Is your succulent starting to stretch out? Is it a problem or the succulent is just doing one of those succulent things? Should you do something about your beloved plant growing tall, thin and leggy?
Well, this is a phenomenon called etiolation. In layman terms, it means your succulent is not getting sufficient sunlight and you should do something about it!
Why Does Etiolation Happen?
The main reason why a succulent gets leggy and stretched out is because they aren’t getting enough sunlight. Succulents, like all plants, need sunlight. So, to survive, the succulent starts growing, searching for the closest source of light.
With a lack of sunlight, succulents will go from being a nice, flat, compact plant to long, thin and leggy.
Once a succulent starts to etiolate, there’s no reversing their newfound growth. However, the etiolated plant can cut into smaller sections and propagated.
Common Signs of Light Deprivation
Some succulents do well in direct sunlight while some require indirect but bright light. As their needs go unattended, you might notice that they haven’t been looking like when your first bright them home.
Etiolation doesn’t happen overnight (or let’s say over one day). It happens slowly. This means if you observe your succulents, you can save them from stretching further. Remember, while etiolation doesn’t necessarily kill a succulent, it does make the plant grow weaker.
Below we go over the common signs of light deprivation in your succulents.
Leaves arching downwards
Leaves arching downwards is one of the first signs of light deprivation, and is commonly seen in Echeverias and Sempervivums.
Beginning from the lower leaves, the leaves start to droop down, creating a large leaf surface area. This allows them to take in more of the little sunlight that they are getting at this point.
If you find your succulents drooping downwards, immediately move your houseplant to a sunnier spot. Or keep it under a grow light if you can’t get it enough sun.
The classic sign of etiolation in succulents is that it starts to grow up and tall in search of sunlight.
If a succulent isn’t getting much light, it uses all its energy to grow in height to search for sunlight instead of focusing its energy new growth.
So, it grows faster and taller but produces no new leaves.
If this happens, immediately move the succulent to a spot where it can get plenty of sunlight. This will not fix the elongated growth but will help reduce any more stretching.
While some succulents grow tall in their quest for sunlight, some flatten their rosettes to do the same.
Leaves on succulents, such as aloe vera, flatten out to expose more surface area to the sunlight.
One of the most beautiful things about succulents are their rich and vibrant colors and patterns.
Succulents have colorful leaves when they are getting enough light.
If you notice your succulent leaves are faded or not as vibrant anymore, it is time you move it to a sunnier spot.
How to Prevent Etiolation
To prevent etiolation from happening, ensure your succulent is getting enough light. Succulents need at least 4-6 hours of sunlight throughout the day.
Ideal places to keep your succulents are near east or west facing windows, where they can receive enough morning and evening sunlight, without that light being too harsh.
Afternoon sunlight is often harsh and can damage your succulents, leaving them with terrible sunburns.
Also, as soon as you start noticing your succulent is getting taller, move it to a spot where it gets more sunlight. This helps the plant from further etiolation.
Tips to Repair Etiolated Succulents
When a succulent is stretched, etiolated or leggy — there’s no going back. It doesn’t unstretch but it can regain health with a few adjustments.
For an aesthetically pleasing succulent, you need to take cuttings and propagate, there’s no other way.
First, your new succulents need to be exposed to light more gradually.
Start by placing in bright sun for an extra 15-20 minutes every day.
Once the leaves point upwards and regain health, it is time to propagate!
Deciding where to cut
Ideally, you want to cut at the point in stem from where the etiolation or stretching started.
Both the cuttings should be healthy and have full leaves.
The healthier the cuttings are, the higher the chances of successfully propagating.
Making the cut
Now that you have your spot figured out, it’s time to bring in the shears or knife. It needs to be sharp enough to make a clean and precise cut perpendicular to the stem.
If you accidentally crush the stem as you cut it, just go a little upward and cut again, making a clean and nice cut. Crushed stems are less likely to successfully heal again or develop roots.
Preparing the cutting you just made
From the cutting, take out the bottom leaves to only leave an almost perfect rosette at the top.
All the leaves should be removed carefully, by wiggling them back and forth, up and down making a clean cut.
Both the cutting as well as the leaves can be used to grow new plants!
Leave them on a plate of dirt or stone for a few days, allowing them to callus over, or heal. Once they are callused, you can either plant the cutting or leave them until they form new roots.
To propagate the leaves, just ignore them until they form baby roots. After there are roots, gently mist them with a sprayer and let them be until they form baby succulents and are completely shriveled up.
Plant the babies along with the dead leaves. And there, you have a bunch of new beautiful plants (that are not etiolated) from an etiolated, unsightly succulent.
To be clear, the best way to “fix” etiolated plants is to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the first place.
Keep your succulents in a sunny windowsill and allow them to have at least 4-5 hours of sunlight every day.
But luckily, even if you accidentally have etiolated succulents, you can either keep it as it is and start following a proper watering schedule or use propagation to make new succulents and start fresh.