Etiolated Succulents And The Impact Of Light On Succulent Growth

etiolated succulent and the impact of light to the growth of succulents featured image

You’re a certified succulent plant lover. It’s Saturday morning. You’re taking a stroll around your mini succulent garden or glancing at your succulent collection in your apartment. You notice something odd about your succulents.

They seem nothing like what you see on Instagram that made you fall in love with succulents. That Mexican rose that is supposed to grow short, compact, and close-knit rosettes is now elongated and scrawny with wide spaces between the leaves.

The oh-so-lovely sedeveria letizia you were planning to “wow” everyone with appears leggy, bent on one side, and has turned pale.

At this point, you’re tempted to ask the classic question: “Where did I go wrong?”

If you can relate, then your plants are suffering from insufficient light. This is the last thing every succulent lover wants to bump into as it robs beautiful succulents’ aesthetic value. A succulent exuding such morphological characteristics is said to be etiolated or undergoing etiolation.

What Is Etiolated Succulent?

In Layman’s terms, etiolation is when plants are not getting enough light. The plants turn pale and can grow long and bent. It’s a natural response mechanism by the plant to sunlight deprivation. These unfavorable conditions force the plant to respond by rapidly growing in a direction it perceives to have maximum light. This condition can happen in many other plants, not only succulents.

Therefore, you can see the plants appear weak and pale since they spend a lot of energy trying to grow in the direction of light than usual. Etiolation is most prevalent in indoor succulents because most indoor spaces are poorly lit for some light-loving succulent species.

It also occurs in gardens and outdoor plants if grown under shade or blocked from the sunlight for too long.

While etiolation is accidental mainly due to insufficient light, it can be manipulated to produce certain varieties of plants. For example, farmers grow white Celery and white Asparagus with no light, resulting in white stalks and spears. These are expensive and even considered more delicious than their green counterparts.

However, with etiolated succulents, no upside is evident – only deformed, goofy-looking plants, quite the opposite of what they’re meant to be.


Clear Early Signs Of Etiolated Succulents

Check out these 4 signs to detect hints of etiolation in your plants:

Sign #1: Leaves point downwards – Succulents like Echeverias and Sempervivums are known for their thick, upright leaves. But, without enough light, these leaves start to droop and point downwards as an early sign of etiolation, which is the plant’s way of trying to catch more light for making food (photosynthesis). This drooping isn’t permanent and can be fixed by giving the plant enough sunlight—usually, at least four hours a day for sun-loving succulents.

Sign #2: Succulents lean on their sides – Healthy plants grow upright, but those lacking light bend toward/backward/ to the sides to get more light. This bending and stretching adaptation can cause the stem to break eventually. In nature, this lets the broken part grow new roots, usually where there’s enough light. You can use bamboo stakes and string to support any succulent stem.

Sign #3: Unusual rapid growth & long internodes – Plants directing their energy towards reaching light sources will accelerate growth in an elongated stem with widely-spaced leaves. Because new leaves can’t keep pace with the stem’s growth. This elongation is a survival tactic to aid photosynthesis.

Sign #4: Pale green appearance – The vibrant green color in plants results from a substance known as chlorophyll. The formation of chlorophyll in plants depends on how much light the plant is exposed to. Etiolated plants are deprived of light, which means little chlorophyll formation, leading to a pale green color.

How To Fix Etiolated Succulent

Well, how about some bad news?

It’s impossible to fix an etiolated succulent. It can never recover once the succulent has become leggy, thin, and stretched. Etiolation is permanent.

Richard from Succulent City

Should I make this a quote? Yeah, I just did 🙂

However, as stated earlier, it can be salvaged if you detect signs of etiolation early enough before the plant starts stretching and apply the preventive methods below. But if you want to reshape your stretched etiolated succulents to their former beautiful statue – you’re out of luck, unfortunately.

The good thing is you can always propagate the etiolated succulent and end up with more plants! This can quickly be done through beheading. Succulents such as Echeverias can be propagated through beheading. For others, consider propagating them through cuttings or leaves. After a few weeks, the stump will start producing baby plants, and the crown will be fully established and rooted. 

Read more: An Overview Of How To Propagate Succulents: Introducing Different Methods.

Preventing Etiolation In Succulents

Etiolation can be quite a headache when growing succulents indoors. However, there are various ways to avoid it:

1. Repositioning Your Succulents

Move your succulents to a spot with enough direct sunlight (Pic 1). If growing indoors, a large uncovered window facing southwards would be perfect. This condition ensures your succulents have enough light they need but introduces another notice: Too much sun will lead to sunburn. You can either move the succulents in and out all the time or consider a flexible solution for adjusting window sunlight. For example, a wooden shutter will protect your window area and help control the light coming in. If your window size is customized, consider this wood shutters diy guide for making your suitable exterior shutter.

Repositioning also means proper spacing between succulents. A succulent can be under the shade of another, which leads to inadequate sunlight. Moreover, the appropriate spacing between succulents will improve the airflow around them, reducing the risk of fungal diseases

2. Regularly rotating your succulents

When a plant doesn’t get light from all sides, it tends to grow longer on one side as it reaches for the light. By turning the plant every so often (Pic 2), every part gets enough light, which helps it grow strong evenly, avoiding weak, leggy growth and maintaining its shape and health. This also assures that the whole plant can make food efficiently through photosynthesis. Therefore, you won’t have to worry about one side getting damaged or burned by getting too much light all the time.

3. Flexible Light Sources

By saying flexible light sources, I mean having a grow light to spare (Pic 3). These artificial light resources help in the growth of indoor plants by providing photosynthesis-specific wavelengths (about 400-700 nm).

This ensures that the plant carries on with photosynthesis. A grow light will significantly help if you live in areas with many cloudy dayslong winter days, or short days. Be sure to locate the grow light vertically above your plant to ensure the plant grows straight and gets light evenly.

Read more: My Selection Of The Best Succulent Grow Lights.

4. Choose different succulents

Sometimes, providing ideal growing conditions for a particular succulent may be quite a task, especially with lighting. Growing other succulents with low-light requirements can be a good option. Though etiolation can occur in any succulent, some species are more susceptible to it than others. This is especially true for succulents that are rosette-forming with well-developed stems.

The following genera of succulents are most susceptible to etiolation (Pic 4):

Their slow-growing habit under low-light conditions and compact structure are key to making them harder to etiolate.

Final Words

The post has gone this far, and an appreciation for anyone who reaches this part. After reading this, I hope you all know what causes the etiolation in succulents, whether we can fix it, and signs to notice that will later prevent future etiolations. 

Let me know everything you want to ask in the comment section below! We are giving away free helpful eBooks about succulents. Do you want to grab some? Click here to enroll!

Succulent City chief editor


Succulent City

Hey everyone! Welcome to Succulent City! We are all about succulents, cacti, and a bit about air plants. Ten years back, in 2013, we began the journey with succulents. It started as a simple hobby, crafting and selling charming succulent-themed pins and decorations. But as time passed, our fascination with these remarkable plants grew, and we gained extensive knowledge about them. Therefore, Succulent City is the blog as you see it is now. Enjoy your visit and happly planting!

6 thoughts on “Etiolated Succulents And The Impact Of Light On Succulent Growth

  1. I am interested to buy the seeds of the different succulents and grow in
    Please advise.

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