Succulents
Plants

What to do with Succulents Growing Tall

“Learn how to address succulents growing tall! Find expert tips to prevent and remedy leggy succulents for healthier, compact plants. Get your succulents back on track today!”

Succulents have become increasingly popular in the world of gardening due to their low maintenance and unique aesthetic appeal. These hardy plants are known for their ability to thrive in arid conditions and can be a great addition to any indoor or outdoor garden. However, if you’ve noticed that your succulents are growing tall and leggy, it’s essential to take action to ensure they remain healthy and attractive. In this article, we will explore the reasons why succulents grow tall and provide you with practical steps on how to care for them.

Understanding Why Succulents Grow Tall

Succulents

Lack of Sunlight 

Succulents are renowned for their resilience and unique appearance, making them a favorite among gardeners and plant enthusiasts. These hardy plants have adapted to thrive in arid environments, thanks to their remarkable ability to store water in their fleshy leaves and stems. However, even the toughest succulents can face challenges when they don’t receive the one thing they truly crave – sunlight.

Succulents are inherently sun-loving plants, and their natural habitat often consists of open, sunny landscapes. In these conditions, they have evolved to make the most of the abundant sunlight available. Sunlight is not merely a preference for succulents; it is essential for their growth and overall health.

When succulents are deprived of adequate sunlight, they resort to a survival strategy known as etiolation. Etiolation is the plant’s way of stretching towards the nearest light source in a desperate attempt to access more sunlight. This phenomenon is a survival instinct ingrained in succulents over centuries of evolution.

As succulents reach for light, their stems elongate rapidly, causing them to grow tall and leggy. The once-compact and visually appealing plant loses its characteristic shape and becomes weak and frail. The stems, in their quest for sunlight, may become so stretched that they can no longer support the weight of the plant’s leaves, resulting in a rather unsightly appearance.

The consequences of succulents growing tall due to insufficient sunlight are not merely aesthetic. Leggy growth weakens the plant’s structure, making it more susceptible to damage. Moreover, the lower leaves may wither and drop off as the plant diverts its resources to the elongated stems. This further compromises the overall health of the succulent.

To sum it up, a lack of sunlight is indeed one of the most common reasons why succulents grow tall and leggy. To ensure the well-being and visual appeal of your succulents, it’s crucial to provide them with the sunlight they need to thrive. Place them in a location where they can bask in at least six hours of direct sunlight each day, such as a sunny windowsill or an outdoor spot with ample sunlight exposure. By meeting their sunlight requirements, you can enjoy healthy, vibrant, and beautifully shaped succulents in your garden or indoor space.

Overwatering 

Succulents are remarkable plants, celebrated for their ability to endure arid conditions and store water in their leaves and stems. This unique adaptation has made them a popular choice for gardeners and plant enthusiasts alike. However, despite their ability to thrive with minimal water, succulents are not immune to the detrimental effects of overwatering.

Overwatering is a common mistake that many succulent owners inadvertently make. While it might seem counterintuitive, excessive moisture in the soil can lead to rapid succulent growth. This paradoxical outcome occurs because succulents, in their quest to make use of the excess water, tend to elongate their stems, which ultimately results in a tall and leggy appearance.

Succulents have evolved to store water efficiently in their fleshy tissues, a survival strategy that enables them to endure long periods of drought. Their ability to store water provides a reservoir that the plant can tap into during dry spells, allowing it to survive when water is scarce. When overwatering occurs, the plant’s water storage mechanisms go into overdrive.

In response to an abundance of moisture in the soil, succulents start to absorb water more rapidly than they typically would. As a result, their cells become turgid, causing the plant to expand quickly. However, this rapid growth is predominantly concentrated in the stems, causing them to elongate disproportionately. The plant’s energy is diverted from producing compact, healthy growth to stretching out in search of more water.

The consequences of overwatering extend beyond just the appearance of tall and leggy succulents. The weakened structure that accompanies this excessive growth makes the plant more vulnerable to physical damage. Furthermore, the lower leaves may begin to rot or yellow as the plant prioritizes stem elongation over leaf health. This can result in an overall reduction in the succulent’s vitality and visual appeal.

Crowded Conditions 

Succulents are not only known for their ability to store water and endure harsh environments but also for their captivating, compact forms. The rosette shape and dense foliage of many succulent varieties make them prized additions to gardens and indoor collections. However, when succulents are planted too closely together, their natural beauty can be compromised as they vie for space, resulting in tall and stretched growth.

Crowded conditions can occur when succulents are planted too closely together in containers or garden beds. As succulents grow, they naturally seek out light sources to fuel their photosynthesis process. When they are planted too close to one another, they sense the competition for light and respond by stretching upwards to access more sunlight.

This upward growth, driven by the struggle for sunlight, leads to a leggy appearance. The succulent’s stem elongates as it reaches for the light, causing it to lose its compact and well-proportioned form. The stems become thin and weak as they expend energy in their vertical growth, often unable to support the weight of the leaves adequately.

Aside from the aesthetic concerns, crowded conditions can have practical implications for succulent health. The lack of space between plants can hinder airflow, increasing the risk of moisture-related issues like fungal diseases or rot. Additionally, when succulents are too close together, they may compete for nutrients and water in the soil, which can lead to overall stress and reduced vitality.

To address the issue of crowded conditions and prevent tall and stretched succulents, it’s essential to provide each succulent with adequate space to grow and thrive. When planting succulents in containers, ensure there is enough room between them for airflow and future growth. In garden beds, consider the mature size of each succulent species and provide sufficient spacing accordingly.

Regular monitoring of your succulents can help you detect signs of crowding before it becomes a significant issue. If you notice that your succulents are starting to stretch and grow tall due to crowded conditions, consider transplanting them to give them the space they need to regain their compact, healthy appearance.

Succulents

How to Prevent Succulents from Growing Tall

Provide Adequate Sunlight 

Succulents, with their diverse and captivating forms, are known for their remarkable ability to thrive in arid conditions. However, one of the key factors that contribute to their health and aesthetic appeal is the amount of sunlight they receive. To prevent succulents from growing tall and leggy, it’s crucial to ensure they get the right amount of direct sunlight.

Succulents are naturally adapted to sunny environments, and their growth and development depend on ample sunlight. When succulents receive insufficient light, they respond by stretching towards the nearest light source, which is a survival mechanism known as etiolation. This stretching leads to elongated and weak stems, detracting from the succulent’s natural beauty and robustness.

To help your succulents thrive and maintain their compact, attractive form, it’s recommended to provide them with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day. Here are some practical tips on how to achieve this:

  • Select the Right Location: For indoor succulents, choose a south-facing window if possible. South-facing windows typically receive the most sunlight throughout the day, making them ideal for succulent growth. If a south-facing window is not available, east or west-facing windows can also work well, though you may need to rotate your succulents to ensure even exposure.
  • Outdoor Placement: If you’re growing succulents outdoors, select a sunny spot in your garden or on your balcony or patio. Ensure that the chosen area receives at least six hours of direct sunlight, especially during the morning and early afternoon when the sunlight is less intense.
  • Use Artificial Lighting: In situations where natural sunlight is limited, consider using artificial grow lights designed for plants. These lights provide the specific spectrum of light that succulents need for healthy growth. Place the lights a few inches above your succulents and keep them on for 12-16 hours a day.
  • Rotate Your Succulents: To ensure that all sides of your succulents receive equal sunlight, rotate them periodically. This prevents them from leaning or growing lopsided.
  • Monitor Light Levels: Keep an eye on your succulents and observe how they respond to the available light. If you notice stretching or elongation, it’s a sign that they need more direct sunlight.

Adjust Watering Practices 

Proper watering is a fundamental aspect of succulent care that directly impacts their growth, appearance, and overall well-being. Adjusting your watering practices is essential to prevent succulents from growing tall and leggy, as overwatering can lead to rapid yet undesirable growth. To keep your succulents healthy and visually appealing, it’s crucial to adopt a mindful watering routine.

Succulents are adapted to thrive in arid conditions where water is often scarce. Their fleshy leaves and stems are designed to store water for extended periods, allowing them to endure dry spells. However, this adaptation also means that they are susceptible to the adverse effects of overwatering, which can lead to tall and stretched growth.

Here are some key principles to guide you in adjusting your watering practices for succulents:

  • Sparingly Water: Succulents thrive when watered sparingly. Instead of adhering to a fixed watering schedule, observe the moisture level of the soil. Water your succulents only when the top inch or two of soil has dried out completely. This ensures that you’re not keeping the soil consistently moist, which can lead to overwatering.
  • Use Well-Draining Soil: Plant your succulents in well-draining soil. A mix specifically designed for cacti and succulents, or one that incorporates perlite or sand, is ideal. Well-draining soil prevents water from accumulating around the roots, reducing the risk of overwatering-related problems.
  • Drainage is Crucial: Ensure that the containers or pots you use for your succulents have drainage holes. These holes allow excess water to escape, preventing it from pooling at the bottom of the container, which could lead to overwatering.
  • Avoid Standing Water: Never let your succulents sit in standing water. Empty saucers or trays beneath pots to ensure that water doesn’t accumulate. Standing water can saturate the soil for extended periods, promoting leggy growth and potentially causing root rot.
  • Seasonal Adjustments: Recognize that succulents have different water needs throughout the year. They may require more frequent watering during their active growing season (typically spring and summer) and less during their dormant period (usually fall and winter).

Repot and Space Them Out 

Succulents, with their intriguing shapes and vibrant colors, are known for their ability to enhance gardens and indoor spaces. However, when succulents become tall and leggy, it’s crucial to take action to restore their compact and visually appealing form. Repotting and spacing out these succulents is a strategic approach to rejuvenating their growth.

Tall and leggy succulents often result from various factors, including insufficient sunlight, overwatering, or overcrowding. When you notice that your succulents have grown elongated stems and lost their compact appearance, consider the following steps:

Repotting in Individual Containers:

  • Select New Containers: Choose individual pots or containers that are slightly larger than the root ball of each succulent. These pots should have drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil.
  • Prepare Well-Draining Soil: Fill the new containers with well-draining soil suitable for succulents. You can use a commercial cactus and succulent mix or create your own by adding perlite or coarse sand to regular potting soil.
  • Gently Remove the Succulent: Carefully remove the succulent from its current container. You may need to gently shake or tap the pot to loosen the soil. Be cautious not to damage the roots or stem.
  • Inspect the Roots: Examine the root system for any signs of rot or damage. Trim away any brown or mushy roots with clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears.
  • Replant in Fresh Soil: Place the succulent in its new container, ensuring that it sits at the same depth as it was in the previous pot. Fill in the gaps with fresh soil, pressing it down gently to secure the plant.
  • Water Sparingly: After repotting, refrain from watering the succulent for at least a week. This allows any damaged roots to heal and reduces the risk of overwatering.

Trimming Elongated Stems:

  • Assess the Growth: Identify the elongated stems that have contributed to the succulent’s leggy appearance.
  • Trim with Clean Tools: Using clean and sharp scissors or pruning shears, carefully trim the elongated stems. Make clean cuts just above a leaf node or joint. This encourages new growth and branching.
  • Let the Cuttings Callous: Allow the cut ends of the stems to air dry for a day or two to form a callus. This helps prevent rot when replanting the cuttings.
  • Propagate Cuttings: If desired, you can propagate the cuttings by planting them in well-draining soil. They will develop into new succulent plants, promoting a bushier appearance.

Pruning Tall Succulents 

Behead the Succulent 

One effective way to manage tall succulents is to behead them. Using clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears, cut off the top portion of the plant, leaving a few inches of stem. Allow the cut end to callous for a day or two, then plant it in well-draining soil. The remaining stem will produce new growth, creating a more compact plant.

Remove Leggy Growth 

Trimming away leggy growth can also help maintain the plant’s shape. Snip off the elongated stems near the base of the plant, promoting a bushier appearance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, succulents growing tall and leggy is a common issue that can be easily addressed with proper care and attention. By providing them with adequate sunlight, adjusting your watering practices, and, if necessary, pruning and repotting, you can ensure that your succulents remain healthy and visually appealing. Remember that succulents are resilient plants, and with the right care, you can enjoy their unique beauty for years to come.

FAQs

What should I do if my succulents are growing tall and leggy?

Succulents growing tall and leggy can be a common issue, and it often indicates that they are not receiving the ideal care or conditions. This FAQ will guide you through the various aspects of addressing this problem and how to promote healthier, more compact succulent growth.

Why do succulents grow tall and leggy?

Succulents grow tall and leggy primarily due to insufficient light. When succulents don’t receive enough light, they stretch and elongate in their search for more sunlight. This results in a leggy appearance with long, weak stems and widely spaced leaves. Other factors contributing to leggy growth may include overwatering, poor soil drainage, or overcrowding in a container.

How can I prevent my succulents from becoming tall and leggy?

  • Provide Adequate Light: Ensure your succulents receive at least 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day. South or west-facing windows are ideal for indoor succulents, while outdoor succulents should be placed in a location with partial to full sun exposure.
  • Choose the Right Container: Use containers with drainage holes to prevent waterlogged soil, which can lead to leggy growth. Terra cotta pots are a good choice because they allow for better airflow.
  • Use Well-Draining Soil: Plant succulents in a well-draining potting mix designed for cacti and succulents. You can also amend regular potting soil with sand or perlite to improve drainage.
  • Water Sparingly: Overwatering is a common cause of leggy succulents. Allow the soil to dry out completely between waterings and water deeply but infrequently.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Give your succulents enough space to grow. Overcrowded pots can lead to competition for light, causing them to stretch.

Can I save leggy succulents and make them more compact?

Yes, you can save leggy succulents and encourage them to become more compact with some care and attention. Here are steps to follow:

  • Pruning: Trim the leggy stems back to a desirable length using clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears. Allow the cuttings to callus for a day or two before replanting them.
  • Propagate: Instead of discarding the pruned stems, propagate them by planting them in a separate container with well-draining soil. They will root and form new succulent plants.
  • Increase Light: Place your succulents in a sunnier location, gradually introducing them to brighter light to avoid sunburn. Outdoor succulents may benefit from being placed in a sunnier spot.
  • Adjust Watering: Continue to water your succulents sparingly, ensuring the soil dries out between waterings. Be especially cautious not to overwater newly propagated cuttings.
  • Fertilize Sparingly: Use a diluted, balanced liquid fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer) to encourage healthier growth. Apply it every 4-6 weeks.

Can I use artificial light for my indoor succulents to prevent leggy growth?

Yes, you can use artificial grow lights to provide sufficient light for indoor succulents and prevent leggy growth. Here are some considerations:

  • Choose the Right Light: Select full-spectrum LED or fluorescent grow lights designed for plant growth. These lights mimic natural sunlight and are ideal for succulents.
  • Light Duration: Provide your succulents with 12-16 hours of artificial light per day. Use a timer to ensure consistent lighting.
  • Light Placement: Position the lights 6-12 inches above the succulents, adjusting the height as they grow. Keep the lights on for the recommended duration.
  • Monitor Growth: Regularly observe your succulents for signs of healthy growth. If you notice they are still stretching toward the light source, adjust the light placement accordingly.
  • Combine Natural and Artificial Light: If possible, combine natural sunlight with artificial lighting to provide the best possible conditions for your succulents.

Are there any specific succulent species prone to leggy growth?

While any succulent can become leggy if not provided with adequate light, some species are more prone to it. Common succulents that may become leggy include:

  • Echeveria: These rosette-shaped succulents are often prone to stretching if they don’t receive enough sunlight.
  • Haworthia: Although they can tolerate lower light conditions compared to some other succulents, they can still become leggy if light is insufficient.
  • Sedum: Some varieties of sedum may stretch if they aren’t given proper light.
  • Aloe: Aloe vera, in particular, can become leggy if grown in low light conditions.

How can I prevent my succulents from becoming leggy outdoors?

If you’re growing succulents in an outdoor garden, preventing leggy growth is just as important as with indoor succulents. Here are some tips for keeping your outdoor succulents compact and healthy:

  • Choose the Right Location: Plant your succulents in a spot that receives plenty of sunlight. Most succulents prefer at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.
  • Soil Preparation: Ensure your garden soil is well-draining. You can amend the soil with sand or perlite to improve drainage if necessary.
  • Spacing: Give your succulents enough space between plants to allow for proper air circulation. Crowded succulents are more likely to stretch and become leggy as they compete for light.
  • Watering Practices: Water deeply but infrequently. Succulents planted in the ground generally require less frequent watering than those in pots. Let the soil dry out between watering sessions.
  • Mulch: Applying a layer of gravel or small stones around your outdoor succulents can help retain moisture, reduce weeds, and maintain an ideal soil temperature.
  • Protection from Extreme Weather: Protect your succulents from extreme weather conditions such as heavy rain, strong winds, or frost. You can use temporary covers or move potted succulents indoors during harsh weather.
  • Monitor Growth: Regularly inspect your outdoor succulents for signs of stretching or leggy growth. If you notice any, take action promptly by pruning or adjusting their position to receive more sunlight.
  • Fertilize Sparingly: Use a balanced, diluted fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer) to support healthy growth. Over-fertilizing can lead to leggy growth, so be cautious.

Can I use a grow light outdoors to prevent leggy growth in my succulents?

While grow lights are typically used indoors, they can be used outdoors in specific situations. Here are some considerations:

  • Outdoor Grow Lights: If you have an outdoor area with inadequate sunlight, you can use outdoor-specific grow lights. These are designed to withstand the elements and can be positioned above your succulents to provide supplemental light.
  • Temporary Use: Outdoor grow lights are best used temporarily, such as during the winter months or when your succulents are in a location with limited natural light.
  • Light Intensity: Ensure the outdoor grow lights have the appropriate intensity for your succulents. Different succulent species have varying light requirements, so choose lights accordingly.
  • Weatherproofing: Protect your outdoor grow lights from rain and moisture to prevent damage. Ensure they are installed securely and have proper waterproofing measures in place.
  • Energy Source: Consider the energy source for your outdoor grow lights. Solar-powered options are convenient for outdoor use and can help reduce electricity costs.