Friday, October 7, 2011

List: Succulents Which Don't Need Full, All-Day Sun (But Might Nevertheless Prefer It)

The initial inspiration for this list comes from a post at Garden Web by someone whose apartment only gets partial sun, who still wants to be able to grow some succulents inside. The post has received one response (as I write this), and I mostly agree with what that responder said, but that's no reason not to write a post about it.

This is also a question I've had to face fairly directly myself, since the main flaw of the house is its disappointing lack of south-facing windows. (The few it does have are partly obstructed by the neighbors' house and our garage, alas.)

Most of the stuff in this list that I've personally grown still gets at least a couple hours of afternoon sun or all-day bright artificial light, so don't take this as the final word on what you can grow in these conditions -- it'll depend on how big of a window you have, how obstructed it is, and so on. But if you have a spot with some sun, just not all-day sun, you should still be able to grow:

Agave victoriae-reginae. I wouldn't believe this if I hadn't done it myself, but my largest, oldest victoriae-reginae has been in a west window for the last two years and is apparently just fine with that. (The leaves are perhaps a little further apart than they would be in a brighter spot, and I'm not sure if they're maybe not also a bit longer. But still. Doable.) It's not even very close to the west window. I don't recommend any other Agave species for anything other than full sun or extremely bright fluorescent light, though.

Beaucarnea recurvata. My Beaucarnea and I have only recently started getting along, more or less since I switched fertilizers. I've never really had the option to give it full sun, but it hasn't seemed to mind that too much, so long as it got some direct sun. It's presently close to a west window.

Cereus peruvianus. I've tried a lot of cacti here -- at one point, cactus-collecting was verging on becoming a full-blown thing for me -- and most of them just don't seem to be able to cope without a lot more light than I can provide. Cereus peruvianus is one of the few that can handle a west window without getting all etiolated and weird. They don't bloom, they don't grow fast, but the base of the plant remains roughly the same size as the new growth.

Dischidia ruscifolia. Dischidia ruscifolia seems perfectly content to live in a semi-obstructed east window in the husband's office, and has been doing so for long enough that I think it's safe to say that it could keep doing so for years.

Euphorbia NOID. I've been calling this plant "Euphorbia kokopelli" in my brain, because the shape sort of resembles the deity as he is commonly portrayed --

-- but you may or may not see the resemblance. The plant's height has forced me to try to grow it in less than ideal locations, and it's performed admirably in them. Currently, it gets only artificial light, and not even very much of that, yet it still grows, and it looks the same as it ever did.

I got E. "kokopelli" from someone through Garden Web, and have never had an ID for it, or even much of a guess as to an ID, so if you thought to yourself when you saw the above picture, oh, that's obviously a Euphorbia ___________, you should leave me a comment telling me what you thought.

The above picture that's a plant, not the above picture that's a humpbacked flute-playing fertility god.

Haworthia limifolia var. limifolia. Haworthias are pretty reliable plants for reduced-sun spots; I had one in a north window, where it never got any direct sun, for a couple years, and it did fine.

Ledebouria socialis. My history with Ledebouria is complicated. My plants have done better in a south window than in the west window where they currently reside, but fertilizer is a large part of that, and to be honest, they're also not terribly close to the west window, so I still think an east or west window should provide sufficient light for a Ledebouria.

Selenicereus chrysocardium. Jungle cacti are pretty flexible about light, as a group. My observations are that Selenicereus chrysocardium will grow faster with more light, but otherwise it behaves the same -- the stems aren't smaller, the color's the same, etc. My best results to date have been with the plant in a hanging basket, suspended below a shop light, but they've grown fine in minimal fluorescent light as well, just a lot more slowly.

Senecio rowleyanus. Senecio rowleyanus initially grew in a good spot in a west window, but it was slow, and stems periodically would just up and die for no obvious reason. The reason I know this wasn't a light problem is because it's been in the same spot this spring and summer, growing like a monster, and the only thing that changed was the fertilizer. (Again, I know. But fertilizer is sometimes very important.)

Stapelia gigantea (and probably other Stapelia spp.?). My Stapelia actually burned when I first brought it home, which you can actually see a bit on the stems in the picture. I thought I was being nice, giving it a spot outside where it could get all the light it could possibly want, but instead it burned. Ungratefully. So it came inside, and has been growing nicely in a west window ever since.

Ordinarily I would pick out three of these to recommend especially at this point, but I'm fairly fond of all of the above plants, and I've already talked about them a little, so we'll skip that part this time.

Not shown:

Explicitly NOT recommended for windows without full sun (and in some cases, not recommended indoors for windows with full sun either):
  • Aeonium spp.
  • Agave spp. that aren't victoriae-reginae
  • Aloe congolensis
  • Aloe juvenna
  • Aloe 'Minibelle'
  • Aloe variegata
  • Anacampseros rufescens
  • Astrophytum myriostigma
  • Astrophytum ornatum
  • Bryophyllum daigremontianum
  • Bryophyllum tubiflorum
  • cacti generally (though there are a few exceptions)
  • Crassula falcata
  • Crassula muscosa
  • Crassula perforata
  • Crassula rupestris
  • Echeveria spp.
  • Euphorbia anoplia
  • Euphorbia drupifera
  • Euphorbia enopla
  • Euphorbia flanaganii
  • Euphorbia grandicornis
  • Euphorbia horrida
  • Euphorbia pseudocactus
  • Hylocereus spp.
  • any Kalanchoe sp.
  • Lampranthus blandus
  • Lithops spp.
  • Myrtillocactus geometrizans
  • Pachyphytum cvv.
  • Sedum burrito
  • Sedum rubrotinctum
  • Sempervivum cvv.

I lack sufficient experience with these to say one way or the other, or have had mixed results, or it grows fine but isn't as colorful, etc.:
  • Adenium obesum
  • Adromischus spp.
  • Alluaudia procera (gets a hesitant thumbs-up at the Garden Web thread, but I've never tried to grow it personally)
  • Aloe arenicola
  • Aloe brevifolia
  • Aloe dorotheae 'Sunset' (definitely won't turn red; still seems to grow okay, though)
  • Aloe ferox
  • Aloe 'Fire Ranch'
  • Aloe greatheadii var. davyana
  • Aloe maculata (A. saponaria)
  • Aloe striata
  • Aloinopsis rubrolineata
  • Argyroderma spp.
  • Browningia hertlingiana
  • Ceropegia woodii
  • Cissus rotundifolia
  • Crassula arborescens
  • Crassula ovata
  • Dischidia nummularia
  • Euphorbia ammak
  • Euphorbia bougheyi
  • Euphorbia lactea
  • Faucaria spp.
  • Furcraea foetida cvv.
  • Gasteria 'pseudonigricans'
  • Hoya obovata
  • Isolatocereus dumortieri
  • Leuchtenbergia principis
  • Pleiospilos spp.
  • Portulacaria afra
  • Senecio crassissimus
  • Senecio jacobsenii


Paul said...

Not sure if you meant "in my experience" but C. peruvianus does indeed bloom.

mr_subjunctive said...


I meant they don't bloom in the situation I'm talking about: east / west window and indoors.

John said...

If winter succulents count, Mexican Pinguicula such as Pinguicula agnata or one of the common cultivars such as P. 'Tina' do well with partial sun (or even bright shade during the winter).

Sentient Meat said...

Fantastic! This comes up a lot in cactus and succulent discussions on various hort sites. I usually sum it up with the genera: Sansevieria, Gasteria, Haworthia, Rhipsalis (or other jungle cacti). Now when it comes up, I can happily point to this piece.

phantom_tiger said...

A very useful list now I am trying succulents. I always find myself agonizing over The Question: Under the Lights? Or not? If plants could just offer up a verbal opinion, it would help a lot!

Andrea said...

Wow those plants are still lovely, maybe they easily acclimatize with the conditions. Here in our country temperatures are almost always above 30C, and the west windows become so hot. In my office window facing east, i plant dwarf Sansevieria. They get direct sunlight from sunrise to noon, dont receive any fertilization at all, just a little water every morning, and they are so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I work for a small company with a specialty in outdoor container plantings. I've seen a lot of agaves of several species (apologies in advance for the lack of more precise ID) successfully wintered over (October to May) in dark warm basements with no light and no water. They lose some lower leaves, but more than make up for it with new growth in the summer, when they receive water, fertilizer, and full northern sun.

I understand that this observation is tangential to your post, but I think it's valuable to know that the effects of poor light in winter can be made up for with good enough light in the summer.


Anonymous said...

Here are a few succulents I've had success with under lights but getting absolutely no additional light from any window:

* Various Echeverias - This one is starred because they will grow a very tall stem until they are almost touching the bulbs, and then you'll get a decent looking plant at the tip. Not "houseplant" material but winter-able until you can get them back outside. You can skip the tall stem stage by raising them very close to the lights to start out with.

Various Aloes -
‘Pepe’ (descoingsii x haworthioides), A. deltoideodonta, A. peglerae

Haworthias - The harder leaved varieties tend to do better, including hybrids that are more Haworthia-like than otherwise.

Haworthia retusa has done fine as well under lights but I get the feeling that's sort of "just barely" - it's recovering from being burnt, tossed into the shade where the leaves grew too long and is getting a nice shape again so seems to be a good average for it. None of my Haworthias make the trek outside for the summer.

Crassula repestris has done fairly well just under lights.

Sansevieria cylindrica & trifasciata are both fine but hard to fit under lights.

I've also seen a Euphorbia tirucalli doing surprisingly well beside a north window. Very large, has been there a long time. Very dark green with no signs of yellows or reds but healthy.