Summer -- The Best or the Worst Season of Succulents
For Canadians like us, who have endured a super long and harsh winter, spring is finally officially here! Yay! While climates vary across different regions, summer should be more or less just around the corner.
If you are an indoor succulent grower all year around, I assume you have grow lights on during winter, right? Otherwise, your succulents must have been stretching and fading into the common green colours during winter times. If you don't know what we mean by stretching, check our previous blog to learn more. For indoor growers, summer means the greatest season for your previous succulents: extended periods of daylights and peaked UV lights can transform your succulents into their most gorgeous conditions: active growth, compact size, and vibrant colours.
Check out the following two pictures highlighting the difference a few weeks of sunlight can make to our Echeveria Pink Blue Bird. Prepare to embrace similar changes to your succulents. Of course, this is based on the assumption that you can provide your succulents with direct sunlight conditions, e.g., south facing windows.
Echeveria Pink Blue Bird turned into more vibrant pink after exposed to direct sunlight compared to a few weeks ago (below)
What about Outdoor Succulent Growing?
The climate in Canada is definitely far away from the native succulent habitats, primarily due to the long and harsh winter seasons. However, maybe surprisingly, the summer in Canada can be a heaven for succulent plants as well -- at least this is the case for Ontario, where we are based at -- mostly sunny days, rare rains, and dry climate in general, which are what succulents enjoy the most.
If you have a yard or a terrace, which can receive direct sunlight during most daylight hours, you can certainly try growing your succulents outdoor! The benefits of growing succulents outdoors include not only stronger sunlight intensity (you would be surprised how much UV filtering your window glasses are doing for you) but also improved aeration, which makes fungus attack so much less possible. In addition, warm temperature also encourages the growth of succulents as they would feel like at home.
However, while summer is the most exciting time of the year for all Canadian succulent lovers who wish to enjoy a wonderful season of outdoor gardening, we hope to take this chance to remind you of the following potential risks, which can damage or even kill your succulents, if you don't take precaution about them. Because, after all, growing succulents outdoor means letting them live in elements.
Precaution #1: Sunburns
On hot summer days, sunlight can become too strong, even for desert dwellers, succulents. What can happen is that the sunlight gets too scorching, succulents can get sunburns, just as humans do, which leave brown spots and later scars on their leaves.
This can also happen in spring or early summer times, especially if your succulents have been living in low-light conditions, such as being overwintered indoors, or being in parcels being shipped, and then introduced to direct sunlight, even if the temperature is still not at its peak.
I was a bit of too careless myself on this matter too. I thought my plants were living under long-hour of grow lights during winter, so they were not exactly being "in low-light conditions". But when I moved my plants outdoor to enjoy direct sunlight, when the temperature was still around 15 degrees Celcius, sunburns still happened to some plants.
Sunburns on the Aeonium Kiwi plants
Sunburns on the Echeveria Runyonii
As you can see, sunburns leave some nasty brown spots on their leaves, which are irreversible. It does not only make your plants ugly, but it can also damage the plants if they cannot adjust to the new level of sunlight or simply the heat is too much for them to endure. A sunburned succulent cannot photosynthesize through the sunburned tissue on its leaves, which can be fatal if no sufficient healthy tissues are left.
Solution: it is always recommended to err on the safe side, which includes:
- In late spring or early summer time, when moving your plants outdoors into direct sunlight, make sure you do this in phases: introduce them to bright indirect light first, then to partial direct light, and eventually to full sun. This is to prevent them from being light shocked and help them build up self-defense gradually.
- In hot summer days, when days can be too hot, e.g., feels above 25 degrees Celcius, you should consider providing the plants with some partial shade around peak hours. This is especially critical for succulents with tender leaves, such as aeoniums and most stonecrop species, which can be burned more easily than those with more fleshy leaves.
Precaution #2: Pests
If you ask any gardeners, not only succulent gardeners, the things they hate the most for summer gardening, pests are definitely on their list. Succulents are generally less susceptible to pest attack, compared to other edible plants; however, they can still attract a few particular pests and those pests can be very hard to get rid of.
Common succulent pests include mealybugs, aphids, fungus gnats, and scales.
- Take the same approach to treat pests as other plants in your garden, such as physically washing away the insects by a high-pressure water hose or use safe insecticide soaps.
- Prune the flower stalks.
A lot of echeverias have their blooming seasons during summer time. To be honest, their flowers are quite impressive! Sometimes nature is so unfair -- it already gives echeverias the exceptional beauties as plants, and yet it is still generous enough to make sure that they have one of the most attractive flowers.
You may feel astonished when I told you to cut off these beautiful flower stalks. Yes, it is very cruel, but it is for good reasons. First of all, the flowers attract the pests, and they would spread to the plant itself and damage it -- pests are another cause to succulent uglification. Moreover, a lot of experienced succulent growers get rid of the flower stalks because they believe blooming weakens the plant, as the plant needs to focus its energy in blooming.
Precaution #3: Too Much Rains
We all know that the number one cause for succulent fatality is overwatering. For indoor succulents, you are the one who is in full control of their water supply. In contrast, while living outdoors, succulents are under the control of Mother Nature.
In Ontario, summer days are almost never humid and precipitations are also minimal. This means rains are generally not a major concern for outdoor succulents. Also, you don't really need to worry too much about occasional showers in summer, as long as the containers where you plant your succulents all have drainage holes and the growing medium is porous enough for fast drainage.
However, if your local climates are more humid and frequent rains are expected, it can be a problem. You may have to watch the weather forecast more closely and reposition your plants accordingly to seek shelters from too much water.
As a Canadian succulent grower, we are excited to embrace summer and look forward to what it can bring to our succulent garden: active growth and vibrant colours. In this blog, we shared our experience in terms of how to better prepare yourself for summer outdoor succulent gardening.
Wish we all have a beautiful season ahead of us!