Here’s What It Means When Succulents Are Wrinkly

For any succulent parent, something visibly wrong with your plant is cause for concern. In the anxiety, you can jump to conclusions on what’s going on.

When succulents are wrinkly, it most commonly means that the plants are dehydrated and needs to be watered. However, wrinkling can also be caused by overwatering, root rot, or lack of nutrients from either the sun or the soil.

Wrinkling is the fastest way a succulent can tell you that something is wrong. Luckily, there’s no need to fear! With a bit of TLC and targeted care, your succulent will be back to normal in no time.

Why Do Succulents Wrinkle?

Succulents wrinkle to show that they are in distress. This distress can be significant for the plant and could be anything from disease to over or underwatering. If you see wrinkly leaves, you need to examine your plant for causes.

How to Assess Wrinkly Succulents 

Wrinkly leaves can be a signal that your plant is distressed. It can be a precursor for other, much larger issues that can be fatal.

If you see wrinkly leaves, you need to assess how your succulent is doing. There is a simple checklist you can follow to check in on your plant.

1.  Review Your Plant Care Routine

The best first step is to go through your plant care routine and see if you missed or changed any actions. If you did, then you can correct the pattern and then see if the fix helped.

Keeping standardized care is best for plant care. If you can hold a set routine, then your succulent is less likely to have issues like wrinkly leaves.

2. Examine Your Succulent

If your plant care routine hasn’t helped the wrinkling, you should move onto a more thorough examination. There are some clear physical manifestations of your plant’s problems that can give you a clear path forward to helping them perk up.

The Leaves Are Turning Brown, but Not Shriveled

If your plant’s leaves are turning brown, that commonly means that your plant is getting sunburned. If that’s the case, then you should put up some shade or make sure to limit your succulent’s sun exposure. 

You can also go through an acclimation process to get your plant used to direct sunlight. This is a lengthy process, so make sure you have the time to commit to making the process go as safely as possible.

The Leaves Are Crunchy and Brown

If the leaves have turned brown and wrinkled, to the point of being crunchy, your plant needs to be watered. 

While succulents are naturally found in the desert, they need to be watered like every other plant. Many times, first-time succulent owners lump succulents in with types of cactus that can survive for months without water. 

This isn’t the case with succulents. They need relatively frequent watering to keep growing and surviving. They can’t be left alone for weeks at a time.

The Leaves Are Wrinkly and Soft

If the leaves are wrinkly and soft or mushy, that usually means that you have been overwatering your succulents. This is a widespread issue, especially in older plants that have stopped growing at the rate that younger plants are.

Most types of succulents are native to Africa or Central America. They are most commonly found in deserts and other very arid climates that don’t receive much natural rainfall.

They are very sensitive to overwatering since they are perfectly designed to survive in some of the driest parts of the world. Overwatering is overwhelming.

3. Check on Climate Conditions

Sometimes, too much sun can cause a succulent to burn and shrivel up. You need to acclimate your succulent to sunlight, especially if you want to keep your plant in full sun. Otherwise, you could hurt your plant beyond saving.

On the other side of this coin, verify that it hasn’t been too cold outside. Since succulents are typically found in tropical or desert climates, they are susceptible to the cold. If they have been kept too cold, then it could cause massive cell damage that your plant may never recover from.

4. Examine Your Succulent’s Soil

If these other steps haven’t helped, your soil can be the cause of your succulent’s distress.

Plants get all of their nutrients from the soil they are growing in. If the soil has too high of a salt content or doesn’t have the right texture for its root type, your plant may start rejecting it and dying.

You can also see if there are any other issues, like if mites have moved in or if the roots are beginning to rot away. If the roots have turned black or brown, that means that the roots are rotting or have something else going on. These issues can lead to plant death if left unattended.

Root health is critical to giving your plant a long and healthy life, and it starts with the soil you use. Make sure to use quick-draining soil that has a lot of nutrients, such as high nitrogen soil.

There are plenty of succulent specific grounds out there that have been specially formatted for succulent care and keeping.

5. Research Your Type of Succulent

Some types of succulents naturally go through a wrinkly phase as they enter different stages of life. This is entirely normal and also scares new plant owners into assuming the worst.

It can be a common sign of propagation, and your plant may be gearing up to start reproducing. 

However, you won’t know this until you have identified your type of succulent and researched the life events of that species.

6. Consult a Local Plant Expert

If all else fails and you can’t figure out what’s going on with your plant, you can reach out to members of the succulent grower community or plant experts. 

These can be found in places like Reddit (such as in r/succulents) or on Facebook in specialty groups like All About Succulents. These are diverse online communities that are growing plants and who want to help out fellow plant owners!

Alternatively, if you don’t want to venture into these online groups, you can always reach out to a local garden center that sells succulents. These businesses are supposed to help plant owners keep their plants happy and healthy, so there should be someone on staff who can help with succulent care.

Tips for Fixing Wrinkly Succulents

Fixing your succulents can be challenging, especially if a condition has reached an advanced stage, but we’ve compiled a list of easy tips to help get your plant back on the right track.

Correct Underwatering

Make sure to soak the soil thoroughly. The water needs to reach your succulent’s roots to be effective.

One of the best ways to water your plant is with bottom watering. All you have to do is set your plant on a dish or tray that has water in it and let them do the rest. This bottom watering pot from EBBCOWRY Self Watering Pots on makes the process even easier with a bottom fixture that holds water all the time.

Your plant starts pulling water up into the soil, and this method makes sure that the soil isn’t oversaturated. However, you should make sure to remove the excess water promptly after an hour. Leaving it for longer can result in oversaturating the lowest roots and can lead to root rot after too many watering days.

If you want to do standard overhead watering, the best way is to have a consistent and smooth stream from a watering can (such as this long neck watering can from Kensington London Indoor Watering Can on 

Ensure that water reaches the very bottom of your plant’s soil and is thoroughly soaked all over. This will allow your plant to absorb water at total capacity.

Correct Overwatering

Overwatering is a little bit trickier to solve than underwatering. 

The quickest way to stop this problem is to allow your plant’s soil to dry out before thoroughly watering it. This allows your plant to absorb all the water you have given it at its own pace.

Once you’ve let your plant absorb water as it wants, you can start gauging how often you need to give your plant a good soak. Listen to what your plant is telling you; they know what they need to survive.

While there are standard watering times for most succulent families, every plant is unique. A younger plant may need more water than a well-established one. 

Various succulent families can also require more frequent watering than other species. Make sure to consult a care guide for your specific group to make sure that you are following what you need to do. These can offer insights into other common problems that can surface and give advice.

Treat Root Rot

Root rot can be a very concerning disease, but some simple tricks can save your plant before it spreads to your plant’s stem. If you catch root rot early, it is straightforward to cure.

The first thing to do is to remove your plant from its current soil. Detangle the root ball and make sure all roots have their own space. Dispose of the old earth and start fresh.

If you caught the root rot early enough, you might be able to cure it with a simple air-drying technique. Once your plant has been depotted, leave it out in the open air to fully dry.

Once your plant is clear, take clippers of some kind and trim away the affected roots. Cut at an angle a few centimeters above the rot line to promote regrowth. Clean your clippers thoroughly after you’re done trimming and throw the cut root pieces away.

Let your plant sit out, and air dry after trimming to allow the roots to seal up. This is one of the essential steps to ensure that your plant has the best chance of survival. 

While your plant is recovering, you can move onto pot care.

Sanitize your plant’s pot to get rid of any remaining fungus or bacteria. Bleach is a very effective agent for glazed or plastic pottery. Make sure to thoroughly rinse out the pot before putting your plant back in; any leftover bleach will kill your plant.

Once you’ve made sure everything is clean again, put your plant back into its pot with fresh soil. Make sure the soil is well-drying and is succulent-specific. Other types of soil hold onto water longer than is safe for succulents.

To prevent root rot in the future, make sure not to overwater your plant. A wet environment is prime real estate for fungi or bacteria that would love to eat your plant.

Make sure to repot your plant frequently. This will help you catch root rot early and keep your plant’s environment fresh. The sooner you can see root issues, the sooner you can treat them and make sure they have the best chance of survival.

Remove Unwanted Pests

Some pests want to dine on your plant’s leaves and roots. They can be relatively easy to remove and save your plant.

If the bugs live in the soil, such as a grub of some kind, you can change the soil. Make sure to gently dust off your plant’s roots and make sure that it has all been cleared away. Dispose of all contaminated soil out of your garden, ideally in the trash can.

If the big has made a home in your plant’s leaves, you can use diluted alcohol or vinegar to chase out the bugs. Make sure to gently dab the plant with the liquid, specifically on the bite areas or any clear nesting spots.

If you want to resort to soaps and other manufactured options, make sure they are plant-safe. One excellent option is Mighty Mint Insect and Pest Control on that features peppermint oil.

If you are comfortable using other chemical bug repellents, most hardware stores or nurseries will carry forms of chemical repellents. Make sure to read all packaging to verify that the repellant is succulent safe.

Acclimate Your Succulent to Full Sunlight

Acclimation can be a time-consuming and challenging process. However, it can save you time and heartache from a plant that burns in the sun and make it easier to take care of your plant with a busy schedule.

The best way to start is, to begin with, indirect sunlight during spring. The outdoor temperatures are low enough that they aren’t going to kill your plant with frostbite and that they aren’t going to be overheated and get a contact burn from the ambient temperature. 

Once your plant has gotten used to that area, you can start the process. Make sure that your plant has been growing safely and succeeding in that space. If your plant isn’t healthy, it won’t survive the acclimation process.

Clear a space where you can precisely place your succulent. Prepare for the whole process.

Once a day, put your plant out in direct sunlight. Ensure to bring it inside promptly; spending too much time in the sun will burn a plant. Morning or evening sun is best for gentler sunlight, especially if you begin the process closer to the beginning of summer.

After about three days of no issues, you can increase the time they spend to two hours. Each couple of days after that, you can add another hour until you reach the four to the six-hour mark.

If your plant has successfully reached the four to six-hour stage, congratulations! You have acclimated your succulent(s) to direct sunlight.

Acclimation Issues and Solutions

Succulents, even acclimated ones, should not be exposed to direct sunlight for more than six hours. Make sure to bring them inside or place a shade of some kind over them after they reach that time limit to prevent sunburning.

During the acclimation process, make sure to keep an eye on your plant’s watering needs. Spending time outside may make them need more frequent watering. Conversely, if it has rained during your plant’s time outdoors, you may need to keep the watering down until your plant has thoroughly dried out.

Being outdoors can also expose your succulents to various pests and animals who might snack on them. Keep your succulents out of reach of smaller animals, like rabbits or squirrels, and make sure to bring them in at night.

In addition, keep an eye on your plant’s leaves to look for any sort of spots. These are the first signs of sunburning. If you see sunburning, bring your plants back inside and give them several days before attempting the process again.

If you consistently see that your plant is not reacting well to the process, stop. Not all succulents can handle the acclimation process, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Final Thoughts

Succulent care can be tricky, especially with dealing with a primarily cosmetic issue, like wrinkly leaves. However, there are quite a few simple tricks you can do to make sure that your succulent’s leaves don’t become or stay wrinkly. 

Wrinkly leaves are a common warning sign for other issues that can plague your plant. Catching issues quickly will make sure your succulent has a long and happy life.

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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