Welcome to Succulent Frequently Asked Questions If you’re new to succulent care, you probably have tons of questions! We’ve all been there, so the most common questions are compiled below.
How can I help my plants?
If you’re a new succulent owner, check out our Beginner Basics wiki!
Why is my succulent so tall/droopy?
Succulents like a certain amount of light (by “certain” we mean “usually a lot”), and when they are not receiving that amount, they can “reach” toward the light.
This is called etiolation and looks like increasingly elongated leaves or stems and can also lead to the drooping of lower leaves (to maximize the surface area exposed to light).
You can stop your plant from stretching by gradually increasing its exposure to light (by placing it in a window, or in a sunnier window or using grow lights).
If this is not done gradually, you risk scorching your plant. All etiolated portions of plants are stuck like that — they cannot shrink. If this becomes an issue or is not desired for aesthetic reasons, beheading is an option.
Why is my plant changing colors?
- My plant turned red/orange/purple/etc., is this normal?
Plants with a lot of sun exposure, a lack of water, or a sudden temperature change can develop what is called stress coloring.
Stress coloring most commonly indicates that the plant is receiving adequate or more sun than is required for photosynthesis, but sometimes may also signify that the plant wants more water or has experienced a jump in temperature recently.
Unstressed succulents are primarily green and will stay that way until stressed. Stressed succulents often display vibrant or muted colors varying in shade and brightness.
Some jades, for example, can show red edges on their leaves, some echeverias will blush a light purple or have the very tips of their leaves turn red, and so on. If you’re curious about stress colors for your plant, type “(your plant) stress coloring” into Google or the search bar for examples.
Succulents also recycle leaves that are old or injured. When a plant does this, it draws all of the nutrients and water out of a leaf, causing the leaf to turn yellow/brown and crispy. Once these leaves are all used up by the plant, it will either shed them naturally, or you can remove it (don’t yank too hard, they should come off with a gentle tug). This is perfectly normal, and not a cause for alarm!
Lastly, some plants may become variegated in their lifetime. This just means that there’s a deviation in color from what the plant normally looks like.
Typically, it’s the leaves that will show variegation, but the stems and flowers of succulents can also be variegated.
Variegation may display in a total lack of chlorophyll, where the leaves turn white or yellowish, or it might be more subtle and simply be a lighter color than normal. Some plants may have a little variegation, some may have a lot, and some might put out variegated pups!
Variegation isn’t harmful unless the entire plant goes variegated, because in that case it cannot photosynthesize. Variegation can revert back to normal, though, so don’t worry!
If a leaf begins to turn translucent yellow/brown and gets soft, that might be a sign of overwatering. Translucency is important- if the leaf isn’t translucent, it may just be being recycled and reused! However, translucent brown/yellow leaves could be an indicator that you’ve been watering too often or your soil’s staying too wet, both of which are bad. Keep an eye on these leaves, as they could begin to rot. Oftentimes, to fix overwatering, you should cut back on the frequency of watering, and check your soil to see how long it’s staying wet/damp. These leaves will be shed, but new leaves will take their place soon enough.
Rotting leaves are another issue. These might turn black, brown, yellow, or a combination of all three, and get very mushy. Sometimes, they will have a bad odor. A plant with rotting leaves may have stem rot, may be overwatered, or may have other issues. Be mindful of your watering, give your plants a once-over every now and again, and if rot appears, you can catch and treat it early.
HELP! What’s wrong with my succulent?
- Is this rot?
- Is this overwatering/underwatering?
We usually cannot diagnose an issue just by looking at a photo — the conditions your plant is kept in are a must. Make sure to read the Help Thread Guidelines for best practices when making a help thread.
That said, rot very often results in a compromised structural integrity. A mushy/squishy/floppy plant is not always rot.
If you poke the suspected area and it crumbles, oozes, bursts, loses form, or anything else gross .. it could definitely be rot.
If it simply squishes, bounces, falls off, or dents — it could be another issue or completely normal.
Not all dark spots on the stem are rot!
Darkened parts of stems can be normal — what’s not normal is a dark spot which caves in when you press on it with a chopstick.
How do I propagate?
- My leaf has roots, what now?
- My leaf has a plant but no roots, what do I do?
Many genera of succulents can be propagated by leaf or cuttings. Leafs usually need to be separated from the plant with all leaf parts in tact (some exceptions here — Gasteria, Haworthia, and some others may sprout from partial leafs). Left in indirect sunlight, leafs may push out roots first, a plant first, both at the same time, or neither. Any resulting plantlets will get all they need from the mother leaf — watering is not necessary, but might help keep roots from drying up (and many folks recommend it). Once roots are formed, they can be lightly covered in dirt (again to help prevent them from drying out). Once the mother leaf has been consumed so only a paper-thin husk remains, the prop can be “potted” and treated as another (very tiny) plant. The mother leaf can be removed by hand, or will eventually depart on its own.
When propagating from cuttings, be sure to let the cutting dry out and callous over for a few days in indirect light. Soon after, roots should sprout from either the place of the cut, or from the nodes where leafs used to be. You can pot the plant up immediately after callousing, or you can wait until roots are formed. Either way, care must be taken not to overwater. The plant may look sad while it struggles to take in water, but this does not mean watering frequency should increase.
Can this be propagated?
The best way to find out is to try.
Why isn’t it working?
- It’s been 1/2/4/10 weeks and this leaf still hasn’t pushed out roots or a plant — what gives?
Some are just like that! If the leaf isn’t translucent or rot-like, it’s probably still viable and there’s no harm in keeping it around to see if it propagates eventually. If your leaf has shriveled and died or turned to mush, that just happens sometimes too. It should be noted that misting or watering leafs serves little purpose here and may just increase risk of rot.
My plant is sprouting a pup!
- What do I do! Do I need to separate it?
You don’t need to separate it, but once it’s large enough to easily handle it can be cut with a sharp, sterile instrument if you desire.
Both cuts — the one on the new pup AND the one on the mother plant — should be allowed to callous for a few days to help ensure no infection sets in. At this point, cuttings should be placed indirect light and can be either left bare, or potted up.
Until they have roots, they will not be able to take up water and might look sad. Watering of soil at this point may help encourage roots to form, but care should be taken not to overwater as this increases risk of rot.
Why buy plants online?
Buying plants online allows you to select the exact species you want, and sometimes -with a select few shops- the exact plant shown in the photo. It is also a way to collect more plants when one does not have access to many local greenhouses or nurseries. And hey, sometimes it’s just fun to get plants in the mail!
Where can I buy plants from?
Multiple people have bought from, and recommend, the following stores:
Can I buy seeds online?
- What seed vendors are reputable?
Absolutely! Be extremely wary of purchasing seeds from China (AliExpress), unverified vendors, and any places without reviews. And if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Also, don’t fall for this trick and buy seeds for a plant which isn’t even real.
Tiny black flies that are not great at flying and tend to hang around the plant. These have a larval stage with develops in the damp soil and feeds on plant roots.
Solution: Change to a faster draining potting mix. Get hold of some Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis (sold under various brands) and use as per instructions. Very effective and safe biological control method. You can also try mixing some Diatomaceous Earth into your soil.
Small white fluffy insects a few millimeters long that like to hide in the crevices in the succulents. Feeds on plant sap and produces a sticky substance. Can appear cotton-y.
Solution: For small infestations, use a cotton bud to brush some rubbing alcohol/isopropyl on them. For larger infestations, make a mix of 1 part rubbing alcohol to two parts water and a drop of liquid soap. Spray the plants every week until the infestation clears. Be thorough with the spraying and try to get in between the grooves between the leaves. Wipe down the windowsill/surface the plants are on and clear away dead leaves where the mealy bugs can hide. For larger, or persistent infestations, you may opt for Neem oil. Read the instructions carefully before treating. With both Neem oil and isopropyl alcohol, you will want to treat in the evenings to keep the plant(s) out of the sun to prevent burns.
Small brownish insects like look like a small bump on the surface of the leaf. They have a smooth outer shell. They also feed on sap and make the leaves sticky.
Solution: Same treatment as for mealy bugs.
Small, oval shaped insects; they can be green black, or red/brown. They also feed on sap and make the leaves sticky.
Solution: Same treatment as for mealy bugs.
Red spider mites
Minuscule red mites that are near invisible unless you are looking closely. Mostly noticeable by the fine webbing they weave. Which is also why they are named as such; they are not spiders, and shouldn’t be mistaken for actual spiders.
Solution: Buy some predatory mites (there are two species that are usually available) and leave them to roam your plants. They look like spider mites but are white and move a lot faster than the red ones. Very effective and able to clear an infestation in a few weeks. Get a sachet of predatory mites for each windowsill, more if you have a large window. Clean the windowsill of dead leaves and wipe down surfaces.
White flies that leave black droppings on the underside of leaves (tiny dots).
Solution: Pyrethrin spray. Apply as for instructions on the bottle. Beware that the spray can damage the leaves of some succulents and will dissolve the wax coating off some plants. Very effective and generally my last resort against pests. Also effective against all the pests above.
Do I need a grow light?
- What sort of grow light should I use?
Grow lights are a huge topic! There are many different kinds of bulbs and it seems everyone’s needs and wants vary.
Browse setup photos and read through 2018’s overwinter/growlight megathread, or through 2017’s overwinter/growlight megathread. For basic light specs, check this post out. Besides that, if you search the sub, you’ll find many other posts in regards to grow lights.
What’s this powder on my plant?
- Should I clean it off?
- I wiped some off, will it return?
It’s likely farina or epicuticular wax, and your plant generates it as a kind of sunscreen and water repellent. It’s best to let it be. If you’ve wiped some off, it won’t regenerate but it’s not the end of the world. New growth comes freshly coated with it.
Why do people put rocks/gravel/pebbles/top dressing on top of their soil?
Aside from purely aesthetic reasons, there are a few possibilities as to why people use a top dressing. Some do it to keep perlite, bark, or other light matter from being disturbed when the plant is watered (and thus migrating to the top of the pot).
Others do it to help stabilize a newly potted plant while its roots colonize the pot (they can be wobbly until then). They can also be used to keep lowly potted rot-prone foliage away from wet soil.
If using a soil with a lot of organic matter (i.e., most “cactus and succulent soil”), you should know that top dressing can trap moisture.
Quick drying soil is very important in succulent keeping, so beware if you plan to use these two things together. See the comment in this thread for a bit more detail.
What is overwintering/dormancy and is it necessary?
Overwintering, also called plant dormancy, is when a succulent enters a period of slower growth and development, typically during the winter months.
Sunlight is usually weaker and temperatures are colder, which are not ideal conditions for our plant friends.
Thus, they enter this period to last the colder months and survive for the springtime.
It’s a necessary period for some succulents, but not all, so be sure to read up on whether your own plants need to go dormant! You can read more about dormancy here: The Science of Succulent Dormancy