Reshaping A Succulent: Tips To Fix A Stretched & Leggy Plant

The first time one of my succulents started to stretch and become leggy I panicked, thinking the plant was about to die. Luckily though, despite a complete overreaction to start with I managed to save the plant (and was able to propagate new plants from it) which is why I decided to write this article. I don’t want you to panic as I did.

What causes succulents to stretch and become leggy? All plants need light in order to grow but if they don’t have enough they will literally stretch toward what little light there is. They become leggy because instead of using their energy to grow they use it to stretch toward the sun, meaning they produce fewer leaves with bigger gaps between them.

Why do succulents grow stretched and leggy?

Some succulents are naturally leggy and will always grow this way no matter what you do, but for the rest, there is normally only one reason and that is etiolation. Don’t worry if you’ve ever heard of that before, it basically means the succulent is being deprived of light.

This lack of light means that the plant uses its energy to find light instead of producing new, healthy growth. To start with the plant will ‘lean’ towards the light but if it still doesn’t get enough light it’ll start to stretch itself out in order to maximize the surface that’s exposed to the light.

How do you recognize a stretched and leggy succulent?

Thankfully succulents won’t suddenly go from having normal growth to being leggy and stretched out overnight, although it can happen over a few weeks if they’re severely light-starved.

To start with the leaves will start to curl backward and point downwards as they’re creating a bigger surface area for the light to hit. At this stage, you should move the plant so that it has more light but if you don’t, it’ll start to grow taller and have bigger gaps between the leaves.

If you still ignore this and leave the plant where it is you’ll notice that the new leaves are smaller and lighter in color than normal. You may even find that new leaves stop growing altogether. The stem will also become weak, soft, and bendy. It may even fall over completely if it can’t support the weight of the plant.

How do your fix a stretched and leggy succulent?

The best thing to do to fix a leggy succulent plant is to give it more light as soon as you notice the leaves curling downwards, but that’s in an ideal world. Like so many others I’ve ignored the early signs of a light-deprived succulent and have only reacted to it when the whole plant starts to reach for more sun. If like me, you missed these signs too then you should read on.

It can be tempting to place a leggy plant in direct sunlight straightaway but this is a bad idea because the plant isn’t used to having a lot of light and will be susceptible to sunburn. Instead, increase the light it gets slowly, giving it an extra 30 minutes every few days until it’s getting around 4 to 6 hours of continuous light every day. If you’re not able to give your succulent enough natural light you can always use a grow light. They’re a lot cheaper than they used to be and are extremely effective.

You should also turn the succulent so that the no leggy side is facing the light, this will help to level the plant out so that it’s no longer stretching towards the sun. Once this happens you have two choices, you can either rotate the plant 90 degrees every week so that the growth is eventually evened out or you can ‘trim’ it.

Trimming might sound a bit drastic but the problem with a stretched and leggy succulent is that it will never return to its former glory and may even buckle under its own weight as the stem isn’t strong enough. Trimming it also means that you’ll have the original plant as well as a number of other baby plants, which if you ask me is never a bad thing.

How to propagate a stretched and leggy succulent

Trimming and propagating a succulent can seem like a daunting task if you’ve never done it before but the good news is it’s pretty easy and the chances of you damaging any of the plant is minimal.

Cut the stem

Using a sharp knife or pruners (I personally prefer to use bonsai scissors) cut the crown of the plant off where the stem first started to stretch. You can cut it right down to below the leaves if you want but this will take far longer to regrow. 

Trim the cutting

Depending on the length of the stem you’ve cut off you can either leave it as it is or, if it’s more than five or six inches, you should cut it into smaller sections. To do this you should leave at least two leaves on each section and cut just below each leaf group, removing the bottom leaves of the first section.

Don’t throw the leaves you’ve removed away though, you can still grow new plants from them; they’ll just take longer to grow.

Allow the cuttings to dry

Don’t be tempted to plant the new cuttings immediately, they need to callus (or dry out and harden) first. To do this place them on a clean, dry surface then leave them in a dry place for a day or two. This will help them to grow better and healthier when you come to repotting them.

Repot the cuttings

Once the cuttings have callused it’s time to repot them but it’s important you use succulent soil that is able to drain water properly. You can also add pumice to the soil for extra drainage if necessary.

The soil shouldn’t be firm at all so you should be able to gently push the cuttings into the soil. As long as they’re not falling over it doesn’t really matter how deep you plant them but I personally prefer to push them into the soil until around half an inch to an inch is left above ground. While they will take longer to grow you can also put the loose leaves on top of the soil.

Water

I’ve found that most propagated succulents need a little bit more water than ‘adult’ plants do but this should still be done sparingly. I like to mist the soil every few days, although I do always test to see if the soil is dry beforehand.

Move to a sunny spot

While the leaves will take longer to start to grow you should notice that, after two to four weeks, the cuttings have already started to produce new leaves. At this stage, you can begin to increase the amount of light they’re getting and return their watering to normal.

You can also repot the cuttings if you want to have separate plants or, if you prefer succulent arrangements, you can add decorative rocks, gravel, and ornaments to the pot.


I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

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