How to Save Overwatered Succulents

How to Save Overwatered Succulents

Succulent Leaves Falling Off & What to Do

You take care of your succulents. You do your best to give them great care and to water them properly. But now, you’ve got a plant with succulent leaves falling off. The leaves look a bit translucent and feel kind of squishy. You do your research and learn these are signs of overwatered succulents. With further investigation, you conclude that overwatering led to some succulent rot. Don’t feel bad — it happens. But while it’s good to know what the problem is, you need to know what to do next. Read on to learn how to save your overwatered succulents.

{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}

Checking Succulent Roots

checking succulent roots for signs of rot

You over watered your succulent. It happens. Maybe it was left out in the rain. Sometimes roots grow compacted and block the drainage hole. Now we need to correct it.

Never be afraid to take your succulent out of the soil to better check its condition. The roots of any plant are essential to its health, and succulents are far more tolerant of being dug up than most plants. If you overwatered, but there are no succulent leaves falling off and you see no signs at all of succulent rot, just taking it out of its container may solve the issue. Leave the root ball and soil intact, and squeeze out excess water. You can then set the plant and root ball beside the container and leave it for a day or two, so the soil dries out quite rapidly. This is to prevent any rot from developing.


Signs of Overwatered Succulents

signs of overwatered succulents

Your first sign of overwatered succulents is likely to be when the leaves change color and begin to look a bit translucent. This is due to the excess water bursting the walls of the water-storage cells. No longer neatly stored within specialized cells, the water runs through the leaf, diluting its color, and making the leaf feel squishy as it begins to rot. Soon, these are succulent leaves falling off the plant.

Overwatering leads to succulent rot and is the quickest way to kill succulent plants. The sooner you recognize an overwatered succulent, the sooner you can take action to save it.

Treating Overwatered Succulents

succulent stem rot

The first sign of trouble Terran saw with her echeveria was a few floppy leaves. They fell off at the slightest touch. She dug up her plant and in addition to succulent leaves falling off, the stem had a discoloration that was squishy where it was brown. It looks like a bruise on a piece of fruit. She recognized that she had succulent stem rot.

The small amount of root structure compared to the size of the top growth demonstrates a problem. Either this was a newly rooted succulent cutting, or much of the roots had rotted away as well. Go ahead and dig up your succulent to get a better look at the root structure. Succulents are far more tolerant of this than other plants, and it’s a good way to be certain of what is happening. If you discover or suspect root rot, remove excess soil, rinsing the roots if the soil is muddy. If you discover rot, discard the used soil and thoroughly wash out the container.


Dealing with Succulent Stem Rot

plant showing succulent stem rot

Terran found succulent stem rot. Her overwatered succulent was rotting at the soil line. See the discolored base of the leaves on the left? Like the stem, they show signs of rot. This was the cause of the succulent leaves falling off. Because they rotted at the point where meristem tissue develops, they are no longer viable for propagation. The meristem tissue is the part of the leaf that can sprout new roots and leaves. When this is rotted, there can be no further growth or development.

However, upon close inspection, the rest of the leaves above the succulent stem rot still appear healthy.


Saving a Plant with Succulent Stem Rot

overwatered succulent with succulent rot

When dealing with an overwatered succulent that has developed succulent rot, whether of leaves, stem or roots, it’s important to separate the rotting tissue from healthy plant. Discard used soil and any bad parts of the plant. In this case, with little root structure, and part of the stem and lower leaves rotting, only the top of the plant was still healthy.

First, remove all signs of rot. Remove the leaves, and cut off the stem that has any rot. Then, look inside the stem you have remaining, to check for any signs of rot in the core of the stem. Continue cutting it back until all signs of rot are removed. In doing this, Terran removed healthy leaves from the stem. These healthy leaves were able to be propagated from their meristem tissue. She still had a rice rosette from the very top of her echeveria with about 1/2 inch of stem, after all signs of succulent rot were removed. She treated the remaining rosette as a succulent stem cutting for propagation with great success.

With multiple leaves forming baby plants and the top of the rosette rooting well in fresh soil, Terran was able to save her overwatered succulent.


Succulent Rot in Black Echeveria

black echeveria succulent stem rot

For some reason, black echeveria, like this Black Prince, are especially sensitive to rot. If you love growing these varieties as I do, you’re certain to see a plant with all it’s succulent leaves falling off at one time or another. These plants quickly respond to over watering by suddenly dropping all of their leaves. As frustrating as their sensitivity is, it usually means most of the fallen leaves will be in healthy condition to root and develop into plants of their own. This is a survival mechanism for the plant to continue to propagate, even when the parent plant is more susceptible to death.

Steps to Saving Overwatered Succulents

succulent rot on echeveria

As careful as we all are to provide good care, overwatered succulents still happen. Take the following stems to ensure you’re able to limit the damage and save your plants from succulent rot:

Now you know exactly how to handle an overwatered succulent to save it, and propagate it. I’d love to know what you think! Have you had experience saving your own succulents? If you have any questions, be sure to leave a comment. I will get right back to you!

Because life is just better with succulents!

P.S. – I’d love it if you’d subscribe to The Succulent Eclectic! I’ll send you my FREE e-course 7 Steps to Succulent Success!

* indicates required


how to save over watered succulents


(Visited 37,912 times, 163 visits today)

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Gay Barnum

    I live in Washington State. And you succulents we’re doing great until we had a freeze. I put a tarp over the plants but some didn’t make it! I was very disappointed they were doing fabulous. Would I do the same thing if I was over watering?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Gay,
      Oh no! It’s painful to have something like that happen.
      Yes, please dg up the plants and check to see if any part of them is still firm. Ignore what it looks like. If it is still firm, there’s hope!
      Let me know what you find, and we’ll go from there, but it is essentially the same process as for overwatered succulents.
      For next winter, plant on using cold-hardy succulents. There are some real beauties that will shrug off a Washington winter with ease! Check out my favorite winter hardy succulents in this blog post.
      Kat

  2. Jean H

    Such a relief to know that parts of an over watered plant (that is beginning to rot) is salvageable!
    As always, great post Kat!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      I was reviewing my blog articles, and realized I had given a ton of information about how not to over water succulents, and what it looks like when you do – but I had never explained what to do once it happened? Like a now what?:)
      So glad to hear it is helpful!
      Thank you, Jean!
      ~Kat

  3. Yvonne

    Hi Kat,
    At some point I must have over-watered some of my plants, and I have many! I have developed fungus gnats…help. What do you recommend I do to eliminate what appears to be an infestation in my home…specifically in my kitchen. Obviously I need to do something that is safe for the plants yet effective on the gnats. I’m willing to do whatever it takes and I’d love to be able to keep the succulent arrangements in the house.

    Thank you in advance!!

    Yvonne

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Yvonne,
      As dreadful as these gnats are – getting rid of them safely and non-toxically is easy-peasy! 🙂
      I recommend a 2-pronged approach. The first is vital – add a non-organic top dressing on top of the soil, ideally 1/2 inch thick. Pumice, perlite, pea gravel, diatomaceous earth – something like that. In 24+ hours, the infestation will be gone and won’t come back. The gnats have a life span of just about 24 hours, but they lay LOTS of eggs in the moist, organic soil. The layer of inorganic top dressing prevents the insets from reaching the soil to lay their eggs, and any hatchlings cannot reach the air.

      The other treatment I like is worm casting spray. It feeds the plants and repels insects. But as much as I love the worm casting for any and all pests, these gnats will beest be controlled by the top dressing.

      Kepp me posted!
      ~Kat

  4. Panicmose

    I have read that using a mix of hydrogen peroxide and some water can stop root rot. Is this true?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Panicmose,
      I have had great success using hydrogen peroxide to help some regular house plants. It takes quite a bit of time, but can be very valuable.
      The reason I don’t use it for succulents is that they handle the much quicker, more aggressive approach I have described here so well. Most plants cannot tolerate being dug up, cleaned and repotted without experiencing tremendous stress. But succulents come through it just fine. Because root rot is so serious and can be so quickly fatal for succulents, I prefer this more agressive approach for them.
      Thanks for your question!
      ~Kat

  5. Panicmose

    Also, how do you know if you have removed all the rot? Many times there may be a slight brown color in the stem. While barely there, I try to remove it as
    well but it seems like I’m removing a lot of the plant. More pictures of the process would be very helpful!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hello again!
      What we’re aiming for here is to eliminate the damage roots. Those that have become mushy due to rot. Rinse away any sliminess in the soil or on the roots. Cut away any soft, squishy or mushy parts of the roots. If you have some that feel firm and healthy, but they have a brown color to them — I would leave them in place. If the true rot is removed, the discolored roots should recover well in fresh soil.
      Ruthlessly remove any trace of mushiness, sliminess and anything that has a foul odor. If this leaves some brown coloring that otherwise looks, feels and smeels fine – leave it in place.
      Does this make sense?
      ~Kat

  6. Lisa

    I recently rescued an etoliated Echeveria ‘Starlite’ from Home Depot, mainly because it had two stemmed offsets I planned to use for propagation once they grew a little bigger. I checked for root and stem rot when I repotted it and saw no signs of either, but leaves popped off so I kept a close eye on it. Last night the leaves on the lower offset were shriveled and I saw black on its stem. I followed the steps above this morning, and the roots and main stem look fine other than more leaves popping off. I removed the rotten offset at the main stem and the connection point is also black but not mushy. My question is do I leave it as is, do I slice off just a little around the connection point to remove the black, or do behead the whole thing? It would be great if I could email you photos.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Thanks so much for the great question Lisa! Having gone over the photos you sent me, I see you’ve done a great job at cutting out the rotting stem. Here’s how I would proceed:
      I would cut the stem of the echeveria just above the spot where the rotted stem branch was attached. Remove the lowest leaf just above the cut, and set it aside to propagate the leaf. Then, let this cutting dry out and treat it like any stem cutting.
      I would also wait a day, then plant the rooted stub into a small pot. There is a chance the small bit of rot will spread, but there’s also a chance the rooted stem will produce more plant. Why not experiment? You could take the healthy leaf opposite the rot point, to propagate, or leave it on the stem to see if it helps the stump to produce a plant.
      Please let me know if you have any questions!
      Stay safe!
      ~Kat

  7. Hanna

    I recently made my first succulent garden (I’m still a newbie with succulents) and didn’t water them very often but still a lot of them died because of overwatering. We had a lot of rain which I think is the reason. What can I do to prevent them from being overwatered by rain? Also, how can I improve my garden’s soil for better drainage?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Hanna,
      Are your succulents planted in the ground rather than in pots? If you garden where spring and summer rain is common, mound the soil under each succulent, so it is planted at the top of a small cone, encouraging excess water to rapidly drain away. You can also plant succulents on a slope to ensure water cannot collect at the base of the plant. Try working pumice or horticultural sane (not playground or beach sand) into your soil to improve its drainage.
      You might also want to get comfortable gardening with succulents in pots first. Place them in the garden where you want the plants to grow, but move them when circumstances like rain, high heat or intense sun make it necessary. This will show you which placements in the garden work and which are troublesome.
      Please keep me posted on your succulent garden!
      ~Kat

  8. Andy

    Hi Kat, I’m a bit of a newbie with succulents and am concerned about overwatering. I have a couple of Echeveria I’m most concerned about. One of them, when I look at it with window light behind it, I see large dark patches through some of the middle-level leaves. Bottom leaves appear fine, and the center of rosette seems healthy to me but I’m not sure what signs to look for in the center to tell if it’s overwatered. On my second echeveria, which I think is either a blue swan or a topsy turvy, I was so delighted to find a dozen or so itty-bitty babies starting to form on the step when I was clearing out some dirt and from under the base after repotting from the nursery pot. They’re itty-bitty still, just the very start of babies. But since removing the dirt to reveal them/uncovering them from beneath the soil line, I’ve noticed that some are developing brown spots. Could I have damaged the babies when removing the dirt, is the browning sunburn from uncovering them and now they’re getting light, or is this sign or overwatering? Help!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Andy,
      With the babies, it does sound like sunburn is a possibility. The soil over them protected them from light, but also hampered their adaptation to handling light. It’s as if you stayed indoors non-stop for 6 months. When you next go out in the sun, you would burn more quickly and easily than normal. If you protect them now, they will survive the sunburn and outgrow it. Read more about succulent sunburn.
      I would love to see a photo of the Echeveria that concerns you. Can you email it to me? Kat [at] the succulent eclectic [dot] com
      I will be happy to take a look at it so I can advise you better!
      Thanks!
      ~Kat

  9. Mrs Holt

    Thank you so much for this information. I was notorious for over watering my house plants. Now that I’m in to succulents and air plants, I’m alot more careful. I’ve noticed that when I buy succs from big box stores, i.e. Lowes, Wal-Mart and even my local co-op, they are always being over watered. I always clean the roots and repot using new soil. My hen and chick tho still looks bad but is slowly recovering. Anyhow, it’s a great article and very helpful! Many green blessings to you.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Mrs. Holt,
      While most plants get quite stressed every time you take them from their pots, succulents and cacti really don’t mind!
      That is a really good point – I should add in the suggestion to check newly-purchased plants and to remove wet soil when you bring them home.
      Thanks for the suggestion!
      ~Kat

  10. Noorjaha Amien

    I would like to join this group please. I live in Cape Town South Africa.
    And now it’s raining cats and dogs for 3 days.
    I have about 30 containers with succulent arrangements in the rain. I have gone to look if any of the containers are flooded. They looked OK. After today’s rains I am not so sure.
    We enjoy a Mediterranean climate . We have our rain in winter.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Noorjaha,
      I think you might be looking for my new Facebook group. We would love to have you join us!
      Please click this link. Then, click Join.
      That’s it! We would love to have you join us!
      ~Kat

Leave a Reply