Are you wondering why succulents grow leggy and stretched-out?
It’s no surprise that fans of succulents love the compact shape of these beautiful plants. Especially those lovely Echevarrias that look like perfect roses. That’s why it can be frustrating and discouraging when they start to lose their compact, rose-like shape.
If you’ve watched this happen to your succulents you might be wondering if anything can be done about it. You might also be wondering whether your plant is dying.
Well, here’s the good news: your plant is NOT going to die just because it grew tall and leggy. But it does mean it’s not getting what it needs.
Thankfully, leggy succulents are preventable and I’ll show you what they need in order to retain their shape. Here’s a clue: it has to do with light! Let me explain.
What is Etiolation?
Ahhh – the dreaded etiolation process. This is one of those things succulent growers need to watch out for if they want to provide the best environment for their plants.
Etiolation simply refers to the process in which succulents, in search of more light than they’re getting, literally stretch themselves towards the nearest light source. Think of it as your plant’s natural survival instinct.
Succulents need light to survive and their ideal amount is 6 hours of indirect sunlight. If they’re not getting that, they’ll slowly grow tall or out towards the light.
Etiolation can also happen when you give your succulent a dose of fertilizer but not enough sunlight. Fertilizer helps succulents grow faster, so if they’re forced to grow faster but don’t have access to the sunlight they need, they’ll start to grow tall and leggy, with large gaps on the stem between each leaf.
Are My Leggy and Stretch-outed Succulents Going to Die?
Don’t worry, there’s no cause for alarm, your succulent isn’t going to die just because it grew leggy or changed its compact shape.
It is, however, telling you that it needs to be moved to a sunnier area of your home or garden. Try moving the pot to an area that gets more access to light to prevent your plant from continuing to stretch out.
IF you don’t move it a sunnier spot and leave it in the shade for too long a period, then yes, your succulent might eventually give out and die because it’s not getting one of the most vital things it needs to survive.
Don’t worry, though, this is the worst-case scenario and it wouldn’t happen right away. Remember, succulents are hardy plants that do their very best to survive.
Also, make sure you’re rotating your pots to ensure that all succulents are getting access to light.
Sometimes it’s difficult for a shorter succulent to get the light it needs if it’s placed next to or below a taller succulent that’s blocking the light source.
This applies to succulents planted in the ground, too, that can be blocked by other plants.
Enough Sunlight Helps Prevent Succulents from Growing Leggy and Stretched-Out
Let’s start this section with this common question: How much sunlight so succulents need?
It’s a great question. Succulents love the sun, but they’re also susceptible to sunburn in extreme temperatures (usually 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above).
Succulents typically need about 6 hours of sunlight each day.
Indirect sunlight is usually best during the summer when high temperatures can scorch the leaves of succulents. Only some succulents do well in full sun, most others will burn.
If you need to grow your succulents indoors, make sure to choose a spot that’s near a window with good sunlight exposure.
The more sun the better because sunlight is what prevents succulents from stretching out of their compact shape; especially Echeveria rosettes. It’s the secret to keeping them compact. It’s also why they better as outdoor succulents than indoor succulents.
Place your succulent planters on a dining table (like I did with my succulent Christmas centerpiece), an end table, coffee table, kitchen counter, and even on the floor, as long as it gets access to bright light.
If growing succulents outside, succulents perform better if they get access to full sun during the day and some shade in the afternoon during the summers.
What Can I Do to Fix Succulents that Grow Leggy and Stretched-Out?
It’s disheartening that once a succulent stretches out, it can never go back to its former shape. You can, however, use it for propagation! A stretched-out succulent is perfect for propagation.
If you’re not pleased with your leggy or stretched-out succulent, you can try your hand at leaf propagation. This way, you’ll make use of the succulent you paid good money for and you’ll also multiply your collection without having to spend extra money!
I have an in-depth post about propagating succulents, here, but I’ll give you the super-simple version, below:
- Remove your succulent from its pot of from the ground
2. Gently tear each leaf off of the stem, making a clean cut. You want your succulent to look like the photo below. See how it’s a straight line without any jagged edges? This is what you need to aim for, otherwise, the leaf will never grow roots.
3. Set the leaves aside and keep them out of direct sunlight so that the ends of the leaves can callus over in a few days
4. Once calluses have formed, place the leaves on top of a tray of soil, not in the soil.
5. Spritze the leaves with water every day or every few days. In a few weeks time, roots will start to grow from the end of the leaves. In a few more weeks, you should start to see succulent babies form out of those roots. They’ll look like little replicas of the parent succulent.
Once the succulent baby is about a quarter large, plant it in a small pot as you would any other succulent and voila – you just successfully propagated a succulent!
Important notes: Not all leaves will form roots, so don’t worry if they don’t. Also, not all leaves that form roots will sprout a succulent baby. That’s ok, too. Simply discard the leaves if they don’t end up performing. I usually have about a 60% success rate with the leaves I do propagate, which I think is pretty good!
I’ve also had success with simply setting leaves aside (away from direct sunlight) and letting them do their thing without any help from me. Many of them did grow roots and succulent babies! It’s pretty miraculous.
Propagation is one of my favorite things to do in the garden. It’s an easy process, and it’s perfect for those who love having something to nurture and care for!
So please don’t let your stretched-out and leggy succulents stress you out- it happens to everyone at some point!
Just know you have two options when etiolation happens: you can either learn to love your plant’s new shape OR you can create tiny plants from that single succulent. No losses there!
For more on succulents, give my How to Care for Succulents post a quick read!