Is your succulent is growing tall, thin and stretched out? Most succulent growers encounter this once in a while. If you’ve experienced this as well, you may have noticed your plant looking paler than it used to be. It may also be dramatically leaning over to one side. What you have is an etiolated succulent.
Succulents are slow-growing, but they quickly stretch out when they are not getting the amount of light they need. This can seriously damage your plant, and can even lead to death. The good thing is that etiolated succulents can be fixed, and your succulents can be happy and healthy again. Let’s take a closer look at etiolation, the factors that cause it, and how to fix your etiolated succulents.
What is Etiolation?
Etiolate means to grow a plant under insufficient sunlight, which results in weak growth, paleness, and often thin and stretched out. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, etiolated plants are “pale and drawn out due to a lack of light”.
When there is no light, plants cannot form chlorophyll, a substance that gives leaves their green colour and the key for allowing plants to absorb energy from the sun. Without lights, plants are pale green and weak. While some plants are grown with all access to sunlight deliberately blocked, such as white celery and white asparagus, succulents do not benefit from etiolation in any way.
Why do Succulents Need Sunlight?
Succulents rely on sunlight for photosynthesis, the process where they convert energy from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into energies they can use, like sugar and starch. Essentially, plants convert sunlight into carbohydrates that fuel their growth and support the development of new leaves and roots, flowering, and reproduction.
The carbohydrates fuel the plant’s life cycle. So basically, all living things rely on photosynthesis because animals and humans are dependent on plants for food and oxygen. And at the centre of this is sunlight.
Stretching for Light
We tend to think of plants as immobile and passive, but that’s just how they seem. While plants cannot move as fast as animals, or get up and walk somewhere with better sunlight, they have developed ways to make the most of the light they get. Plants change the orientation of its leaves to get more light into its surface. It will use its energy to grow quickly, stretching to get more light.
How Will You Know if Your Plant is Stretching For More Light, or Merely Sprawling Out?
An etiolated succulent has a weak stem that is soft and bendy. It has a pale colour, and its leaves are pointing down. The gaps are vast between the leaves. On the other hand, if your succulent is naturally leggy, it shouldn’t appear stretched out. The colour will remain vibrant, and the long stems can support the plant.
Etiolation often happens indoors, but it can also happen to plants that are outside. As long as it does not receive sufficient light, your succulent will stretch out. If your plant is grown outside but is in the shade or is surrounded by taller plants that are blocking the sun, it will still stretch.
How Much Sunlight Do Succulents Need?
Succulents need about 4-6 hours of sunlight every day to grow and thrive. They do need a lot of light, but most types cannot handle a whole day of direct sunlight. When you see the leaves of your succulents starting to droop, move them into more light. As long as the leaves are drooping, continue giving them more light. Make sure to change the amount of light they get gradually. Be careful with adding too much light quickly as it can cause the leaves of your succulents to sunburn.
How to Fix Stretched Succulents
Unfortunately, once your succulent stretches, it will no longer go back to its natural form. Once you see the first signs of etiolation, provide it with more light, so it doesn’t stretch out further and for the new leaves to grow closer together.
But while you can’t undo the stretching of your succulents, there’s a way to make it look compact again. You can cut the top rosette from the stem, remove its lower leaves, and then replant. Make sure you leave at least an inch in the base, with about 2-3 leaves. The leaves will absorb the sunlight and will make offshoots emerge faster.
Remember to let the base and the cutting dry out for a few days before replanting them. The cutting will start to grow roots within a couple of days to over three weeks, and produce offshoots within a few more weeks.
Usually, the leaves you left on the base leaves will fall off or die, but the new rosettes can still survive without the parent leaves.
The next time you see your succulent stretching out or dramatically leaning to one side, you’ll know what to do! If you have other tips on how to fix etiolated succulents, we’re more than eager to know about it, so please let us know in the comment box below!