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How to Save Stretched-Out Succulents

Do you have any succulents that seem like they are stretching towards the light? Were they compact like a rose but now have grown tall and leggy? When succulents (and most other plants) lack sufficient light, they will start to stretch. The technical term for this is etiolation.

e·ti·o·late

(ē′tē-ə-lāt′) 

  • BOTANY
v. e·ti·o·lat·ede·ti·o·lat·ing,
e·ti·o·lates

v.tr.

1. To cause (a plant) to develop without chlorophyll by preventing exposure to sunlight
2. 
a. To cause to appear pale and sickly
b. To make weak by stunting the growth or development of

This type of disfiguration is irreversible. If it’s not too late, you can revert it or slow it down, but the only way to fix a stretched-out succulent is to propagate it. No need to worry – it’s easy, and I will show you how!

Let’s take a look at this Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ rosette-type succulent:

Echeveria-Black-Prince

Normal Echeveria ‘Black Prince’

This is how it should look. Compact, short, and full rosette form. Flawless.


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Etiolated Echeveria ‘Black Prince’

This one is incredibly stretched out, past the point of no return. It’s an alien.


Fortunately, there is hope. Even before you deconstruct the whole plant, you may find new growth at the base. The key is to cut it off right there, or wherever it started to stretch.

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You’ll also want to de-head it, leaving a couple of inches on the stem. Pull off all the leaves in between as well. Now, lay the leaves on top of a pot with soil, but don’t plant them. Planting them with no roots established could rot them, especially if watered too much. You could also air propagate them, by just laying them out on a plate or tray.

***For the most epic blog post on propagating succulents, check out Everything You Will Ever Need to Know About Propagating Succulents***

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The base and the leaves will end up looking like this after a month or so:

New buds will form on the leaves, and the roots will need to be planted if not laying on a pot filled with soil. The parent leaves will eventually shrivel up. Small rosettes will start reforming on the base.

You have a few options with the head. Either you can try planting it directly in soil, letting it air propagate, or you can root it in water. I’ve found that all of these techniques work to various degrees. For this one, I opted to plant it directly in soil, along with the newly formed buds from leaves I had already propagated from it. If you do this, be sure not to water it too much. A light weekly misting is sufficient. The goal is to allow the cutting to root, while not rotting it.

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After a few months, you should have roots like this:

Happy propagating, and again, please contact me if you have any questions!

~CRK.

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Gardener in the Redwoods

I’m a gardener who lives in a redwood forest. I share a little cabin with my boyfriend, my two cats, and over 100 houseplants.

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It’s peaceful here. With majestic redwood trees that tower over everything, stillness in the fresh air, and wildlife that roams in our wooded backyard, it’s very calming, but it is a challenge keeping my plants happy. Why? I have little light. Yet I have hundreds of thriving cacti, succulents, and tropical houseplants, both inside and outside. How do I do it? Strategic placement, listening to every plant’s needs (constantly watching and learning), and indoor LED grow lights.

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It’s definitely a challenge, but I make it work. Each plant is different. Every past assumption or knowledge acquired about every plant’s needs are put to the test. Not all succulents are treated equal. Some need more light, some less. Some want all the light you can give them, and others seem happier in the shade. Some cacti like full sun, others want part shade. Some tropical houseplants want bright indirect light all day, some are OK tucked away in a bathroom. It’s a dance; a game; a delicate balance. It’s always evolving, and only time tells what works and what doesn’t. There’s all the books (and blogs) you can read, but you can only observe and listen to what each plant is telling you. What works for one might not work for another.

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I’ve gotten to know each of my plants so much better since I’ve moved them all to this challenging situation. And the coolest part is, they’re still happy! I see new growth all the time, and they seem to be thriving. Some do show signs of stress or etiolation at times. Etiolation is a fancy plant nerd term for getting leggy or stretched out from reaching towards the light.

e·ti·o·late

(ē′tē-ə-lāt′) 

  • BOTANY
v. e·ti·o·lat·ede·ti·o·lat·ing,
e·ti·o·lates

v.tr.

1. To cause (a plant) to develop without chlorophyll by preventing exposure to sunlight
2. 
a. To cause to appear pale and sickly
b. To make weak by stunting the growth or development of

When I see my plants start stretching, I rotate them to more light, and wait. Sometimes when it goes too far, propagation is required. Sometimes the only means of saving a leggy succulent is by propagating individual leaves. I’ve had to start over with some of my Echeverias and Aeoniums, but I never give up. If I have a plant ready to die, I’ll at least take a cutting of even just one leaf, with the hopes of allowing it to live on. If I have to deconstruct the whole plant, I’ll make the sacrifice. Here is an Echeveria ‘Black Prince’ that was completely etiolated past the point of no return, so I had to deconstruct the whole plant in order to give it another chance at life. (See individual blog post about how to save stretched-out succulents here.)

I’m not saying I’ve never killed a plant. I’ve killed my fair share of plants. Failure is necessary for learning, and it helps you know what not to do. I think everyone has a chance to have a green thumb, but it requires patience. You have to want the plant to live. And every plant I’ve ever killed completely that I didn’t get a cutting from before I let it go, I’ve went out and bought a new one to try again.

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Please visit my contact page if you have any questions or plant problems.  I am here to assist you.

~CRK.

PS: I don’t always have spider decals on my windows.  It was October when those photos were taken. ; )

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All photo rights belong to Cristie R. Kiley.  Please ask permission before taking.

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From Sickly to Singing

I often acquire plants from unusual sources. Plant cuttings from yard sales, restaurant window sills, and thrift stores always come with an added challenge – keeping the plant alive from dire living situations. Such was the case with this (initially) very sad Sansevieria. This Sansevieria came from a hospice shop in Ukiah, CA. In the back of the dimly lit store past all the cluttered isles of treasures and knick-knicks, I found this plant on the sheer end of its existence. I knew it was a type of Sansevieria, but I had never seen a weeping Sansevieria before. It had the same Snake Plant variegation, but all the leaves were drooping over. It was in a plastic pot with no drainage holes, and the soil was only about 1 inch deep and soggy. It hadn’t seen light in weeks, and it had absolutely no root mass. For $1, I had to rescue it! At first, I researched what kind of variety of Sansevieria has a weeping growing habit. Turns out, only a dying one.

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When I got home and took it out of the pot, I saw that it had no roots at all. Poor thing. So I immediately put it in water, and hung it in a brightly lit spot. After about 3 months, it started to grow the tiniest of roots.

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After these little roots starting wrapping around the fishbowl, I planted them in soil. The outer leaves were very droopy, so I cut them off. It slowly began to grow new, upright growth. As the middle filled in with new growth, I was able to keep pruning off the previously deformed leaves, until it looked like a real plant again. There was no fixing the old bent leaves; I just had to wait for the new leaves to emerge full of life.

Isn’t this plant hanger gorgeous?
(It’s probably the nicest one I own!)

Get Yours Here!

Mkono Colorful Macrame Plant Hanger
$7.99

Sansevieria plants are hard to kill. They are among the easiest of house plants to take care of. You can keep them in the darkest part of your house (within reason), and they will still thrive if watered and provided adequate drainage. Whoever neglected this plant before it fell into my hands must have left it to rot in a closet somewhere. I may not be a doctor for humans, but I certainly feel like a doctor for plants. I wish this plant patient could provide a testimonial, but I’m just happy it can stand up straight and proud again, with dignity and grace.

This is one of the plants on my Top 7 Houseplants that are Completely Indestructible list.

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It now lives with me at work.

~CRK.

If you enjoyed what you read and don’t ever want to miss a post, securely sign-up for my e-mail list here.

All photo rights belong to Cristie R. Kiley.  Please ask permission before taking.

Disclosure: This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, which means I earn a small commission if purchased, at no additional cost to you. This is to simply offset the cost of running this website. Please note that all of the above statements are entirely my own, honest opinions that are derived from personal experience. I would never endorse such products if they didn’t work or if I didn’t see real, positive results. Buy with confidence!