How to Save a Succulent That is Turning Yellow

Why is my succulent turning yellow

If the leaves of the succulent are turning yellow with a mushy texture and start dropping off, the succulent if suffering from root rot or stem rot due to overwatering and poor drainage. Succulents are drought resistant plants that need the soil to dry out between each bout of watering to avoid their leaves turning yellow, brown or black.

Succulents can also turn yellow due to too much sunlight and cold temperatures.

If the succulent’s leaves are turning yellow, dry and crispy (and then brown) similar to the succulent in the photo, then this is a normal part of the succulents life cycle and you can just prune the dying leaves back.

Keep reading to learn how to save a yellowing succulent…

Succulent Leaves and Stems Turning Yellow and Mushy

  • Symptoms. Yellow, soft parts of the succulent that may also turn brown and have a mushy texture and fall off easily. Succulent can also turn yellow at the base.
  • Causes. Root rot, stem rot or basal stem rot which are all due to overwatering or soil that retains moisture too long for the succulents roots. Planting succulents in pots with drainage holes in the base.

If the succulent turns yellow and has a soft, mushy texture then this indicates the succulent is suffering because there is too much moisture around the roots for this drought resistant plant to tolerate.

Succulents are adapted living in hot and dry climates with infrequent rainfall and well draining, porous, gritty soil that does hold onto much moisture.

Due to their extensive adaptations to survive in arid climates, succulents often develop root or stem rot and show signs of stress such as yellowing mushy leaves from:

  • Overwatering.
  • Using potting soil that retains too much moisture.
  • Pots without drainage holes in the base.
  • The use of saucers, trays and decorative outer pots causing excess water to pool around the base of the pot.
A mini succulent that came in a decorative outer pot. Empty the outer pot regularly to prevent water pooling around the roots and causing root rot.
A mini succulent that came in a decorative outer pot. Empty the outer pot regularly to prevent water pooling around the roots and causing root rot.

Whilst overwatering (specifically watering too often) is the most common cause of succulents turning yellow and mushy, even if you follow conventional advice about how often to water your succulent, the leaves and root can still turn yellow and soft (due to rot) if the soil remains damp for too long after watering.

Succulents require a specialized soil that replicates the well draining, porous conditions of their natural habitat, rather then standard potting soil.

It is also important to emulate the watering conditions of its natural range, by allowing the soil to completely dry between each bout of watering, as this replicates the -deluge of rain, followed by a period of drought- cycle that succulents need.

How to Save a Succulent with Yellow and Soft Leaves and Stems

  • Reduce how often you water your succulents so that the soil can dry out before you water again. Succulents can tolerate underwatering far better then overwatering, and should only be watered when the soil around the roots is completely dry. Typically this means watering around every 2 weeks during active growth in the Spring and Summer and every 3/4 weeks in Winter, but this can vary depending on the maturity of the succulent, the size of the pot and the environmental conditions in your house.

To establish the optimal watering frequency for your succulent according to your conditions, feel the potting soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole in the base. If the soil feels damp then delay watering until it feels completely dry and then give the soil a good soak.

(To learn more about how to water at different times of year and according to different conditions, read my article, how often to water succulents.)

You can also use a wooden stick to push through the soil to if the soil is still moist or dry.

Succulent root rot.
A wooden skewer can be an effective way to assess the soils moisture.. If the skewer is still damp then delay watering for a few days and wait until it feels dry.
A gritty succulent and cacti potting mix that allows for good drainage and prevents root rot.
A gritty succulent and cacti potting mix that allows for good drainage and prevents root rot.
  • Always plant succulents in pots with drainage holes in the base and empty any saucers, trays and decorative outer pots of excess water, regularly to ensure the succulents roots are not sat in water.
  • Ideally repot the succulent in a terracotta or unglazed clay pot as these materials are porous which allows the potting soil to dry more evenly and mitigates the risk of root rot whereas plastic and ceramic are impermeable which can trap moisture around the roots of the succulent.
  • Cut off any part of the succulent is yellow and mushy as this rot can spread. This may mean cutting individual leaves back to the base of the plant. Use a sterilized pruning tool and wipe the blade with a cloth soaked in disinfectant between each cut to prevent the spread of fungal pathogens to open wounds.

Once you cut back any rotting tissue, the wound callouses over in a few days and the succulent survive (as long as you have adjusted the watering and changed the soil).

If the succulent has been in damp soil for too long and significant parts of the plant are turning yellow, brown or black with a soft texture (or if the plant is turning yellow at the base) then the only way to save it is to propagate the succulent using cuttings or offsets from any remaining growth.

Watch this YouTube video for how to propagate succulents for cuttings:

Succulent Turning Yellow at The Bottom (Cold Temperatures)

Succulents turn yellow at the bottom because of a combination of overwatering, poor drainage and cold temperatures.

Most succulents are dormant in Winter which reduces their demand for water, and reduces the rate the soil dries.

This can promote the conditions for root rot, and basal stem rot which results in the lower leaves or lower part of the succulents stem turning yellow and mushy.

Cold temperatures are also contrary to their natural growing conditions and can contribute to the stress that turns the base of the succulent yellow.

However if the leaves are yellow but not mushy then this is typically a natural process as the succulent matures and does not necessarily indicate anything is amiss with the plant.

How to Save it…

To save it, follow instructions pertaining to overwatering, by only watering when the soil is dry and repot the succulent in well draining ‘succulent and cacti soil’.

Reduce how often you water the succulent in Winter as it requires much less water whilst it is dormant. Typically I water my succulents every 4 weeks in Winter, however this can vary if for example the pot is near to a source of indoor heating which can cause the soil to dry out quicker.

Always test the soil to see if it is dry before watering and periodically lift your succulent in its pot to assess its weight as it should feel much lighter when the soil has dried out.

Keep the succulent in a room that is above 50°F (10°C) to prevent cold stress exacerbating this risk of root rot.

If the rot starts spreading upwards then I recommend propagating the succulent from cuttings as this can be the only way to save the plant.

Succulent Scorched Yellow by too Much Direct Sunlight

Most succulents can tolerate several hours of direct sunlight as they are adapted to growing in open areas. However there are some species of succulent (such as the snake plant) that are adapted to growing in bright indirect light, shaded from direct sunlight by an overhead canopy.

When snake plants are grown in full sun they can scorch yellow or brown (depending on the intensity of the sun).

Some succulents, such as jade plants can turn yellow and pink or red in reaction to too much sunlight.

Therefore it is important to check the species of your succulent to see its preference for light and make any adjustments as necessary.

It is however important to note that whilst some succulents (such as aloe vera) are capable of growing in direct sunlight, they can scorch yellow if they are moved from a more shaded area to an area of strong sun, suddenly.

Succulents are very adaptive to their environment and if they have been in lower levels of light they need time to acclimatize to higher intensities of light as the succulent creates its own form of protection from the sun which takes time.

It is always best practice to move the succulent into more light gradually, by locating it in the sun for around 20 minutes longer each day over the course of 2 weeks which gives the succulent enough time to acclimate to higher levels of light.

If your succulent leaves have been scorched yellow, and you have corrected the conditions then leave it to grow for the time being.

Any badly scorched areas cannot photosynthesize (however they do not necessary pose a threat to the healthy of the succulent so you can leaves them) and you can cut any leaves or parts back in the Spring (as this is when the succulent is most resilient to the stress of pruning).

(To learn more, read my article, how to revive a dying succulent).

Key Takeaways:

  • Succulents turn yellow and mushy as a result of overwatering. Succulents are drought resistant plants that need the soil to dry out between each bout of watering. If the soil is consistently moist the roots start to rot which can turn the succulent’s leaves yellow, brown or black with a soft texture.
  • If the leaves at the bottom turn yellow and drop off, this is usually as a result of overwatering, poor drainage and cold temperatures. In Winter the succulent is dormant and has a much lower demand for moisture which can increase the risk of yellow rotting leaves due to root rot.
  • Some species of succulents can be sensitive to too much direct sunlight which can scorch them yellow initially and then brown if they have been severely burnt. It is important to gradually expose succulents to high light intensity when coming from relative shade rather then move one into direct sunlight suddenly as this causes sunburn.
  • To save a succulent with yellow leaves, improve the drainage by repotting the succulent in gritty well draining soil and always wait until the soil is dry before watering again. Cut away any yellow mushy areas with pruners, back to healthy growth.

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