Have you ever noticed that your succulents have gotten leggy or stretched? Perhaps they are lacking the vibrant colour they once had? Or maybe they seem weak and toppling over their pots? Do you notice these issues worsen over the winter months? Today we are going to talk all about etiolation in succulents – what it is, what causes it, how to fix it and how to prevent it in the future!
What is Etiolation?
Etiolation [ ē′tē-ə-lā′shən ]
Paleness or pallor resulting from deprivation of light.
The process of blanching or making pale by withholding light.
By definition, etiolation occurs in plants when they are lacking sufficient levels of sunlight. Etiolation can occur in all plants but is a very prevalent issue when growing succulents. On average, succulents require at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day to help keep them happy, colourful, and compact. An unobstructed south or west-facing window is ideal for these plants. However, even in ideal window exposure, your succulent may still suffer in the fall and winter when there is naturally a decrease in hours of sunlight per day.
How to tell if your succulent is lacking sunlight:
1. Discolouration - If your succulent is turning pale or is reverting from a vibrant colour back to pale green or white, it is a pretty good indicator they are lacking sunlight. Note: when discolouration is caught early, providing the required sunlight will stop the process of etiolation.
2. Long, leggy growth - If your succulent seems to be more stem than leaf. This etiolated growth usually occurs rapidly and is very commonly misinterpreted as flourishing.
3. Leaves pointing downward - As some succulents desperately try and reach for sunlight, their leaves may appear to be folded downwards.
4. Aerial roots - Some succulents will grow aerial roots when they have stretched out too much. They do this in search of soil to root themselves for more support.
Above is a great example of an etiolated trailing succulent. You can see right away that the plant started out compact, then went through a period of time with insufficient sunlight. This is very common when growing succulents in a country like Canada that does not stay hot and sunny year-round.
And below is a great example of a trailing succulent that is thriving. Species like this Graptoveria are known to trail and bear long, woody stems. However, notice that the succulent heads are compact and colourful!
How can I fix my etiolated succulents?
There is no quick fix and there is no undoing etiolated growth that has already occurred. You can provide the plants with more sunlight or even purchase grow lights, but the plant will only begin to grow strong and compact from the tip, which can cause the plant to become top-heavy and topple over itself. However, a method of making cuttings, which is also commonly used as a propagation method for succulents, can give your succulents a fresh new start. Note: this method is also used frequently by growers who just prefer the look of small, compact succulents!
Today, we have a Graptosedum succulent that was neglected over the winter (oops!). Although this species does tend to trail, you can see that there is a lot of space in between in leaf growth making it look wonky and unstable. You can also see that the plant has reverted to green from its reddish-bronze colour. Let’s fix this succulent together in 6 easy steps!
Step 1: Preparation
For this project, you will need fast-draining succulent soil, a sterile pair of scissors or a knife. and a new pot unless you plan to re-use the current pot.
Step 2: Make cuttings
Decide where you want to cut the stem(s). We recommend at least an inch or two below the most compact area of growth.
Step 3: Prune unwanted leaves
Gently remove any leaves below the compact growth. Don’t toss these! You can propagate the leaves if you are looking for another fun project after this one.
Step 4: Let Callous
Set the cutting(s) aside for a couple of days so that the freshly cut stems have time to callous over. Callousing will help prevent the cuttings from fungal or bacterial diseases.
Step 5: Prepare the new pot
Fill the pot with succulent soil. A well-draining succulent soil is important because if the cuttings stay damp for too long, they will be sensitive to rot. A quick reminder that pots with drainage holes are essential for succulents.
Step 6: Transplant cuttings
Poke a hole in the soil with a toothpick, chopstick, twigs, etc. Wiggle to create space in the soil and insert your succulent cutting. Top off with soil as needed.
And that’s it! You can add a layer of decorative rocks, sand, etc if you wish. We like doing this because it gives the succulent arrangement a neat and uniform appearance. Set aside in bright, indirect sunlight and do not water for at least one week after potting. This will allow the plant some time to readjust to its new home.
Once you’ve watered for the first time since potting, you can then move the succulent into direct sunlight or under a grow lamp. Over the next few weeks, water whenever the soil has completely dried out. The succulent will root itself and all growth moving forward should be compact and colourful -so long as light requirements are maintained!
To prevent etiolation from happening again, keep growing in a west or south-facing window. If you do not have west or south-facing windows, we highly recommend you look into purchasing grow lights. There are many options online and with a little research, you will be able to find something that suits your needs, budget, and even aesthetic.
Happy growing! ☀️