Reviving Your Succulent: Why is My Succulent Dying and How to Save It

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Reviving Your Succulent: Why is My Succulent Dying and How to Save It

If you find yourself screaming into the void, “why is my succulent dying??!” Then you’re not alone.

Turns out succulents die all the time.

If you’d like to keep growing succulents for years to come but your succulents keep dying on you, then read this post with undivided attention. 👀

I’m going to go through everything you need to know to save dying succulents, keep your indoor succulents perfectly healthy, and prevent them from dying in the first place.

Understanding Your Succulent

Succulents are unique, resilient, and absolutely gorgeous, but they do have their own set of needs and quirks.

Succulents are like the camels of the plant world. Native to arid regions, they’ve evolved to store water in their leaves, stems, and roots to survive in harsh conditions. This means they’re not big fans of overwatering. In fact, giving your succulent too much love (read: water) is a common reason why your succulent might be looking a little under the weather.

But it’s not all about water. Succulents also need the right amount of light, the correct soil mix, and a good pot with proper drainage. And let’s not forget about pests, which can sometimes make a meal out of your beloved plant. Understanding these factors can make the difference between a thriving succulent and a dying succulent.

Common Reasons Why Your Succulent is Dying

Succulents are hardy, but they’re not invincible. Let’s dive into some common issues that might be causing your succulent distress.

Overwatering

Overwatering is a common pitfall for succulent owners. Succulents are adapted to arid environments where water is scarce. Succulents store water in their leaves, stems, and roots, which allows them to survive periods of drought.

When overwatered, the excess water fills up air pockets in the soil, leading to a lack of oxygen in the soil. When the plant’s roots cannot get oxygen, this can cause the roots to rot, a condition that is often fatal for the plant. Signs of an overwatered succulent include soft, discolored leaves, mushy stems, and a wilting or drooping appearance. You’ll also notice wet soil that never fully dries out, which can also lead to a fungal disease.

To avoid overwatering (and prevent root rot), ensure your succulent is planted in fresh soil with good drainage, like cacti soil or a succulent mix, and only water when the soil is completely dry. If you haven’t already, put your succulent into a pot with a drainage hole just in case.

Underwatering

While succulents are drought-resistant plants, they still need water to survive. Underwatered succulents become dehydrated, causing the plant’s leaves to shrivel and become crispy when completely dried. The succulent plant may also exhibit slow growth or stop growing altogether. To prevent underwatering, water your succulent thoroughly when the soil is completely dry, allowing the water to drain out of the bottom of the pot.

Personally, I like to bottom water succulents so that they plant’s roots can take in as much water as the plant needs without saturating the soil.

Lack of Light

Succulents require plenty of light to photosynthesize and produce energy for growth. Not enough sun can lead to etiolation, a condition where the plant stretches out and becomes leggy as it reaches for more light.

leggy succulent due to lack of light
Photo by: Marquis Matson

The succulent leaves may also lose their vibrant color. To ensure your succulent gets enough light, place it in a bright location with indirect sunlight. If you can’t place your succulent next to a window, then try using grow lights.

Too much sunlight will cause the succulent leaves to turn pink and red as the plant shuts down chlorophyll to avoid absorbing too much sunlight. I think they look beautiful when they do this and honestly I don’t think it’s problematic unless you’re also underwatering your succulent plant, in which case it will shrivel and dry out.

Pests

Pests such as mealybugs, aphids, spider mites, and scale insects can infest succulents, causing damage and potentially spreading diseases.

up close image of mealy bugs on houseplants
Mealy bugs; Photo by: Marquis Matson

Signs of a pest infestation include visible bugs on the plant, discolored or damaged leaves, and a sticky residue on the leaves or surrounding area. If you notice these signs, isolate the affected plant to prevent the pests from spreading to other plants and treat with an appropriate insecticide or homemade neem spray.

How to Revive a Dying Succulent

Feeling down because your succulent is not at its best? Don’t worry! Succulents are tough plants and with the right care, you can bring them back to life. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to revive a dying succulent.

Identify the Problem

First, you need to figure out what’s wrong. Overwatering, underwatering, sunburn, and pests are common issues. Overwatering can lead to root rot, characterized by mushy, discolored leaves. Underwatering, on the other hand, results in wrinkled, dry leaves. Sunburn appears as brown or black spots, and pests are usually visible to the naked eye.

Prune Damaged Parts

Tools needed: Clean, sharp pruning shears

Once you’ve identified the problem, remove the damaged or diseased parts. This includes mushy or dried-out leaves, stems, and roots and any other part of the rotting succulent. Make sure your pruning shears are clean to avoid introducing bacteria or fungi to the plant.

Adjust the Environment

If your succulent has been overwatered, let the soil dry out completely before watering again. For sunburned succulents, find a spot with bright, indirect light. If pests are the issue, isolate your succulent from other succulents and indoor plants to prevent the pests from spreading.

plant lighting guide

Repot the Plant

Tools needed: New pot with good drainage, fresh succulent soil or cactus soil

If your succulent has outgrown its pot or the potting soil lacks nutrients, it might be time to repot the succulent. Choose a pot with good drainage and fill it with fresh succulent or cactus soil. Then, gently place your succulent in its new home.

Be Patient

Reviving a succulent takes time. Continue to provide the right care and monitor your succulent plant well. With patience and persistence, you’ll see your succulent bounce back to life.

How To Prevent Dying Succulents

Preventing a dying succulent is all about understanding its needs and creating the right environment. Here’s how:

  • Watering: Succulents need far less water than most plants. Overwatering can lead to root rot, a common cause of succulent death. Water your succulents only when the top 1-2 inches of soil is completely dry. This could mean watering once every 2-3 weeks in summer and once a month in winter. Always use a pot with drainage holes to prevent water from sitting at the bottom.
  • Light: Succulents love bright, indirect light. Aim for 6 hours of indirect sunlight daily. If you’re keeping them indoors, a south or east-facing window is ideal. If the leaves start to stretch out or look ‘leggy’, it means your succulent needs more light.
  • Feeding: Feed your succulents with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength. Do this once at the beginning of the growing season in spring and again in late summer.
  • Positioning: Rotate your succulents every few weeks to ensure all sides get equal exposure to light. This prevents the plant from leaning towards the light source and growing unevenly.
  • Pest Control: Keep an eye out for common pests like aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. If you spot any, isolate the affected plant immediately to prevent the pests from spreading. Use an insecticidal soap or a mixture of water and mild dish soap to treat the infestation.

Common Questions About Your Succulent Dying

Dying succulents are pretty common but that doesn’t mean that we can’t save dying succulents quickly. Here are a few quick and dirty common questions and answers about dying succulents.

How do you revive a dying succulent?

Reviving a dying succulent is a bit like playing plant doctor, but don’t worry, we’ve got your back! The first step is to diagnose the problem. Is your succulent overwatered, underwatered, or maybe it’s getting too much sun? Once you’ve figured out the issue, you can take the necessary steps to nurse it back to health. For instance, if your succulent has been overwatered, you’ll want to cut away any mushy leaves, roots or stems, let the plant dry out, and then repot it in fresh, dry soil. Remember, patience is key here. Your succulent won’t bounce back overnight, but with a little TLC, it’ll be back to its perky self in no time!


Do succulents need direct sunlight?

Contrary to popular belief, not all succulents are sun-worshipping plants. While they do love a good dose of light, most succulents prefer bright, indirect sunlight. Too much direct sunlight can cause leaf burn, which shows up as brown or black spots on the leaves. If you notice your succulent’s leaves are starting to look a little crispy, it might be time to move it to a location with less direct light.


What do succulents look like when overwatered?

Overwatering is a common mistake many succulent parents make, and it can be a deadly one. Overwatered succulents often have mushy, translucent leaves and may start to drop leaves as well. The succulent soil will also feel wet to the touch. If you suspect your succulent is overwatered, it’s best to let the soil dry out completely before watering again.


What kills a succulent?

There are a few common culprits when it comes to succulent demise. Overwatering is at the top of the list, followed by insufficient light, poor drainage, and pests. Remember, succulents are desert plants, so they prefer conditions that mimic their natural habitat: well-draining soil, plenty of light, and not too much water. Keep these factors in mind, and your succulent plants will be set up for success!

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