Saving Dying Succulents – How To Fix My Dying Succulent Plant
Succulents are among the easiest plants to grow. They are perfect for new gardeners and require little special attention. Occasional problems do arise though, so knowing how to revive succulents that have been neglected is an important part of their care. The method of reviving succulents will depend upon what the issue was that made them unhealthy.
If you are wondering “how to fix my dying succulent,” you are in the right place.
Can You Save a Dying Succulent?
Succulents (including cacti) have so many fascinating forms,sizes, and colors that make them a perfect plant for almost any taste. Suddendecline in their health is usually due to waterconcerns but occasionally can be from pestor disease issues. Saving dying succulents starts with figuring out whatstarted their deterioration so you can remedy the problem.
Does your aloe or cactus look a bit sad? The good news isthat succulents are very hardy and versatile. While the plant’s diminish mayhave you a bit panicked, in most cases, reviving succulents is quite easy andthe plant will turn around quickly. They are adapted to living in very specific,and often harsh, conditions.
First off, what type of succulent do you own? Is it a desertplant or tropical succulent? Since watering is the usual cause for theirdecay, you should determine if the plant has been over or under watered. If thestem is mushy or rotting, it’s probably overwatered. If the leaves arepuckered, the plant needs more water. Don’t worry if there are dry, dyingleaves at the base. This is normal as the plant produces new leaves.
How to Fix My Dying Succulent
Make sure the plant is in a well-drainingmedium. If in a container, it should have drainage holes. Insert a fingerinto the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil is moist or cool, the plantis adequately watered. If it is super wet, the succulent needs to dry out andshould probably be removed from the soil and repotted or planted in a dryersituation.
Excess water commonly causes decay in succulents. They are known for drought tolerance but still need water, like any other plant. Use a moisture meter to get it just right. If the plant’s medium is bone dry due to neglect or forgetfulness, soak it in a larger container of water to get soil moist.
How to Revive Succulents from Other Causes
Succulents can be moved outdoors in summer in most climates.However, they can get sunburned, frozen, or attacked by insects. If you seeinsects, use an organichorticultural soap to remove the pests.
If your plant experienced a freeze, remove any collapsed ormushy leaves. If the plant leaves are scorched, remove the worst ones andchange the lighting for the plant.
In most cases, saving dying succulents is rather simple.Provide good care after they experience an “event” that created theirweakness. If all else fails, preserve a good leaf or stem fragment, allow it tocallus, then plant in succulent mix. This part of the plant will take offquickly, allowing you to preserve the species.
How to Revive Sad Succulents
Hardy succulents are perfect for low-maintenance outdoor planters and landscaping because they can tolerate hot summers, cold winters, and infrequent watering. The classic Hens & Chicks plant is so hard to kill that its Latin name, Sempervivum, means "always alive". We decided to stress a large 20 inch by 20 inch planter full of Sempervivum and Sedum to its limit, in order to share with you the astoundingly simple way to revive them.
This nightmare was once a beautiful living wall. It was originally planted in May of 2016 with a 40 cell wall planter (sorry, this item has been discontinued) and a selection from our hardy plug trays. It hung outside on a wall with plenty of sun, but received no rainfall from its location under the eaves of the roof. While this planting appeared to be beyond repair, we were not without hope. We brought it into the filtered light of the greenhouse, watered it deeply once a week, and waited.
One Week of Care
After a mere seven days, there was already a noticeable improvement. The Sempervivum hearts glowed green with life and crispy rosettes filled with water and unfurled their leaves. The growing tips of some of the Sedum varieties also began to show signs of life.
Six Weeks of Care
With another five weeks of regular watering and slight protection from the sun, all the succulents were vibrant and refilling the cells of the wall planter.
Eight Weeks of Care
To be clear, all we had to do so far to achieve this astonishing recuperation is tend to the succulents' needs for filtered sunlight and occasional water. At this point there's been no planting, fertilizing, soil adding, or pruning. Without spending a dime, we were able to revive the equivalent of 30 two inch Sempervivum pots, 105 Sempervivum plugs, and 49 Sedum plugs with an estimated retail value of $306.40.
With a solid base of healthy succulents, the planter just needed a few touch-ups to look its best. There were a couple of gaps to be filled, some overgrown Sedum spurium to prune, and the Sempervivum rosettes that were blooming needed to be replaced before they went to seed and died. We were able to transplant chicks from some of the original rosettes into new parts of the planter to fill in gaps for free. In the photo below you can see the final results of our two month succulent revival project.
Final Succulent Planter Makeover
- Moved planter out of full sun and into bright, filtered light
- Watered weekly for eight weeks
- Removed overgrown Sedum and blooming Sempervivum Filled gaps with the following varieties:
- Sempervivum heuffelii 'Mystique'
- Sempervivum 'Grammens'
- Sempervivum calcareum 'Fire Dragon'
- Sempervivum 'Red Nails'
- Sempervivum 'Silver King'
- Sedum divergens
- Sedum japonicum 'Tokyo Sun'
- Sedum album 'Black Pearl'
- Sedum dasyphyllum
- Sedum reflexum 'Blue Spruce'
- Sedum sexangulare
- Sedum 'Little Missy' (variegated)
Even if your succulents appear completely dead, resume proper care by following the tips on our plant care guide and you may be surprised by how many burst back to life. Extreme succulent recovery does not require huge effort or expensive interventions with small adjustments to sunlight, soil, ventilation, and water, most hardy succulent damage can be reversed completely and save you a lot of money. Including the succulents added in the final step, our planter holds about $340 worth of plants, but only cost $31 to refill.
Have your own experience with these amazingly resilient succulents? We would love to see your before and after shots! Feel free to share them in the Customer Photos section of our website by clicking Submit Your Experience.
For more information on these incredible plants, check out the following resources:
Solved! Why Are My Succulents Dying?
Q: I thought I’d finally found a plant I couldn’t kill, but the small collection of succulents I arranged in my living room are looking pretty sickly, with the leaves falling off. What am I doing wrong—and can I bring them back to life?
A: Handsome, hardy succulents (including cacti, which have spines instead of leaves) are native to harsh, arid climates. They’re known for being easy care because they store water for use, so you only need to give them an occasional drink. Indeed, many of these popular plants—such as echeveria, with its flower-like rosettes, and full-bodied, oval-leafed jade—can withstand a good deal of neglect, remaining healthy even if you’re away for a week or two. Despite their tough-as-nails nature, however, succulents (especially those overwintered or grown exclusively indoors) are as vulnerable as other plants when their sunlight, water, soil, and warmth needs aren’t being met. So read on to learn why your succulents are dying, how to decode their various symptoms, and ways to restore their robust beauty.
Succulents with squishy, transparent leaves are showing signs of overwatering.
The camels of the plant world, succulents store water in their thick, fleshy leaves—and too much water can actually kill them. Succulents can absorb only so much before they begin to explode, resulting in squishy, transparent leaves that may fall off when lightly touched. If the entire plant has succumbed to overwatering, it’s probably a lost cause, but if just a few leaves show symptoms, follow these steps:
- Remove the plant from its container by tipping it upside down into your hand. If necessary, gently manipulate the soil before the root ball releases from the container. Place the root ball on a towel or layer of newspaper to absorb excess water (change the towel/paper as it becomes saturated). Allow soil and root ball to dry until no longer damp (this can take several days).
- Meanwhile, detach all rotting leaves with your finger many release easily from the main stem with just a little nudge.
- When soil and roots are no longer damp, make sure the pot you’re using has a drainage hole (more on inadequate drainage below). Then gently place the succulent in the container, adding more soil if necessary around the edges. Allow about an inch of space between the soil surface and the lip of the pot.
- Water the soil (not the leaves, which can cause rot) thoroughly. Before watering again, and in the future, stick your finger into the top inch of soil. If it feels dry, water until water runs out through the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot.
Watering frequency will differ from climate to climate and vary even more based on the heat and humidity in your home. What’s more, water needs change from season to season. During the winter when plants are dormant and the sunlight is less intense, you may only need to water once a month. As plants come out of dormancy and light increases in the spring, so too will watering frequency.
Under-watered succulents develop shriveled leaves.
To conserve resources, the leaves of under-watered succulents lose their luster, becoming dull and shriveled. You may find dead, dried leaves at the bottom of the plant, progressing to the top as water deprivation becomes more severe. Fortunately, mildly shriveled succulents respond quickly to watering.
One caveat: Parched soil tends to drain quickly before roots have a chance to absorb water. So water the soil until the water drains out of the bottom on the pot, then water again. Repeat until draining slows and the soil starts to absorb water. Check the soil weekly with the finger test to determine if it’s thirsty.
The wrong soil can drown succulent.
Succulents thrive in sandy, fast-draining soil. If yours are planted in another type of soil, such as a general potting soil with water-retaining properties, the roots won’t have the opportunity to dry out sufficiently between waterings. Such a plant will develop squishy, transparent leaves, much like those found in overwatered succulents. If only a few leaves show signs of poor drainage, repot the plant in a potting mix specifically for cactus and succulents and only water it when a finger test determines the soil is dry.
You can make your own succulent potting mix.
While ready-made potting mix for succulents is available at garden centers, you can DIY a batch with this simple recipe: Combine three parts potting soil, two parts coarse sand, and one part perlite (a lightweight organic soil amendment). Avoid potting soils containing vermiculite or other moisture-retaining ingredients, and don’t use beach or sandbox sand.
Poor drainage can also swamp succulents.
If your succulents’ container doesn’t have a hole in the bottom, water won’t be able to drain and the plants are bound to rot. Chief symptom? Those squishy, see-through leaves again. Trouble is, succulents are often sold in a nursery pot (with a drainage hole) inside a decorative cachepot that lacks drainage. So watering a succulent inside a cache pot is like drowning it in a bathtub! When it’s time to water, remove the nursery pot containing the succulent from the cache pot and water thoroughly until water runs through the hole.
Bound roots can prevent proper drainage.
When a succulent is in need of slightly bigger accommodations, it can become root bound—struggling with a root system so extensive it circles the exterior of the root ball. This can clog a pot’s drainage hole, preventing water from coming through. To confirm this condition, gently turn the pot upside down, allowing the plant to fall into your hand. If the roots are circling tightly around the perimeter of the soil, transplant into a slightly larger container. As a rule, succulents do like snug growing conditions so choose a pot no more than an inch wider than the plant at its widest spot.
Succulents will stretch or lean towards the light.
The more light you provide, the happier your succulents will be. Without enough bright, direct light, these sun-loving plants will lean or stretch toward the light source, a process known as etiolation. It can make succulents rather gangly-looking but won’t harm them, and normal growth will resume once the light improves. Rotating succulents by a quarter turn each week so that all sides are exposed to direct sunlight, may prevent future etiolation.
If you don’t like the look of an etiolated succulent, such as an echeveria, try this technique to start a new one. Remove the top rosette from the plant, cutting about an inch below it with a sharp knife. Allow the rosette to callous over for a few days, then set it on top of a container of moistened succulent soil in a bright window. With time, it will take root and grow.
Insects can suck the life out of succulents.
Healthy succulents rarely develop pest problems, but weakened plants are easy targets. Low lighting, overwatering or under-watering, and poor drainage each increase the likelihood that mealybugs will take up residence. These fuzzy white insects attach to leaves and hide in crevices where they suck nutrients from the plant. Mealybugs can go unnoticed until their numbers increase and they get bigger, in which case it might be best to discard the plant. If you spy just a few of the pests, quarantine the plant away from other houseplants in a bright window. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and apply it to each bug to kill it by instantly dissolving the exoskeleton. Continue to monitor the succulent for several weeks, repeating the alcohol treatment as necessary, before returning it to safely sit among your other plants.
Oh No, My Succulents Froze!
I’ve been hearing from Texans with severely damaged gardens. Sounds like you did the best you could, but no one anticipated the severity of the cold snap. You're asking what might be done, and here's my best advice:
Even though the top growth is severely damaged, your succulents may survive if their roots are intact. You won’t know for certain for several months. Spring—the main growth season for the majority of succulents—can work wonders. Remove any soggy, collapsed leaves as soon as all danger of frost is past. If you don’t see new growth by May or June, it’s probably time to pull up the plants and start over. Keep us posted, OK?
Below is my earlier post for this page, which has to do mainly with coastal and southern CA in-ground gardens (like my own). -- Debra
Will succulents recover from frost damage?
It depends. Here's how frost-tender succulents looked before temps dropped into the mid-20s F, and after:
Here’s the same Euphorbia ammak ‘Variegata, after the frost:
Likelihood of recovery: Nil. Too much of the tissue was damaged. But what about the Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ behind it? It’s hope of recovery is excellent because only the top growth froze. It protected the stems underneath, which are still healthy.
This frost-burned Portulacaria afra (elephant's food) will be fine. The top growth froze, but it shouldn't be pruned until all danger of frost has passed. It serves to protect the healthy plant underneath.
If something similar has happened to your plants, succulent or otherwise, once all danger of frost has passed, prune the dead top growth and the plant will be good as new…except smaller, of course!
How about the frozen aeonium below? Pretty much hopeless. But look a the Sedum ‘Angelina’ surrounding it. It’s a succulent too, and perfectly fine!
Why does frost kill some succulents and not others? A lot has to do with where a particular kind of plant originated. Succulents, which store water in their leaves to survive drought, are mostly from dry, hot climates. But some are from dry, cold climates. See my Wall Street Journal article on this topic.
If Your Succulents DO Become Damaged
Remove collapsed leaves if it's likely they'll rot, because that threatens the health of the plant. If instead they dry out, they'll help protect healthy tissue from future frosts. Leave them on, then prune after the weather warms.
Preserve the symmetry of slender-leaved succulents (such as agaves and aloes) by trimming tip-burned leaves to a point, rather than cutting straight across. (See below.)
Chalk it up to experience. Now you know that particular plant is vulnerable and needs a protected location.
How to trim a frost-burned Agave attenuata
The tips of the leaves of this agave melt at 32 degrees, but the plant is usually fine. Here's how to make it look good again---only takes a minute!
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Succulents - Real ones dying looking for realistic fakes.
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Definitely overwatered to death if you're misting AND watering. It looks like the pot has no drainage, either. The rocks at the bottom of the pot just isn't a good strategy for cacti and succulents.
I've never been able to keep lithops or baby toes alive, I just can't NOT water something for weeks. The sedum and the echeveria like more water than the lithops, split rock, and baby toes, so they shouldn't be in a pot together.
I had a hard learning curve last year with our first Baby Toes. yes, they came from Lowe's last year and this year as well, but I have loosened up and cleaned up the root balls both times. Last year, we kept moving them outside in mid day and inside in the evening, misting gently every other day or so, then my husband left them outside in direct sun in midsummer and the whole center of the plant burnt and died. I was able to nurse it back to health in a window sill that never got direct sun, but plenty of indirect filtered light (the picture shows it nice and healthy again). then our kid got his hands on it one day in a naughty mood and emptied all the soil out of the pot (into the living room carpet!) and pinched all the healthy "toes" which killed them all. Yes, he got into a lot of trouble and hasn't messed with our plants since.
Do you think there is a chance to regrow the baby toes if there are any viable roots left, or would I do better to just get another plant and try again?
In my experience, Fenestraria, Pleiospilos nelii, and Lithops should never be planted with other plants. They do best alone.
From what I can see in your photo, the Pleiospilos looks like a goner. I have learned that, for me at least, I should only water these plants 3-4 times a year TOPS. I lost a lot of lithops before I finally figured out a schedule that works for me. Usually, if they start to look wrinkly, that indicates to me that they need water.
If the plants have roots, water them and water them thoroughly..until you see water coming out the drain hole. Then don't water again until the soil is dry. If you need to stick a skewer into the soil to determine this, then do so, because the lower parts of the pot take a little longer to dry out than the section closest to the top which is actually exposed to air and light. Misting is typically only done when trying to get something without roots to grow roots.
Your potting medium should be very well draining. As sradleye pointed out, if you had gnats, chances are your soil was too water retentive. Try a mix of cactus soil, perlite and crushed granite (chicken grit) or some other small stones. Mix at a 25/50/25 ratio or @ 40/60 if you can only get cactus soil and perlite. Pot up everything in this mix, just not in the same pot, then leave alone for about 5-7 days. After that, you can begin to water as I described above.
Look far too wet to me! These are desert plants needing the minimum of water.
f you repot them, maybe you can put the pots in the basin and cover with the decorative stones to hide the pots?
I never buy plants from Lowes anymore. I always get gnats from them, and they get into my other plants. Every dang time :-(
To answer you original question "Succulents dying, how can I save them?". The quick answer - you won't save them. Throw them away. If you really are interested in growing healthy plants, you have lots of work to do. It's a great hobby, but you can't go into it blindly.
I will try and keep this as simple as I can, please don't take offense:
- You should not be growing these plants until you have done at least a modicum of research, unless your intention is to only have them as temporary, short-lived decorative plants. These plants were doomed from the start. Poor pot selection, poor soil mix, inadequate light, inadequate air movement, inadequate temperature range, and an owner with a lack of information. I partially blame the retailer for selling an attractive but terribly ineffective mini-garden.
- Succulents ARE NOT houseplants. They will not be healthy indoors without significant effort. What you may think are "healthy" plants are instead plants that are tolerant of abuse which can only put up with so much before they start to go downhill. Most succulents need fresh air and sunshine for at least a few months a year. Indoors year-round they are essentially being tortured.
-"gnats" are fruit flies. They feed off of organics in the soil, like decomposing peat. Peat is probably the single worst ingredient for growing pot plants.
-We have all been in the same position. We have all killed plants in the beginning. What defines success, IMO, is how you take it from there.
Cactusmcharris, interior BC Z4/5
'terribly ineffective dish garden' is exactly what I thought, or, closer to the truth, 'Someone was selling you a pot of plenty of failure'.
Mark's (X) informative post points to the problems there - inappropriately matched plants, information given to you that is completely at odds with the truth (no matter who the grower is) and probably bad soil in a pot that doesn't stand a chance of growing those well. I'd return it and inform that that this is an example of corporate greed which they shouldn't be involved in.
If you really like those plants, and Lowe's is the only place that you can get them, get another planter and some small pots - I think each of those plants can be grown on their own, and while you may have to bring them in in the winter (none of them are cold-hardy), you can grow them outside the rest of the year.
Bravo, sir. We need to paper the country's mixed-plant dish outlets with this gospel.
Wantonamara Z8 CenTex
OK, I just need ,need, need to be contrarian. I have had success growing a bunch of these succulents together. Below are two views of one planter. The plants are mostly 2 - 4 years old. Most are growingand have filled in nicely ecxept for that [email protected] Cereus 'Ming THing'. The Echeveria could stand to have its head cut off but the stapeliads, Huernias, Opuntia, Plieosopilos neli and the others are doing well. They bloom and grow. I have had to trade out rocks for smaller rocks around plants , especially the baby toes.. There used to be two huge E. perle von nurnberg ( or E. metalica) but I cut one back and the roots died and did not pup so I planted another Faucaria Tigrina and P. bulusi in its place, and so far so good. They are outside.
I do have them in a very lean mix, raised with rocks in the center. When I water, I will water the side with the hearnia and stapeliad and dribble some on Ms. neli and friends. I did put in a P. neli "royal blush" and watered it too soon and it croaked, but that was the only death I have had in this pot.
If you click on the image it will enlarge.
It is possible but one has to beware of the details. Sun , dirt , watering wants. I try to get things in pots referenced to cold hardiness. I would never buy a potted up arrangement with these unless I planned to take it apart and rebuild it.
Wantonamara Z8 CenTex
Your glazed pot and the large rocks on top combine to slow evaporation of the soil dangerously. I like the rock mulch to help deal with the Texas heat and the extreme evaporation here, but I have an unglazed pot that has thick walls. In Your case , the combination of both in an indoor situation helps with your kiss of death scenario. The big rocks are pretty but they don't allow much air through.. Combine this combination with your water retentive peat based soil and woe baby. Bad news.
This post was edited by wantonamara on Sat, Jul 20, 13 at 18:08