Are you worried that your succulent may be dying due to over- or under-watering? Find out how to tell for sure, in this post!
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I get quite a few emails from concerned succulent lovers, asking why their beloved plants are dying. Sometimes there’s actually nothing wrong with their plants. But a lot of other times, the problem is that the plant has been over- or under-watered–and it can be hard to tell which! In this article, I’m going to show you some common clues that’ll help you diagnose the problem and save your plants.
First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that dying leaves are a natural part of every plant’s life — and succulents are no exception. They don’t always mean that your succulent is dying, or that you’re doing anything wrong. As your plant grows, it creates new leaves, while the older ones die. So, if you’re seeing dry, crispy leaves at the bottom of the plant–and only at the bottom– there’s no need to worry. This is normal!
If the dry leaves start to get unsightly, just gently pull them away from the base of the plant and throw them away. When you remove the leaves, keep your plant potted so you don’t disturb the roots. Only pull off the leaves that come off easily, or are totally dead. Here, I pulled the plant out of the pot to better show you what dead leaves on a healthy plant look like.
While dead leaves at the bottom of your succulent are perfectly healthy, dead leaves on the upper parts of new growth are a sign of a problem–usually over- or under-watering. Soil can also cause problems for succulents, as I explain in this article.
If your plant’s leaves are starting to look yellow and transparent, and feel soggy or mushy to the touch, it’s likely suffered from overwatering.
An early sign of over-watering is that leaves will start to fall off with just a slight bump. If you start to notice soft black spots on your plant’s leaves or stem, the over-watering is getting severe, and it may be difficult to save your succulent. Here’s a Donkey’s Tail succulent, in which the middle plant has been severely over-watered, and has completely rotted as a result. You can see that the stems of the plants in the bottom left are starting to rot as well.
Some succulents are more sensitive to over-watering than others. Echeverias seem to be one of the most sensitive. After just two or three days with too much water, these beautiful rosettes will be on a fast track to rot.
How to save an over-watered succulent
The best way to avoid over-watering is to make sure your soil is completely dried out before watering again. As I’ve said in a lot of my other articles, most succulents can easily go three days (and sometimes even a week or more) without water–so when it doubt, wait before watering
As soon as you notice the symptoms of over-watering on one of your plants, start by cutting back on your watering schedule. Also check if you might need to switch to a better soil mixture.
But if you’re seeing black spots on the stem, you’ll need to do a little surgery to save your plant. This is much easier than it sounds! Just cut off the top of your plant, trim away any black spots, give the cutting three to five days to dry out, then propagate it in new soil.
On the cuttings below, you can see how I cut off every part of the stem that was soggy or blackened.
While it’s unlikely that the original plant will survive, it’s worth waiting to see! Leave the bottom section as-is, and don’t water it until the soil is dry (all the way to the bottom of the pot). If you’re lucky, a few days of drying-out time will allow the plant to recover from the over-watering, and it may start to put off new growth.
While over-watering succulents is the most common problem, many succulents are also sensitive to under-watering. I’ve found that Portulacaria afra and Senecio haworthii like to be watered more frequently than other succulents.
If your plant’s upper leaves are starting to wrinkle and get dry and crispy, then it’s probably time to give your succulents a little more water. Take a look at this Mesembryanthemum lehmanni, which was actually never watered. I planted it in this cute concrete planter, which didn’t have a drainage hole, so I didn’t water when I first planted it–and then completely forgot about it!
With a little more frequent watering, this succulent will look good as new in a week or two.
How to save an under-watered succulent
For the most part, it’s much easier to revive an under-watered succulent than an over-watered one. If yours are just starting to wrinkle, they’ll probably perk up pretty quickly after one or two watering cycles. However, if they’ve almost completely shriveled up, I’m sorry to tell you that they’re probably too far gone to recover.
While it’s often possible to save an over- or under-watered succulent, it’s better to avoid both these problems by figuring out how to give your succulents exactly the right amount of water. To do this, just follow the simple steps in my post about how to water succulents, or check out my watering ebook.
I hope that by understanding these signs and symptoms of watering problems, you’ll be able to save your succulent before it’s too late. Just remember that dry lower leaves are normal on succulents–but if your new growth and upper leaves start to look different, then you’ll want to pay closer attention to your watering schedule, and examine the plant to see what may be the problem.