A leggy etiolating succulent beside a healthy one.

Etiolated Succulents (Leggy) – How to Prevent and Fix

Succulents are among the easiest plants to grow both indoors and outside.  With just a minimum of care they will thrive and look beautiful.  Many succulents though are prone to etiolate.  It is important to know how to prevent or correct etiolated succulents that have become leggy, stretched out, or elongated.

A leggy etiolating succulent beside a healthy one.
A healthy plant that became an etiolated succulent.

What Does the Term “Etiolate” Mean?

When a cactus or any other type of succulent stretches out abnormally it has begun to etiolate.  Depending on the type of succulent it is, many people will simply call it leggy or stretched out.  An etiolated succulent will look elongated and often will lose its color and look pale or yellowish.  Signs of etiolation may also include thin stems and leaves spreading out unnaturally on the stem

Why Is My Succulent Stretched Out?

When your succulent is not close enough to a light source or it is not getting enough light, it will naturally start stretching out to get the maximum light that it can get.  This is a good thing in the sense that it is staying alive.  It does not always look very good however and the succulent can become quite deformed looking.

Etiolating succulents may look spread out and taller than healthier plants of the same variety.  Just by looking at the etiolated succulent you can easily see it is bending and turning toward the light.

Is My Elongated Succulent Going to Die?

In some cases, etiolated succulents may still live for years.  Although they may look elongated and pale, succulents are extremely adaptive and resourceful.  The stretching out to get more sunlight may cause it to look unhealthy but it may now be receiving enough light to do just fine.  As long as you start providing more light your succulent may not need any trimming at all if you like the way it looks.

If the light source is too low, yes, eventually your succulent will die.

Succulents that Are Prone to Etiolate

Some succulents look absolutely awful when they start stretching out.  Other succulents actually don’t look that bad and can have a distinctive character when they are slightly elongated.

How Do I Fix a Leggy Succulent?

Unfortunately, once a succulent has etiolated there is no way to reverse that.  If it is a larger mature succulent you can trim off the parts of the plant that have elongated and that may be enough to make the plant look normal again.

You will, of course, need to move the plant to a better more appropriate light source so it will no longer need to stretch out for needed light.  With a good light source for the right number of hours through the day you plant will not need to stretch out and become abnormal looking.

It can be a challenge in some homes to get enough indirect sunlight for the types of succulents you want to grow.  It may work to move your plant to another window.  It may be necessary to try a completely different variety of succulent.  There are some succulents that do not require as much light as other varieties.  If none of these options will work, then you may need to use a grow light to provide the extra light your plant needs

When All Else Fails It is Time to Propagate Your Succulent

Every succulent is unique and even the most experienced growers will have a plant etiolate on them.  With some of the fast-growing succulents they can look very leggy quickly and it is too late to adjust the light or to trim it appropriately for a better appearance.  In that case you can still salvage the plant, so to speak, by simply propagating it into a new plant.  Most succulents are very easy to propagate with a leaf, a branch or a pup.  By propagating an etiolated succulent, you can start fresh with a brand new plant usually within a few weeks.

Enjoy the following video which demonstrates propagating an etiolated succulent.

[Transcription] Hi guys, it's Jess here with Angel's Grove. So as promised today I am going to be showing you how to fix an old succulent or one that's grown tall. A lot of times if you don't have enough sunlight or artificial light then your succulents will get really lengthy and you can tell because the leaves will be really spread out.

This one's actually not too bad. The leaves are more spread out than I would like but he just kind of grew taller. And so, I would like to get rid of this stem here. One thing that's really neat about succulents is they will propagate from an old stem. So today I'm going to show you how to do that and I'm gonna also be fixing this rosette. So that I can put him in a different planter in a couple days and he'll be happy and grow new roots.

So what I have here is just a little pocket knife. It doesn't have to be anything fancy just something sharp and then my succulent. And so what I'm going to be trying to do is leaving a couple leaves on. So, in my last video I actually took this succulent and propagated some of the leaves by pulling them off and I'll put a link to that video below if you're interested. But what I probably would have done if I thought about this the other day is leave those leaves and takes them from the middle and then make it a cutting from that. So, I want to leave a couple of these bottom leaves on because the stem will do fine if I water it continually and it has enough light to produce more rosettes off of the stem itself.

However, if there's a couple of leaves if you know anything about photosynthesis you know that's how it's gonna get its energy and its resources. So, the chances of it actually producing more on the stem itself are higher if I leave a couple of these leaves on. So, I'm going to try to keep these two leaves and then this one on the succulent. And so, I'm going to start by removing a couple of these middle leaves if I can get my fingers in there.

And then I'm gonna make a cut across with just a clean pocketknife for that and then I'm just gonna leave it in a moderate light spot so a little bit of indirect light. I don't want it to be sunburnt or get too much light while it's just resting and recovering I'm gonna let it callus.

So, we get started with that I'm gonna start by removing this one. I'm gonna hold on to the stem since I have a lot of stem here I'm just gonna hold on to that to kind of stabilize it and help me a little bit with the process. And these leaves really pull off easily and so I'm not too worried about that. And then these leaves I'm also going to be using for my propagation because they'll make some more for me.

And maybe I'll leave on four. So here I made a little separation as you can hopefully see between these bottom leaves and this top rosette. So, one thing I want to make sure that this rosette has when I cut it off is a node and so a node for me I guess I don't know if that's what technical terminology for it is but where I pull it off a leaf. And so, I'll show you maybe closer up, but each leaf kind of leaves a little mark and then that is where the roots are gonna come out.

And so, you want to make sure they have them. So just going as close to the bottom leaves as I can making sure this top rosette has enough. Be really careful not to cut yourself too. I'm just gonna try to work my way around this and cut it off. The cleaner that cut the better. There we go okay so here is my nice little rosette and that couldn't be cuter.

And then this is what the bottom looks like. And so here hopefully you'll be able to see that there are some black dots or they look kind of like little lines but those are the nodes that I was talking about on the bottom that the leaves are gonna come out of. And then this is what the bottom half looks like.

So, I have a couple leaves here that the sunlight can nourish I guess. And then I'll just pull him out a little bit and you can see those nodes have kind of scarred up from previous leaves that I've pulled off. And so that's what I'm talking about there and the leaves are gonna come out from those.

So yeah so, this guy I actually watered a couple days ago so his soil is fine but you're just gonna want to keep watering him as normal. So, under these lights I have a t8 light and a t5 light about 13,000 lumens each with these guys under there. I'm gonna water them about once a week. If you go once a month, it's fine they just won't grow as fast. You just want to make sure that the soil is dry in between each watering. You don't want to get root rot. But yeah so hopefully this guy will either produce a rosette off the top or off the bottom or off the side but he's gonna try to make some new rosettes hopefully and this is a good way to propagate old stems.

A lot of times I usually just throw these out as they are sometimes slower, or I don't have leaves left on and I usually pull them off to propagate but this is a fun way and they make really cute little babies and sometimes a lot of them.

So, it's kind of hit or miss but then I have a couple leaves left over for propagating and so if you want to see how to do that again it's the same link below. And then yeah so, this guy you need to let this part callus over. And so I think you should be able to see that it's really wet still or it's a fresh cutting it's really green. And so you don't want to make it susceptible to root rot and so you're gonna want to let him dry for about three days. And so in three days I'll come back and finish this video once this has calloused over so that I can plant him up.

If you are making an arrangement and take a cutting like this off of a variety of succulents to put in a succulent arrangement you can plant them. However just keep in mind that you shouldn't water them. And so as long as your soil is dry this should be fine just to plop in soil otherwise I would wait until you are sure that this has calloused over before adding them to anything.

Hi guys just here so it's actually been four days since I made this cutting and here is the beautiful pearl it's gorgeous. You can see how it's actually you know gotten white and it's made a callus here on the end. That's really good it's gonna prevent it from getting a root rot as it starts to grow in this new soil. So yeah so I just filled up this little pot here.

It's about four inches is that we need to consider that and with some Miracle Grow Succulent and Cactus Soil. And then I just made a little tiny hole, but you don't have to since this is sturdy enough to make its own. Honestly, I'll probably just fill that back in and then I'm just going to push it down like that. And then in a couple days when I water the rest of my succulents I'll water this one again and hopefully he'll start growing roots here in the next couple of days.

So yeah if you enjoyed this video of how to trim an older succulent or behead one for propagation you know like this video comment below subscribe to our channel so that you can watch other videos about this. Thanks for joining guys bye. [End of transcription]

Other Sources

The book, Introduction to Plant Cell Development, goes into detail about the cellular process involved in succulents that have etiolated.

Etiolated Succulents Can be Prevented or Fixed

In summary, don’t panic or think that you failed if you have a succulent that gets leggy looking.  It can happen to the most experienced succulent growers.  You can either just enjoy the unique looking plant or take steps to provide better light.  Finally, if your succulent is still abnormal looking you can always propagate a new one!

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