You bought some beautiful succulents from your local nursery or even better online with free shipping. Everything is going well, you are watering them correctly, you’re using proper soil, and the best part of all your succulents are looking healthy and amazing.
Until one day you notice that your succulent is stretching, growing tall, or growing fairly fast. When this happens your succulent isn’t really growing healthy, it’s actually going through a big problem known as etiolation. Your succulent is most likely stretching, growing tall, or growing really fast because it’s going through the process of etiolation.
Succulent etiolation is a very common problem when growing succulents. Etiolation is caused by lack of sunlight, which is why your succulent is stretching, growing tall, growing a long stem, looking leggy, looking pale or weak. These are common signs and when you see these signs you must take action right away.
Before we Begin...
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What Is Etiolation?
Etiolation is a pathological condition of plants that grow in places with insufficient sunlight. Basically your succulent is begging for sunlight, and is trying very very hard to find a path of light. You can easily tell when your succulent is going through etiolation because it will begin to stretch, grow tall, and show pale colors.
Etiolation is not a good thing for succulents however, it does help them survive by finding a source of light to help them grow. It’s basically a natural way of helping the succulent survive without dying immediately.
Since the succulent isn’t getting enough sunlight it will begin to stretch or grow tall trying to find any source of light. When this is happening the succulent is also getting stressed out from trying so hard to find a source of light. This is why during etiolation a succulent will turn pale due to stress.
Etiolation will most likely only occur when growing succulents indoors. Indoor succulents experience etiolation all the time because they are simply not getting enough sunlight. Some houses just don’t get enough sunlight inside, so the succulent is just growing without sunlight, this will easily cause etiolation. Etiolation is very rare when growing outdoors. For etiolation to occur when growing outdoors you will basically just give the succulent full shade and no sunlight at all. Giving a succulent way too much shade outdoors will easily cause etiolation as well.
Causes Of Succulent Etiolation
So what causes succulent etiolation? It’s simple. Lack of light. Succulents will adjust their growth mechanism in order to reach its daily need of light. It can also be caused by temperature, and the amount of water your succulent receives. If your plant is warm, getting too much water, and not getting it’s daily light, it will get tricked into thinking it’s going to grow. This will eventually lead to stretching because your succulent is trying to find light.
A solution to this would be to keep your succulent in cool temperature, and less watering. Your succulent will now think it’s dormant season, and it will realize that it is not ready to grow. This will prevent it from stretching (etiolation).
Basically if your succulent isn’t getting enough sunlight/light then it will begin to stretch or grow tall to try to find any source of light it can find. Your succulents need light to survive and grow healthy, if you don’t provide sunlight/light for it then it will try to find it on its own.
Is Your Succulent Etiolated?
Your succulent will let you know if it is etiolated or not. How? Here are 4 signs your succulent is etiolated:
Leaves are pointing downwards:
Most succulent leaves are strong pointing upwards, but when your succulent is etiolated, its leaves will droop and point downwards. This is happening because the succulent is stretching and growing tall, this will make the leaves point downward.
Drooping leaves are the first common sign of etiolation, it’s the earliest sign etiolation is happening. Your succulent is dropping its leaves because it’s trying to get more light to photosynthesis.
Your succulent is leaning on its side:
Any normal healthy plant will go straight up, and not lean on its side. When a plant leans on its side, it’s trying to find its source of light. If you don’t correct this right away, it will continue to lean and stretch on its side and could potentially break and fall off due to leaning.
Let’s say the only source of light in the room or area is on the right side. The succulent will sense that source of light is on the right, so it will then begin to stretch to its right side to reach and find that source of light. This is why your succulent will begin to stretch to its side during the process of etiolation.
If your succulent is growing super fast very rapidly, it’s most likely stretching and going through etiolation. Succulents are slow growers, but some are fast growers. Don’t be confused when your succulent is growing super quickly, and stretching. This is definitely etiolation.
Many succulent beginners make this mistake. They think that their succulent is growing extremely fast when it’s not, they are getting trick by etiolation. If your succulent grew super fast after planting it then that’s a sign that it’s not growing natural and it’s actually just in the process of etiolation.
Weak appearance/Pale Look
Another sign of etiolation is if your succulent looks weak or unhealthy. It just doesn’t look right to you, and you know something is wrong with it. This is again because of the lack of light. Succulents really depend on its light source to get its beautiful colors.
A succulent will turn pale during etiolation all because its lacking light and because it’s pale. When the succulent start to stretch or grow way too tall then it will start to stretch out. Stress will easily cause a succulent to lose its beautiful colors.
How To Fix Succulent Etiolation
It’s very unfortunate, but succulent etiolation is sadly permanent. When a succulent has stretched or grown way too tall it will not go back to its normal size. Even if you give it plenty of sunlight and move it to a different growing area it won’t go back to normal.
This is because it’s been stretched out. A succulent can’t just shrink or go back to normal after it’s stretched or grown super tall. It’s very unfortunate but it’s sadly the truth. This is why it’s very important to try to avoid and prevent etiolation, so you don’t harm your beautiful succulent plants.
If you want a fresh new succulent to grow, then it’s best to cut the succulent with clippers. This will actually shrink the succulent getting it back to normal height. After cutting you will have to let it sit for about 2-4 days or until a callus forms.
Once a callus forms then you can plant the succulent in fast/well draining succulent soil. The cutting will then root and will be an all new happy plant that’s normal size again. This is known as succulent propagation and it can easily change your succulent from being etiolated to being a normal healthy plant again.
How To Prevent Succulent Etiolation
You can prevent succulent etiolation by simply repositioning your succulent to a spot that receives much more direct light/sunlight.
Make sure your succulents get about 4 hours of light/sunlight a day. If your succulents are outside, make sure they take a break and get some shade, or they’ll get sunburnt. You could also invest into a grow lamp as well, if your house barely gets sunlight, or if you're indoors this will make a huge huge difference.
There you have it! Now you know exactly why your succulent is stretching, what is etiolation, and how to prevent it.
Etiolation Vs Healthy Growth
Obviously, a healthy succulent will grow straight up and not stretch while an etiolated succulent will begin to stretch or grow tall. A healthy growing succulent will also take a while to grow a couple of inches, while an etiolated succulent will grow a couple inches super fast. An etiolated succulent will grow to its side and not straight up like a healthy succulent. Etiolated succulents will also begin to loom pale due to stress, while a healthy growing succulent will continue to have its bright beautiful colors.
Succulents That are Light Sensitive
There are a few succulents that just don’t handle etiolation very well. They stretch longer than others and get paler than others. Some succulents that just don’t handle etiolation well would be echeveria, sedum, crassula, graptoveria, graptosedum, and sedeveria. All these succulent will not do well if exposed to etioaltion. Other succulents can handle it a lot better than these species that we listed.