How to Fix a Leggy or Tall Succulent in Three Simple Steps
When succulents first caught my eye, I couldn’t tell the difference between tall succulents and stretched or leggy succulents. There are many types of succulents that naturally grow tall, but there are others that stretch unnaturally when they are under undesirable circumstances.
I remember some of the first pictures I took of succulents were of a few varieties that were all stretching toward the nearest window. While the plants were still beautiful, the phenomenon caused the leaves to grow far apart, and the once compact plants started looking unhealthy and weak.
If you have a succulent that is beginning to grow tall when it shouldn’t, don’t worry! This is a common occurrence with these plants. I’ll discuss some of the reasons why your succulent may be growing tall and what you can do to remedy it.
Most Common Reasons for Tall Growth in Succulents
There are several reasons why your succulent may be growing tall. The trick is understanding which one it is before adding insult to injury.
Too Little Sunlight
If your plant is not receiving enough sunlight, it will begin to stretch in search of a light source. This is called etiolation, and it results in long, leggy stems with widely spaced leaves. You can usually tell when the issue is a lack of sunlight because the plant will stretch toward the nearest bit of sunlight it can detect.
The solution to this problem is easy – move your plant to a brighter location! If possible, place it in an area that receives direct sunlight for a few hours each day.
Too Much Water
While succulents need water to survive, they are susceptible to root rot if they are overwatered. This can cause the plant to stretch in an effort to reach the surface in search of oxygen.
This actually happened with one of my sempervivum (hens and chicks). I had placed them in a temporary terrarium arrangement, but the glass bowl held in too much water. The plants started stretching their leaves downward which in turn pulled their roots right up out of the soil. It was a strange thing to see and it happened so quickly!
If you think your plant is being overwatered, allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. You may also need to repot your plant in a well-draining potting mix and into a pot with drainage holes.
Not Enough Nutrients
If your plant is not receiving the nutrients it needs from the soil, it may begin to stretch in search of food. This is especially common if you are growing your succulent in potting mix that doesn’t contain any fertilizer. To remedy this problem, feed your plant with a high-quality succulent fertilizer once every month or two.
You can try using something like worm castings for your succulents. It’s a natural way of giving them nutrients, and it won’t harm the plant.
What to Do When Your Succulent Gets Too Tall
If your succulent gets too tall, there are a few things you can do to fix the problem. The third step is optional, of course, but if you don’t provide ample sunlight, you will find yourself in a cyclical motion of repeating steps one and two for the entirety of your plant’s life.
Step 1: Trim Leggy Stems
Once a succulent becomes etiolated, it won’t return to its compact state on its own. You will need to intervene if you want the plant to be restored to its former glory.
If your plant has long, leggy stems, you can trim them back to encourage new growth. Use sharp, clean scissors or gardening shears to make a clean cut just above a leaf node. You can then propagate the trimmed stem in water or soil.
Basically, this is what many succulent lovers refer to as a beheading. You simply cut the head off and stick it back down into the soil. As long as the plant is given ideal conditions, it shouldn’t stretch again.
Step 2: Repot in Fresh Soil
If your plant is not getting the nutrients it needs, repotting it can help. You can continue to fertilize your plant once every month or two during its growing season to ensure it gets the food it needs.
This also allows you to update the soil mixture as well. Succulents prefer a well-draining soil mixture which you can purchase at your local gardening center or make yourself. The mixture should consist of potting soil, perlite, and something like course sand.
Related: How to Choose the Right Pot for Your Succulent
Step 3: Move to a Sunny Location
After you’ve repotted your stretched succulent, the best thing you can do is move it to a brighter location. This will help the plant to grow more compact moving forward. Make sure to acclimate it to the new location to avoid shock or sunburn. You can do this by slowly increasing the amount of time it spends in direct sunlight each day.
Related: When Should You Bring Succulents Indoors?
Questions Others are Asking About Leggy or Stretch Plants
You’re not alone in this journey of caring for succulents. When something happens, chances are there are many others who have dealt with the same situation.
Why is my succulent growing a long stem with flowers?
If your succulent is growing a long stem with flowers, it is probably trying to reproduce. The plant will produce flowers in an effort to attract pollinators so it can spread its seeds. If you don’t want your plant to reproduce, you can remove the flowering stem. Doing this will send the energy back into the plant and help it continue to grow strong and healthy.
What is growing out of my succulent?
If you see something growing out of your succulent, it is probably either a flower stalk or roots. With a stalk, it is preparing to reproduce and will soon produce flowers. If it’s small, hair-like roots, it’s possible that the plant is searching for more water in the air. Give your plant a drink or cut and propagate where the roots are forming.
Related: How to Make Your Succulents Grow Faster and Bigger
Why is my succulent leaning away from light?
It’s possible that the stem is weak and unable to hold the plant straight up as it grows taller. It’s not common for succulents to grow away from the light, but check the specific sunlight needs for your plant just in case it’s telling you that it wants less light. This may happen if it’s placed in a location that gets too much direct sunlight. Not all succulents do well in full sun.
Can I just let my succulent stretch?
It’s not recommended to just let your succulent stretch. The plant is likely not getting what it needs and is trying to find it by growing taller. This can cause the plant to become leggy and weak.
However, it won’t likely kill the plant anytime soon as long as you continue to monitor it. When it gets too long and heavy for the stalk, make sure to cut and propagate it. If you place it in the same location, it will start to stretch again.
Why are my succulents stretching under a grow light?
If your succulent is under a grow light and stretching, it’s possible that it’s still not receiving enough light. The plant may be reaching for the light in an effort to get more energy. Move the grow light closer to the plant or purchase a stronger light. You can also try to move your plant toward more natural light like a south-facing window.
Related: How to Get Rid of Mealybugs: A Step-By-Step Guide
Leggy Succulents are More Common Than You Think
You are not the first person to allow your succulents to stretch over the years, only to realize that it’s not a good thing. I once thought that certain plants were meant to be tall, though they were not.
I’ve seen many proud plant owners share their prized possessions on social media, only to be told that their plant is not healthy. But in my opinion, as long as you enjoy your plant and do your best to take care of it, that’s all that matters.
If you’re here because you’re afraid to lose your leggy plant, go ahead and chop it, give it a fresh pot and soil, and a sunnier spot to live. You might be surprised how cute and compact your succulent can be!
Related: Trustworthy Stores to Buy Succulents (Online & Local)