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Stress coloring: 3 rules you should be following but (probably) aren't!

The first rule is: let there be light!

The less light your succulents get, the greener they will remain and also more stretched out with large leaves instead of compact rosettes or clustered growth.

With enough light (aka direct sunlight) most succulents will show you their ‘true’ colors. If you have one at home that’s green, give it a few weeks in sun, and watch it bloom in front of your eyes.

 A plant store in California, USA called Mountain Crest Gardens did an did an experiment where they put their succulents through different light conditions and found that generally speaking more sun gave more color.

The MCG peeps took two of the same type of succulent (e.g. an echeveria) and put one in a dark box and the other in about 70% sunlight. Guess which bb looked the best at the end? Yup: the one in sunlight.

Look familiar? This elephant bush needs a lot more sun. The leaves should have a red tinge around them, and they are spaced too widely apart on the stem. Ideally they would grow closer together. The stems are also leggy and spindly looking, stretching for more sunlight. 

By contrast - look at the densely clustered leaves here, and the reddish tinge around them. This elephant bush is super happy :)

Here's a close-up showing how luscious elephant bush leaves look - and for good reason, they're quite edible with a pleasantly tart flavor. A favorite for elephants and other wildlife originating in South Africa (hence the name).

 

The second rule is: with water, less is more.

Root rot is the leading killer of succulents worldwide. So water deeply, but infrequently. Water when the soil mix is completely dry, and if you really want the stress colors, then let the soil mix stay dry for a few days (in mid-summer) or a couple weeks (mid-winter).

But let your succulents succulent.

A sustained lack of water causes the succulent to create more anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the plant from environmental damage (and causes the lovely blushy colors you see). Again, use your judgment here - too much stressing and the plant could die. Oh no.

 

The third rule is: exposure!

In the cold succulents turn a darker color to help attract more heat. Hence the cold stress coloring. You won't see this in summer but wait for winter to admire the changes in your succulent.

Remember, these plants can tolerate cold but many of them can't stand freezing temperatures - and while our winters in Pakistan are balmy compared to those in say London or New York, we do get the occasional drop to 1 or even 0 degree Celsius at night. As long as your sprog is indoors it'll likely be fine. But if it's outdoors do a little research to keep your succulent safe.