What to do with Succulents Growing Tall

If succulents don’t get enough sunlight they begin to grow tall and 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.

 

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How to save stretched out succulents

Once a succulent is stretched out, it won’t revert back to it’s more compact height and shape. Don’t worry though! There is a way to get back to a tight, compact garden again.

Start by cutting off the top of the succulent using sharp scissors (I love, love, love this pair! Absolutely worth every penny!). Leave at least an inch or two on the base with 2-3 leaves. The base will do best if you leave a few leaves to catch the sunlight.

While I’ve had bare stems send out new offshoots, generally they put out new offshoots faster if you keep a few leaves. If the cutting (the top part you cut off) is too tall for your liking you can cut off some of the stem to make the cutting shorter. Be sure to leave some stem so you can plant it in soil later.

Let both the cutting and the base dry out for a few days. Once the end of the cutting has calloused over (dried out completely and looks “scabbed”) you can plant it in soil and begin watering it. I’ve found that cuttings need to be watered slightly more often than a fully rooted plant, but not much. Make sure you are using a really well draining soil so the stem doesn’t get too mushy and rot. You can learn more about propagating succulents from cuttings here.

The cutting should start to put off roots, possibly within a couple days, but definitely within 2-3 weeks. As the roots become more established you’ll want to cut back on watering so it’s on the same “schedule” as fully rooted plants.

Succulent cuttings will put off roots within a few days or weeks, often without even being in soil!
Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’

The base, or original plant, will start to put off new offshoots within a few weeks. You can continue to care for this plant the same as you were before making the cut. If you aren’t sure the best way to care for succulents, be sure to check out my succulent care page!

If you cut off the top of your succulent it will start to put off new offshoots!
Sedum adolphii

The leaves you left on the base plant originally may fall off or die at some point. This is very normal, but won’t happen all the time. Don’t be alarmed if they do fall off though! The new rosettes will still be able to grow without the “parent” leaves.

Eventually the base plant of a succulent will put off new offshoots after being beheaded
Graptosedum ‘Vera Higgins’

Give them more light

If you have stretched out plants, you can follow the procedure above to promote new growth, but unless you give the plants more light, the cutting and new offshoots will eventually get stretched out as well. So, before you make the “cut”, try to find an area for your succulents where they will get more indirect sunlight than they did before. If moving them isn’t an option, you can also add a grow light to supplement the light they are already getting.

Find out why your succulents might be stretched out and how to help them
Graptopetalum paraguayense

Generally, you want your succulents to get as much indirect sunlight as possible. Indoors this is really difficult. Especially in the winter, it is almost impossible to grow succulents without some stretching. Again, using a grow light can help and the best option is to put them near the window that gets the most sunlight throughout the day.

So now, the next time you notice your succulents are leaning toward the light or getting a little too tall you’ll know what to do! Don’t be afraid to jump right in and chop off the head of your succulents. Although be warned… it may start a new addiction since this is the first step to propagation and growing new plants…

100 Responses to What to do with Succulents Growing Tall

  1. Hello my succulent is in my window and getting a lot of light and it is growing so tall with an inch base. It is heavy in the pot.I don’t know what pot to use now and it is really healthy. The base has lost a few leaves. Do I cut the top off and plant it? I don’t want yo kill it. Please let me know.

    • Cutting the plant will be fine, just let the end heal, and dry out for a couple days before replanting it. From there the plant will grow new roots!

  2. I have 5 succulents in 1 container, all on my porch (Florida). 1 of the 4 grew about 7″ in less than a week. Does it make sense that just one isn’t getting enough light?

    • If they are different varieties then it could be that one of them has different needs concerning light and water

  3. Hi! I had a few succulents indoors that were starting to stretch out. I did some research and put them outdoors where they get plenty of sun. Now they are growing beautifully! But – I didn’t cut off the tops, so they are blooming great but from the top of the plant. They aren’t extremely stretched or tall, but do you suggest cutting them anyway? I wonder if they will become too top heavy and fall over. Thank you!!!!

    • I would leave them until they get to big for the mother plant to support and then cut off the new growth and replant them. They will probably become to top heavy after awhile.

  4. I got a plant about 2 months ago and now it seems to be wilting away. It stretched out and started getttinf spots where it was deteriorating so I brought her inside with a grow light. I’ve water her the same twice a week but now parts of her stem is getting mushy and leaves easily fall out. She’s some kind of Echeveria ‘Afterglow at least that’s the pictures I’ve seen that matched her and her little “rose bud” vines. Any advice on how to save her.

    • Mushy leaves are a sign of overwatering. I would take the succulents out of the soil cut off any parts that are brown or black from overwatering and let them dry out for a day or two. If you have more soil you can put them in new soil or dump it out of the pot and let it dry out. If the soil is staying really wet for long periods you may want to consider using a different soil. Succulents do best in a well draining soil. See what I recommend here.

  5. I have a succulent that has grown so quickly and from the descriptions here, it is stretching. However, my succulent has four extensions on the top that are blooming. What do i do? I don’t want to kill the mother plant but I’m having to use a stake to support the whole thing from becoming uprooted on one side.

    • Not to worry! The blooms will die off eventually, so you won’t be hurting the mother by beheading it now. It’s up to you whether to wait until the blooms die or or cut it now. Be sure to propagate the plant once it’s cut!

  6. My succulent is definitely very stretched. It’s planted in a glass container and is growing crooked to the shape of the glass container. Can I cut the top off while it’s still in the container or do you have to take it out and replant it?

  7. I love my plants and succulents. Thanks for the tips, you have provided. Instructions are easy and simple to follow. Give them plenty of sun and do not over water.
    How about a few tips on “the watering”

  8. Hello I’m new the succulent family and I’ve had my plant since May. Reading this I’ve noticed mine is reaching for the light. I’ve had him inside this whole time and recently placed him outside. Since the beginning he’s been a green color with the top leaves firm and glossy and the bottom leaves the same but have fallen off bit by bit, but overall continues to grow and stretch. I recently placed him outside and the tips of his leaves turned a deep purple. I thought it was too much “direct” sunlight from outside since he’s always been behind a window, but always getting light. I guess my question is, is it normal that the tips of his leaves turned that deep purple and his pedals are still firm and glossy? And should I keep him inside, is it okay being outside or alter between both? Thank you for your advice!!

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Wondering who I am?

Let me introduce myself... My name is Cassidy Tuttle and I’m a professional photographer turned succulent addict. These are my two sweet children and wonderful husband in the photo with me!

My adventure with succulents started with three small plants on the window sill of my basement apartment. Within a year I had propagated them and purchased more, totaling over 100 plants!

It’s been a fun adventure since then as I’ve drowned, burned, frozen, and starved my collection of succulents. This site is where I teach you how to avoid all those mistakes I made or help you recover from them.

While I’ve killed plenty of succulents in the last few years, I’ve also kept hundreds alive and thriving, and I know you can do the same!

Did I mention I wrote the book on succulents?

It’s true! I’m the author of Idiot’s Guides: Succulents which is designed to help those of us who love succulents (but are limited to growing on our window sills and porches) keep our succulents looking great.

You can purchase my book through my Amazon affiliate link here or pick it up at your local Barnes and Noble.

If printed books aren’t your thing, I’ve also written several ebooks about succulents on various topics including indoor growing, watering and propagating. You can check those out on this page.

My goal is to help you not just keep your succulents alive, but help them thrive no matter where you live.

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