Should You Deadhead A Succulent? Why, When, And How

One of the joys of owning succulents (aside from their beauty) is that they’re pretty hardy plants that don’t need much care but when some of the leaves start to die you might wonder what we’re doing wrong and whether there’s anything you can do to stop this happening. The good news though is that this is part of the natural life cycle of any plant and you’re not doing anything wrong. While there’s nothing you can do to stop this from happening, deadheading the plant is getting rid of the dead leaves. Of course, if you’re not naturally green fingered you might wonder what on earth I’m talking about when I mention deadheading but this is precisely why I decided to write this article, to answer ALL of your about removing dead leaves from your succulent.

Should you deadhead a succulent? Removing dried-up and dead leaves and flowers from your succulents will help to keep the plant healthy, and rejuvenated and will also encourage new growth. Not removing the dead plant matter will not only look unsightly but will lead to plant rot and can even kill the succulent.

What does deadheading mean?

Deadheading doesn’t always mean the same thing to everybody but, according to my computer’s dictionary it simply means ‘to remove dead flowers and leaves from a plant’ but that doesn’t really explain the reason behind it.

Why do you need to deadhead succulents?

In some ways, succulents are not different from humans! Okay I know that sounds crazy but hear me out first. While it might not be a pleasant thought our skin is constantly growing and shedding, giving way to fresh, healthier skin and this is what I mean by our similarities. While succulents don’t have skin per se their leaves act as their skin so will naturally die after a while. Unlike us, though they don’t automatically shed their leaves which is why we need to come along and deadhead them. 

Removing dead and dried-up leaves from underneath the succulent will help the plant’s energy to flow better and will therefore channel it to healthy areas of the plant. It also allows the air to flow better and allows the soil to dry out properly. Getting rid of these leaves also helps to keep those pesky bugs away as they prefer the darker, moist areas underneath the dead leaves.

Once you’ve removed the dead leaves you may even find you’ve already got new growth on the stem.

How is deadheading different from pruning?

In reality, there’s not a lot of difference between deadheading and pruning, after all, they’re both removing plant matter that will help the succulent to grow strong, better, and healthier but that’s where the similarities end.

As the name suggests deadheading deals with parts of the plant that have already died or are going to die whereas pruning is more about removing healthy (and sometimes dead) growth and cultivating the plant’s shape.

Do you need to deadhead outdoor succulents?

When talking about deadheading succulents many people think about the indoor plants and completely forget about the ones they have outside (I know I’ve done this too many times to remember) but they still need to be deadheaded, if not more often.

The reason for deadheading outdoor succulents more often than indoor ones is because they’re far more prone to pests and diseases if they live outside, even if only for part of the year. While the leaves won’t die any quicker if the plant is outside there will be other debris (such as sticks and dead leaves from other plants) that can start to rot around the base of the succulent. This creates a haven for many pests such as aphids, caterpillars, snails, and slugs.

You should deadhead your succulents regularly

How do you deadhead succulents?

I know that succulents are hardy plants that can take a lot of neglect but that doesn’t mean to say you can just whip the dead leaves off and have done with it. In most cases, the dead leaves will easily come off but you still need to be careful when handling the rest of the plant.

Carefully lift the healthy leaves and pull away the ones that have dried up and are dead. As I say they should come off pretty easily but if they don’t then you can either snake them off or use a sharp pair of scissors to cut them as close to the stem as possible. I recommend bonsai scissors because they’re extremely sharp and are easy to hold, personally, I use Wakashishi Satsuma scissors, they have long arms so you can get in under the succulent pretty easily and without damaging the healthy leaves. You can easily buy them on Amazon too.

How often should you deadhead a succulent?

I’ll normally remove the odd dead leaf as I walk past the plant but this isn’t always a regular thing which is why I like to go around and check all of my succulents (and deadhead when necessary) in the fall and again in the spring. Many succulent owners will also advise that this is the best time (and frequency) to do this but I would add that this should be used as an ‘at least’ guide.  

If your succulent is the flowering type (such as an echeveria or jade) then the flowers will fall off anyway when they die but you can remove them (along with the stalk) before if you don’t like the look of the dying flowers. For monocarpic succulents (those that only flower once) you should remove the stalk at the base of the plant as soon as it starts to die. The plant will die anyway but cutting the stalk out will give the pups (the offshoots that become new plants) a chance to grow.

The only caveat to this though is if the leaves are dying due to rot or disease, if this is the case you should remove them straight away for the sake of your succulent’s health. Not doing so can cause the rest of the plant to die as the disease will spread to it pretty darn quickly.

Deadheaded succulents will be much healthier

Should you water your succulent after deadheading it?

Some people like to water their succulents as soon as they’ve deadheaded them, but I personally prefer to treat deadheading like pruning so, therefore, wait a couple of days before watering the succulent.

If you’re deadheading your plant when the soil is already completely dry I can see why some people think this is a good idea but the dead leaves will have trapped a certain amount of moisture in the soil, even if it’s just one leaf. This is why I never water my succulents straight after I’ve deadheaded them. I like to give them at least a couple of days to dry out properly before adding any water to the mix.

My theory and one may succulent owners subscribe to is one of if in doubt leave the water out. And when you consider that overwatering is the number one mistake with succulents (and most indoor plants) this isn’t a bad idea at all.

Related questions

Can I remove just the brown tips of succulent leaves?

Sadly when a succulent’s leaves turn brown they don’t tend to return to their normal color which is why a lot of people wonder about whether or not they should (or can) cut the tips off. 

The leaves can turn brown for a variety of reasons from sun damage to over or under-watering but while you can trim the brown parts it can look a little bit unsightly, especially if there are a lot of browned leaves. The good news though is that the leaves will eventually die and fall off (or need to be deadheaded) anyway.

You can remove the brown leaf tips if you want to

What should you do if you think the whole plant is dead?

If the whole of your succulent is dead or dying then there’s not a huge amount you can do, especially if it’s diseased. The best thing to do is to remove it from the pot completely, if you don’t do this then it can cause disease in the healthy succulents and offshoots that are still in the arrangement. 

It’s not necessary but I like to spray the remaining plants with rubbing alcohol after I’ve removed a dead succulent. It gets rid of any bugs and pests which is never a bad thing in my mind.


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