Who doesn’t love a garden full of succulents? It seems like everyone has one these days, but maybe you’ve noticed some of them growing with tall or stretched-out stems. Not exactly the compact look you probably hoped for, right? So, what’s going on with those long-stemmed succulents, and what do you do about it?
A succulent that has stretched or grown a long stem cannot be reverted to its original state. However, the succulent can be brought back to health by cutting and repotting the plant to promote new growth.
Succulents are simple to care for, making them a favorite for indoor containers and houseplant greenery. However, when they start doing the unexpected, it can be a bit frustrating and unsightly.
Read on to find out exactly what to do about those long-stemmed succulents and how to prevent the problem in the future.
Why is My Succulent Growing a Long Stem?
There are a few reasons why succulents will grow a long stem. Let’s take a look at the basics.
Your Succulent Isn’t Getting Enough Light
All plants need light, and succulents want as much as they can. If you are lacking a bright place for them to soak in the sun, this could be the cause of your leggy friend.
Succulents will grow long stems when they are not getting enough sunlight. This process is called etiolation, where they turn and stretch out in search of light, giving them a “leggy” appearance with a long stem and smaller, spaced-out leaves.
Since all plants are different, it can be hard to know right away how much light your plant needs. If you notice your succulent starting to grow a long stem without growing more leaves, try moving the succulent to a location where it will get more light. If your home lacks a sun-filled space, investing in a small tabletop grow light is something, you may want to consider.
Your Succulent is Naturally Long-Stemmed
Sometimes, the problem isn’t actually a problem. Various succulents naturally grow long stems, such as Burro’s Tail, String of Pearls, and Agave. These are beautiful in hanging baskets or succulent beds. If you don’t like your look in its current pot, maybe repotting is necessary. Try planting it in a mixed container with other succulents or flowering perennials.
How Do You Know What Kind of Succulent You Have?
Many types of succulents come in all shapes and sizes, so it might feel overwhelming to figure out which type you have. Ideally, you would ask the person or store you purchased the plant from, but that isn’t always an option. Here are a few places to look when trying to identify your succulent:
- Use an online database. One option is to check an online database like this one. You can compare your succulent against a collection of pictures and identify characteristics to help narrow your search.
- Ask the online community. Facebook groups and online forums are other great places to get help with identification. In groups like this, you’ll find people willing to answer questions and give experience-based feedback on anything succulent-related. Just post a picture of your succulent—you’ll usually get a few responses within the hour.
- Visit your local nursery. Nothing beats talking to an expert. If you have questions about your succulent, you could try calling your local nursery or bringing the plant in.
- Try out an app. There’s an app for everything, even plant identification. Apps like PlantNet and iNaturalist do the work for you with a simple photo. Just snap a picture and wait for the app to do its thing. These aren’t always 100% accurate, so you’ll want to ensure you’re still doing your research, even when using an app.
Will Stretching Kill Your Succulent?
Though it may ruin the aesthetic, the long stem itself won’t be the death of your plant—but the cause might be. Stretching is your succulent’s way of telling you that it needs something.
If the particular succulent in question is of a variety that requires a lot of sunlight, it will eventually die if the problem isn’t fixed.
How To Prevent Succulent From Stretching
If your succulent is going through etiolation and not healthy growth, it’s going to take a bit of effort to adjust your plant’s needs to stop the stretching and prevent the problem in the future. Here are a couple of things you can do to avoid those long stems from growing.
1- Adjust Your Lighting
It’s essential to provide adequate light so the stretching doesn’t continue. Increase the amount of light the plant receives by 30-60 minutes every two to three days until stretching seems to stop.
If you start seeing brown spots on the leaves, the plant is getting too much light too quickly. Slowing down the process should fix the problem.
2- Turn the Pot
Maybe you noticed your succulent turning or stretching out in one direction. This could be because the light mainly comes from one direction, and the plant turns towards it to get the most sunlight possible.
Turning your pot every few days should fix the problem.
3- Understand Dormancy vs. Growth
Like most plants, succulents go through dormancy and growth phases depending on temperature fluctuations. Most succulents prefer moderately warm temperatures and go into dormancy in extreme heat or cold.
As a general rule, succulents take in more water and sunlight during growth periods and less during dormancy.
Even if your succulent is in a well-lit window, you still may see some stretching, especially if the plant is in its growth period. Moving the plant outside for a few hours a day or supplementing with a grow light should help your succulents grow more compact.
How to Fix a Leggy Succulent
After a succulent has stretched out, there’s no return to the original plant. You can, however, “fix” the plant by bringing it back to health and growing a new one from the cuttings and leaves. This process is called propagation.
Propagating a plant you’ve worked so hard to care for and grow can be a bit scary. The good news is that succulents are some of the easiest plants to propagate. Here’s what you need to know.
1- Assess the Plant
It’s a good idea to know what kind of succulent you are working with before propagating it. Some species can be propagated from the leaves and cuttings, while others can only be propagated from the cutting.
Before attempting propagation, you’ll also want to ensure the plant is healthy and well-watered. Plump and healthy leaves work best; any overwatered or dry leaves won’t have a high success rate for providing new growth.
2- Remove Some Leaves
Before you can cut down your succulent, you need to make sure you have a clear view of your succulent’s stem. If the plant is a fast grower or has really spaced-out leaves, you may already have a nice area of the stem to work with.
If your stem isn’t visible, start by plucking off dead leaves. Then, wiggle a few leaves back and forth toward the bottom of the plant until you get a clean break. (If the leaves come off clean without tears, you can save these to propagate into new plants later.)
3- Cut Stem at Soil Level
After you’ve got a clear view of the stem, take a clean pair of sharp shears or scissors and cut the stem at the soil level. I know, I know, this can feel wrong and scary, but don’t worry. Believe it or not, cutting off the top of the succulent forces new growth on the lower portion.
Leave the lower portion of the cut stem in the dirt. Allow the wound to dry for about a week before watering to prevent any rot. After that, water every few days when the soil is dry. In a few weeks, baby plants will start to grow around the stem, replacing the top portion that was cut.
4- Pot the Top Stem
So, you’ve chopped the top off your plant, now what do you do with it? Don’t toss it out because this can be potted to become its own plant.
Like the bottom part of the stem, you need to allow the wound time to dry out, so it does not rot from moisture. After a few days, remove the leaves on the side of the stem—leaving the top rosette intact—then plant the stem in soil up to the bottom leaf. Water a few times a week when the soil is dry.
Eventually, the stem will grow roots, and you’ve got yourself a whole second plant. Here is a great video to watch if you’re interested in seeing the entire process.
How to Propagate From Succulent Leaves
Remember those leaves we removed earlier? Those, too, can be grown into plants using a similar method as the stem.
To start, ensure each leaf has a clean break from the stem. Wiggling the leaf in a gentle twisting motion should do the trick and prevent the leaf from breaking. If the leaf is damaged or torn, it’s not likely that it will be able to sprout roots.
After your leaves are removed, lay them on a paper towel for a few days so the cut ends can dry. Once dried, transfer them to a pot or tray filled with succulent or cactus potting soil. This soil will provide enough support and nutrients to the plant and drains well to prevent rot.
Make sure to give them adequate sunlight and mist when the soil is dry. As with stem cutting, the leaves will start to grow roots and baby plants after a few weeks.
Tips for Successful Propagation
When propagating succulents, it’s important to remember that you will not always have a 100% success rate. Even experts can’t always predict what I leaf is going to do.
Here are a few tips that may help your succulent propagation succeed.
- Be patient. Propagation takes a lot of time, and each plant is different. Just because you don’t see signs of growth in those first few weeks doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Waiting it out is always the be option here.
- Don’t overwater. When it comes to water and succulents, less is more. Rot is always a risk with propagation, and the risk is even higher with too much watering.
- Keep the roots covered. If you notice the new roots growing above the soil, sprinkle a bit of soil to be nicely covered. This will keep them from drying out.
- Water the soil, not the leaves. Wet leaves can lead to rot. Once the roots have started to form, water the soil in front of the leaves to encourage root growth and prevent rot.
- Avoid direct light. Yes, your propagation leaves will need light, but putting them in direct sunlight will burn their leaves. Keep them in a bright room, out of the sun, and they should be just fine. A bright spot in the shade is perfect if you’re propagating outdoors.
- Don’t remove the mother leaf until it completely dries out. Its job is to supply energy and nutrients to the growing plant. If you remove it too soon, the chance of the new plant surviving is slim.
- Think about the time of year. Succulents can be propagated at any time of year, but they do go slightly dormant in the colder months. If you do not see a change in your leaves or cuttings right away, don’t despair. Moving them to a warmer location may help get things started.
Low-Maintenance Succulents for Your Home
If propagation isn’t really your cup of tea, there are many beautiful succulents you can grow in your home that don’t require as much maintenance.
There are a variety of succulents that still thrive in low-light conditions. Just keep in mind low light doesn’t mean any light.
If you’re looking to spruce up a basement room or a bathroom with no windows, it’s a good idea to invest in a small tabletop grow light so your plants can get the light they need.
But if you have typical indoor lighting away from the windowsill, don’t despair. Here are a few options for succulents that do well in low-light conditions:
- Haworthia: This is an easily adaptable plant that is great for anyone just starting out with succulents. Zebra plants only need water about once a month and can handle pretty much any light you put in. They are slow growers and will lean toward the sun, so be sure to turn the pot every so often.
- Lance Aloe: This is an excellent succulent for small spaces with little light. It reaches about 8 inches tall with a spread of about 1 foot and only needs to be watered a few times a year.
- Echeveria: These are great succulents for those who forget about plant care. Echeveria does well with at least 4 hours of sunlight and doesn’t need much water. The stem will start to stretch if it doesn’t get enough light, so keep that in mind choosing your location.
- Ox Tongue Plant: These naturally grow in a lightly shaded area, so ox tongue plants are perfect for a low-light space.
Trailing succulents are another great option for looking for something more low-maintenance. Here are a few to take a look at:
- Burro’s Tail: These are fun, low-light succulents that are great for beginners. Since they already have long stems that look beautiful hanging over the pot’s side, you don’t have to worry about them getting leggy. Donkey’s tails are also super easy to propagate.
- String of Pearls: This is a fun, quirky plant that grows great both indoors and outdoors. Since they are sensitive to overwatering, they only need to be watered once every two weeks and even less in the winter.
- Ruby Necklace: This succulent is characterized by its reddish stem and oval-shaped leaves. When under stress, the usually green leaves will turn red, giving the plant its name.
- Watch Chain: If you’re looking for a succulent with some character, this is definitely one to check out. This trailing succulent has light green interlocking leaves with a mossy texture. Watch Chain looks great in a planter or used as ground cover.
Succulents are wonderful low-maintenance plants for anyone looking to spruce up their home, inside or out. They can add character to a garden and have the ability to adapt to most environments.
But, like with all things, they still require a bit of care, and they’re pretty good at telling us what they need.
Hopefully, you now feel a bit more equipped to help your succulent plant when its stem starts to reach for the sky.