Common signs of distress and health in succulents
For succulent newbies, it can be difficult to get a good read on the health of your plant. Here are our top ‘red flags’ that something is off, along with a few common indications that your succulent is actually, well, totally normal.
If anything seems out of the ordinary for your plant babes, read on!
5 Common Red Flags
1. Mushy, yellow leaves that fall off easily; soil that won’t fully dry
Diagnosis: Over-watered succulent
There’s not a whole lot that can be done with over-watered succulents, unfortunately. Here are a couple last-ditch efforts that may help:
- Repot your succulent in dry cactus soil immediately. If you notice your succulents’ leaves are getting mushy and yellow, gently remove it from its pot and crumble away much of the soil clinging to its roots. Then repot it in new, dry cactus soil and do not water for at least a few weeks. The idea here is to keep the roots from soaking up any more moisture from the soil.
- You can also try beheading your succulent. Yep, we said it. Cut that succ-er off from its roots, then treat it as a cutting. Discard the roots and lower part of the stem, and let the top sit out for a few days before nestling back in dry cactus soil. Wait a week, then water very lightly (just enough to dampen the topsoil) once a week for about 3-5 weeks. During this time, new roots will grow. The idea here is to keep the top of the stem and leaves from soaking up any more moisture from the roots.
- Remember, over-watering is hard for succulents to come back from, so try to catch it early and err on the side of under-watering!
- If you’re a rookie succulent parent, a shallow pot with drainage holes will be your absolute BEST friend when it comes to never losing succulents to over-watering.
- Use cactus soil when repotting your succulents. Cactus soil is easy to find; it’s usually sold your local gardening store along with the other potting soils. It is specially formulated for extra drainage and to keep your succulents from getting too water-logged.
- Let it shine! If you notice that, even when you wait a couple of weeks between watering, the soil still seems damp, it may be that your succulent isn’t getting enough sunlight. For soil to fully dry, it needs light. If your windowsill isn’t doing the trick, snagging a grow light might be in your best interest! Check out our blog post on how to winter-proof your plants (specifically the grow light section!)
- Check out our quick video on how to water your succulents without killing them!
2. Wilted or shriveled succulents; rubbery leaves that bend easily and feel thin
Diagnosis: Under-watered succulents
- Add more water! First, give your succulent a good soak (until water comes out of the drainage holes), then wait a few days and give it another.
- Second, don’t over-correct! Just decrease the days in between watering one by one until your plant seems happy. If you were watering once every 14 days, try every 12 or 13. If it still seems rubbery, thin, and wrinkled, try every ten days.
- Make sure you’re soaking your succulent with each watering, not just spraying them or getting the top of the soil wet.
3. Large gaps between the leaves of a succulent
Diagnosis: Stretching due to lack of sunlight
While you can’t reverse the effects of stretching, you can take a ‘re-do’! You’ll need some scissors, a new pot with cactus soil, and a propagation tray (optional).
- Cut off the top of the succulent (above where it’s started stretching) and set it out for a few days until the stem calluses over. This is a new succulent, called a cutting.
- Once the stem of the cutting has callused, nestle it into a new pot with dry cactus soil. Water very lightly once a week for 4-5 weeks as new roots begin growing. BAM! You’ve got a new succulent.
- As for the stump, you can either propagate any remaining leaves or you can leave them on the stump, which will eventually grow new stems and new leaves with regular care.
- To propagate the leaves, gently twist and pull them off the remaining stem, lay ’em on a tray of cactus soil, and spritz them lightly with water every other day. They’ll eventually grow roots and a rosette, and after a few weeks you can repot them! More on propagation here.
Make sure your succulents are getting at least 6-8 hours of bright, indirect sunlight a day. A south or west-facing windowsill is a perfect spot for ’em!
4. Brown/black splotches on the tops of the leaves
Unfortunately, there’s not one. Move your succulent to a place a bit shadier, then let it do it’s thing. It’ll eventually grow out of the sunburned leaves by shedding them and growing new ones.
- Young succulents need bright but indirect sunlight to avoid sunburn
- Many succulents can eventually handle and even appreciate direct sunlight, but introduction is the key! Move your succulent into direct sunlight slowly, adding an hour in direct sunlight every day or two. After a week or two, your succulent will be able to tolerate full sun. If you start to see any signs of sun damage, reverse this process until you find a sweet spot.
5. White, cobweb-y bugs and nests
Diagnosis: Mealybug infestation
- First, quarantine your succulent! Mealybugs spread quickly.
- Spray your succulent with isopropyl alcohol (70%, available at drug stores)
- Lastly, use a cotton swab to gently remove the mealybugs from the succulent
- Mealybugs love damp soil, so make sure your succulents are planted with well-draining soil in pots with drainage holes
3 Common Green Flags Disguised as Red Flags
1. Color Change
A change in color is not always a cause for concern! In fact, many succulents will exhibit richer, more vibrant colors when introduced to brighter, more prolonged sunlight in spring and summer. (If your succulent is turning brown, however, there’s a problem.) Once winter rolls around, it is not uncommon for succulents to take on a more pale hue. This is natural when a succulent goes dormant, and it doesn’t mean they are unhealthy, just adapting to the weather!
2. Dead Leaves
Succulents grow from the center out. To make room for new, healthy leaves, it’s normal for the bottom leaves of your succulents to die. Just prune them by gently pulling them off the stem and disposing of them. As long as the leaves in the center look happy and healthy and it’s only the bottom leaves shedding, this is a sign your succulent is thriving!
* If all the leaves are falling off, or if they turn yellow and mushy rather than drying out, this is a good indicator your plant is being over-watered!
3. Slow Growth
Some succulents are naturally slow-growing! It doesn’t mean they’re unhealthy or you’re doing anything wrong.
*If your succulent hasn’t grown at all, consider elements like sunshine and water to make sure you’re providing a good environment for natural growth.
Still not sure what’s going on with your succulent? Give us a shout!