Why are My Succulent Leaves Shriveling?

Succulents are beloved plants by so many because they’re so low-maintenance. They’re celebrated for their longevity and resiliency, so why is your succulent shriveling? That’s a good question and it’s one with a few possible answers.

The good news is you can stop a shriveling succulent from becoming a dying succulent if you pay close attention to your plant. It’ll give you signs so you can diagnose the problem and apply a solution.

A healthy succulent, after all, should have leaves that feel firm when touched, not mushy or crinkly. The photo below is the perfect example of a succulent with healthy leaves.

Green echeveria rosette succulent with healthy leaves in a tan pot
Green echeveria rosette succulent with healthy leaves in a tan pot

Under-watered Succulents Cause Leaves to Shrivel

Usually, when you see shriveling leaves it’s caused by severe dehydration. The first thing you want to do is take a look at how often you water your plants.

To understand how this can happen it’s useful to understand what succulent actually means.

See the left below. See how thick and firm it appears? You can see how it’s filled with water here.

Plump succulent leaf split in half
Plump succulent leaf split in half

That’s because succulents store water on their leaves each time they’re watered. This is how they survive long periods of drought in their natural habitat.

It’s useful to let your succulents go through a cycle of dry and moody soil BUT allowing your plants to endure too long of a time before you water them can really damage their root system.

You’ll see the consequences in the leaves; it’s why it’s so important to learn how to water succulents properly.

Shriveled leaves are caused by under-watering your succulent plants.

Underwatered succulent stem growing aerial roots from dehydration
Underwatered succulent stem growing aerial roots from dehydration

Some succulents can survive long periods of drought better than others. It all depends on their size, age, and leaf shape. Older, mature plants are stronger than new plants and can take more negligence.

Thicker succulent leaves can hold more water which means they can go a long time without being watered and still survive on what they have stored up.

Smaller leaves and leaves that are naturally thinner, like burros tail sedum, for example, need more regular watering before they’re not large enough to hold a ton of water.

Shriveling leaves is actually just one sign of underwatering. You might notice a few more if you take a closer look.

Aerial roots on the stems of your succulents are another sign of severe underwatering and dehydration. Think of it as your plant’s last-ditch effort to survive the long period of drought.

Underwatered succulent stem growing aerial roots from dehydration
Underwatered succulent stem growing aerial roots from dehydration

In a desperate search for water, the stem grows thin roots on its stem above the soil, hoping ti watch moisture from the air.

If you see these roots, it’s your sign to get yourself on a more regular watering schedule.

A tip I like to give is to designate one day a week as your “watering day”. You can even call it your “check the soil day”.

My watering day is Saturday. Each Saturday, I like to test the soil of my plants to see how dry or moist it is. If it feels dry, I water it.

If I can still feel moisture, I’ll wait another day or two before I check again.

Jade plant planted next to Echeveria succulents.
Green jade plant with red tips planted next to grey Echeveria succulents.

If it feels very moist, I won’t water that week.

Underwatered succulents are something I like to avoid as much as I can. This is because an underwatered succulent simply does not look beautiful, vibrant, or healthy.

Even though succulents are touted as drought-resistant plants, they’ll look and perform their best for you if you water them regularly. I’ve tested this over and over!

My succulents look their most beautiful when they’re well-watered, not starved for water for weeks at a time.

Another way to check for dryness is by checking the weight of the pot: a pot that’s easy to pick up is full of dry soil. If the soil mix is moist, the pot will be heavier.

The easiest way, however, is to just stick your finger into the soil.

To water properly, give your succulents a good soak when the soil is dry. They appreciate a good drink of water when they’re on the dry side, especially during the summer months when the soil dies out quickly.

Overwatered Succulents with Wrinkly Leaves

Does your pot or planter have a drainage hole? Good drainage is key for healthy succulents! These drought-tolerant plants thrive in well-draining soil, which means they don’t want to live in soil that is drenched in water.

A drainage hole helps excess water quickly move out of the pot once the soil is watered adequately.

Too much water, too-frequent watering, and no drainage can quickly cause root rot. An overwatered succulent is easy to spot. You’ll see yellow, translucent leaves that do not feel firm but instead have a mushy texture.

Mushy leaves and mushy stems on succulents indicate an unhealthy plant. This usually means the root system has been inflicted by rot from too much moisture in the soil.

Overwatered rotting rosette succulent with black stem and wrinkly shriveled leaves
Overwatered rotting rosette succulent with black stem and wrinkly shriveled leaves

To stop overwatering, you should water your succulents less frequently. If you’re watering every few days, try once a week or once every two weeks. Also, only water when the top of the soil feels dry.

You can also use a moisture meter; it’ll let you know how dry or moist the soil is!

Lack of Sunlight Can Cause Shriveling

Succulents love sunshine – they need it to keep a vibrant color, keep their compact shape, and get enough energy to stay alive and produce new leaves.

Long periods of time without adequate or almost zero sun exposure can push your succulent into shock. When this happens, succulents try their very best to hold onto all of the energy they have left.

Unfortunately, this means it will begin to drop it’s leaves in an act of self-preservation. Usually, the succulent plant will begin dropping its lower leaves, first.

So, is your succulent getting enough light? Succulents generally need around 6 hours of sunlight each, preferably full sun or bright shade, especially during the growing season.

When succulents are actively growing, they need as much sunlight as they can get and they also need an appropriate watering cycle. Good levels of water and sunlight are what will get you a healthy plant!

If you are growing your succulent in a dim space of your home, now is the time to move it to a brighter location near your home. A good spot is usually near a window that lets in bright light, such as one near your kitchen or living room.

If you live in an area where even indirect sunlight is hard to come by, then a grow light will be the best way to provide your succulent with the light it needs.

Sunburn can Cause Shriveling in Plants

Just as too little sunlight can be harmful to succulents, too much, especially during heat waves, can jeopardize them, too. The afternoon sun during the summer can scorch your succulents, especially young plants or those with thin leaves.

Sun damage can actually kill the leaves of your succulent plant if it’s severe enough. Once a leaf is sunburned, there’s nothing you can do to return it to its former state.

You can either pull the leaf off your plant and toss it, or you can leave it as is. Below I’ve included a few photos of sun damage.

You can see that some of the leaves are dark brown and have begun to shrivel up and wrinkle; the plant is getting ready to drop the damaged leaf though it might take a few weeks.

Sunburned, brown and shriveled leaves on a green rosette succulent planted in white pot
Sunburned shriveled leaves on a green rosette succulent

To prevent sun damage, try to build shade around your succulents when the weather forecast tells you to expect a heatwave. Many succulents, especially if they haven’t been acclimated to full sun, don’t do well in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

You’ll likely get some sunburned leaves if you leave your plants outside for several days in heatwave weather. You can use shade cloth or simply move your pots into the shade.

If you can’t move them, make sure to water the soil in the morning so that the roots aren’t badly damaged by both sun and dehydration.

Sunburned shriveled succulent leaves in a pot
Sunburned shriveled succulent leaves in a pot

Lack of water coupled with extreme temperatures is a recipe for disaster when it comes to succulents. Then, just hope for the best!

The first sign of sunburn or sun damage is brown or silver spots on the leaves.

Natural Growth Process

If you see leaves at the bottom of your succulent that are shriveling up and turning wrinkly and crispy to the touch, don’t be alarmed because this is actually a very normal process for succulents; it’s part of their growing cycle.

As succulents grow and mature, energy is put into creating more leaves and new leaves usually sprout from the center of the succulent, especially in rosette succulents.

To do this, succulents drop the oldest leaves from the stem, which are all of the leaves towards the very bottom of the plant. This process takes quite a while to finish and you’ll usually see these brown and wrinkly leaves on your plant for weeks and weeks if you don’t prune them off yourself.

Shriveling bottom leaves on sempervivum succulent
Shriveling leaves on sempervivum succulent

You don’t have to do anything, though, because your succulent will eventually drop these shriveling leaves from its stem. To maintain a clean appearance though, I recommend pruning off these wrinkly leaves when you see them.

To do so, all you need to do is gently yank them off the stem with your fingers. That’s it! You can toss these leaves in the trash.

We’ve covered some of the most common reasons for shriveling leaves on succulents. Keep in mind that the most common cause is underwatering, which means you haven’t been giving your succulent enough water on a regular basis.

If the period of drought is extensive, shriveled leaves usually mean dead leaves; it can be very hard to revive them. That’s why it’s a good idea to set a day when you check the soil moisture (try setting a weekly reminder on your phone!).

Good luck and happy gardening!


Check out the following posts for more on succulents and succulent crafts!

The Best Succulents Plants for Indoors
Best Full Sun Succulents for a Beautiful Outdoor Garden
Succulent Leaves Falling Off When Touched: Top Problem and Solution
What’s Wrong with My Succulents? Common Problems and Solutions
Why Succulents Grow Leggy
How to Propagate Succulents from Leaves
How to Make a Fairy Garden Using Succulents

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