Try as we might to avoid it, stress is a natural part of life. While it might not always seem like it, going through a period of stress can help you grow as an individual.
That theory also applies to many types of succulents. In fact, there are many colorful succulents that actually produce more beautiful and vibrant colors when they are exposed to stressful conditions.
If you’re curious how to properly stress succulents - or why you should be stress coloring succulents in the first place - you've come to the right place. This article will tell you everything you need to know about how to stress succulents for color.
Visit any gardening supply store or nursery, and you’ll likely be blown away by the colorful succulents lining the shelves. Take those succulents home, and you may be dismayed that they turn a more bland shade of green after a short period of time.
Your succulents are healthy, so what gives?
In short, you’re treating them too well! Succulents need a bit of stress in order to showcase more beautiful blooms. Stress comes in all shapes, sizes, and forms, and it’s a simple fact of life for all organisms.
Plant stress, including succulent stress, usually arises as a response to a deviation from ideal growing conditions. For example, if you notice that plants are growing very tall in low light conditions (or becoming “leggy”) that generally means that they are exhibiting a stress response. Succulents are no different.
When they are stressed, succulents produce anthocyanin and carotenoid, two pigments that help protect the plant from environmental stressors. In particular, these pigments protect against sun damage. The more anthocyanin and carotenoid a plant produces, the more colorful it becomes.
Although you don’t want your succulents to be stressed all the time, there are several ways you can introduce stress to encourage more beautiful colors.
Focus on these four methods as opposed to just stressing out your succulent willy-nilly (in other words, don’t let your succulents be munched on by pests or trampled by your kids to encourage it to become more colorful).
Try these safe stress methods instead.
One of the easiest ways to stress your succulents is to put them in the dark. Place your succulents under a dark cover for four or five days to simulate the conditions they would experience during shipment in a dark box (one of the reasons why store-bought succulents are so colorful at first).
You can do this as long as fourteen days to encourage the colors to really pop. This works best with low-light indoor succulents like jade plants, air plants, gasteria, and haworthia.
On the flip side, you may be able to encourage your succulents to display bright shades of color by putting them in more sunlight. Consider starting the plants outdoors, where they’ll be in bright shade for up to one week (note - only do this if you live in a warm enough climate to grow succulents outdoors, or you may kill them with too much cold),
Move them to a partial sun location and give the plants another week or so to adapt. Then, bring the plants indoors and position them under grow lights or in another full-sun environment.
Certain sun-loving succulents like cacti and sedum will display more beautiful shades of red, pink, and purple when they’re exposed to more sunlight as their pigments will become more vibrant.
If you're going to light stress your succulents, be sure you pay close attention to them. That way, you can catch signs of sunburn early. In general, succulents can recover from most light-related problems within just a week or two, as long as you gradually transition them into the right conditions.
Begin with a healthy set of plants. Keep in mind that not all succulents will change color when stressed - you’ll want to choose varieties like aloes, kalanchoes, euphorbias, sedums, sempervivums, aeoniums, and echeveria. Agave doesn’t normally change color when stressed.
Just like light stress, cold stress can also encourage your succulents to become more colorful. Consider leaving the plant out in the cold, but make sure temperatures remain above freezing. Like with light stress, this shock can encourage a flush of pigments.
This process is a bit more delicate, however. You'll Want to keep a close eye on your succulent plants to make sure they aren’t pushed from stress to the brink of death by too much time below their cold hardiness thresholds.
As with light and cold stress, you can also water-stress your succulent plants. This can be somewhat tough to do, as succulents are known for their ability to withstand long periods of drought!
However, by cutting out water (the exact amount you should cut out will vary depending on what kind of succulent you're growing and how much water you are giving it now - consult your planting instructions for more information on this) you can often stress your plant out enough to flush pigments.
Knowing what causes your succulents to change color will allow you to take better care of them - but every now and then, exposing your plants to a bit of stress is a good idea.
Just do so wisely and by following the steps above. Always start with a good set of plants, too, as robust and healthy plants will withstand a bit of stress more gracefully than those that are already weakened. Consider using a cactus and succulent grow kit like this one so that you can provide your plants with everything they need.
CTTO: Chopstick and Succulents
Otherwise, these tips should help you adequately stress your succulents so that you can enjoy more beautiful colors. Remember, follow all of these steps gradually, and be sure to pay close attention to your plants so that you don’t stress them too much.
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