Succulent plants are typically very easy to care for, so they are popular for beginning gardeners and as office desktops or indoor plants.
They are also well-known for being low-maintenance plants, making them an excellent choice for gardeners and even people without a green thumb.
There are wide varieties of succulents, and even though all do well with simple care, problems can arise, and you may fear that your succulents are dying. Luckily, most of the time, these problems can be easily corrected.
- 1. Your Plants May Not Have Good Drainage
- 2. You May Be Watering Your Succulents Incorrectly
- 3. Avoid Overhead Watering
- Fungus on Succulent and How to Treat Them
- 4. Your Succulent Plant May Be Hungry
- 5. Your Succulent May Be Thirsty
- 6. Succulents Can Be Sunburned
- 7. Your Plant May Be Unable To Conduct Photosynthesis
- 8. Your Succulents May Not Be Warm Enough
- 9. Overwatering or Underwatering Can Make Succulents Subject to Pest Infestation
- 10. Scale Insects Can Present a Real Challenge
- 11. Slugs and Snails May Bother Succulents Outdoors
- Common Succulent Pests You Should Know And How To Treat Them
- 12. Your Succulent May Outgrown Its Pot
- 13. Heavy Soil Can Suffocate Succulents
- 14. Succulents Don’t Typically Like To Be Touched
- 15. Your Succulent May Be In Shock
Consider These 15 Reasons Why Your Succulents May Seem To Be Dying
1. Your Plants May Not Have Good Drainage
Most succulents are drought-tolerant plants. Plants suffering from insufficient or bad drainage will develop succulent root rot. This causes soft, mushy leaves and yellow or transparent leaves.
Left untreated, the leaves may develop black spots, become completely brown/black and mushy, and collapse.
A combination of loose, light, sharply draining, or well-draining soil and a breathable container with plenty of drainage holes will help keep your succulent plants healthy. Avoid plastic, glass, or glazed ceramic containers. Instead, opt for breathable terra cotta.
In a garden setting, plant succulents on a slight rise and amend the soil with plenty of organic matter and fine gravel to improve bad drainage.
Whether in containers or the landscape, succulents should never stand in water.
If your plant is suffering from root rot, you probably won’t be able to save the roots, but you may be able to propagate new succulents from the healthy stem or leaf cuttings.
2. You May Be Watering Your Succulents Incorrectly
Use soak and dry watering. Overwatering will cause root rot. It can also cause succulent leaves to become swollen with water and burst.
If your plant is in a pot with poor drainage, it is hard not to overwater. Excessively frequent watering will also cause root rot.
To avoid this problem, allow your succulents’ growing medium to become nearly dry before watering deeply. The water should run through the succulent soil, and excess water should run off freely.
3. Avoid Overhead Watering
Succulents are drought-tolerated plants. And overhead watering can cause fungal growth, such as powdery mildew, on succulent leaves. This is especially true of plants that have furry leaves.
Water succulents at soil level (or water from below). Keep leaves dry.
Fungus on Succulent and How to Treat Them
4. Your Succulent Plant May Be Hungry
Most succulents are not heavy feeders, but they may need a boost of fertilizer in the springtime.
Use a good quality balanced fertilizer that is specially formulated for use with succulents and cacti. Follow the packaging directions carefully.
If your plant’s new growth is yellow, dull, deformed, and weak looking, a dose of fertilizer may be just what it needs. Prune off sickly growth and provide a feeding the next time you water.
Top dressing with worm castings is another good way to fertilize succulents. This method can be applied at any time. When you use worm castings, or fish emulsion fertilizer on succulents, you do not run the risk of over-fertilizing, which can lead to its own host of plant problems.
It is also worth noting that if you repot your succulents annually, you may not need to fertilize at all in the springtime.
Just be sure to use a good-quality potting soil mix amended with organic matter (compost, aged manure, and worm castings) and vermiculite or fine gravel/coarse sand for drainage.
5. Your Succulent May Be Thirsty
If you are watering too little, your plants’ leaves may wilt, wrinkle, and exhibit dry tips. You will also notice yellow or brown spots on the leaves if you’re underwater them.
This may happen if you water too seldom or if you just provide small, frequent drinks of water. It is far better to soak your succulents’ planting medium thoroughly and then allow it to dry out almost completely before watering again.
Typically, watering deeply on a weekly or bi-weekly basis will work. More on How Often To Water Succulent Plants.
6. Succulents Can Be Sunburned
Cacti thrive in full, hot sunlight, but many succulents suffer in excessive sunlight. If your plant develops dry, brown, scorched-looking streaks or spots on its leaves, it may get too much sun. The entire plant may dry out, turn black, and collapse in extreme cases.
If your succulent is suffering from sunburn (even in an extreme case), remove the damaged vegetation using a very sharp, sterile cutting implement.
Give your plant a good, deep watering and move it to a setting where the light conditions it receives are bright, indirect light. You can place your indoor succulents in a south-facing window so they won’t receive direct sunlight.
In most cases, even plants that have lost all their leaves to sunburn will eventually grow back as long as the roots have not completely dried out and died.
Note that most succulents kept as house plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight exposure to harsh direct sunlight.
7. Your Plant May Be Unable To Conduct Photosynthesis
A succulent not getting enough sunlight will not be able to conduct photosynthesis. When this happens, the plant may stretch toward its light source in an attempt to get more light. Its leaves and stems may become weak and pale.
If your succulent plants become stretched (etiolated), prune them for shape, use the cuttings to propagate more plants if you wish, and improve your plants’ lighting exposure.
Generally speaking, succulent houseplants need a minimum of six hours of sun exposure daily. Bright morning sunlight is usually good. Bright, indirect sunlight all day is also a good option. Supplementing low light with grow lights is also helpful.
Popular Succulent Plants:
- Snake Plants
- Jade Plant
- Century Plant
8. Your Succulents May Not Be Warm Enough
Succulent plants are typically tropical or desert plants, so they like consistently warm temperatures and dry conditions. Very cold temperatures can cause leaf damage and slow down growth.
Cold temperatures combined with overwatering/poor drainage can cause root rot.
Succulent hardiness varies from one variety to another, but generally speaking, these plants do well at temperatures ranging from 55° to 80° degrees Fahrenheit without a lot of wild variation. For houseplants, if you are comfortable, your plants will be comfortable.
Related: Growing Succulents in the Garden
If temperatures drop suddenly or drastically, and your plant shows signs of damage, prune off the damaged parts and correct the temperature situation.
Note that if temperatures are low for an extended period of time and your plants are overwatered, you should unpot them, examine the roots and prune away black or mushy parts, which may have been affected by root rot. Repot using an entirely fresh, dry succulent or cactus potting mix.
9. Overwatering or Underwatering Can Make Succulents Subject to Pest Infestation
For the most part, succulents resist pests, but if they are overwatered or underwater, they can become attractive to common houseplant pests, such as spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids.
These can also be brought into your collection of new plants, but healthy plants usually resist them.
To prevent succulent pest insect infestation, be sure to examine new plants before acquiring them. Keep new plants in quarantine for a couple of weeks to ensure you are not introducing pests (or diseases) into your collection.
If your succulents do become infested with pests, most can be dealt with by wiping them off with a paper towel soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Follow up with a spray solution of a gallon of water and a couple of teaspoonfuls of dish soap or horticultural oil, or neem oil.
Note that for furry succulents, you can shake off insect pests and then kill off any clinging individuals with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Instead of spraying furry plants with a liquid, dust lightly with food-grade diatomaceous earth. This will look unsightly for a while, but once your infestation is under control, you can brush it off using a soft artist’s paintbrush.
Stay vigilant. Examine your plants daily and repeat treatments every few days. When there has been no sign of pests for a couple of weeks, you can stop treatment but continue examining your plants regularly to catch pests before they become a big problem.
10. Scale Insects Can Present a Real Challenge
Scale insects are more difficult to get rid of because they are armored. There are both soft and hard-scale insects. The ones with soft armor are a little easier to deal with than the hard scale, but not much.
You can deal with scale insects much the same way as spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids, except hard scale insects attach their armor to the plants’ surface. This hard brown or black shell protects the insects against rubbing alcohol, soapy water, neem oil, and horticultural oil.
Related: How To Get Rid of Scale on Succulents
You have to scrape the shells of the adult insects off with a dull blade or your thumbnail and then treat the plant. It can be easier to prune off heavily infested limbs and foliage and then treat what’s left.
It’s also important to understand that scale insects may attach themselves to your plants’ roots. For this reason, it’s smart to unpot plants that have been infested by scale insects and examine, prune, and treat the roots as needed.
Let your plants’ roots air for a few days, and then repot them with fresh, rich soil and a brand-new or sterilized pot.
11. Slugs and Snails May Bother Succulents Outdoors
Slugs and snails like juicy vegetation, so if you keep your succulent houseplants outdoors in spring and summer, or if you have succulents growing in the landscape, you can expect slugs and snails to visit them and munch on them.
If you see snail trails and neatly chewed-out spots on your plant’s leaves, the culprits are likely to be slugs and snails.
You can deal with these (potentially disease-spreading) pests by going out into your garden at night with a flashlight, picking them off, and dumping them unceremoniously into a hot, soapy water bucket.
You can also prevent them from getting into your succulent area by sprinkling coarse materials such as:
…around your plants. Dusting the plants’ leaves with diatomaceous earth may also help prevent further slug and snail snacking.
Place shallow trays of beer around the edges of your garden to attract and trap slugs and snails. They crawl in to drink the beer and are then unable to get out, so they drown.
Common Succulent Pests You Should Know And How To Treat Them
12. Your Succulent May Outgrown Its Pot
As your plant grows older and larger, it may take on an unkempt appearance, and parts may start to die.
Lower leaves typically fall from succulent plants to make room for new leaves and drop viable leaves onto the soil below to propagate.
When this happens, it’s time to prune away dead and damaged vegetation, prune viable vegetation for propagation and repot your original plant.
13. Heavy Soil Can Suffocate Succulents
Remember that water should run through your potting mix when you water your succulents.
Heavy soil holds too much moisture against your plants’ roots, interferes with air circulation, and causes root rot.
You can purchase a commercial succulent or cactus potting mix or mix up your own. A good homemade, general-purpose succulent mix consists of the following:
- Six parts high quality, light, airy potting mix.
- Four parts coarse material, such as vermiculite, perlite, fine bark, and coarse sand.
A sharply draining mixture could be made using half or more (up to 80%) coarse sand or fine gravel, with the remainder consisting of sandy loam and compost for just the right level of nutrient delivery and moisture retention.
14. Succulents Don’t Typically Like To Be Touched
Some succulents have a waxy coating over the leaves that can get unsightly, blotchy marks in them if you handle your plants too much. Some have leaves that fall off very easily if they are touched or brushed against.
For these reasons (and to avoid problems with shock), it’s best to choose a prime location for your succulent plants and then keep them there without a lot of jostling and moving about.
The best place for your plant should be out of the way. There should not be a lot of foot traffic or opportunity for people to bump into your plant.
When you do need to move or handle your plant, do it carefully. Lift the plant by the sides of the pot. Don’t hug it against you as you move it.
Use a soft artist’s paintbrush to dust your plant or brush scattered soil off the leaves.
Injured leaves can make your plant look sickly, and indeed, damaged leaves are more likely to provide a haven for illnesses and fungus.
Related: 30 Best Low Light Succulents For Your Home
15. Your Succulent May Be In Shock
As with all plants, sudden environmental changes can spur shock. Moving your plant indoors in autumn or outdoors in spring can cause shock. Making these transitions gradually can help lessen negative reactions.
If you’ve just acquired your plant or have just repotted it, a period of wilting, less-than-normal growth, and general failure to thrive may not be a cause for alarm. Consistent care and patience may be all that’s needed to help your plant recover.
Cold snaps, heat waves, inclement weather, and other sudden changes may cause your plant to wither, shrivel, drop leaves, and even collapse. In all of these cases, prune away damaged foliage using a very sharp, sterile implement.
Correct the conditions that caused the injuries and provide your plant with a steady, consistent schedule of care, along with bright, indirect sunlight and consistently correct temperatures. If the plants’ roots have survived, the plant will eventually rally.
Prevent Problems With Succulents With These 7 Tips
- Adjust your watering schedule seasonally. Succulents, like most plants, grow more in the spring and summer and tend to rest in the autumn and winter. This means you will probably water more often during the growing season. Water deeply during this time and slightly less thoroughly during the cooler months. At all times of the year, wait until the succulent soil is very nearly dry before watering.
- Remember that good drainage is absolutely essential for healthy succulent growth and development. Use the right potting soil mix in a breathable, well-draining pot for the best results.
- Don’t mist your succulents. They don’t need it, and misting can cause moldy leaves and shallow root development.
- Provide your plant with a minimum of six hours of very bright, indirect sunlight daily.
- Don’t let dust build-up. Wipe smooth leaves with a clean, dry cloth from time to time. Dust furry leaves with a soft artist’s paintbrush.
- Promote even, robust growth by rotating your plants regularly so that every side of the plant gets enough light.
- Keep plant pests at bay. Practice good succulent care habits and keep a close eye on your plants to prevent pest infestation.