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…

82 Responses to What to do with Succulents Growing Tall

  1. My succulent is stretching but it is also drying out. The leaves from the top to the base are shriveled and dry. Althought, the other succulents around it are green and healthy. How do i help my succulent become healthy again?

    • You might want to remove that plant from the pot and water it on its own, from the sounds of it your plant is not getting watered enough, and the succulent will need more attention as it comes back to life.

  2. Thanx for this page, it’s very clear :) I’ve just had a sedum vera higgins, and in a week it has grown up … the first days I thoughts I didn’t look well when I received it, I thought it was my imagination :) Now I begin to understand… I’m trying to apply your technic to a sedum golden glow first (like in your photo, i think it’s not an adolphi – adolphi are nussbaumerianum), let’s see if I manage to, i’m not really good with plants :S
    I have a sedum adolphi too, and when I received it I think it had already received this treatment, already some cut visible. I think it’s growing slower than the vera higgins whereas they are at same place so same light (i’m not complaining). Would you say the new offshoots tend to grow more slowly ?

    • You’re welcome. The offshoots grow depending on the plant so it is hard to say. That is exciting, best wishes!

  3. i have a cobweb hen and chicken, how to i propagate them? They are stretching out very tall, and I don’t know how to cut them to replant them.

    • If it is a healthy plant you can cut anywhere on the stem, let it heal for a couple days, then plant in the soil. When propagating from leaves, pull the leaf off from the mother plant, heal for a couple days then lay it on the soil.

  4. Hello, what a lovely site, just what I needed. Okay, I have been charged to care for one of my colleague’s plant that appears to be a succulent (to me anyway) on the fact that it almost looks like a rubber plant but prettier. Initially, it was growing by the office window with lots of light until I changed the pot to accommodate the size (currently containing to larger plants surrounding a baby) and was moved all the way across the room away from the natural light but still getting office light fixture light (filtered light if you want to go there). Well, now it appears as though the baby ants to take up more room than allotted and the other 2 larger plants are now laying down but still looking green and lush. I am almost afraid to relocate them because they are solidly bent and appear to be full of water. I stopped watering it about a week ago thinking that that may have been the cause. But they still remain bent. How do we fix this safely?

    • Thank you :) I recommend cutting the plant, then replanting the new cut to give it a fresh start. Your succulent will need more sunlight or else it will just stretch out again.

  5. I just bought an Anacampseros rufescens in a plant store but didn’t realize if i took it out of the plastic wrapper the plant tilts since it’s so tall. Should I just cut off the top part and propagate it to another pot? Image here: http://imgur.com/a/6o7cn

    • Yes that is a great idea. Cut off the top where ever you prefer, let the cutting heal for a couple days, then it will be ready to grow in a new pot with a fresh start!

  6. Thank you so much for this. I have no idea what type of succulent I have as it was a gift planted during my house warming. It stretched a good few feet (I didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to – I thought I had a “special” succulent) and then it bloomed a weird cluster of “flowers” at the top that had a white powder and made me sneeze. Because we had a lot of overgrowth with weeds, I feel that the succulents were becoming a hybrid of some sort??? So, I’ve pulled them and then googled “Succulents w/ long roots” and got your blog post. I was trying to find a type of pot/contained w/ drainage I can put them insted of back into the ground, but now that I know I can cut the top off and begin anew, I might keep them in the planter I’ve relocated them to. Do I still need to dry out the base that has the roots? I’m so excited for your blog! I’m going to go back and read more. Thank you!!

    • Thank you so much, I am glad I can help! If you are looking to identify your plants take a look at this post, it has some great tips! No, you will not need to dry the one with the roots. Best wishes!

  7. I was given a small echeveria a few months ago, the kind with the upside down looking leaves that turn up? Anyway i live in the Philippines and it’s been raining a lot so i kept it indoors most of the time and it the tip started to grow taller. i think it’s etiolated but it’s really still small, like only about 4 inches across. I plucked the bottom leaves and will try to propagate them and it left me with a tiny rosette on top of a 2 inch stem. Can i just plant it deeper or do i really have to behead it? I’m afraid that it would just rot away because of the humud weather and since it’s still super tiny. Any suggestions?:)

  8. Love your site! My echeverias are growing strangely. They are growing in a tall cone instead of around. They are in my front yard and get full sun. These plants are cuttings I replanted.

    • Hmm, that sounds interesting. The only thing that I would suggest is to move them and see of they do better in a different area of your yard.

  9. So I took the plunge and chopped its head off! well it has like 7 little baby rosettes on it. How do I get them off? When do I know the right time to cut them off? Please help! I cannot believe it worked! All the leaves I saved also are starting to grow roots :D

    • Isn’t that great?! Now it is up to you if you want to leave them on the mother plant or to cut them off and plant/pot them. Exciting!

    • That most likely means that your succulents are not getting enough natural or direct sunlight, and may need to be moved around.

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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!

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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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