When people see succulents in a variety of colors…their faces light up, or maybe that was just me!
Succulents can have shades of pink, purple, coral, and beautiful reds!
Red succulents make great centerpieces during Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day. Add a flag, surround them with greenery or ornaments…stunning!
Add a red succulent to any room for a pop of color, a conversation piece, or as an accent.
Red Can be a Signal of Stress
Succulents that are normally green can turn red (and other colors) when stressed but just like us, there is positive stress (you know…the kind that gets your butt in gear because of a deadline, it helps you) and negative stress that hurts us (I’m sure you have your own examples for this).
Usually, they will turn red if they are getting too much direct hot sun, the soil is lacking nutrients, they aren’t being watered regularly, or there is a big temperature change (these are all positive stresses).
Succulents and Cacti naturally grow in intense environments (no water for a while and then drenched with a quick rain shower), most come from the desert but all come from environments that other plants can’t handle. Succulents are hearty and used to extreme conditions, they were made for positive stress environments.
For example, if you set a jade plant in hot direct sun, the tips will turn red. This is the plant’s natural defense to protect itself from sunburn. Many succulents that are green when you buy them will turn red (or other colors) when under good stress and on the same note, you may buy a succulent that looks red only for it to turn green when it is not stressed. While they can’t handle all the possible stresses forever (hot sun, poor soil, no water all at once), they are made to withstand harsh environments.
Red can signify bad stress too. If a plant is over watered or has bugs, it will change colors but the leaves will start to fall off and the plant will look sick. If you notice your plant turning colors and looking droopy, quickly change its environment, check for bugs, and back off of the watering.
Exercise is good for us, right? We are supposed to lift weights, jog, or in general push ourselves to be healthier. Exercise puts positive stress on our bodies because it makes our heart healthier, our bodies stronger and faster, we have a stronger immune system, and we are more prepared for harsh environments.
That is what putting positive stress on your succulents does too. It exercises their survival muscles. I read the story below several years ago and it has stuck with me (for personal and plant reasons). I have paraphrased some parts, the full story can be read here, 48days.com.
“I once had the opportunity to meet an Amish neighbor of my Dad. He told me that years ago Dad had complained to him that his apple trees looked beautiful but weren’t producing any apples. Known far and wide for his apples, he told my Dad to go home, grab a hammer and give his trees a severe beating around the trunk. He said they needed to have something wake them up – that life had been too easy and they needed the challenge to come alive. While this seemed counter to the careful fertilizing, watering and nurturing my Dad had been giving his prized trees, he trusted the wisdom of his Amish neighbor.
The next year the trees produced so heavily that Dad saw branches breaking under the weight of the massive number of apples. With a little research, I now find that this is not an uncommon approach. Want more crepe myrtle blooms? Pull branches down almost to the breaking point, then let them snap back into place. We know that roses if left to themselves, will grow foliage but few roses. The best way to get them to produce what they are designed to do is to cut them back severely annually and shovel down to cut off growing roots.”
Positive stress can be healthy for your succulents and make them more hearty. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little to see what happens. Different types of stress (hot sun vs. under-watering) will make the leaves different colors, meaning the leaves will not be the same shade for all types of stress. Just make sure you keep an eye on them and move them back to a more pleasant environment if they aren’t responding well (this positive stress usually works on an already healthy plant but may not work on an older, unhealthy plant).
Not all succulents will turn red when stressed, some turn other, just as beautiful, colors. Here are 12 that give a great red color. The scientific name is listed along with the more common name.
- Crassula Ovata (Jade) – As mentioned above, the jade plant will turn red if stressed. The tips will turn red to protect itself from sunburn but the overall plant will turn a reddish tint if it is under-watered, top photo.
- Aloe Dorotheae (Sunset Aloe) – This will turn a more glossy red if left in full sun, second photo.
- Aeonium Canariense (Giant Velvet Rose) – There are a few varieties of this but all will turn a shade of red if left in the full sun, picture to the right.
- Euphorbia Tirucalli (Fire Sticks, Sticks on Fire, Red Pencil Tree) – These remind me of sea coral.
- Sedum Rubrotinctum (Jelly Beans, Pork and Beans) – I’m not sure how this plant looks like pork and beans but I love the smaller leaves.
- Graptosedum (California Sunset) – The hotter the sun, the deeper the red.
- Crassula Capitella (Campfire Plant) – Low maintenance, ideal for small planters
- Kalanchoe Thyrsiflora (Paddle Plant/Flapjacks) – I love this plant, I think the shape is so cool.
- Echeveria Agavoides (Lipstick, Wine Red) – This entire plant turns red, not just the tips! It is very bold.
- Sempervivum (Red Lion) – This plant produces pups (babies) that be used to start new plants.
- Sempervivum Heuffelii (Chocolate Sundae) – The name is enough for me to like it and I like the contrasting colors.
- Aloe (Christmas Carol) – The aloe plant you know and love with red spines on it.
Pictures of numbers 4-12 are below.
These are just a few popular ones. If the leaves are like the jade (plump and full), give it a try, if they start to look sick, move them back to more indirect light and/or give them a little more water.
Are There Naturally Red Succulents?
That is a tricky question to answer. The above are all naturally red, they just have to have some stress for it to show. Are there succulents that are constantly red, regardless of their stress level? No, not that I am aware of. All red succulents are red due to stress.
How to Keep Healthy Red Succulents
I totally understand, now that you have seen the beautiful shades of reds, you want to keep them that way. I get it, I may have a red succulent or two…
This post “How to Take Care of Succulents – 4 Easy Steps” talked about keeping your succulents healthy (meaning stress-free and green). To keep them healthy and red, we are going to do things a little different.
To keep your succulents stressed enough to maintain their red color, you need to do one, or possibly all, of the following:
- Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight! Five to six hours a day of direct south-facing sun. East facing windows (morning sun) are great to keep your succulents stress free (mine love the east) but to get the most sun during the day, a south-facing window is best. If you don’t have a south-facing window that will work, no problem, move them to a place that gets more sun than they are used to or try one of the below.
- Make them think there is a drought, reduce the amount of water you give them. Remember, succulents suck water out of the air and when they don’t get “rain”, they store more water in their leaves which changes their color. Start with an extra 7 days beyond their normal watering schedule and add more days as needed, just be careful not to stress it too much. This is what gives me the most success.
- Change their temperature. A big change in temperature stresses them out. You can move them in or outdoors (this only works short term, they can’t handle temperatures usually below 45°F – 50°F or above 85°F – 90°F). For me, this is a difficult way. We usually maintain a steady temperature in our home, as I think most people do, and not all of our rooms have the space or windows for succulents (yep, makes me sad too). If this works for you, please let me know what you did!
Experiment with one thing that you think will work best for your home and your succulents, see how it goes and then add an additional stressor if needed or change the stressor. By changing one thing at a time, you know what you need to fix if your succulent starts to look sickly.
Questions or Comments? Leave them below!