This Is Why Your Succulents Keep Dying And What To Do About It

While succulents are often touted as easy-to-grow plants, for many gardeners it's hard to tell what's going wrong with these dought-tolerant plants. Concerned succulent lovers frequently ask why their succulents are dying or how to tell if their plant struggling. Sometimes there's actually nothing wrong with their plants.

Other times, the problem is that the plant has been over or under-watered… and it can be hard to tell which! I'm going to give you some helpful hints in this post so you can diagnose what's going wrong!

Mushy, dark leaves

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

If you start to notice your succulent has a black stem or mush spots on the stem or leaves, 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 the black stems and mushy leaves in the center.

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.

Yellowing, translucent leaves

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

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.

How to save a succulent with a black stem

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

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. You may also need to switch to a better soil mixture and be sure you're using a pot with a drainage hole.

If your succulent has a black stem or black spots, 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 above, 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.

If the rotting succulent was in an arrangement with other succulents, you don't want to risk problems to the other succulents. In this case, I recommend uprooting and removing the rotting succulent.

Lots of dried out leaves

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

On the other hand, if most of your succulent leaves are drying up, take that as a sign it wants to be watered a little more often.

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.

A few dried-out, dying leaves

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Photo Credit: Adobe Stock / Sheilaf2002.

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. This doesn't always mean that your succulent is dying, or that you're doing anything wrong.

If the bottom leaves of your succulent are dried up, it is likely still healthy, but may need to be watered a tiny bit more frequently.

However, as your plant grows, it creates new leaves, while the older ones die. So, if you're seeing a few dry, crispy leaves at the bottom of the plant–and only at the bottom– there's no need to worry. This is totally normal!

Keep track of watering

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

Almost always when someone tells me their succulent is struggling I ask when they watered last.

Usually they don't know the answer!

I totally get it. Keeping track of watering can be a pain. But it will absolutely help you keep your succulents alive longer.

While you can use anything to record your watering dates (pen and paper, spreadsheet, notes on your phone) I have found that using the Succulent Tracker app (available for Apple and Android) has been the easiest way for me to track my group of succulents, now numbering over 300!

Inside the app you can record all kinds of things about your succulents — names, watering, repotting, treating for bugs, photos, etc.

I highly recommend downloading the app and recording each time you water. And if not on the app, record it another way so you have helpful information so you can better diagnose what's happening with your succulents.

Sign of under-watering

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

While over-watering succulents is the most common problem, many succulents are also sensitive to under-watering. I've found that some succulent plants like to be watered more frequently than others.

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 Corpuscularia 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 two or three weeks.

How to save an under-watered succulent

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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.

To help them recover best from under-watering, make sure you soak the soil really well when you water.

Other problems

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While over or under watering tends to be the most common problem new succulent growers face, there are a few more issues you may run into. These may include: stretching out, bug infestations, internal infections, and more.

You can also look at our common succulent problems page to continue self-diagnosing your succulent. Just make sure you get a diagnosis as soon as possible so you have a better chance of helping your succulent recover.

As you pay close attention to your succulents you'll be able to see early signs of problems which will make it much easier to save your succulent before things get too out of hand.

7 Worst Mistakes Beginners Make When Growing Succulents

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Many people assume that they can take care of succulent plants however they want -- just treat them like normal house plants. The problem is succulents aren't like most other house plants. They have completely different watering needs and often need more sunlight and airflow than other plants. Find out what the most common succulent mistakes are and how to avoid them.

Save Your Succulents With This Critical Watering Technique And Look Like A Pro

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Photo Credit: Succulents and Sunshine.

A big part of keeping succulents healthy is providing them with the right environment. You'll want to pay attention to the soil they're in, how much sunlight they're getting, and most importantly, how often you're watering them. The method and frequency of watering succulents are critical to preventing rot while encouraging lots of new growth.

Are you overlooking this critical part of succulent care?

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Many people who struggle to grow succulents think they have a watering problem. As it turns out, most of them have a soil problem. Using the proper succulent soil will make caring for these unique plants so much easier. Find out what type of soil is best for succulents and where to find it.

What Succulent is Best for You?

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There are thousands of succulent varieties and not all of them will grow well in your climate or may require more (or less) work that you want to put in. It's important to know how much light and water your succulent plants need to thrive so you can select the plant that's best suited for you.

This article originally appeared on Succulents and Sunshine.