How to Revive a Dying Succulent Plant


How to revive a dying succulent

The reason for succulents dying is because of over watering and slow draining soils. Succulents are adapted to tolerate drought and require the soil to dry out between watering. In damp soil succulents develop root rot which causes the leaves to turn yellow, brown or black with a dying appearance.

Whilst over watering is the most common reason for a dying succulents, here are several other reasons your succulent may be dying:

Symptoms of Dying SucculentReason for Succulent Dying
Succulent leaves or stems turning brown yellow or black with soft, mushy texture:Over watering and slow draining, damp soils potentially resulting in root rot.
Succulent turning brown with a scorched appearance:Succulents can suffer sun burn due to the contrast of moving from a shaded area to an area of full sun. Some succulents only require bright, indirect light rather then full sun.
Succulent losing leaves:Losing leaves is often a sign of stress due to overwatering or damp soils that retains too much moisture.
Succulent leaves shriveling or wrinkled with a drooping appearance:Not watering often enough, watering too lightly or soil repelling water off the surface and down the side of the pot away from the roots causing drought stress.
Succulent leaves dying at the bottom:The lower leaves of succulents die back naturally. so that the succulent may be perfectly healthy.
Succulent growing tall and drooping, occasionally with lower leaves dying:Succulents grow tall and droopy if they are in too much shade. Succulents can redirect energy to younger leaves to look for more light, causing lower leaves to die back.
Succulents with black mushy leaves or stems:Black leaves can indicate root rot from over watering or damage from cold or frost. Some succulents are particularly sensitive to cold temperatures of less then 50°F (10°C).

Most often, succulent plants die back when they are living in conditions that are significantly contrary to the conditions of their natural environment.

To revive dying succulents it is important to recreate some of the conditions of low rainfall, full or partial sun and gritty well draining soils to save the succulent.

Keep reading for how to save your dying succulent plant…

Succulent Turning Yellow, Brown or Black (Over watered)

  • Symptoms. Succulent Leaves and stems turning yellow, brown, black or even translucent with a soft, mushy texture and a drooping appearance.
  • Causes. Watering succulents too often, soils that drain too slowly or retain too much moisture, pots without drainage holes in the base or saucers and trays underneath pots that prevent water draining effectively, which can all result in root rot or stem rot. Sun burn can also cause succulents to turn brown.

Succulents are drought resistant plants that have specifically adapted to thriving in, hot and dry, desert like environments in well draining soils with relatively infrequent rainfall.

To grow succulents succulents succulents successfully and avoid their leaves turning brown, black or yellow, it is important to recreate some of the conditions of the succulents native environment by planting them in a gritty, well draining potting soil and typically watering when the soil around the roots has dried out completely.

Watering succulent plants too often or planting the succulent in normal potting soil that retains moisture for too long can cause too much moisture around the roots for this desert plants to tolerate.

Too much moisture around the roots of your succulent from overwatering causes it to turn yellow, brown, black or translucent with soft, mushy leaves as a sign of water stress and can potentially indicate root rot.

Most succulents require the soil to dry out completely around their roots before watering again which replicates the typically watering cycle in their native environment with infrequent rainfall, followed by drought.

It is also important to plant succulents in pots with drainage holes in their base to allow excess water to escape so that the soil around the roots does not become saturated and cause root rot.

Saucers, trays and decorative outer pots can also prevent water from escaping effectively and cause the soil at the bottom of the succulents pot to become boggy and cause the succulents leaves to turn yellow, brown or black and die back from root rot.

How to Revive Dying Succulents Turning Yellow, Brown or Black

  • Scale back the watering. If you are watering your succulent more then once per week then this is the reason the leaves are turning yellow brown or black as a sign of stress due to overwatering. Succulents should only be watered when the soil around their roots has dried out completely. This typically takes around 14 days but can vary because of the climate, the size of the pot and according to the drainage of the soil.
  • Replace the potting soil. Even if you are waiting for the succulents soil to dry out before watering again, your succulent can still turn yellow, brown or black if the potting soil retains moisture for a long time like a sponge rather then draining quickly and not holding much moisture as it would in the succulents native environment. If your succulent is planted in conventional potting soil then empty the pot and replace it with special formulated succulent and cacti soil (available from garden centers and on Amazon) which emulates the, gritty, porous, well draining soil characteristics of the succulents native environment and very significantly reduces the risk of root rot.
  • Always plant succulents in pots with drainage holes in the base. Succulents can be planted in a wide variety of pots as long as they have a hole in the base to allow excess water to escape and prevent watering pooling around the roots causing root rot. Terracotta or clay pots are ideal as they have a more porous structure which allows the potting soil to dry out, which suits the succulents preference for dryer soil conditions. Plant succulents in pots that are proportionate to their size, as large pots have greater capacity for soil and therefore a greater capacity for holding moisture which slows the rate at which soil dries out and can increase the risk of the succulent turning yellow, brown or black.

To establish when the potting soil has dried out around the roots of your succulent, feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole. If the soil feels damp then delay watering your succulent for a few days. If the soil feels dry, then this is the perfect time to water your succulent.

Watering your succulent when the soil has dried out effectively mimics the natural conditions of infrequent rainfall followed by drought, to which succulents are specially adapted.

Ensure that there are no roots or compacted soil blocking the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot, and if you using saucers or trays underneath your pot then empty them regularly to allow water to escape freely, so that the soil can dry out between bouts of watering.

Once your have addressed the causes of why your succulent is turning yellow or brown with a soft, mushy texture (adjusted how often you water and replaced the soil) and implemented the ideal watering practices then the succulent can start to recover even if the leaves appear yellow or brown as long as you let the soil dry out.

How quickly your succulent revives depends on how long it has endured stress but it should show signs of reviving over the following weeks.

If the succulent appears to be recovering after the soil has dried with a reduction in yellow/brown coloring and a firmer texture to the leaves, then resume watering again after about three weeks or so to ensure that you do not go from one extreme of over watering to under watering your succulent which can cause the plant to wilt and die back.

Some of the more affected leaves of your succulent may turn limp and even drop off depending on the variety (this is common for jade succulents).

If there are significantly yellow or brown individual leaves, with the discoloration spreading and that do not look as though they are recovering then cut the individual discolored leaves back to the base of the succulent with a sterile pair of pruners to reduce the overall stress on the succulent, stop any rot spreading which helps to promote recovery.

Save Succulents with Severe Root Rot…

If the yellow, brown or black discoloration of your succulent leaves or stems continues to progressively worsen, despite watering the succulent correctly, and replacing the soil with a well draing, gritty potting mix, then root rot is the cause of your dying succulent.

If the succulent has root rot then it is difficult to save the entire plant, however you can still take cuttings from healthy tissue for propagation.

All succulents plants propagate easily from individual leaves or from a healthy portion of stem as this is one of the methods of reproduction in the succulents native environment.

Watch this helpful YouTube video for how to easily propagate succulents from cuttings and leaves to produce lots of extra plants at no extra cost:

Succulents Turning Brown Due to Sun Burn

Whilst over watering is the most common cause of succulents turning brown, sun burn can also scorch the leaves a light brown or even yellowish color depending on the severity of the sun burn.

Different succulents have different requirements for light with some aloe succulents thriving in full sun whereas other succulents require bright indirect light and burn easily in the sun (such as snake plants).

Snake plants are succulents that prefer bright, indirect light rather the full sun.
Snake plants are succulents that prefer bright, indirect light rather the full sun.

However all succulents can suffer sun burn if they are moved from a relatively shady location into an area of full sun as it takes succulents time to adjust to different light intensities.

Therefore it is important to establish the light requirements of your particular succulent variety, and if you do move the succulent to a sunnier area, do so gradually over the course of 2 weeks and expose your succulent to more sun each day.

With gradual exposure to more sunlight your succulent has time to properly acclimate to the area of higher light intensity without getting burnt.

The solution

If your succulent has been burnt in the sun and turned a scorched brown then move it to an area of bright indirect light for the time being.

Severely sun burnt areas of succulents unfortunately do not recover in appearance, however this does not necessarily mean the succulent is dying as they plant is unlikely to worsen in condition as long as it has been moved out of the sun.

Succulents can live with sun burnt leaves but it is best practices to remove the affected leaves for aesthetic reasons.

Cut back any burnt section of leaves with a sterile pair of pruners below the brown or yellowish areas, ideally cutting leaf back to the base of the plant. This stimulates the growth of new leaves to take their place.

However if your succulent is severely sun burnt then the best way to revive it is to look for leaves and cuttings on the more shaded side of the plant to propagate and to grow more plants from propagation in more favorable levels light to meet that particular succulents sunlight requirements.

Dying Succulent Losing Leaves

  • Symptoms. Succulents dropping leaves, on their own or after slight bumps. Leaves can drop off despite appearing a healthy green color or the leaves may turn somewhat yellow, brown or translucent.
  • Causes. Succulent leaves dropping is a symptom of over watering, soils that retain too much moisture or saucers and trays preventing water escaping from the pot.

For some succulents particularly those of the jade species such as (Crassula ovata), and Gollum Jade, losing leaves is an early indication of that the plant is stressed because the soil around the roots is too damp.

Watering too frequently, moisture retaining soils and pots without good drainage can all cause a succulent to lose it leaves.

Succulents grow in gritty, well draining soils which do not retain much moisture around the roots in their native environment and are adapted to survive drought.

Therefore succulents do not tolerate damp conditions and are sensitive to over watering.

A succulent that is losing leaves is letting your know you need to scale back how often your water to prevent more serious problems such as root rot which is the most common cause of dying succulents.

Usually the succulent can be saved if your adjust their growing conditions to replicate the watering cycle in the native environment.

(Read my article how often to water succulents for how to water succulents at different times of the year and in different conditions).

How to Revive a Succulent that is Losing Leaves

  • Scale back how often you water your succulent. If you are watering succulents more then once per week then this is the reason it is dropping leaves. Always water succulents with a good soak and wait for the soil to dry out before watering again. Typically watering succulents every two weeks is optimal. Feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole in the base. If the soil feels moist then delay watering. When the soil has just turned dry, this is the perfect time to water.
  • Plant your succulent is well draining gritty soil. Ordinary potting soil retains too much moisture for the drought resistant succulent to tolerate. Replace the soil with special succulent and cacti soil (available from garden centers and on Amazon) which is created to emulate the succulents preferred soil type with good drainage and a light aerated structure.
  • Empty saucers and trays regularly to ensure excess water can drain away from the succulents roots. Succulents cannot tolerate being in saturated soil as this promotes the conditions for root rot which causes succulents to drop their leaves (or the leaves turn yellow, brown or black) and succulent dies back.

Give your succulent 2 weeks for the soil to dry out, and ensure that the potting soil is completely dry (by feeling the soil through the drainage hole in the base to check the soil is dry) before watering again.

Once you have adjusted the conditions with more porous succulent and cacti soil, and water the succulent at the right frequency then your succulent should stop losing leaves and start to recover.

However, if the succulent has been sat in saturated soil for a long time then this increases the risk of root rot and the plant is likely to die back.

Succulent Leaves Shriveling, Wilting or Wrinkled

  • Symptoms. Leaves appear wrinkled, or shriveled or perhaps thinner, often with a drooping appearance.
  • Causes. Drought stress due to not watering the succulent often enough, watering the succulent too lightly or soil that causes water to run off the surface and rather then infiltrate and reach the roots or high indoor temperatures due to artificial heat.

Most of the time, the reason for a succulent dying is due to over watering because succulents are sensitive to too much moisture around the roots and are better adapted to tolerate drought.

However succulents can still suffer drought stress if they are not watered often enough, watered too lightly or they are in a hot environment (whether indoor or outdoor) which increases water loss from the leaves and evaporation from the soil.

Another potential cause of succulents suffering drought stress is because the potting soil has baked hard and causes water to run off the surface of the soil without infiltrating properly and reaching the roots which causes the leaves to shrivel, look thinner or droop depending on the succulent type.

Drought stress causes succulent leaves to shrivel, wrinkle, wilt and droop (depending on the succulent species)but the leaves can also become noticeably thinner or even curl inwards which is common in aloe plants (read my article for more on aloe plants with leaves curling inwards).

This is because succulents draw up water from the soil and then store moisture in their thick fleshy leaves, roots and tubers.

When optimally hydrated the succulent leaves feel firm and plump. In times of drought the succulent then utilizes the moisture that is stored in its leaves as a strategy to survive drought in climates with infrequent rainfall.

When the succulent draws upon the moisture reserves in the leaves they, inevitably become thinner and the surface can wrinkle, the leaves can also droop as the conserved moisture also serves a structural support to the succulent.

Whilst succulents do not need to be watered as often as most plants, they do require a generous soak each time your water.

If you water the succulent too lightly then only the top inch of the soil becomes moist and the water does not reach the roots where it is required which can be the cause of drought stress resulting in a shriveled succulent.

Succulents should be watered around every 2 weeks when their potting soil has dried out around the roots to avoid root rot, yet to also ensure the succulent has enough water for the leaves to remain plump and firm rather then shriveled.

(Read my articles on watering aloe vera, jade plants and snake plants for all the best practices of watering succulents).

Fortunately it is often easy to revive dying succulent with wrinkled leaves due to under watering as they are able to cope with drought stress better then over watering…

How to Revive Succulents with Wrinkled, Shriveling Leaves

  • Place the succulent in a basin of water for 10 minutes or so. Whilst succulents do not need to be watered as often as other plants, they grow best when the soil has had a good soak, then allowed to dry out before watering again. Placing the drought stressed succulent in a basin of water allows much need moisture to reach the roots and ensure that the potting mix is evenly moist. This is especially important if the surface of your potting mix has baked hard and repels water off the surface rather then allowing the water to reach the roots. Take the succulent out of the water after 10 minutes and allow the water to drain from the drainage holes.
  • Always give your soil a generous soak. Succulents should be watered with a generous soak, so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot. This ensures that the soil is evenly moist so that the succulents roots can uptake the moisture they require to replenish the moisture reserves in the leaves to recover from their shriveled appearance.
  • Increase how often you water succulents (if necessary). Whilst succulents are adapted to drought they do require consistent watering to prevent the leaves appearing wrinkled or drooping. Typically you should water succulents once every 2 weeks with a good soak so that the leaves maintain their healthy, plump appearance. However you should always wait for the soil to dry out before watering again to avoid root rot.
  • To establish when to your succulent needs watering, feel the soil through the drainage hole in the base of the pot. Feel the soil with your finger every 2 days after watering to determine how long it takes for the soil to dry out. When the soil feels dry at the base of the pot, this is the perfect time to water. This method of watering succulents replicates the drought, followed by rainfall cycle of soil moisture that succulents are adapted to in their native environment.
  • Replace the potting soil if watering is running off the surface. Potting soil that contains peat has a tenancy to bake hard when it dries out which causes water to run off the surface. Succulents need an open, porous soil structure that allows water to infiltrate even when its dried out and promotes good drainage to prevent root rot. Replace your potting soil with specially formulated succulent and cacti soil (available from garden centers or on Amazon) which is created to emulate the well draining soil characteristics of the succulents native environment.
  • Ensure your succulent is not near any sources of indoor heat. Too much heat in the evenings from fires, radiators or forced air can dry out the succulent too quickly and cause the leaves to become shrived. Succulents grow very well at room temperature 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) as long as the are not in the direct path of a source of heat.

Usually with 2 or 3 watering cycles (allowing the soil to dry out before watering again) the succulent should show signs of recovery with fuller leaves, reduce drooping and less of a shriveled appearance.

Succulent Growing Tall with Leaves Dying at the Bottom

  • Symptoms. Succulent leaves at the bottom of the plant turning, brown, crispy with a dying appearance. The succulent may also grow tall and appear leggy with drooping leaves.
  • Causes. Lack of sunlight causes succulents to grow leggy and lose lower leaves. Succulents lower leaves also die back as new leaves grow.

Succulent leaves die back at the bottom because there are not receiving enough sunlight. If the succulent is in too much shade it redirects energy to younger leaves which grow tall to look for more light and the leaves at the bottom turn dry and crispy with a dying appearance.

Sometimes individual leaves can grow tall and weak as grow towards the direction of strongest sunlight which can cause them to droop under their own weight (this is common with aloe vera plants in too much shade).

Different succulent types have different sun requirements with aloe plants require more as they are adapted to full sun and succulents such as string of pearls which requires bright indirect light or it tends to burn so it is important to understand how much light your specific succulent needs.

When succulents are growing in their optimal light conditions, they stay compact and retain a better shape as they do not need to grow tall and look for more light.

If the succulent does not appear to be leggy or drooping and leaves are dying at the bottom of the plant then this is part of the natural cycle or growth for succulents. The dying leaves at the bottom of your succulent are often perfectly normal and not an indication that the plant is dying as a whole.

Aloe vera leaves dying at the bottom
Brown, dry crispy dying leaves at the bottom of a succulent are normal as the plants grows.

How To Revive Succulents with Leaves Dying at the Bottom

  • To revive tall succulents with lower leaves dying, ensure that the succulent is in in a location with enough light. Succulents either require bright indirect light (such as string or pearls or snake plants) or 4-6 hours of sun (such a aloe and jade plants) to remain compact and prevent leggy growth.
  • Gradually expose your succulent to more light as a sudden contrast from shade to full sun can cause succulents to burn. Move the succulents to a sunnier or brighter location for half an hour or so more every other day over the course of a couple of weeks so that the succulent can acclimate to the brighter levels of light.
  • If the growth of the succulent has drooped over, it is difficult to recover the succulent to its original shape and form. In which case taking cutting from leaves or stems for propagation or propagating any offshoots and for new plants is usually the only way to save the succulents appearance (all succulents propagate readily).
  • The dry or dying leaves at the base of the succulent do not harm the plant but should be removed to keep the succulent looking healthy. Gently twist if brown, dead leaves with your hands or a pair of tweezers. If the leaves are not easy to remove leave them in place for a month of so and try again rather then trying to force them off.

Succulent Dying from Cold

  • Symptoms. Succulents can turn brown or black depending with a soft mushy texture to the leaves, but symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the cold damage.
  • Causes. Most succulents are native to hot climates and typically suffer in temperatures lower then 50°F (10°C) and can die in frost, although some succulent plants can tolerate a light frost but this is rare.

Most succulent varieties are not cold hardy and die if they are exposed to temperatures lower then 50°F (10°C) for a long periods of time.

Most succulent varieties grow very well at typically room temperature with a range of 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) being considered optimal for aloe vera.

If succulents are exposed to cold temperatures or even frost the leaves and stems can turns mushy in texture with a brown or black appearance.

Often the damage is more prevalent on the succulents younger leaves.

How to Revive Cold Damaged Succulents

Locate your succulent to an area of your home or garden that is consistently between 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) and ensure that none of the leaves are in direct contact with windows as they can be considerable colder then the rest of the house and scale back any watering for the time being.

Once the succulent is in a more stable environment the cold damage should not necessarily get any worse.

If the leaves of the succulent feel mushy then wait for several days, if not weeks and the mushy, cold damaged part of the succulent should dry out and callus over.

Once the mushy part of the leaf has dried up, cut the leaf back to below the damaged part as the cold damaged areas of the succulent typically do not recover but the succulent plant as a whole can revive.

Only resume watering the succulent when the callus of the leaf cut has healed over to prevent other potential problems as cold damage can increase the risk of root rot.

It requires some considerable patience but the succulent can eventually grow new leaves and start to recover a normal appearance after cold damage.

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a succulent dying is most often because of root rot due to overwatering and slow draining soils. Succulents are drought resistant plants that require the soil to dry out between watering. Brown, yellow or black mushy leaves indicate the succulent is dying because the soil is too damp.
  • Succulents turn brown because of over watering or sun burn. Succulents with brown mushy leaves indicates there is too much moisture around the roots. Brown succulent leaves with a scorched appearance can be because of sun burn due to a sudden increase in the intensity of sunlight.
  • Succulent leaves turn yellow because of excess moisture around the roots caused by watering too often, damp soils or pots without drainage holes in the base. Succulents require the soil to dry between watering. Succulent leaves that are yellow and mushy can indicate root rot from over watering.
  • Succulents grow tall and leggy if they are in too much shade. Most succulents require bright, indirect light or full sun, so succulent leaves grow tall to the direction of strongest light. Tall succulent leaves are often weaker and can droop under their own weight with dying leaves at the base.
  • The reason for succulent leaves shriveling is because of drought stress due to under watering or watering too lightly. Succulents store moisture in their leaves as a survival strategy. If your succulent is under watered it draws on the moisture reserves in leaves which causes a shriveling appearance.
  • To revive dying succulents, recreate the conditions of their native environment with well draining gritty soils, with the right level of light for your succulent and water when the soil dries out. Take cuttings from healthy parts of the succulent for propagation to save the succulent.

One thought on “How to Revive a Dying Succulent Plant

  1. The reason succulents turn black is because of root rot. Succulents require the soil to dry out between each watering. If the soil is consistently damp then succulents develop root rot which turns the leaves and stems black and mushy or black spots appear on the leaves.

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