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What’s wrong with my succulent?

by Timber Press on June 5, 2013

in Gardening, Popular

Succulents: easy to grow is not the same thing as fool-proof.

Succulents: easy to grow is not the same thing as fail-safe.

Succulents are easier to grow than most, but like all plants, they have their problems, too. Here are some troubleshooting tips for common afflictions and conditions from the author of Succulents Simplified.

SYMPTOM Bleached, beige, or dark patches on leaves
CAUSE Excessive sun exposure
REMEDY Move plants into bright shade. Remove damaged leaves if unsightly.

SYMPTOM Distorted buds that don’t open, tiny insects on new growth
CAUSE Aphids or thrips
REMEDY Spray with isopropyl alcohol diluted half-and-half with water and improve air circulation.

SYMPTOM Cancerous growth on aloes
CAUSE Aloe mite
REMEDY Cut out the damaged tissue, clean your tools, and if the plant is potted, isolate it from other aloes.

SYMPTOM Distorted growth at leaf axils and centers of rosettes, cottony bits
CAUSE Mealybug
REMEDY Remove or isolate affected plants; spray with diluted isopropyl alcohol and improve air circulation.

SYMPTOM Cottony bits adhering to roots
CAUSE Root mealybug
REMEDY Discard the affected soil; wash the container in soapy water; take cuttings of the plant and repot in fresh soil.

SYMPTOM Black depressions in aloe leaves
CAUSE Bacterial leaf spot
REMEDY Apply cinnamon spray or commercial systemic per label directions.

A graptopetalum already damaged by ahil has become colonized by mealybugs. When an infestation is this extensive, it's best to discard the plant.

A graptopetalum already damaged by ahil has become colonized by mealybugs. When an infestation is this extensive, it’s best to discard the plant.

SYMPTOM Webs and paprika-like dots on leaves
CAUSE Red spider mite
REMEDY Spray with diluted isopropyl alcohol and improve air circulation.

SYMPTOM Sickly look, brown bumps on stems
CAUSE Scale insects
REMEDY Remove or isolate affected plants, spray with diluted isopropyl alcohol, scrape the scale off stems with a plastic knife, wash the plant with mild liquid detergent, and repot it in fresh soil.

SYMPTOM Collapsed outer leaves, upright center (agaves)
CAUSE Agave snout weevil
REMEDY Dig up and destroy the affected plant. Do not replant agaves in or near that area. Treat nearby agaves and soil with systemic insecticide.

SYMPTOM Holes in leaves
CAUSE Snails and slugs
REMEDY Hand pick; release predator snails or apply iron phosphate (Sluggo).

SYMPTOM Garden plants cropped to ground level
CAUSE Deer, squirrels, rabbits, or javelinas
REMEDY Enclose young, tender plants in chicken-wire cages.

SYMPTOM Collapsed, putty-colored leaves
REMEDY Tent in-ground plants with frost cloth until the temperature exceeds 32 degrees F. Move containers beneath shelter or indoors. Prune dead tissue.

A type of mite that affects aloes makes tissues distorted and bubbly looking, with an orange tinge.

SYMPTOM Squishy stem or trunk
CAUSE Overwatering
REMEDY Take cuttings from healthy tissue and replant. Discard the old soil with the plant.

SYMPTOM Loss of sheen, shriveling at tips
CAUSE Underwatering
REMEDY Water thoroughly and then keep soil about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

SYMPTOM Elongated, stretched-looking stems and leaves; flattened or downward-curving rosettes
CAUSE Not enough light
REMEDY Give greater sun incrementally. Rotate container weekly for even exposure.

SYMPTOM Greening of yellow, red, or orange leaves
CAUSE Too much pampering
REMEDY Stress the plant with less water, more sun, and less rich soil. Don’t fertilize.

SYMPTOM Irregular white rings on dark leaves
CAUSE Mineral deposits from evaporated water drops
REMEDY Using distilled water, gently wipe the leaves. Avoid splashing the leaves when watering the plant.

SYMPTOM Dry leaves at base of echeverias, aloes, or other rosette succulents
CAUSE Normal growth
REMEDY Crisp, papery leaves shade and insulate the stem. But if you find them unsightly, peel them away.

SYMPTOM Stem awkwardly long with rosette at the tip
CAUSE Normal growth
REMEDY Remove any old, dry leaves at the base of the rosette, then cut the stem 1 inch below healthy leaves and replant the rosette as a cutting.

SYMPTOM Closed or shrunken rosettes
CAUSE Heat, drought, or cold; dormancy
REMEDY Move container-grown plants under an eve or overhang to protect from harsh outdoor conditions. If plants are merely dormant, leave them alone; they’ll revive when they awaken.

Text and photos by Debra Lee Baldwin


Click image for a look inside this book.


“Ms. Baldwin’s step-by-step projects for crafters as well as numerous container and dish gardens give Succulents Simplified a wider appeal than a straight gardening book. It’s the perfect starter volume for those new to succulents, while satisfying and delighting veterans with the variation and solid growing tips based on the author’s evident joy in succulents and cacti.” —New York Journal of Books

1 Nate January 17, 2014 at 8:46 am


I’m wondering what the name/type of plant that is red and green striped in the green pot in the first image – it is amazing. Also, the plant next to it that is tree like, on the left, that is green with a red tint.


2 Brian Ridder January 17, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Hi Nate,
Thanks for the question. Here is Debra Baldwin’s answer:
It’s a lovely arrangement, isn’t it? The red-and-green plant in the bright green pot is a stacked crassula: Crassula capitella ‘Red Pagoda’ (cultivar names vary). The treelike plant in the same composition is golden jade, Crassula ovata ‘Hummel’s Sunset’.
– Debra

3 Megan Jamison March 16, 2014 at 6:03 am

Question for you: a have an arrangement featuring hens and chicks. I know it’s not getting enough light because it’s very leggy. I water it about once a week and put it out in the sun for the weekend. The problem I’m having is the leaves are falling off at the lightest touch, sometimes with no touch at all. And they look like healthy leaves. The other problem I’m having is the lower leaves are drying up. They become brittle and brown. What do I do to fix it.

4 pete March 23, 2014 at 6:56 pm

I received a bare root agave parryi truncata that’s about 12″ across…Over the last 6 weeks it has lost four bottom leaves..they become gradually yellow/brown with some dark brown or gray brown areas and they thin out and curl upwards and towards the plant. It is losing one more bottom leaf and one that is above it while it has only one healthy bottom leaf left. It seems to be growing because the inner rosette leaf is separating slowly. I watered the plant slightly 10 days after transplanting and then 14 days after that. It was only getting about 650 lux onto it’s leaves until a few days ago when I added two fluorescents real close and now it gets about 7000 lux. Is the plant going to do ok or is it infected with something

5 Alex April 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I have a succulent (the name escapes me) that I’ve had for a couple weeks now. It looks healthy and thriving, and I water it every couple of days. Today while watering it, I noticed in the soil near it’s base some brown pods (the succulent has no brown, all green with a touch of red on the tips of the leaves) that look crusty and not at all related to the plant. In the opening of the pod are odd black balls that look like eggs/seeds. I have another succulent in the same pot that I got at the same place, but the pods are only next to that one. I took a picture, but I don’t know how to upload. I want to destroy the pods for fear of them killing my succulent (whether they be a fungus or eggs), but I just want to make sure they aren’t seeds of the succulent. I couldn’t find any information online about it. Thanks!

6 Brian Ridder April 21, 2014 at 10:19 am

Hi Alex. We’re replying to your question via email.

7 Brian Ridder April 21, 2014 at 10:22 am

Hi, Pete — Without seeing it, it’s hard to say if it’s over- or under-watered. Are the lower leaves soft and squishy or dry? Is the core of the plant OK? Since it’s an agave, I suspect it needs more warmth, sun, and air circulation than you’re giving it. Agaves will get by indoors during their winter dormancy, but for the rest of the year they need to be outdoors. As one nurseryman puts it, “The amount of light agaves need will ruin your furniture.” ~ Debra Lee Baldwin

8 Brian Ridder April 21, 2014 at 10:22 am

Hi, Megan — It’s normal for the lower leaves to become brown and dry. New growth is from the center of the rosette, and older leaves wither and fall off. But healthy green leaves falling off is not a good sign. Sempervivums are susceptible to root root from overwatering. If that happens, you can try to salvage the plant by cutting the top off (above any squishy tissue), letting it callus, and re-rooting it as a cutting. Discard soil that might harbor pathogens. ~Debra Lee Baldwin

9 Anna July 3, 2014 at 5:40 pm

I’ve been told that growing succulents would be easy and fun… I killed one by watering it too much and now I can’t figure out what’s happening to my echeveria…

Its leaves are green-greyish (a lot like this one http://www.thesucculentgarden.com.au/images/ec244_large.jpg). Anyhow it keeps loosing its bottom leaves (even super green and rigid ones). The end of the falling leaves is super thin and transparent and the stem scares super fast. I tought it was a lack of sun, put them in an other window, they ended up with sunburns. Lack of water? I put more. Now I’m thinking over watering. *Sigh*

So I had it for 1 month and it already has a one inch dry stem from loosing all its leaves. It’s starting to look funny but the top leaves still look great. Should I decapitate it?

Thanks for your time!! (sorry for my average english and lack of knowledge in the horticulture field)

10 marcia July 18, 2014 at 3:30 pm

Anna, if you’re still trying to save your succulent I would take it out of the soil and let it dry out for a day or two. Then try again. Generally if it’s over watering the leaves are spongy and will look wet and fall apart when pulled. I’ve cut some drastically at the stem, and they have survived. But if it’s spongy, I would discard it.

11 Kristie September 14, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Hello Brian,
I am having the same issue that Alex reported above with crusty pods in the soil near other succulents that contain black seed like things. Could you shed some light as to what these might be? Thank you,


12 Kelly October 11, 2014 at 8:17 pm

My question is the same as Alex’s. I too have the pods. What’s going on?

13 jenny October 23, 2014 at 4:22 am

my leaves are turning brown and are shriveling up on the top part of my plant… not sure what to do … first time with one of these thanks…

14 Brian Ridder October 23, 2014 at 10:35 am

Hi Jenny! We would need more information for an accurate diagnosis. Do you have a picture of the plant you could attach to your comment?

15 elli November 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm

hi!! i’m new at succulent care and my succulent (“black prince”) dropped a “leaf”. the leaf is red at the tip then goes to yellow and then white, while for the other leaves it’s dark purple at the tips and then green. the fallen leaf gets squishier as it gets lighter— did I overwater it?

16 Brian Ridder November 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Hi Elli! We would need a photograph in order to properly diagnose the problem. Do you have an image you can attach? You can also contact Debra directly through her website: http://www.debraleebaldwin.com/.

17 angel December 22, 2014 at 5:03 am

hi…i need some advice…my echeveria rose cactus leaves become soft..yesterday, the leaves were doing fine but when i got home after work i noticed that the leaves were soft…is it overwatering or too much sunlight? tnx….

18 angel December 22, 2014 at 5:08 am

how to attach the pic of my plant? tnx….

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