A popular choice for a low maintenance houseplant, it is a common belief that anyone can successfully grow and care for a succulent. While they are easy to care for, some people, particularly nervous or inexperienced growers can panic and start to worry if their plant begins to look ill.
A succulent dying or looking unwell can be caused by a number of different reasons. Many of these are not only easy to identify but also rectify. Learning how to save your dying succulent means that you will be able to enjoy many more years with your special specimen.
This article will explain the most common causes for a succulent dying as well as providing useful tips on how to solve, cure or even prevent the problem.
A popular houseplant choice, a dying succulent can be caused by a number of factors.
Issues Caused by an Incorrect Watering Routine
One of the most common causes of a succulent dying or becoming unhealthy is an incorrect watering routine. Giving the plants too much or too little moisture can cause problems.
Knowing how often to water a houseplant can be difficult, but once you work out the ideal routine your plants will start to thrive. To help you, try keeping track, either on your phone or with good old fashioned pen and paper of how often you water the plants. As well as recording when, make a note of how much water you give to each plant.
If you are still unsure when to water, why not try using a moisture meter? Many, such as the Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter, are suitable for both indoor and outdoor plants. They provide an accurate and easy to use way of monitoring the moisture content of your soil.
Signs That you are Overwatering your Plants
Some specimens, such as echeverias, are more sensitive to overwatering than others. Take the time to research the likes and dislikes of your plant.
Early signs of overwatering include foliage being easily removed from the plant. For example, brushing against the plant causes a leaf or leaves to fall. A black stem or spots appearing on the stem and leaves is also an indication that you are overwatering your plants.
Dead foliage at the top of the plant, particularly new growth is another indication that you are overwatering your plant. Dead foliage can also be a sign of underwatering or of soil issues, I will discuss these later in the article.
Yellow and transparent foliage, or if the foliage feels soft and soggy are all sure signs that you are overwatering your plants.
If the stem has turned black, or the plant is overwatered, allow the soil to completely dry out before watering again. These specimens can survive for 3 to 7 days without water, particularly if they have been heavily watered previously.
In serious cases, you may need to cut the top off the plant. If there are a number of black spots, and cut away any affected leaves. Treat the cut away top section as a cutting, allowing it to dry out for a few days before propagating in fresh soil. The original lower part of the plant may also recover, if the soil is allowed to fully dry out.
If your overwatered, rotting plant is in an arrangement with other plants you may need to dig it up to prevent other specimens from developing similar problems.
Finally, if overwatering is a common problem try repotting your plants in a better draining soil mix and ensure that the containers have lots of drainage holes in the bottom.
Overwatering may be a far more common cause of a succulent dying, but many specimens such as Senecio haworthii are also prone to developing issues caused by underwatering. These plants like to be watered more frequently than other specimens.
The clearest sign that your plant is underwatered is the upper leaves drying out and wrinkling or crisping up.
It is usually easier to save thirsty plants than overwatered specimens. A bit of extra water and most quickly recover. However, if your plant’s foliage is completely shriveled up it is unlikely to recover.
If you find many of your plants are suffering from underwatering, fully soak the soil each time you water. I find the immersion technique is the best way to ensure that my plants are fully watered. To do this, put the plants in a bowl or sink. Add water until the water level is about halfway up the side of the container. Allow the plants to sit in the water for 30 minutes or until the soil appears wet. Once the soil is completely wet, remove the plants from the water. Allow any excess water to drain away before returning the plants to their usual position.
Dried out or Dying Leaves
Dried out or dying foliage is often mistakenly believed by many to be a sign of the succulent dying. However, this is not necessarily the case. As we have already seen, changes in the appearance of the plant’s foliage can be a sign of either overwatering or under watering.
Once you have the watering routine sorted out, foliage drying may be a sign of a wider issue or it may just be part of the plant’s natural life cycle. Foliage browning and falling from the plant can be concerning for novice gardeners but it is rarely anything to worry about. It certainly isn’t a sign of a succulent dying.
The bottom leaves shrivelling but the rest of the plant appearing otherwise healthy, probably means that the plant needs a little more water. As plants grow and mature foliage dying further up the plant can also be a sign that the plant needs more water. Unsightly brown leaves can be pulled from the plant and disposed of .
The condition of the foliage tells you how healthy your plant is.
A Succulent Dying Because of Problems with its Pot
Selecting the right container helps to ensure your plant has a long and happy life.
Some people like to put their plants in attractive or unconventional containers such as teacups. While these may look nice, they often don’t provide the depth that the roots need to thrive. For the vast majority of succulents the container should be twice as deep as the roots and at least three times as wide. This gives your plant lots of room to spread and flourish.
Whatever the size of the container, it should always have lots of drainage holes to enable excess water to escape. Sometimes the drainage holes can get clogged up, placing a little bit of mesh or a layer of gravel can prevent soil from blocking the holes.
Some plants may struggle if planted in a pot that is too deep. This can cause water to quickly drain to the bottom of the pot, away from the roots before they have the chance to absorb enough moisture. So even if your watering routine is spot on, the plant still may still become underwatered.
A Succulent Dying Because it is too Cold or Dark
The majority of these plants love warm weather. A succulent dying or struggling could be because it is in a position that is too cold or drafty. Try to place them somewhere that is consistently warm. Keep these plants away from cooling vents or drafty windows.
Ideally your plant should get 6 hours of light a day. If you struggle to provide enough natural light, why not use grow lights?
Most specimens like to be in a warm, light position.
Plants that Need Repotting or are too Cramped
Like other plants, succulents naturally grow and fill the space around them. Allowing plants to sit in a pot for too long, becoming pot bound, or planting a number of specimens too closely together so that they become cramped and overcrowded can both be causes for a succulent dying.
Some people like to grow a collection of plants in close proximity, such as in a terrarium. However, the desire to fill a space can cause people to plant too many specimens in a small space. While young specimens may look small and too far apart, remember that in time they will grow, naturally spreading and filling the space. Depending on the variety, each specimen should be spaced at least 2 to 3 inches apart.
If the plant has been in its container for a number of months it may require repotting. This gives it more room to grow, preventing it from becoming cramped and potbound. Repotting is also the ideal time to propagate new plants.
Don’t allow plants to become too cramped or pot bound.
Problems Caused by Plants Sitting in Poor Soil
Succulents love soil that is rich in nutrients. When planting add some organic matter to further enrich the soil mixture. Making your own potting soil is also a great way to give plants a healthy nutrient boost.
Allowing plants to sit in the same soil for too long, particularly without other amendments such as fertilizer can cause the soil to be drained of all its nutritional value. This, in turn, causes plants to struggle or fail. Regularly amending the soil, fertilizing growing plants and repotting helps to avoid this.
Easy to care for, a succulent dying, or struggling can be concerning. However, with just a little time and care on your part you can easily identify the causes of your succulent dying and act to save it, ensuring many more years of enjoyment.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.