What to do with Stretched out Succulents

If succulents don’t get enough sunlight they begin to stretch out. Find out how to prevent stretching and how to “fix” succulents that are already stretched out.

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I get emails from time to time from panicked readers whose succulents “look different than when I bought them.” Most of the time, their succulents have become much taller and spread out. This is quite a common occurrence, especially when you’re growing succulents indoors.

Learn what causes succulents to stretch and lose their shape - plus, find out how to fix the problem
Pachyveria glauca ‘Little Jewel’

While succulents are fairly slow growing, its amazing how quickly they seem to stretch when they aren’t getting the light they need. The technical term for this is etiolation. You are likely here because you are wondering what can you do to prevent etiolation (stretching) and how to fix a succulent that is already stretched out. Let me share what I know!

Lack of Sunlight

Succulents stretch out when they aren’t getting enough sunlight. Oddly, this often causes the plant to grow faster. You’ll first notice the succulent start to turn and bend toward the light source. Then as it continues to grow it will get taller with more space between the leaves.

Most of the time the leaves will be smaller and lighter in color than normal. Generally, lack of sunlight will also cause the succulent to turn green or lose the intensity of it’s original color. Notice how this Echeveria ‘Lola’ is starting to bend toward the light and it’s not quite as colorful as when I photographed it for the top dressings post.

Find out why this Echeveria Lola is starting to bend and stretch out
Echeveria ‘Lola’

Is it unhealthy?

While succulents will look better if they get adequate sunlight, they will continue to grow in low lighting. They won’t be as healthy or look as good as they should, but it will generally take a very long time (a year or two) for them to die completely in low light. If they aren’t getting any light, they’ll die much more quickly.

Click next to see how to save your stretched out succulent and get a “compact” succulent again!


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60 Responses to What to do with Stretched out Succulents

  1. My poor Echeveria grew so tall and lost almost all of its leaves and now it’s looking kind of wilty. Not only do I think I may have overwatered (why it’s wilty) but I also worry I let it go too long to trim it. Any tips for either?

    • I would definitely cut off the top. It does sound like it was getting a little too much water. Usually if it doesn’t get enough the leaves will dry up before falling off. “Beheadding” the succulent will likely be the best way to get it back to optimal health.

  2. Hello.
    I have a really stretched out succulent and it hurts to c it suffering :'( .
    It’s been indoors for some time now due to it becoming winter.
    How can I help the guy??
    Thanks x

  3. This is interesting. My granddaughter gave me a succulent as a gift for Mother’s Day 2016… It balked at growing for many months, but now that summer is here (in South Africa) January 2017 – this plant is growing higher and higher in every day… – it receives full morning sunlight until about 11 am – it is also sprouting small plants on it’s leaves that falls off, then starting to grow and form new plants. Should I transfer it to a bigger pot and then carefully lift the smaller leaves that fall off and form new plants, to other pots?

    • You can definitely move it to a larger pot and plant the new growth from the leaves. Check out this post for more info on the babies growing from leaves. It also sounds like the main plant could use a little more sunlight. If you can, move it to an area that gets the morning sun a little bit longer, maybe until 13:00. Otherwise though it sounds like you’re doing a great job!

  4. I now know what the little fine white hair like things that were growing on some of my plants. I pulled them off and now I see they were roots and I could have been growing more succulents. I grow them indoors with grow lights. I’m never sure how far above the succulents that the light should be. I have all your books and they help me but, I’ve been going thru a divorce and diabetes so I do leave the lights on a lot long than 6 to 8 hrs sometimes to help the plants get the most light. If some stretch and don’t look too bad I let them but, when I finally get my divorce papers and get use to taking insulin for my type 2 diabetes, I want to grow some outdoors in pots.

  5. Good evening, love the information you provide. I beheaded my succulent and now have a pot full of healthy looking babies. At what point do I divide them to be repotted in their own little pots. I am afraid to do it too soon and afraid to wait too long as well. Propagation is fun and as you stated, highly addictive as well.

    • I’m glad you think so too :) Once the pot becomes too crowded and the succulents are merging together, I would suggest separating them into different pots to give them room to grow even more. For plants propagated from leaves I recommend moving them when they get to be about 1-2” in size with a strong root system. This will allow them to transplant better.

  6. Hi Cassidy!

    Just discovered your site today and loving it! So, I’ve been taking care of my first succulent for about 5 months now and it has stretched quite a lot. I thought it was a good thing but after reading your article, I realized it’s not haha and I do plan on “beheadding” the top soon.

    I am however a bit confused on how to care for my succulent now because I feel like it’s receiving the proper amount of light, and the leaves look okay. Could it be the pot I’m using? I put it in a mason jar and it doesn’t have a drainage hole in the bottom. Maybe that’s the problem?

    • If the plant is still stretching then it is usually telling you it needs more light, even if you think it is enough, as different succulents need different amounts of light. Another thing to notice is if the plant is placed in a pot that gives it a lot of room the succulent will extend out, sometimes awkwardly. If you are not wanting your plant to grow and stretch I suggest to plant it in a smaller pot or in a tighter arrangement with other succulents in order for it to keep its shape.

  7. Thank you for all the information that you hand out. I’m now addicted to succulent propagation and so is my family.
    Which is the correct way to plant a new leaf that has roots developing, upright or on its side?
    And do I do the same for leaves that have new baby plants?

    • Your’e welcome! You will want to keep the leaf on its side, and from there the roots will grow into the soil, and the baby plant will begin to rise up, you can look at these pictures on this post as well for more information.

  8. HI, I have all my succulents in my window which get at least 8 or more hours of sunlight a day but my plants are still stretching out toward the light like you described, other than the stretching their coloring and leaves look completely normal and still sprout babies they just get tall really fast. how much more light would they need to be healthy again or are they just trying to spread out?

    • This does depend on the plant itself, but they might just be growing. If they have more room in their pot they tend to spread out to concour the space in the container. You can cut and trim them if you want your arrangement to be more controlled. That is great that they are growing babies!

      • Ok thanks! I do actually have them in much bigger pots than the little pots they came in so thats probably it. Thanks so much for the help! :)

  9. Hello!
    My succulents are not as tall as the ones you addressed in your article. They are shorter and when I got them they where much larger than they are now. They keep on creating little off shoots but the actual plants wont grow and have begun to shrivel. How can I get my succulents back to full health?
    Thank you!

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