You see them at grocery stores and home improvement stores and the displays are almost always half empty (at the least). The latest houseplant trend is succulents with their leaves sprayed with neon pink, blue, and orange paint. Although their bright-colored leaves look striking, we can't help but wonder if that's good for the plant (even if the packaging says the paint is all-natural). We checked with some experts to find out.
The overwhelming response from the plant community? Paint is slowly killing these succulents.
According to Tiernach McDermott, a horticulture expert for the social gardening app Candide, spray painting succulents stops them from being able to photosynthesize, essentially suffocating the plants. Succulents, like most plants, get their energy from light and take it in through their leaves. With a thick layer of paint covering the leaves, the succulent can’t take in much, if any, light.
“Most spray-painted succulents will die before too long, but a few will survive by growing new leaves of a natural color,” Tiernach says.
You may not notice the painted succulent suffering right away when you bring it home from the store—succulents are one of the few plant types that are naturally able to survive long periods of neglect. Some varieties of succulents can push up new leaves on top of the painted leaves, allowing them to take in the light they need to thrive and grow. However, most of the time plants can’t get the energy they need to create new leaves and will eventually wither and die.
Becca Stevens of Botanical Bright recommends that, if you truly want neon plants, you should get a fake one and enjoy it forever. “When they’re painted, they look more plastic than some of the faux succulents I’ve seen on the market,” Becca says. “Succulents naturally come in so many amazing colors and textures. In my mind, there’s no need to add anything extra.”
If a bold look is what you're really after, get a faux plant and paint it yourself. It will last forever, whereas spray painted succulents have an expiration date. Painting faux succulents can be a fun, customizable project, and it also saves plants from a slow and inevitable death.