Whether you’re a newcomer to the succulent world just looking for a pop of color or a long-time cactus convert, succulents and cacti can often be NOT quite the low-maintenance dream they’re cracked up to be. From root rot to mealybugs, the culprits can be varied and often times confusing. But with these quick tips to help you identify and remedy whatever issue arises, you and your succulents will be happy and healthy again in no time! (That Crassula Ovata or Jade Plant will grow like no other).
Watering Your Succulents
Succulents are frequently native to hot, dry climates, and therefore have evolved to take advantage of every drop of water they can. (Talk about thirsty plants).
This means that when they get too much water they are at risk of developing root rot, a condition stemming from roots sitting in standing water or high-retention soil. An overwatered succulent will start to wrinkle like a finger after too long in the bath or become spongy and yellowed.
Luckily, if caught in time it is easy to fix — all it takes is not watering your plant for several days until the soil dries out completely. In order to prevent overwatering, however, you should be sure to water your succulents only about once a week and plant them in pots with plenty of drainage and soil that doesn’t retain water for very long. Check out our article about when you should water your succulents, it’s helped more than 2000 people.
Cactus and succulent friendly soil is readily available at hardware stores, nurseries, and even some grocery stores, and can also be made at home. But here are some I found on Amazon for those that like things delivered. (Including me).
Under Watering Succulents
While over saturation is by far the more common issue, it is also possible to water your succulents too little. This can occur both if your succulents are watered too infrequently, or if they are in too tall a pot. Here’s a pot that works well when you first get started.
Succulent and cactus roots are very shallow, so tall pots with what would generally be considered healthy drainage can draw water away from roots before they have a chance to soak it up. Under watered plants are generally relatively easy to identify, as cactuses tend to shrivel up and pucker while succulent’s upper leaves will begin to dry out and get crunchy.
The solution here is pretty clear: simply water your plant more, aiming for a good soak about once a week. It is often easiest to pick a day to be the succulent watering day, thereby making it a routine that is easy to remember and work into your lifestyle. (Plus, your succulents will look forward to this day).
Watering Succulents from Above
While this is less of an issue for cactuses, succulents often have lots of nooks and crannies near the base of the plant that will catch and retain water if watered from above. This can begin to decay the base and stem of the plant and can be challenging to notice until it is too late and the core of the plant is rotten.
If you notice leaves starting to rot from the base up it is best to pluck those leaves and attempt to remove any standing water or rotten foliage.
However, the best way to avoid this issue is to water your succulents at the base rather than with a spray bottle and avoid letting water land on the tops of the leaves.
Mineral Build Up
Tap water can be full of all manner of minerals from calcium to fluoride to chlorine. While these are all beneficial for their human uses, depending on the levels in your local tap water they can be downright harmful to plants.
If you begin to notice a white crusty build up on your leaves or the soil around your plant, you may want to consider either switching to watering with distilled or filtered water, which can sometimes be a hassle, or simply letting your water sit for a day or so before use to let any sediments or minerals filter to the bottom of the container.
This practice, while not always necessary, can limit the amount of contact these minerals have with your plants.
Diseases & Parasites in Your Succulent Plants
Mealybugs are similar to the aphids that appear in outdoor gardens in that they usually show up in large numbers and leave what looks like little bits of dirt on the leaves of your succulent. Unlike aphids, however, mealybugs are generally a whitish grey and can appear on indoor plants.
They spread quickly, so how can you get rid of mealy bugs from your succulents?
The first step in quelling an infestation is always to quarantine any infested plants. As long as that step is taken first, the follow-up treatment is relatively easy. Simply mix up a solution of three parts isopropyl alcohol to one part water and spray your succulents daily until the mealybugs clear up, usually only a couple days.
While this may sound dangerous, this solution will not burn your plants and as the alcohol evaporates quickly, you shouldn’t run into any issues with root rot. More often than not mealybugs are attracted to plants that have been overwatered or over fertilized, so they are also a good sign to reassess how you’re caring for your succulent.
Scale bugs or insects are small shelled bugs of a dark brown color that attach themselves to stems or leaves and suck the moisture from your plants. While it is best to treat them in their larval stage, they are often hard to locate and are readily treatable in adulthood too.
Unlike mealybugs, scale insects can simply be picked off by hand if you have some time. They can also be treated with the same three to one isopropyl alcohol to water solution as the mealybugs, although they may take more time to respond to the treatment due to their protective shells. (It’s like armor to them).
If you find that the alcohol solution is simply not working you can also use neem oil, which is usually available at your local hardware store. Neem oil can be very concentrated, so be sure to follow the directions on the container to avoid burning your succulents as well as the scale bug. (We definitely don’t want to hurt our baby succulents).
Luckily scale bugs are not a time-sensitive pest as long as you begin to treat them before your succulent plant starts to shrivel, so attempting several treatment methods won’t harm your beautiful succulents.
Other Succulent Pests
There are a variety of other, less common insects, fungi, and diseases that can make your succulent home, but more often than not the three to one isopropyl alcohol to water solution will kill an insect infestation and neem oil will target insects, mites, and fungi.
If you are unsure what category your infestation falls under, begin with the alcohol solution, as it can’t damage your plant. If that doesn’t work, move on to a neem oil solution while being mindful with the directions on your particular container to avoid burning your succulent.
Always begin by isolating the affected plant to avoid the issue spreading. If neither of those solutions work, consider bringing the plant into your local nursery. Like a trip to the doctors! They may be able to identify the issue more specifically and suggest another viable solution.
A thriving cactus or succulent will eventually outgrow its pot, either above or below the soil. Why is that? Because they are adapted to dry environments, succulents and cacti roots are shallow and tend to grow horizontally, so they can quickly outgrow a pot that is too small or narrow.
If you notice that your succulent isn’t growing anymore, or is beginning to die, it might be time to consider repotting. Rehoming your plant into a slightly larger, and specifically wider, pot can do wonders for growth and the overall health of your plant. Here’s an article we just wrote about the tips and tricks in repotting succulents, it’s quick and easy!
Succulent Climate & Temperature Tolerance
Succulents can be sensitive to extreme cold, so keeping them in above freezing temps is an important part of keeping your plant happy. A succulent that has gotten too cold can look burned, with parts of the upper leaves beginning to brown, droop, or shrivel up.
If you like to sleep with your windows open in the winter and you live in a colder environment, perhaps consider keeping your succulents in a different room when the weather begins to drop below freezing at night.
Succulents thrive in bright sunlight, so housing them in places that don’t receive much natural light can cause stretching as they seek the light they need.
A stretching succulent will get much taller, with leaves spread widely up and down the stem to maximize the amount of light each leaf receives. If you begin to notice stretching simply move your plant to a location with more light, as once stretching has occurred it’s impossible for the plant to return to its original height.
Here’s a highly reviewed indoor grow light on Amazon we’ve found that is perfect for your indoor succulents.
When your succulent is in bright sunlight, it is also important to avoid leaving water droplets sitting on its leaves after watering, as the water can focus the light and it risks burning your leaves. This is another reason to be sure to water your plants from below the leaves. Learn how to properly propagate succulents for the most effective position for light.
Hopefully, these tips can help you identify and resolve any issues that arise during your succulent care endeavors and keep your plants healthy for years to come.
It is also important to remember that it is completely natural and healthy for some leaves to die at the plant grows. So leaves at the base of your plant drying up and falling off is NOT in any way a poor reflection of your care for your succulent family.
If you’re new in the succulent world, here’s some beginner succulents that are quite easy to take care of when you first begin. Happy growing!