Recognizing & Understanding Signs of Succulent Problems

Recognizing & Understanding Signs of Succulent Problems

When a baby cries, what is it saying? Does it want to nurse? To be held, to be changed, warmer or cooler? When your dog barks or the cat meows — what does it mean? Even when we don’t speak the same language, in time we learn to recognize what our loved ones want and need by what they say. The same is true of our succulents. They know precisely what they need in order to thrive. If you listen to your succulents, you’ll learn that they give clear signs of what they want. Read on to learn to recognize the signs of overwatered succulents, underwatered succulents, why your succulent’s growing long stems, why they change color and other signs of succulent problems and needs. Watching for — and acting on — your succulents’ signals will improve your succulent care.

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

Signs of Overwatered Succulents

signs of overwatered succulents

Proper watering for succulents is the single most important part of succulent care. The quickest way to kill a succulent is by overwatering. The water storage cells inside an overwatered succulent swell and burst. It makes the leaves look discolored, yellow and translucent. When this occurs, the damage is irreversible. It’s important to recognize the signs of an overwatered succulent so that you can take immediate action to salvage as much of the plant as possible. When the leaves grow translucent and squishy, that is a clear sign the cell walls have broken and the leaf is full of water. These leaves cannot be saved. However, other leaves that are still healthy can be removed for leaf propagation.

Signs of Underwatered Succulents

signs of underwatered succulents

Underwatered succulents are not in immediate danger of death like overwatered succulents. In fact, you can use the signs that signal a succulent needs water as a guide to know when to water your plants. As succulents draw upon their stored moisture, their internal water pressure drops, and the leaves begin to shrivel and become wrinkled.


When you see signs of an underwatered succulent, water thoroughly. While this is not as serious a succulent problem as overwatering, it is still a clear signal that your succulent needs a change in its care.

Signs Your Succulent Needs More Light

sign of succulent problems - need more light

We’ve all seen succulents grow long stems and keel over. That is an advanced form of etiolation — when the succulent is stretching for more light. When your succulent needs light, it first will tip its leaves down to maximize the surface of each leaf’s exposure to the sun. If this change does not garner sufficient light, it will begin to stretch and lean toward the light. Ideally, you’ll make note of the leaves pointing down to move it (gradually!) into more light. Down-tipped leaves will tip up again. But once the plant begins to stretch, it will not be able to correct the stretched growth pattern.

Etiolation is a serious succulent problem that can lead to the death of your plant. Watch for the early signs that your succulent needs more light. If the plants are indoors for the winter, consider getting a succulent grow light.


Signs Succulent is in Too Much Light

sign succulent in too much sun

As much as succulents need sunshine, it is possible for them to get too much sun. Succulents can sunburn. When they do, it is at least scarring and can be deadly. Watch for the early signs that your succulent is in too much sun. In the same way that a succulent moves its leaves to capture more light, a plant may fold its leaves up when the sun exposure is too fierce. The echeveria above is not yet scarring. But you can see the leaves are more closed than typical. This is the plant’s way of shading each leaf as much as it can.

Sign Succulent Needs Water & Support

aerial roots - sign os underwatered succxulent or one needing more light

Aerial roots form on succulents primarily to provide more water for the plant or to provide additional support. When a succulent needs more water, in time, it will form roots above the soil line in an effort to collect water molecules from the air. Another main cause of aerial roots is when the plant needs additional anchor points, either because the natural growth habit of the succulent is to form a wide mat, or because the plant is etiolated, and the tall, leaning stem will soon bend or break to reach the ground. Aerial roots are often a signal that the succulent needs more water or more light.


Why Do Succulents Change Color?

changing color is succulent sign of stress

Have you ever brought home a brightly colored succulent you fell in love with — only to have it soon turn green? What about the succulents you have that have begun to flush red or purple?

Stress causes succulents to produce specific pigments to protect them from damage. These pigments make the succulent develop red or purple coloring in response to changes in light exposure, watering or temperature. In the case of a colorful succulent turning green, it is no longer exposed to the stress that caused the coloring to develop. When a succulent in your collection turns red it usually means it is getting more sun exposure and/or the temperature is growing hotter or colder as the seasons change.

When a succulent changes color, it is not necessarily a sign of a succulent problem. But it is a clear sign of a change in the succulent’s environment, and one you should be alert to. It can be a sign your succulent is underwatered. Or it can be an early warning that the plant could become sunburned. A change in color is a signal to pay attention to what stress is occurring. You can even learn how to safely stress your succulents for more color!


Signs of Succulent Dormancy

signs of succulent dormancy

Sometimes the changes in your plant’s appearance just look like a succulent problem, when it really isn’t. When a full, lush Aeonium arboreum drops most of its leaves and contracts like the one above, it just means it has gone dormant. While not all succulents go dormant, those that do typically do not change their appearance so dramatically. When your succulent drops leaves or contracts, check my dormancy tables to determine whether it is hibernating before you change your care to “fix” it. This is not an underwatered succulent — it is dormant.

Succulents Wilting & What it Means

monitoring succulent health through touch is an important part of succulent care

Even before you see the visible signs of succulent problems, like needing more water, more light or shelter from heat, the succulent will feel different to your touch. The sooner you make note of changes in your succulent, the better you can adjust your care so it is not damaged. Monitoring your succulent’s health by touch is a great way to key into the early warning signs. Even before the plant changes color or develops aerial roots or the leaves wrinkle to signal it’s an underwatered succulent, the leaves and stems will begin to feel limp and loose, rather than firm and rigid. Touch will also tell you the difference between an underwatered succulent and one in too much heat or insufficient light.


Signs succulent needs more light

With time and attention, you’ll soon learn to recognize the clear signals your succulents give of their needs. When you recognize and act on the early signs of succulent problems, your care will improve immensely. Feel free to ask any questions — I am here to help! Just leave a comment and I will get right back to you.

Because life is just better with succulents!

P.S. For more succulent care information and DIYs, please subscribe to The Succulent Eclectic! I’ll send you my FREE e-course, 7 Steps to Succulent Success!

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8 signs of succulent problems and needs


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This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Jean H

    Best explanations (and pictures) in “blogland” of succulents that may need help!
    Thanks Kat!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Jean,
      Wow! Thanks soooo much!
      I so appreciate your taking the time to let me know you are enjoying the blog!
      ~Kat

      1. Roy San Luis

        kat,

        this is so helpful to me… i am just starting with succs… i just have a couple of plants but i’m thinking of pursuing it as a hobby… i hope i can develop a green thumb 🙂 thanks a lot!

  2. Hemant Gadkari

    Very nice information on Secculets. Thanks for the same.
    Hemant

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Thanks so much, Hermant! I’m glad it’s useful.
      Thanks for reading! 🙂
      ~Kat

  3. Mark Spevack

    Hi just found the web site and in my trails I’ve had to take care of a few succulents ( not mine ) . I’m new to them & the information I just read was so helpful, thankyou !
    My problem is with my jade plant . I’ve had it for a few years and have been giving it artificial light. I dont get very much light ( I’m in an apartment facing the sun ) but only get very indirect sunlight . The lumens & color of the light are right ( all the rest of my plants are doing really , really well ) . My Jade is one stock that branches to two of which I have to support. The leaves are a very dark green ( and not shiny like others) . I’ve tried to start other plants but for some reason I couldn’t get them to grow . All the soil requirements are there / light too and at room temp . What am I doing wrong here ?? I really like my jade and wish it would do better. Any help that anyone could give me would be awesome. The main stem is approx 3″ high & the two that branch straight out off the main go out about 3″ either side ,then 90°straight up ! The over height is about 14 “. The leaves are at least the size of your thumb in diameter. And the spacing between the leaves is large . Help is required !!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Mark,
      Thanks so much for your kind words – SO glad you have found the blog helpful!
      And your description of your jade is excellent. You clearly know the different things to look for.

      From your description, I think your jade wants more light. It sounds like it is not yet stretching for more light, but very deep green leaves are a sign that it is looking to maximize photosynthesis. The widely spaced leaves and the branching at 90-degree angles do too. The plant is taking care to expose as much of its leaf surface to light as possible. This blog post on etiolated succulents describes and shows images of different ways succulents angle their leaves and branches to maximize or minimize light exposure, depending upon their needs.

      Please place a support about 3-inches tall under your jade plant to get it closer to the light. Then watch it carefully for a week for signs of stress.

      If your jade seems to do well with the height boost, leave it there for a month or so. If it seems like it still needs more light, make subsequent increases by just an inch at a time, with 2 weeks time to adjust. Such a “small” change to the lighting may seem insignificant, but it really isn’t. Please check out the difference made for plants by changing the distance to the grow light here.

      I would love to hear how this goes for you!
      Thanks so much for the great question, Mark!
      Happy Easter!
      ~Kat

  4. malini

    Hi,

    My jade plant is no longer the same it is loosing its leaves and the branches also. I can find out what is actually the problem. at start the leaves was a bit wrinkles i added water thought it was under watering now the leaves are becoming yellow and have some spots on it and even the small leaves are falling.
    Can you please help i dont want to loose that plant.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Malini,
      Oh no! Can you send me a picture of your plant, ideally a closeup of problem areas as well as one of the entire plant? This sounds worrisome and I want to get you the right help at once. Please email me at kat @ thesucculenteclectic.com
      ~Kat

  5. Lori

    Hi, I have several succulents with apparently healthy leaves bu near the soil the stems are wrinkled and turning black. Do you know why? Thanks.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Lori,
      Do the black, wrinkled spots feel soft and mushy? If so, this is a sign of rot, and you’ll need to rescue the leaves for propagation before the rot spreads to them.
      Please investigate further, and definitely feel your plant to get a better understanding of its health.
      Feel free to email me a photo of your plant. I want to help you figure this out!
      ~Kat

    2. Mezza

      Just read and now going out to check my plants to make sure they are in the best possible position.
      Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Great to read. Keep it up!

      1. Kat McCarthy

        Hi Mezza,
        SO glad you’re finding the information helpful! 🙂
        Thanks so much for your comment!
        ~Kat

  6. Renuka bhaskar

    Thank you for sharing information on succulents…. I recently got a echeveria succulent…. Initially its was dng fine…over the night suddenly all the leave turned bluish black colour and fell off…. Wat could me d reason? It would be great if u help me with the problem… So that I could carefull with my other succulents….!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Renuka,
      Oh no! I am so sorry – it’s always so disappointing to lose a plant!
      If it happened so suddenly and dramatically as it sounds, I suspect it was suffering before you received it – you just didn’t realize it. It sounds like it was over watered, and the roots have rotted.
      Take it out of its pot and take a look at the roots. If they are gone, or soft and squishy or slimy – they rotted due to too much water.
      These are the two blog posts I recommend you read – How to Water Succulents and How to Save an Over-watered Succulent.
      If you aren’t sure, please send me a photo of your plant – Kat [at] The Succulent Eclectic (dot) com
      I’ll be happy to take a look and advise you.
      ~Kat

  7. Deloma Lusk

    Love this! So glad there is something out there to help me learn about Succulents!
    A year ago I bought some big pots at a yard sale, and they had many Succulents in them. I kept them for a year untouched outdoors. I finally decided to share some with my mother. Since moving them, they have started turning reddish brown. They still look good with the reddish brown but I am afraid they may die. They are a little more in the sun now than before. What do you think?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Deloma,
      SO glad you’re finding this blog helpful!
      It sounds as though you might be seeing stress coloring on your succulents. If this is the case – it is not a bad thing at all. But read the post in the link to learn more abut it. And check other possible signs to judge the overall health of your succulent. If it feels firm and healthy, if it is taking up water at the same rate and is growing at the same rate, it should be just fine. I would recommend you check these two posts as well – signs of succulent health and evaluating succulents by touch.
      Please feel free to ask any follow up questions! And if you’d feel better if I took a look, send me a photo of your plant. Email me at Kat [at] The Succulent Eclectic [dot] com. I’ll e happy to take a look! 🙂
      ~Kat

  8. Chrissy

    My plants got a long stem shooting out of the middle. I don’t see anything like it

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Chrissy,
      It may be a bloom spike. Please send me a photo and I’ll be happy to take a look for you. Kat@TheSucculentEclectic.com
      ~Kat

  9. Carla Griffin

    Hi,
    Really helpful information!! I’ve had an issue with healthy looking leaves falling off with the slightest touch. I read somewhere it could mean they need water, but they don’t appear to be shrinking and the soil is not dry. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated! Thank you!
    Carla

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Carla,
      It may be the variety of succulent you’re growing. Sedum morganianum Donkey’s tal, for example, drops its healthy leaves pretty easily. In this case, it is because the plant roots so easily from dropped leaves, it doesn’t want to sustain damage when it could propagate. 🙂
      Please snap a photo of your plant and send it to me, or just write back with the name. Let’s see if we can’t figure it out!
      ~Kat

  10. Ronel

    Succulents have strange spots on them. Is outside and get a lot of sun

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Ronel,
      Would you send me a photo so I can see what you are seeing?
      I’ll be happy to try to help! 🙂 kat@thesucculenteclectic.com
      ~Kat

  11. Char

    Hi Kat,
    Thanks for the helpful information and pictures! I have a succulent that was getting “leggy” and air roots. Following your advice, I started watering more and it is looking much better. Do I just enjoy the “leggy” look or do I cut them off?
    Thank you!
    Char

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Char,
      I would cut it back and root the cuttings.
      You’re welcome to send me a few photos — I’ll take a look and can advise where to cut! 🙂
      You can do this!
      ~Kat

  12. Jane🍀

    I am really enjoying your succulent posts. Over the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve spent hours searching different sites for information that you have just so comprehensively and concisely put here.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Thanks so much, Jane!
      You just made my day!
      ~Kat

  13. Cath

    I love receiving your emails & reading your blog. I’ve learnt so much 🙂
    I’m bummed though, as I can’t purchase from you as I’m in Australia 🙁
    I’ve only become addicted this year to succulents….. & I love love love watching them grow, especially from one leaf….it amazes me.
    Thank you for all that I learn from you
    Cath

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Cath,
      It is so exciting to watch a single leaf grow into a whole, new plant, isn’t it? I think of it like getting to play with God’s toolbox! 🙂
      Thanks so much for subscribing!
      ~Kat

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