HomeSucculentsWhy Do Succulents Turn Red?

Why Do Succulents Turn Red?

So what’s up with your succulent cutie turning red, seemingly out of nowhere? Well, that isn’t unheard of in the world of succulents.

For a succulent, turning red is a sign of stress. The stress here is caused by a range of factors in the plant’s surroundings including extreme temperature changes (too hot and too cold), little watering, prolonged direct sunlight exposure, nutrient deficiency, and poor soils.

Looking at how you take care of your succulent, I’m pretty sure you can tell which of these conditions is the culprit. Let’s explore a bit more deeply why your plant changes to red when exposed to the above.

Reasons as to Why Succulents Turn Red

Each of the following is a potential source of stress to your succulent which – as we’ve seen – can lead to your plant turning red. As I’ve mentioned, it should be easy for you to find out which one of these is responsible for your succulent turning red.

1. Small Pot

If you’ve been having your succulent for some time, perhaps it’s time you checked that pot. It goes without saying – the more the plant grows the bigger it becomes for the initial pot hence the need for repotting.

A prolonged stay in a small pot leads to what’s called root bound, something you should really be careful of. A root-bound succulent will have some problems with growing, water intake, and nutrient uptake, hence the red leaves.

An easy way of checking if a succulent is root bound is by peeking at drainage holes at the bottom of your pot. You’re sure to see some roots crawling out in which case you might have to look for a new bigger pot.

2. Extreme Temperature Changes

Both hot and cold temperatures can lead to your succulent’s leaves turning red. This is more likely during summer and winter when readings lean more on the extreme.

Of course, most succulents can only tolerate either of the extreme temperatures – hot or cold – depending on their origin. Those that are native to hot areas are well-adapted to withstand and turn red when the temperature shoots up. And those endemic to cold areas bring out the red once the temperatures plummet.

3. Poor Soils

One of the reasons why succulents are unique is their ability to thrive with little nutrients. It’s how they’re able to survive the largely barren arid and semi-arid lands that they naturally inhabit.

That being said, lower nutrient content than they’re used to will definitely cause some reaction – like turning red.

Nutrient deficiency can be caused by a low-quality potting mix, that’s if you chose to go with a commercial option. But if you prepare your own well-draining succulent mix, using an inadequate amount of regular potting mix can also mean fewer nutrients for your succulent.

Whatever the case, fertilizing your succulent once every spring can help a lot.

4. Too Much Sunlight

This is probably the most common cause of succulents turning red. Most succulents love some direct sunlight but will react if exposed to it for long hours.

You will notice after you move your succulent to a sunny spot in or outside the house. This is also common for certain succulents that are under direct sunlight most of the time.

Turning red is actually a protection mechanism against the harmful effects of prolonged UV light exposure. The color change is caused by anthocyanin, a red pigment synthesized from chlorophyll.

This also happens when some succulents are exposed to either low or high temperatures.

The more anthocyanin a succulent can synthesize the redder it’ll turn.

5. Little Watering

You might have heard that water is among the number one killer of succulents. Of course, that’s true to some extent. Succulents don’t need that much water to grow successfully. So being heavy-handed will definitely cause problems sooner or later.

But neglecting to water your succulent for long can just be as problematic. Some succulents tend to turn red when left thirsty for too long.

For a general case, 2 weeks is an ideal waiting time between watering sessions. But it’s always a good idea to rely on what the top of the potting medium says. Once it dries, it’s time to fetch the watering can.

You’ll have to wait longer during winter when most succulents are dormant and the potting mix dries a lot slower.

Is It Bad If My Succulents Turn Red?

Now, that’s the big question. A succulent turning red does look awesome, you can’t deny that. But are you sacrificing your plant’s wellbeing down the line?

The answer is, it depends. You’ll have to look at the general state of your plant to determine whether or not the color change is bad.

If your succulents turn red without any other change, then it’s all good. If the color change is accompanied by other not-so-nice signs – shriveling, burned leaf tips, etc. – then it’s time to change a few things about your care routine. That’s when we say the succulents are facing bad stress.

Good and Bad Stress

Talking about stress in the human context means only one thing – bad. But for succulents, it can actually be good.

Good because succulents not only survive these stressful conditions but also emerge looking even more beautiful by turning red. You can actually subject your plant to the good stress to turn into a shining ruby jewel (more about that in a few).

But that will, of course, depend on individual succulent species.

For some succulents, more sunlight exposure or temperature extremes will cause problems – in which case that’ll be bad stress. Again, don’t just focus on the color change. If the succulent doesn’t remain bubbly then you have to switch up how you take care of it.

Using the Good Stress to Your Advantage

That’s right – you can choose to deliberately stress your plant to further enhance its beauty. But first, make sure it’s a species that can turn red in the first place. There is no point in trying to initiate something that isn’t in the plant’s DNA.

Also, be sure to ascertain your plant can handle whatever you try to throw at it – be it a few hours of direct sunlight, cold winters, or the summer heat.

Remember, there are tons of succulent species and each one of them has a specific set of conditions it can withstand. For instance, not all succulents can tolerate being outside during winter and dozens of others will have problems if exposed to direct sunlight.

That aside, here are some common succulents that turn red under good stress:

  • Hens and chicks
  • Jade plant
  • Jelly bean plant
  • Lipstick Echeveria
  • Dragon’s blood sedum, etc.

But whatever the species, keeping it healthy should be your priority. Any other thing is just icing on the cake.

Final Thoughts

Succulents turn red because of stress – extreme temperatures, poor soils, too much sunlight, being root bound, and less-than-adequate watering. The color change can either be good or bad depending on other changes that your plant will be showing.

Your succulent will generally be safe if it remains healthy amidst turning red. And you can even induce the red pigment if you have a succulent that can change color. But remember to keep it healthy for a start.