In our previous post, we showed you what to look for to know that the plant you're selecting is healthy. We know that plants make people happy, so today we're showing you some signs that mean a succulent isn't as happy as it can be and needs a little extra love and attention. To help you when shopping for succulents, we created this guide so you can be more informed shopper when you're buying plants and to diagnose issues you're having with your succulents after you take them home.
The easiest way to kill a succulent is by over-watering it, but succulents can be damaged by too little water as well. Succulents store water in their leaves, and can handle being under-watered better than other plants can, but like Goldilocks, still need that amount of water that is just right. You can tell that a succulent is under-watered if it has limp and wrinkly leaves, and may have dropped some as well.
Underwatered plants can still be healthy when you begin to water them again, just make sure to not overwater the plant.
Etiolation describes a plant that was grown without enough light and has subsequently become stretched out and pale. Etiolation occurs when a plant is grown without sufficient light for a period of time and grows out in search of more light. Succulents like this can still be perfectly healthy, they just may not the aesthetically pleasing plant you were hoping to instagram right away. You can't fix etiolation once it has happened, but luckily with growing succulents, you can always slice off the bottom of the plant, and begin propagrations from the cuttings and leaves.
Like humans, succulents can get stressed, too. Stress comes temperatures or water conditions that are not ideal for the plant. Stress in succulents can take many forms, from the tips of the leaves turning red (like the photo above), or the entire leaf changing colors. Some gardeners will intentionally stress their succulents for aesthetic appeal, and this can create beautiful effects when done correctly.
Seeing signs of stress in your succulent does not mean that your succulent will imminently die, it just means that your succulent may need some extra care or need to be moved to a new location. In most cases it means that the plant is under-watered or receiving too much light. While some succulents can be stressed temporarily for looks, this is something that should not be done long term as the plant can begin to rot or die if left like this for too long. Also something of note, is that if you buy a beautiful subtly colored succulent at the store, it may be exhibiting signs of stress, and may change colors once you get it home.
Once again, like humans, plants are delicate and can get injuries. Plants can get physical damage from insect and animal bites and from trauma like being dropped. Last fall I had an unfortunate incident where some squirrels feasted on and knocked over several of my plants, so unfortunately this is a problem that I know too well.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent physical damage to your plants, but with some care and planning, you can do your best to prevent it. This may seem like really simple advice, but be careful and don't drop your plants when you are moving them around. When selecting a location for your plants, keep them on a sturdy base where they can not be easily tiped or knocked over by people or animals. And finally, if you're keeping your plants outside, considering installing netting or wiring to keep squirrels and other critters from dining on your succulents. Deterrents like coyote urine and shaky stuff can also be used to deter backyard fauna from inquiring about your plants.
If your succulents have physical damage they will never fully heal. In most cases they will begin to callus where the trauma occurred but may also begin to rot. With calloused plants, they will bounce back and be healthy again in time, they just won't be as pretty as they can be. If you see signs of rot, using sharp shears or a razor, cut off the rotted sections and either replant or try to start over from a cutting.
If you see signs of this in a plant at the store, this does not mean that the plant is unhealthy, only that it was damaged at some point in transit from the grower to the the store.
While plants need sunlight to perform photosynthesis, some plants can get too much sunlight. While some succulents can be planted in bright sunlight, not all can handle full sun (defined as 6+ hours of direct sunlight per day) or can suffer in too much sunlight. Leaves that are sunburned will appear brown or black, and may begin to shrivel or callus. The best way to fix sunburn in your plant is to move it to a place with less sunlight or less bright light. Sunburned leaves will never fully heal, but unaffected parts of the plant will still be healthy.
You can distinguish sunburn from rot by looking at other signs in the leaves. A recently sunburned plant will still have fat and full leaves that have begun to turn black or brown and may still be glossy. Older sunburn will be black or brown and dry or shriveled, or even completely desiccated. Leaves that are showing signs of rot and too much water will appear mushy and wrinkly.
If you see sunburn in a plant at the store or that you own, this does not mean that the plant is unhealthy and will quickly die, but that it was probably cared for improperly and exposed to too much light at some point. Keep in mind that often sunburned segments will shrivel off, so while the plant may not be pretty, it could still be healthy and continue to grow for years and years. The best way to refrain from buying sunburned plants is to buy from small independent nurseries and sellers and to avoid big box stores where this type of damage is more likely to be seen.
Hopefully these tips help you diagnose and treat issues that your succulents may have. In our next post we'll be showing you what to avoid when shopping for plants and succulents so that you make sure to always take home a plant that can be your companion for years to come!