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Leggy succulents- Etiolation – How to Fix a Stretched Succulent

Leggy succulents are those that have elongated stems or a stretched out appearance. This typically happens when succulents don’t receive enough light.

In their natural habitat, succulents grow in sunny, dry conditions. If they don’t receive enough light, they may stretch out as they try to reach the sunlight.

Many succulents, such as echeveria, hens and chicks and sedum have a cute compact size and shape. It can be quite a shock when your succulent becomes tall and lanky and loses that compact shape.

Readers often ask me “what can I do with succulents that are too tall?” Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.

Keep reading to find out how to prevent this condition, (called “etiolation”) and learn how to fix stretched succulents.

Echeveria plant with an elongated stem from lack of light. Text overlay reading Etiolation, wwat causes leggy succulents. Find out how to fix the problem.

What is etiolation?

Etiolation in plants is a phenomenon that is characterized by abnormal growth in response to insufficient light. When a plant doesn’t receive enough light, it undergoes certain changes to maximize light absorption.

Etiolation is often seen in succulents, and is also commonly observed in seedlings or indoor plants grown in very low-light conditions.

Collage with succulents showing signs of etiolation.

If you find yourself asking “why is my succulent growing a long stem?” It’s likely etiolation happening.

Features of etiolation in plants include:

  • Elongated stems
  • Reduced size of the leaves
  • Leaves often curl backwards and downwards
  • Less condensed leaf growth
  • Pale color of leaves
  • A generally weakened structure of the plant

This condition is most common in succulents grown indoors, but it can also happen outdoors when succulents are grown in too much shade.

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How to avoid succulent stretching

There are several things that you can do to prevent tall leggy succulent plants. Here are some steps to try:

Provide adequate sunlight

It’s important to provide plants with enough light, preferably the amount and quality of light they would receive in their natural habitat.

For most succulents, this means bright, indirect sunlight for several hours a day – ideally 6 hours of sunlight in south or west-facing windows.

Succulent near a sunny window in a white pot.

If you notice that your succulent plants are stretching, move them to a brighter location or add a grow light to increase the available light.

Rotate your succulents

Stretched succulents will appear to be growing in one direction as they stretch towards the light. To ensure even growth, rotate your succulents regularly.

This makes sure that all sides of the plant receive sunlight and prevents them from leaning in one direction.

Adjust watering

Overwatering a succulent can contribute to it getting leggy. Succulents prefer well-draining soil, and you should allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Make sure your pots have drainage holes.

Over time, this can help reverse the effects of etiolation in succulents. Pruning or trimming the plant is also done to encourage the plant to become more compact and bushy.

Prune tall leggy succulent plants

If your succulent has become leggy, you can trim the stems which are longer. This will encourage branching and a more compact growth habit.

You can used the cuttings to grow more plants.

Woman with shears, pruning a leggy succulent.

Can you cut the top off a leggy succulent?

If your succulent has become too leggy, it’s time to cut off the top and propagate it. (See how to do this in the card at the bottom of this post.)

This will give you a fresh start with a more compact plant.

Allow the cut stem to dry for a day or two before planting it in soil.

Make sure your new plant gets enough sunlight to prevent etiolation in the future.

Can you fix leggy succulents?

You won’t be able to completely reverse the stretching of the stems in leggy succulents – there is no going back at this stage.

However, the steps outlined above will improve their appearance and encourage healthier growth in the future.

Succulent plant in a clay pot with a stretched stem.

Are leggy succulents unhealthy?

While stretched succulents are not necessarily unhealthy, the stretched and elongated growth can indicate that the plant is not receiving the best growing conditions, particularly in terms of light.

This can lead to several problems:

  • Leggy growth can result in weakened stems, making the plant more susceptible to breakage.
  • Weakened and stretched succulents may be more vulnerable to pests and diseases such as white flies and mealybugs.
  • Leggy succulents may not look as attractive as compact, rounded ones.

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If you enjoyed learning why succulents stretch, be sure to share this post with a friend. Here is a tweet to get you started:

Is your succulent stretching to the sunlight? Check out tips for preventing leggy succulents, and learn what to do if it happens! 🌵☀️ #SucculentCare #GardeningTips #PlantLovers #GreenThumb #SucculentLove Share on X

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Would you like a reminder of this post for learning how to fix leggy succulents? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

You can also watch our video on YouTube!

Succulent with a long stem in a white pots and words Why do Succulents get Leggy.

Yield: 1 happy houseplant

How to Fix a Leggy Succculent

Echeveria plant in a clay pot which has become leggy and has lost its bottom leaves.

When succulents don't receive enough light, they will start to reach for available light. What to do when succulents get too tall?

When this happens, don't give up! There are a few things you can do to fix the problem.

Print out this card and add it to your garden journal for future reference.

Active Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 2 days
Total Time 2 days 15 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $2

Materials

  • 1 plant that has gotten too leggy
  • Sharp scissors
  • Succulent soil
  • A new pot

Tools

  • hose or watering can

Instructions

    1. Succulents become leggy when they don't get enough light.
    2. Just adding more light won't fix the problem - Propagate it instead.
    3. Remove any dead or dying lower leaves.
    4. Use sharp scissor to cut off the elongated stem. Leave a few inches of stem.
    5. Let the stem callus over for 2 days.
    6. Plant the stem with the plant attached at the top in fresh succulent soil in a new pot suited to the size of the cutting.
    7. Place in a window with bright, indirect light.
    8. Roots will form of the bottom of the stem in a few weeks.
    9. Be sure to give your new plant at least 6 hours of bright, indirect light a day. South or East window is best.

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