HELP! My Succulent Is Dying! How To Save A Dying Succulent

Succulents have a reputation for being extremely easy to care for and for being low maintenance but does doesn’t make them indestructible. While it may be very difficult to harm a succulent they’re not immune from dying, especially if they’re not cared for properly.

The good news though is that, if you know what to look for, you can, not only save a succulent from dying but can also reverse any damage that might have been done. All you need to do is know what’s wrong with your plant which is why I decided to write this article.

Why do succulents die?

Being hardy plants, there are actually only a handful of reasons why your succulent may be dying.

Symptom of dying succulentCause of succulent dyingHow to fix a dying succulent
Soft, mushy leaves
Yellow, brown, or black leaves
Leaves fall off easily
OverwateringStop watering
Dry the roots out
Repot the plant
Dry, wrinkled leaves
Brown leaf tips
UnderwateringRemove dead leaves
Water the succulent
Black mold
White spots in the soil
Cotton appearance on stem/leaves
Dark spots or ‘dusty’ leaves
The plant turns brown or black
Leaves are mushy
SunburnedRemove burned leaves
Move out of direct sunlight
Brown, crispy lower leaves
Tall ‘stretched’ stem with fewer leaves
Lack of lightRemove dead leaves
Move to a sunnier place
Black mold
White spots in the soil
Cotton appearance on stem / leaves
Dark spots or ‘dusty’ leaves
The plant turns brown or black
Leaves are mushy
Pest infestation Quarantine the plant
Treat the infestation directly
The plant turns brown or black
Leaves are mushy
Cold damage / FrostbiteRemove mushy leaves
Bring the plant indoors
Protect from the cold
common reasons why succulents die


Succulents are drought-tolerant plants that prefer to be underwatered rather than have too much water which is why overwatering can lead to their premature demise (as I sadly found out the hard way!). That said though actually giving a succulent too much water is just one cause of overwatering.

Poorly draining soil or lack of suitable drainage holes can also lead to a water-logged succulent. If the soil is always wet then the roots can’t breathe and will end up suffering from root rot which is what actually kills the plant.

Even poor airflow can result in excess water sitting on the leaves and soil which, in time, will lead to an overwatered succulent.

The leaves of overwatered succulents will turn yellow at first


While overwatering is the single biggest cause of a succulent dying, not giving them enough water can also have the same effect. While they do prefer less water and can happily go for weeks without water there will come a point when your plant will begin to literally dry out and ultimately die.


Preferring warmer climates we tend to think that succulents like as much sun as possible but this simply isn’t the case. Yes, some do like more sun than others but as a general rule, they don’t like direct sunlight when the sun is at its most intense. Just look at succulents in ‘the wild’ and you’ll see how they actually find shaded spots rather than site completely in the open.

You might think that a few burned leaves won’t have an impact on a succulent’s survival but if the leaves are burned the plant can’t use them for photosynthesis. This means that the plant won’t be able to get the nutrients it needs and will therefore, in time, eventually die.

Lack of light

By now you’re probably thinking that too much or too little of anything can have a negative effect on your succulent and this is definitely the case when it comes to light. As mentioned before too much direct sunlight is bad but not enough light will cause the plant to stretch out in search of light. 

While this will take a very long time to kill the plant, the stretched stem can become too heavy for the succulent, causing it to fall and break. Of course, this won’t directly kill the plant but, if left, it can as the plant becomes stressed.

Pest infestation

Just like any plant, regardless of whether it’s kept indoors or outside, succulents can (and do) suffer from bugs that can, if left untreated, eventually kill your plant. While this might sound bad enough, if you don’t notice the pests early enough it is possible that the infestation could spread to your other plants and kill them too.

Cold damage

Being drought tolerant, succulents use their leaves to store water which is great when the weather is nice and warm but can be disastrous in the winter. Some succulents simply can’t handle the constant freezing and thawing of the water in their leaves, this means that the leaves start to turn to mush and start to rot from the inside.

Not sure about keeping your plants outside? Everything you need to know about keeping succulents outdoors in the winter.

Not all succulents can survive winter outside

How do you save a dying succulent?

It can be distressing when your beloved succulent starts to show signs it might be dying but once you’ve discovered the cause you’ll know exactly how, if possible, to save your plant.

As with most things in life, speed is of the essence as not every succulent can be saved every time, but if you act quickly then you should be able to save it. Not only that but there’s every chance your succulent may well go on to thrive.


When it comes to saving an overwatered succulent the best cause of action will be determined by how water-logged it is. If only a few of the lower leaves are a yellowy translucent color then the plant is only suffering from light overwatering or is in the early stages of it. If, however, the leaves are mushy and have started to turn dark brown or black then the plant is very waterlogged, especially if the leaves are dropping off too.

For plants that are only slightly overwatered, it’s often just a case of moving them to a well-ventilated area that has plenty of indirect sunlight. This will help them to dry out naturally without causing the leaves to burn. If there’s a lot of excess water in the soil then this method won’t work and you’ll need to take more drastic action.

If your succulent is suffering from being more than a little bit wet then the first thing you’ll need to do is remove it from the pot immediately, gently remove as much soil as possible, and then set it aside (on a wire mesh) to dry for a few days.

After a few days, the roots should have dried out enough which means that you can repot the plant in a suitable planter with well-draining soil. Once you’ve done this move the plant to a well-ventilated area and leave it there for a few days before you water it again.

Extreme cases of overwatering may not be quite so saveable but we can still try, although a far more aggressive cause of action is required which can be daunting, but hey, if the plant is going to die anyway what do you have to lose!

To start with you’ll need to remove the succulent from the pot and cut off any mushy or dead leaves. You’ll also need to remove any parts of the stem that are black or brown in color. This might only leave you with an inch or two of stem but that may be enough. Once you’ve done that set the plant aside for a few days so that it can dry out and start to callus. If you’re lucky the stem will start to sprout roots which means the succulent has survived! At this point, you can place it on top of some soil and wait for it to propagate.

Once you’ve brought your overwatered succulent back to life it’s important that you don’t overwater it again. 

Not sure how much water a succulent needs? The best way to water a succulent to keep them healthy.


Thankfully saving an underwater succulent is far easier than it would be if they’d been overwatered, although that said it does depend, to some extent, on how long it’s gone without water and the variety of succulent too. Some succulents, such as aloes and haworthias, can survive without water for far longer than euphorbia and jelly beans.

To start with you need to remove any dried-up or brown leaves as well as any parts of the stem that have dried out too. Don’t worry if this looks a little odd at this stage, in most cases it’ll grow back.

Once you’ve removed the dead leaves you need to water the succulent from the bottom up rather than from the top down. The reason for this is that the roots will get the water much quicker and will only take what they need. If you water from the top down there’s a danger you’ll give the plant too much (especially as it’s been underwatered before) and then end up with an overwatered succulent.

To water a plant from the bottom up simply place the pot in a tray of water and leave it for around 15 minutes before removing the plant.

While it’s relatively easy to save an underwater succulent, if it’s gone without water for a long period of time and the whole plant has dried up it may not be possible to save it. That said though it’s always worth trying!

The leaves of underwatered plats will dry up


A succulent that’s suffered from too much direct sunlight can often look similar to one that’s been underwatered in that the leaves will be dry and brown. That said though, underwatered succulents tend to have brown leaves at the top but those that have sunburn have dried-out leaves where the sun hits them which can be all over or on just one side.

While it’s not essential, removing the dead leaves can help to make the plant look less, shall we say, dead! This deadheading is easy to do as most leaves can easily be pulled off, but if they won’t come off easily use a sharp knife to carefully cut them as close to the stem as possible.

Once you’ve removed the leaves you’ll need to move the plant to an area that gets less direct sunlight. As a general rule succulents don’t like more than a few hours of direct sunlight, and certainly don’t like it at all when during the height of the summer.

If your succulent is outside and you’re not able to move it into the shade you can use a shade cloth to help cut out the worst of the sun’s harmful rays. You can make your own by using a very thin sheet but I prefer to buy them because then I know they’re suitable and enough light will get through. I prefer to use the Faraer garden mesh as it’s cheap and easy to use. You can buy them on Amazon and as and added bonus they help to reduce the chance of bugs too.

Lack of light

Lack light will cause succulents to stretch

Like all plants, succulents use light to help them turn carbon dioxide and water into food. This process, which is known as photosynthesis, can only happen if the plant gets enough of the right sort of light which means placing it under a spotlight won’t have any effect and can actually do more harm than good.

While it can be difficult to tell if your plant is getting enough light at first, if the stem has a lot of space in between the leaves and is taller than you’d expect it’s a good sign it’s not getting enough light. 

Once the plant has started to stretch it won’t go back to how it was but you can remove that part of the plant, propagate it, and make sure the remaining part has enough light.

If you don’t have any placesin your. horse that get enough light to keep you succulent happy you can use grwo lights instead. These are easy to set up and cheap to run, but more importantly they give your succulent the right sort of light. I don’t need to use them anymore but in the past I’ve used these ones from Amazon. They’re flexible so can easily be adjusted to fit in any space you have.

Succulent not getting enough light? How to fix stretched succulent.

Pest infestation

If your succulent has a pest problem then the first thing you need to do is move it to another room, well away from all other plants (not just succulents). This forced quarantine will prevent the bugs from spreading to the other plants and will therefore limit the damage.

Once you’ve quarantined the plant you need to identify what sort of bug is bothering it before you can start to treat it. The actual course of action will be determined by the type of bug but as a general rule, you’ll need to remove the bugs, wash the plant (and pot) before then repot it. 

For a more detailed look at how to treat a variety of common bugs check this article out: Everything you to know about succulent bugs.

Bugs and pests can kill succulents

Cold damage

Some succulents are more than happy to live outside all through winter (even if it snows) but others will struggle in these conditions so it’s important to make sure your particular succulent is okay living outside in your area. If they’re not sure if they are then you need to either cover them during the winter or bring them inside before it gets too cold.

If you haven’t done either of the above and your plant has now suffered due to the cold weather you’ll need to remove the brown mushy leaves first of all. Leaving these in place will mean that they’ll eventually fall off and start to rot at the base of your succulent, making your plant susceptible to root rot, disease, and bug infestations. Once you’ve removed the leaves you’ll need to bring your plants inside, if you can, to protect them from further frost.

Sadly if more than two-thirds of the leaves are mushy then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to save the plant and it should be removed as soon as possible.

Takehome message

A dying succulent isn’t necessarily the end of the road for the plant. With a little bit of care and attention, most plants can easily be brought back from the brink. This is one of the beauties of succulents – yes they’re easy to care for but, while things can go wrong they’re also easy to save!

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.

Recent Posts