plant?
Before answering these questions, it is a good idea to get a quick glimpse of what it is like for succulents to live in their natural environment.
Many people, especially those who have nearly given up on gardening, are drawn to succulents for their hardiness and ability to thrive even with minimal care. It is these very same qualities that have allowed these plants to survive in their natural environments.
Succulents can come from different types of environments. Some originally come from arid, desert climates. Others originate from alpine climates. There are also species that originally come from rainforests and sea coasts.
Although these places of origin may seem diverse, there is one thing that these places have in common. Most of these places are inhospitable to plant life. Where other plants may die, succulents have found a way, not only to survive. More importantly, these amazing plants have found a way to grow and thrive.
Simply put, your succulent is a survivor, and a capable one at that.
Changes in the environment cause stress in succulents. But it should be noted that stress is not necessarily bad. Because of evolution and adaptation, succulents have developed the uncanny ability to grow more beautiful even when under duress.
Exposure to sunlight and temperature extremes mimics the changes in the environment that your succulent will likely experience had it been grown in its place of origin.
And your plant is more than equipped to handle these changes as well as the accompanying stress.
A built-in mechanism
Apart from red, succulents can change into other colors. These include blue, purple, yellow, and orange. There are also some succulents that turn into black!
But what causes this change in color?
The main reason why some succulents change their colors are the pigments known as carotenoids and anthocyanins. If these pigments sound familiar, it is because these can also be found in some fruits, particularly those that have a high amount of antioxidants.
These pigments are your succulents’ built-in mechanism that protects them from changes in the environment like extreme cold or heat and a drop in moisture level.
It should be noted that not all succulents change their colors when stressed.
Some succulents like the elephant bush and the miniature pine tree will remain green even if there are drastic changes in their environments. It is normal for these plants to slightly change to a different shade of green when there are changes in the temperature.
The only time these plants change to a noticeably different color like yellow or brown is when they are deficient in one of their needs.
Stress in succulents: good or bad?
To put it succinctly, stress can be beneficial to your succulents.
Stress allows a succulent to reach its true potential. Plus, stress is not necessarily bad for plants.
Your plant is more resilient than what you actually think. In the wild, your succulent constantly faces the challenges of living in an inhospitable environment. And along with those environmental challenges come your plant’s inherent ability, not only to overcome those but more importantly, to thrive.
However, it is critical to distinguish between bad and good stress. How do you differentiate between the two?
In a nutshell, you can say that a plant is doing relatively well even under duress when it looks essentially the same. It holds the same shape and there is no noticeable difference, save for its change in color.
When a succulent is unable to cope with stress, you will see a marked change in its overall appearance, not just in its color. It will look sickly and in some cases, disfigured.
For example, take a look at your succulents which have red tips on their leaves. These red tips typically appear when a plant is exposed to full sun or when the weather is hot.
The appearance of these red tips means that your plant’s adaptations have begun to kick in. Although there is a change in color, your plant is otherwise healthy and able to cope with the arrival of a stressor, in this case, heat or sunlight.
On the other hand, if you notice red marks on a succulent that is not known to have leaves that turn red, your plant may be in trouble. The appearance of red spots, coupled with bite marks, indicates that insects have infested your plant.
Apart from these red spots, you will notice a few distinct changes. These include deformities. In short, your plant’s health and wellbeing are at risk.
Other succulents change into different colors like yellow or dark purple, almost resembling the color black. In an otherwise healthy succulent, these changes in color are indicative of a plant’s response to good stress.
But in some instances, the appearance of a yellow tinge can mean over-watering. When black spots appear on a succulent, it is highly likely that it has succumbed to rot.
In both situations, there is a clear and present danger to your plant that you need to immediately address.
Turning your succulent red
Subjecting your succulent to good stress is not absolutely necessary. There are some succulent growers that prefer to keep their plants indoors, away from the things that stress them.
That is well and good.
However, if you want to see your plant’s true appearance in a different environment, stress becomes a necessary part of the equation.
Here are a few things that you can do to stress your plant and coax a reddish hue out of it.
1. Increase time spent under the sun
Over time, many varieties of succulents become greener the longer they stay indoors. This is particularly true if there is inadequate natural light inside your home.
As such, if your goal is to make your succulent change from green to red, the most important thing that you need to do is to expose your plant to more sunlight.
Many succulents will take on a reddish hue if they get as much as six hours of direct sun exposure.
2. Expose to temperature extremes
In general, succulents thrive in a 60 to 80°F temperature range. Individual preferences will vary from species to species, with some able to tolerate temperatures lower than 40°F or higher than 90°F.
Soft or tender succulents that originally grow in arid conditions exhibit deeper colors when exposed to high temperatures. Hardy succulents, on the other hand, originate from alpine climates. And exposure to low to freezing temperatures can herald a drastic change in colors.
However, be forewarned that temperature extremes can be detrimental to your succulents. Too hot or too cold can be too much for your succulents.
3. Choose the right soil mix
Another trick that will help you facilitate a change in your succulent’s color is to use the right type of potting mix.
Ideally, your succulent’s soil should be composed of at least 50% inorganic content. If there is too much organic matter in the soil, the potting mix will not drain well.
Many succulent growers swear by the benefits of adding pumice and perlite to their potting mixes. Both inorganic materials offer a host of benefits. These include improved drainage, protection from root rot, and improved root health.
4. Water sparingly
Many succulent collectors fall into the habit of watering their plants on a schedule.
That is not necessarily bad, especially if you have a busy schedule and you want your succulent to get enough water to grow.
However, if you want to make your succulent turn red, you must go away from what you are accustomed to, especially in watering your succulents.
In short, you have to make your succulent thirsty for water. The best way to do that is to change your watering schedule.
If you are accustomed to watering your succulent every one or two weeks, you should let your plant go on without water for a longer period.
Eventually, you will notice that your succulent will turn into red while the leaves begin to store more water.
5. Pick the right container
But apart from picking the right type of pot for your succulent, you should also use the right size for it.
Pick a pot that is too small for your succulent and its roots will not have enough room to spread.
Choose a pot that is too big for your plant and it will grow slowly. The reason behind this is that its roots spread out too fast and the whole plant cannot keep pace. Furthermore, big pots take in and hold more moisture. This increases your plant’s vulnerability to rot.
Red is good
Succulents are nothing short of amazing, able to thrive where other plants cannot. Your plants can surprise you with their ability to turn a seemingly bad situation to their advantage.
So go on, put your succulent under stress, and watch it turn into something more special.
Image: Istockphoto.com / Creative life, looking for special pictures.