So you recently bought some succulents at your local nursery thinking that it would be low maintenance. A few months in and you notice that the leaves are going brown. Or perhaps the succulent has formed out of shape, or you see unusual white spots on its leaves before it succumbs to its death. Guilty of all these crimes, I share the most common mistakes in caring for your succulents and how to revive them before it’s too late.
The most common ways to kill your succulents are:
- Inappropriate planter
- Too much sun
- Not enough sun
- Too compacted
- Wrong soil
Let’s explore each one.
If you’ve brought home a succulent for the first time, your initial thought is to give it plenty of water so that it stays hydrated. Providing more water doesn’t mean faster growth, and this is probably the quickest way to kill your succulent for two reasons.
First, succulents store water in their leaves to survive in their natural dry habitats. These plants do not know why to stop taking in water, and so when excess water is absorbed, the leaves become bloated and split. Here’s what it looks like:
Second, pouring too much water onto the leaves or soil will cause rotting. The leaves will appear as puffy and discolored. If you lightly squeeze it, it will feel mushy due to the excess water retained in its leaves. Any new growth will be brown due to the extra water breaking the cell walls. Rotting can also occur in the roots, where they turn black.
If you think you’ve overwatered your plant because the leaves are turning yellow, you still might be able to save it by drying it out.
Do this by carefully taking the succulent out of the pot and gently shake off the soil from the roots. Leave the plant on a mesh and allow the roots to air dry for about three days. Once it’s dried, trim off any rotten roots and leaves so that it doesn’t spread to the rest of the plant.
Following this, repot the succulent into a specialty potting mix for succulents, not your standard potting mix (more about this later). Place the treated succulent in a place of good air circulation and good daylight.
Dehydration is more of an unlikely event as succulents have evolved to withstand drought. However, a long period of neglect can cause the succulent to die, just like most other plants.
The most apparent sign of under-watering is the leaves. It will appear to flatten, wrinkle and shrivel due to its water depletion in the leaves. In more prolonged periods of no water, the leaves will dry out, get crunchy, and fall off.
To fix this issue, simply soak the soil entirely and let the soil dry out completely before watering again. You must only water the soil and not the top of the succulent. The reason for this is the potential rotting on the leaves if water remains. It will be helpful to use a pointed squeeze bottle or a watering can with a long spout.
Once the soil is completely dried, you’re ready to drench the soil again until the water comes out of the pot’s drainage hole. The amount of water required hereafter depends on the plant’s daily sun exposure. Start by watering every two weeks and make adjustments necessary based on careful observations.
Using the wrong type of pot for your succulent can cause over or under-watering for your succulent.
Your pots should have a drainage hole for excess water to drain out. Without these holes, moisture gets trapped in at the bottom of the pot.
If you’re using a pot that is too big and deep, the succulent will not be able to fill the pot with roots. This is a problem because soil moisture will settle to the bottom of the pot, and the roots may not reach it for absorption.
Conversely, if the pot is too small, it’ll hold less soil for the succulent to take in nutrients. And with smaller space, the movement of roots is restricted and will disrupt the plant’s growth.
When selecting a pot, choose one that is short and stubby. As a general guide to good pot size, find one that is about 10% wider and taller than the succulent plant.
And lastly, ensure your planter has drainage holes for excess water to escape. Without it, your succulent will run the risk of being overwatered.
Too much sun
Succulents can get sunburnt just like us. The leaves will turn dry and black as a result of prolonged sun exposure. This damage is irreversible, and the leaves can no longer process photosynthesis. If there are leaves with patches of light discoloration, you might still be able to save it by simply moving it to a shaded area.
Not enough sun
Succulents will bend and stretch out if placed in a poor sunlight area. This process is called “etiolation.” The plant will grow taller and stretch out its leaves because it’s trying to sunlight. It will also bend to the light source. If you neglect it long enough, the leaves will turn very light green or white, though this might take several months.
Aerial roots can also be a sign of insufficient sunlight, though this is usually evident during etiolation. Aerial roots can form when it’s not getting enough water through the soil, and it’s trying to absorb moisture through the air.
If you see any of these signs, it’s time to reposition your succulent. If you’re keeping the succulent indoors, place it near a window where it can absorb indirect sunlight throughout the day. If keeping it outside, put it where it can take in six hours of direct sunlight. The question of how much sun is needed depends on the species of succulent.
If you live in an apartment with little sunlight, consider getting succulents such as the Aloe Vera, Snake Plant, and Haworthia, as they generally do well with little light.
Packing in too many succulents in a small pot will risk insect infestation and mold. Soil contains nutrients for the plant, and so overcrowding will increase competition for food. This is evident in hand-made succulents at the plant nursery, where different succulents are tighly planted into a small pot. While this might look cute, it will develop problems later down the track.
Signs of overcrowding include inconsistent growth among succulents. Some will grow normally, while others will look like they’re struggling. You may notice that mold and insect infestation will occur.
A fix for overcrowding is to repot them into individual small pots. This will allow them to have their own space without competing with other succulents for water and nutrients in the soil. If you want to place multiple succulents in the same pot, ensure enough space between them so that they don’t disrupt each other’s path as they grow. Giving them about 2-3 inches between succulents will allow them to fill out naturally.
Your succulent might not be able to thrive if it’s living in old soil.
If you’ve purchased your succulent some time ago and haven’t repotted for more than two years, the soil is likely to have been dried up of nutrients. Old soil will stunt growth, and the leaves will discolor. Over time, nutrients are flushed out of the soil from the constant watering, and so fertilizers will need to be added back in for replenishment.
Check your local nursery and look for fertilizers tailored for succulents. Succulents are not heavy consumers of fertilizers, so you can even dilute with water.
You must also use succulent-specific soil and not your general flower soil. There is a difference as succulent soil will drain the pot’s moisture quicker, whereas traditional soil will keep moisture in. Keeping excessive water in the soil will cause overwatering, as mentioned earlier.
Mealybugs are one of the most common pests in succulents that can cause havoc to your plant. They suck the juices from plants and cause yellowing and deformed leaves. These insects secrete honeydew that encourages the growth of mold. Accumulation of honeydew leads to a breeding ground for bacterial and fungal infestations.
These white bugs are spotted on leaves or along the stems. They appear as tiny bugs that are grey and light brown in color. They attach themselves to leaves and leave a white cotton-like substance on the plant.
Mealybugs flourish in darkness and over-watered plants. They’re found in warmer environments such as greenhouses and indoors. These creatures lay eggs and start forming together in masses, sucking sap from the leaves with their needle-like mouths.
To remove these bugs and their secretion, use a cotton swab and dip it in rubbing alcohol. Apply it directly to the bugs and areas of infestation. Place the infected plant in a bright and well circulated area, away from the healthy plants. Repeat this alcohol treatment for several weeks until the bugs are cleared.
Other pests to be mindful of are spider mites, scale, and fungus gnats.
Give your succulent its best life by maintaining a scheduled water system, appropriate soil, and a comfortable pot to rest in. Place the plant in a good air circulated environment with enough sunlight throughout the day. Regularly check for any discoloring, abnormal formation, and bugs. If you remember to do those things, your succulent will thank you by flourishing its beautiful colors.