Growing Succulents in the Shade

There are a surprising number of succulent plants which can be grown for many years in light outdoors shade or indoors on tabletops in or near windowsills.

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Our expert shares her secrets for growing and selecting succulents.

Gardeners with shaded landscapes can still enjoy the exotic shapes and colors of succulents – to a point. Though most succulents prefer very bright light, even several or more hours of direct sun, some will burn quite easily if exposed to hot sun all day, especially when temperatures stay above the lower 90s F. Yet where light is too intense to grow them out in full sun, quite a few have been grown for many years indoors, on covered patios, under porch roofs, and beneath trees.

Succulents are unique but commonly-grown plants which usually have fleshy leaves or plump stems or roots for storing water in dry seasons of their native lands. They come in a wide array of shapes, sizes, foliage colors, flowers, and often have unique frills and bristles.

Because many are very easy to propagate and share with other gardeners, and tolerate the typically low light and low humidity of indoors, lot of old “passalong” plants have proven themselves as low light succulents. Who hasn’t seen an old mother-in-law tongue, Christmas cactus, night-blooming cereus, pencil plant, or jade bush that was part of a gift basket plant combo, that outlived the original pot, set on a kitchen windowsill?

There are several which do better in light shade during hot summers, including the fairy crassula (Crassula multicava) in mild-winter areas, and the more cold-tolerant stonecrops (Sedum). Others are best grown as container plants set in shade and moved as needed for protection from winter cold or excess rainfall.

What Shade Succulents Need

In general, all succulents do best in sun at least part of the day sun; many will get leggy and weak and refuse to flower without at least six hours; some actually get more colorful and flower better in eight or more hours of direct sun.

However, some will fade, spot, or even scorch in the intense heat of full sun, especially in humid climates and when temperatures remain above 90F or so; these need to be shaded from mid-day and afternoon sun by buildings, lattice, arbors, shade cloth, or trees with light, fine-textured foliage.

Succulents are able to survive dry conditions for a long time, and usually go dormant in the winter. But in the growing season they will grow and flower better with regular watering; most, especially those grown in containers, will need watering at least every couple of weeks in very hot seasons.

Still, too much water is worse than too little, with those grown in shade needing even less. This makes container-grown succulents even better for growing under dry porches or indoor windowsills.

Garden soils and potting soils for containers should hold moisture but allow excess water to drain quickly; even ready-made cactus mixes usually need a little help. Till in a little compost and coarse sand to native garden dirt, at least six or eight inches deep. And to both it and container potting soils add extra drainage material such as pumice, grit, or expanded clay soil amendments, which look like kitty litter and are used by professional turf managers to loosen soils.

Fertilize succulents in the spring or during flowering with a good low-nitrogen plant food, used at just half strength, and none at all in the winter. 

Good Succulents for Shade

Some of the most beloved succulents which tolerate lower light outdoors and bright but indirect light indoors include burn plant (Aloe vera), jade (Crassula), devil’s backbone (Pedilanthus), the many different kinds of Sansevieria, and florist’s Kalanchoe.

Good vine-like or cascading succulents for shade include wax plant (Hoya), burrow tail (Sedum), mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis), string of pearls (Senecio), string of hearts and rosary vine (Ceropegia), Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), Easter cactus (Hatirora), and night blooming cereus (Epiphyllum and Hylocereus).

For a better overall plant scene in shaded areas, be sure to accent these with other shade-loving but low-maintenance plants with dependable flowers or brighter or variegated foliage or flowers.

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