Mad About Berries

How to Fix Leggy Succulents

Succulents are cherished for their vibrant colors, unique shapes, and low-maintenance nature, making them a popular choice for both novice and experienced gardeners.

However, even these hardy plants can face challenges, such as becoming 'leggy' - a condition characterized by stretched-out stems and sparse leaves, typically caused by inadequate lighting.

Understanding why succulents become leggy and how to prevent and fix this issue is crucial for maintaining the health and aesthetic appeal of these resilient plants.

Published: April 16, 2024.

leggy succulents 1

What Causes Leggy Succulents

Succulents become leggy, a condition often referred to as "etiolation," primarily due to insufficient light. These plants are adapted to environments where they receive plenty of sunlight, and when they are grown in conditions that do not meet their light requirements, they tend to stretch toward the nearest light source.

This stretching results in elongated stems and widely spaced leaves, which is characteristic of a leggy appearance.

Additionally, other factors can contribute to succulents becoming leggy.

For example, an overly rich soil mix or excessive fertilizer can promote rapid, weak growth that does not support the compact form typical of these plants. Seasonal changes can also play a role, as succulents might naturally stretch during the shorter days of winter when sunlight is less intense and days are shorter.

How to Prevent Leggy Succulents

Etiolation, or becoming 'leggy,' is a common issue with succulents grown in suboptimal conditions, including:

Optimal Lighting

  • Sunlight Needs: Succulents generally need about six hours of sunlight daily. South-facing windows are ideal for indoor succulents, as they offer the most consistent light throughout the day.
  • Artificial Lighting: If natural sunlight is insufficient, especially in winter months or in dimly lit rooms, consider using artificial grow lights. LED or fluorescent grow lights placed a few inches above the plants can mimic natural sunlight effectively. Ensure lights are on for at least 12-14 hours per day to simulate the natural sunlight duration.

Appropriate Placement

  • Rotate Regularly: To ensure that all parts of the plant receive equal light and grow evenly, rotate your succulents every few days.
  • Grouping: Placing several succulents together can help them grow more uniformly as they will somewhat shade each other and reduce the tendency of individual plants to stretch.

Correct Soil and Watering

  • Soil Mix: Use a well-draining soil mix specifically designed for cacti and succulents. This helps avoid water retention and supports healthier root and stem growth.
  • Watering Practices: Overwatering can contribute to weak, elongated growth. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings to encourage strong root growth which supports stable and compact succulent growth.

Fertilization

  • Balanced Feeding: Over-fertilizing can promote rapid, weak growth that leads to etiolation. Use a balanced, low-nitrogen fertilizer designed for succulents and apply only during the active growing season (generally spring and summer).

Seasonal Adjustments

  • Winter Care: During shorter winter days, light levels decrease. Supplement with grow lights and reduce watering to slow down growth, which helps prevent stretching.
  • Summer Care: In extreme heat, some succulents might need to be shaded to prevent sunburn. Adjust placements as needed to avoid excessive direct sunlight that might dehydrate or damage the plants.

Pruning and Maintenance

  • Prune as Needed: If your succulent has already started to become leggy, consider pruning back the elongated parts (if possible, species-dependent). This encourages the growth of new, more compact shoots.
  • Regular Inspections: Check your plants regularly for signs of stretching and adjust their care accordingly.

Monitoring and Adjusting

  • Observe Changes: Each succulent species may react differently to light and care changes. Observe how your plants respond to adjustments in lighting and care routines and tweak as necessary.

Preventing your succulents from becoming leggy is primarily about providing them with adequate light and adjusting care practices according to their specific needs and environmental conditions. By following the guidelines outlined above, you can maintain healthy, compact, and aesthetically pleasing succulents.

succulents

Fixing Leggy Succulents

Fixing leggy succulents involves a few key steps that focus on addressing the immediate appearance of the plant and ensuring better growth conditions to prevent future issues. These steps are very similar to steps used to prevent leggy succulents, and they include the following:

Provide Adequate Lighting

  • Increase Light Exposure: Move your succulent to a location that receives more sunlight, ideally near a south-facing window where it can get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. If natural light is inadequate, consider using grow lights placed about 6-12 inches above the plants for 12-14 hours per day.

Pruning

  • Trimming Back: Use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut back the leggy parts of your succulent. Aim to make cuts just above a leaf node, as this will encourage the plant to branch out.
  • Propagation: The sections you trim off can often be propagated. Let the cut ends dry and callous for a few days, and then plant them in a well-draining soil mix. This can be a great way to multiply your succulents and replace more severely stretched ones with fuller, younger plants.

Adjust Watering Habits

  • Proper Watering: Ensure you’re not overwatering your succulents, as damp conditions can exacerbate legginess. Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings. This encourages deeper root growth, which supports healthier, more compact top growth.

Fertilization

  • Appropriate Fertilizer: Use a balanced, low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizer during the growing season to encourage healthy growth without pushing the plant to stretch unwisely. Over-fertilization can lead to rapid, weak growth, so it’s crucial to fertilize sparingly.

Soil and Potting

  • Re-pot with Suitable Soil: If the plant is in a soil that retains too much moisture or doesn’t allow for proper drainage, re-pot it using a commercial cacti and succulent mix or make your own with one part potting soil, one part perlite, and one part coarse sand.

Regular Rotation

  • Rotate Your Plants: Regularly turning your plants can prevent them from leaning towards the light source and growing unevenly. This helps in maintaining a balanced shape and stops them from becoming leggy.

Seasonal Adjustments

  • Adjust Care with Seasons: Light conditions change with the seasons, so adjust the placement of your succulents and their care routine accordingly. In winter, they may require additional light, while in summer, some might need protection from excessive direct sunlight.

Addressing legginess in succulents often requires a bit of effort in the short term and ongoing attention to their growing conditions. But, succulents are though and easy to grow plants and as such, they can tolerate a lot ...



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