5 Things To Do With Leggy Succulents

Due to their low maintenance, wide variety, and aesthetic value, succulents are a popular choice for plant lovers looking to spruce up their homes. However, certain conditions can lead to “etiolation,” where succulents appear leggy and stretched out. Fortunately, there are some ways to prevent this from happening again and keep your plants looking healthy. 

Here are 5 things to do with leggy succulents: 

  1. Move your plant to a sunnier location. 
  2. Keep temperatures cool and water your succulents less. 
  3. “Behead” the succulent. 
  4. Trim the succulent leaves. 
  5. Use the trimmings to create new succulents. 

This article will describe these strategies and their benefits in detail, allowing you to ensure the health of your succulents and even grow new ones in the process. 

1. Move Your Plant to a Sunnier Location

If you notice that your plant is starting to become leggy in appearance, a common reason is a lack of sunlight

If succulents aren’t getting enough light, they will detect the nearest light source and naturally bend towards it, growing in that direction. If this continues, what is known as etiolation occurs. 

When you move your succulent to a sunnier location, you won’t be able to undo what has already been done to the succulent. However, you can prevent this type of growth from happening again and make sure that your plant doesn’t become leggier. 

How To Tell if Your Succulent Isn’t Getting Enough Light

If you suspect that your succulent is etiolated due to a lack of sunlight, here are some ways to tell if that is the issue. 

  • The succulent leaves are pointing downward.
  • Your plant is only bending in one direction. 
  • The stem of the plant is becoming elongated. 
  • The succulent looks pale in appearance. 

While these signs may not necessarily mean a lack of sunlight, they are good indicators that something may be wrong with your succulents.

Using Grow Lights with Succulents

Some people don’t have access to sunlight where they live, so they choose to purchase a grow light that they put over their succulents to help them grow instead. 

Typically, if you use a grow light for your succulent, you will find that legginess is not as common as the light source is directly pointed at the succulent, meaning the succulent doesn’t have to bend, stretch, and contort to try to find it. 

However, there are some important things to know about housing succulents under grow lights if you are interested in succulent dormancy and how that will impact the way that your plants grow. 

Here are some important things to keep in mind about succulents and grow lights.

  • Grow lights can be helpful in the winter, as they can be used to stimulate new growth in a period when your plants are dormant. 
  • Keep the grow light on for at least six hours and ensure that your succulent gets enough darkness as well, as it’s necessary for a healthy growth cycle. 
  • Keep the grow light around a foot away from the top of the succulents. 

Etiolation-Prone Succulents

Before deciding to prune or behead a succulent, it’s essential to learn which plants are the most prone to the condition. 

Indoor succulents are the most prone to etiolation, as it is most common for plants to get insufficient sunlight indoors. 

According to Succulent City, here are the six genera of succulents that are most etiolation-prone: 

  • Echeveria 
  • Sedum
  • Crassula
  • Sedeveria
  • Graptosedum
  • Graptopetalum

Can You Fix an Etiolated Succulent?

While I will be outlining strategies for preventing leggy succulents and propagating succulents, many people wonder if you can “fix” the appearance of a leggy succulent and make it appear as it was when it was first purchased. 

Unfortunately, you can’t fix an etiolated succulent. Once the plant is already stretched out, it will remain that way. The only solution to etiolation is to prevent the problem before it happens using strategies like trimming and beheading.

I will explain more about these strategies a little later in this article. 

2. Keep Temperatures Cool and Water Your Succulent Less

By making sure that the room your succulent is in is cool and watering your plant less, you can trick the plant into thinking that it’s dormant season, making the plant stop or slow down new growth.

When a succulent goes dormant, it is essentially using the bare minimum of resources to survive, slowing down growth to stay alive.

If you keep your succulent in a cool spot and minimize watering, it will eventually realize that it isn’t getting as many resources as before and will slow down growth. 

If you water your succulents continuously, however, they will continue to sap up resources as they are considered opportunistic plants and will take any chance they can get to grow.  

What To Know About Succulent Dormancy

Succulent dormancy is different for every plant, and succulents can become dormant when the temperature is too hot or too cold. 

Additionally, indoor succulents may not even go dormant at all unless there is a substantial temperature change. 

To see if your succulent is already in a dormant stage, keep an eye out for both a lack of growth or limp/yellowing leaves.

How To Fake Dormancy With Your Succulents

If you are interested in tricking your succulents into dormancy, you can still do so with indoor plants; it just requires some modifications to the succulent environment. 

The first thing you will want to do is determine whether or not your succulent is a summer or a winter grower. This important information, as finding out the growing needs of your succulent will determine the conditions in which it will go dormant. 

If your succulent is a winter grower–it will grow from November to February and slow down in the summer months. If it is a summer grower, however, it will grow from May to August. 

Here are some summer dormant succulents vs. winter dormant succulents, according to Succulents Box

Summer Dormant

  • Adromischus
  • Haworthia 
  • Aloe
  • Othonna 
  • Crassula 

Winter Dormant

  • Agave
  • Ceropegia
  • Plumeria 
  • Moringa 
  • Ficus 

To find out whether or not your succulent is winter dormant or summer dormant, you should be able to look online. Once you know the growth cycle of the succulent, you can learn how to trick the plant into thinking it’s going into its dormancy period. 

If you have a grow light, give your plants less light if it usually goes dormant in the winter months. This, as well as lower temperatures, will help stem succulent growth. 

However, if your succulent goes dormant in the summer, you will want to simulate summer conditions with more light and higher temperatures. 

3. “Behead” the Succulent

While it may sound alarming to many to hear the word “behead” associated with plant care, the term isn’t as bad as it sounds. 

To behead your succulent means that you are chopping off its head, or crown, leaving just a stump behind. 

Doing this has many benefits, as you will have the opportunity to create new plants. By beheading a succulent, you can continue the growth from the stump left behind and use the crown to create new plants. 

How To Behead a Succulent

If done correctly, beheading a succulent allows you to promote new growth among your succulents and create a healthier plant. However, if done incorrectly, your plant may have abnormal growth patterns and can become infected after making the initial cut. 

Here are some steps you can take to behead a succulent correctly. 

  1. Obtain sharp scissors, a trowel, potting mix, and a container: If you are looking for some good tools to handle your succulents, I recommend this Good Gain Succulent Kit from Amazon.com, which has just about all the tools you need to take care of succulents, including a bag to hold everything. I also recommend the Gonicc Professional 7.3″ Bonsai Scissors from Amazon.com for a good multi-function tool.
  2. Cut the succulents in a straight line: When cutting, you want to make sure that you have a straight cut so that the stem can get new growth. Before you do this, however, be sure to take some isopropyl alcohol and disinfect your cutting materials to prevent infection. 
  3. Leave approximately an inch or two when cutting the succulent: When you are beheading your succulents, you need to make sure that you cut one to two inches from the bottom of the plant. When you do this, you ensure that there will be room for the new roots to grow. 
  4. Leave the cuttings to dry: Directly after cutting the succulent, make sure that you allow the severed portion to dry completely. If you don’t do this, you could be risking either rot or bacterial infection in your plant. It would be best if you waited about a week to allow it to dry. 
  5. Put the crown of the succulent in the soil: Once you put the succulent crown in the soil, make sure that you don’t water it, and avoid direct sunlight. If you water it, you could be risking rot as the succulent crown can’t absorb any water due to its lack of roots. 

Why You May Want To Behead Your Succulent

Removing the crown of the succulent from the stem may seem like a drastic measure at first, but the practice actually has a lot of valuable benefits. 

By beheading your succulent, you allow it to grow new roots, which helps stimulate new growth. 

By taking the crown from the stem, you create new plants and allow new growth to form on the stem. Although the crown of the succulent will do well growing on its own, the stem can also continue to grow, especially when it is cut correctly. 

You are also helping to direct growth to the areas where it is needed the most. By taking the majority of the plant off, you allow the nutrients from the soil to focus on different parts of the plant. Especially with pruning, it’s really important to take off excess growth, which is something that beheading does. 

4. Trim the Succulent Leaves

If you don’t want to take the entire crown of the succulent off, you can also trim the leaves of your succulent. To promote the most growth, make sure that you prune the succulent in the spring, as that is the best time of year for your succulents to grow. You shouldn’t need to prune your succulents more than once or twice a year. 

To trim successfully, be sure to follow these steps:

Steps To Prune Succulents Successfully

  1. Disinfect your pruning shears beforehand. Just like with beheading, you want to make sure that you don’t infect your succulents.  
  2. Pluck any dead leaves that you find on the succulent. For the most part, you can take dead leaves off by hand. 
  3. For cuttings, clip back any growth that you see. But make sure that you don’t take off more than a third of the plant at a time. 
  4. Let the cuttings dry. Like succulent beheading, let the cuttings dry first to let the new wound scab over and prevent infection and rot. 

Once you have successfully trimmed your succulent, that leads into the next step, which is succulent propagation. This will allow you to take your cuttings and make more succulents from them. 

Common Mistakes When Pruning Succulents

In pruning their succulents, some people end up causing additional problems that can be far worse than the plant looking leggy. 

Here are two common mistakes to avoid when pruning succulents: 

  • Using dirty or unsanitized equipment: This is something that many people do that can quickly kill a succulent. When you cut pieces off of your succulent, treat it the same as an open wound, and make sure that any materials are adequately sanitized. 
  • Cutting off too much at a time: A good rule of thumb is not to cut off more than a third of a plant at a time. If you see parts of your succulent start to become leggy, you can trim those areas, but don’t cut off too much of the plant unless you are beheading it. 

5. Use the Trimmings To Create New Succulents

Although it can be difficult having to cut off large portions of your succulent (or beheading it altogether), the process is worth it in the end. Not only does removing parts of your succulent direct growth to other areas of your plant, but you can also use the cuttings to create new succulents. 

How To Propagate Your Succulent

Although it sounds appealing to create new succulents from trimmings, it’s important to make sure that the process is done correctly. Propagation, when done correctly, can both benefit the original succulent and give you more of them. 

To propagate your succulent, follow these steps: 

  1. Get a container for your succulent, and fill it with a succulent and cacti mix. These mixes can be purchased at a local gardening store. They are specially formulated to be loose and allow proper drainage for your succulents, which is why it’s important not to purchase regular soil. 
  2. If available, use compost to enhance the soil and promote growth: Especially with succulent cuttings, it’s important to have as many nutrients as possible for your succulents, which is why compost is so important when propagating them. 
  3. Wait a few days, then slowly start to water your succulent in its new pot: Let the succulents settle into the new environment before watering, and then increase water from there. 
  4. Keep the plant in a shady place to ensure that the leaves don’t get burned: This is important to do while the plant is still getting settled into its new container. You want to make sure that your succulent gets well adjusted to the sunlight, so make sure to expose it to the sun slowly and gradually. 

Additional Propagation Methods

While the previous list is a good set of rules to follow when propagating succulents, there are other useful methods that you can use to propagate your succulents—especially if you are propagating different types of succulents. 

  • Using Stem and Leaf Cuttings: If you have stem or leaf cuttings, you can take those and use the previous instructions to propagate your succulents. As always, make sure that the cuttings have had adequate time to heal before planting them. 
  • Propagating “offsets” of your succulent: Offsets are smaller plants that will grow near the original plant that you can take out and re-pot. The best way to do this is to gently move away soil, pull away from the roots without damaging them, and then put them in a new pot. Replanting offsets is a good way to get new plants while allowing more nutrients to be directed to the main plant. 
  • Using succulent seeds: Especially if you have a flowering succulent, you can propagate the plant by extracting seeds and planting them long before their dormancy period to give them time to grow. Unfortunately, this method is more time-consuming and is more difficult considering that by using trimmings, all you have to do is let the roots grow. 

Tina Painter

Tina Painter is a Succulent Plant Advisor. She is interested in helping others learn the proper care, maintenance, and growth of healthy succulent plants. Tina is well known as a succulent lover and is in the process of developing her "Growing Succulents Masterclass for Succulent Lovers." She also loves creating artistic and whimsical gardens with succulents.

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