Why is My Succulent Dying? (6 Solutions that Actually Work)

Why is my succulent dying

The reason for dying succulents is often because of root rot caused by overwatering and damp soils. Succulents should be only be watered once the soil has dried out. If the succulent is in consistently damp soil then the leaves start to turn brown, yellow or black and die of root rot.

Overwatering also causes the succulent to droop and the sometimes the leaves fall off. However there are several more reasons why your succulent could be dying…

The most common reasons for a dying succulent:

  1. Root rot from overwatering and overly moist soils (Leaves turning brown, yellow, black, translucent with a mushy texture, sometimes with a drooping appearance).
  2. Drought stress caused by watering too lightly or not watering often enough for your climate (leaves turn wrinkled with a wilted appearance, some leaves may turn brown and crispy).
  3. Succulent dying after repotting (transplant shock and planting succulents in the wrong soil type causing root rot).
  4. Succulent turning brown or yellowish due to overwatering or sunburn (some succulents require bright indirect light and can burn in full sunlight).
  5. Succulent dying from the bottom up (potentially caused by lack of light, too much moisture or the succulent is natural shedding lower leaves).
  6. Succulent dying from cold temperatures (a lot of succulents are not cold hardy and can die in temperatures colder then 50°F (10°C) and frost).

Keep reading for how to save your dying succulent…

Succulent Dying of Root Rot (Overwatering)

The reason for a dying succulent is usually because of overwatering or due to soils that retain too much moisture. Succulents are drought resistant plants that require the soil to dry out between bouts of watering. If the soil is too damp, succulents turn brown, yellow or black and die of root rot.

Succulents are drought tolerant plants that have adapted to living in gritty, well draining soils (often growing on rocky hillsides) with high temperatures and infrequent rainfall in their native environment and thrive in hostile conditions where other plants struggle to survive.

Due to their preference for arid environments, succulents do not tolerate watering too often or soils that stay damp for a long time as this creates the conditions for root rot which which causes the plant to die back.

When caring for a succulent at home or in the garden the most common mistakes are:

  • Watering your succulent too often or…
  • Plant the succulent in ordinary potting soil (rather then special succulent and cacti soil) which retains too much moisture.

Even if you are following the best practices of watering succulents around once every 2 weeks, the succulent leaves can still turn brown yellow or black and suffer root rot because the soil stays moist for too long after watering.

Succulents require specially formulated succulent and cacti soil which replicates the well draining gritty soil of their native environment and significantly reduces the risk of root rot.

The first signs of stress that a succulent is overwatered are:

  • Leaves or stems turning brown, yellow, translucent or black.
  • Some succulents, such as jade plants, often drop their leaves in response to overwatering.
  • A drooping or wilting appearance.
  • The leaves of overwatered succulents can effectively burst as and appear somewhat wrinkled.
  • The leaves feel soft and mushy rather then a plump and healthy.

If you are watering succulents more then once per week then you are overwatering and this is the cause of your succulent plant dying.

To grow succulents successfully and to avoid root rot, it is important to emulate some of the growing conditions of the succulents native habitat with the appropriate well draining soil and to water your succulent in a cycle of a thorough watering once every 2 week or so.

Watering succulents generously mimics the cycle of watering that succulent plants typically experience in their native environment with a deluge of rainfall followed by a period of drought so that the plant stays healthy.

(Read my article How Often to Water Succulents to understand how to know when you should water succulents so they stay healthy and avoid root rot).

Save Succulents Dying of Root Rot From Overwatering

If your succulent is displaying any of the symptoms of root rot or stress from overwatering the first step is to…

  • Scale back how often you are watering the succulent plant and let the soil around the succulents roots dry out completely. Succulents should only be watered when the soil is dry around the roots. Typically watering succulents once every 2 weeks meets the watering requirements and mimics their natural watering cycle.
  • The best way to establish how often you should water your succulent is to feel the soil at the base of the pot. If the soil is damp then delay watering for a few days, if the soil is dry then this is the time to water with a generous soak, so that the soil is evenly moist.
  • Replant your succulent in well draining succulent and cacti soil which is especially porous, allows for good drainage and replicates the typical soil conditions of a succulents natural soil in their environment. (Read my article on, the best potting soil for succulents indoors).
  • Always plant succulents in pots with drainage holes in the base and empty saucers, trays and decorative outer pots of excess water regularly to ensure the succulent is not in standing water. Saucers and trays are good for preventing water from spilling in the home but ensure water is not pooling around the roots of your succulent so that the soil can drain properly to prevent root rot.

Succulents are likely to die if they are in ordinary potting soil due to the length of time it stays damp so I must re-emphasis the importance of succulent and cacti soil to help avoid root rot.

With appropriate potting soil and waiting for the soil to dry out before watering again, the succulent should start to show signs of recovery with the discoloration of the leaves shrinking and eventually returning to a healthier green appearance.

However if the leaves continue to turn brown, yellow or black and the mushy area of the leaves is expanding then the rot can kill the succulent and more drastic action is required to save the succulent.

In which case the only way to save the succulent is with some tactical pruning of the diseased parts of the plant and taking cutting of leaves and stems from any remaining healthy tissue for propagation.

Propagating succulents is incredibly easy as this is one of the succulents main mechanisms for reproduction in their native environment. Watch this helpful YouTube video below to learn how to propagate succulents:

Succulents Dying From Underwatering (Drooping, Shriveled Leaves)

The most common reason for a succulent dying is due to overwatering due to their preference for well draining soils and infrequent watering.

However succulents can still die from drought stress if they are not watered with the right method or they are planted in soil that contains peat as one of the ingredients which can repel water when it is dry.

The reason for succulents shriveling is because the succulent is not watered often enough, or watered too lightly. Succulents need a thorough watering, rather then a light watering (around every 2 weeks), so that water trickles from the base of the pot to prevent succulent leaves from shriveling.

Succulents store moisture in their leaves and stems after a deluge of rainfall as an adaptation to survive during periods of drought in their native hostile, dry environments.

When the succulent is watered correctly the leaves should look plump and healthy.

If the succulent has not been watered often enough or watered too lightly then the succulent draws upon and depletes the moisture reserves in the leaves and stems which causes them the leaves to look thinner and the surface to shrivel as a result.

The leaves and stems can also droop due to drought stress as the moisture reserves acts as structural support to the plant.

It is important to note that certain potting soils also repel watering when they dry out (in particular potting soils that contain peat moss) so that water runs off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot without infiltrating the soil reaching the roots which causes the symptoms of drought stress with shriveling leaves.

Fortunately saving succulents that are suffering due to drought stress is much easy then saving overwatered succulents…

Save Dying Underwatered Succulents

  1. Place the underwatered succulent in a basin of water for around 10 minutes, ensuring that the root ball is fully submerged. This allows water to effectively infiltrate the soil and reach the roots where it is required. Remove the succulent from the basin after 10 minutes or so and allow excess water to drain freely from the drainage holes in the base of the pot.
  2. Wait until the succulent soil has dried out (usually around 2 weeks) before watering it again, ensuring that it gets a really thorough watering so the soil is evenly moist.
  3. Water your succulent around once every 2 weeks on average. It is important to ensure that the soil dries between bouts of watering as succulents plants do not tolerate being in damp soil (which causes root rot).
  4. 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 establish 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 in your climate and according to your conditions. This method of watering succulents mimics the drought, followed by rainfall cycle of soil moisture to which succulents are adapted in their native environment.
  5. If you notice water running off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot rather then soaking in properly then you need to replace the soil with succulent and cacti soil. Specially formulated succulent and cacti soil retains a open, porous structure that promotes good drainage so that water can infiltrate effectively and reach the roots so your succulent can access the moisture it requires to stay healthy (available form garden centers and on Amazon).
A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing succulent plants.
A gritty succulent soil mix is perfect for growing succulent plants.
  1. Ensure that the succulent is not too near a source of heat when indoors such as a radiator or in the direct flow of air currents which can sap moisture from the leaves and dry out the soil too quickly. Succulents can grow very well in room temperature with most species preferring a temperature range of 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) so keep succulents in an area where the temperature is fairly consistent rather then fluctuating significantly due to indoor heating.

With 2 or 3 watering cycles the succulent leaves should recover from drought stress with a healthy plump appearance to its leaves as the moisture stores are replenished as long as you water thoroughly and consistently.

The succulents leaves should feel firm and look smooth (rather then shriveled) when it is optimally hydrated.

However if your succulent has suffered drought for too long it is often too difficult to save.

Succulent Dying after Repotting

Zebra succulent after repotting.
Zebra succulent after repotting.

The reason your succulent is dying after repotting is because of transplant shock. When succulents are repotted the contrast in the soil medium, moisture levels and light conditions can cause the succulent to droop and turn yellow, brown or black and die back due to stress of a different environment.

Succulents are adaptable become accustomed to a specific set of growing conditions, so when they are repotted or moved to a different area suddenly, succulents can often exhibit signs of stress.

It is important to note that the pot itself can have a big impact on the succulent after repotting for 2 reasons:

  1. If you have repotted your succulent to a much lager pot then the level of soil moisture is likely to change significantly, even if you are watering the same amount. This is because larger pots have a greater capacity for soil which retains more moisture and dries out slower compared to smaller pots. This means the soil is likely to stay moist around the roots of your succulent for longer then it is accustomed which can promote the conditions for root rot and be the cause of a dying succulent.
  2. The type of material of the pot can affect how quickly the soil dries. Pots that are made of clay are porous and allow moisture to dry form the soil quicker, whereas pots made from plastic can retain more moisture then the succulent is used to and can promote the conditions for root rot.

However the most common cause of succulents dying after repotting is because the succulent is potted in the wrong soil type.

Succulents are adapted to living in gritty well draining soils that drain quickly and do not retain much moisture.

Ordinary potting soil retains too much moisture for succulents and causes the leaves to turn yellow, brown, or black with a soft mushy texture, or the leaves start to fall off (symptoms can vary according to succulent species).

The Solutions….

The key is to repot your succulent into specially formulated potting mix for succulent and cacti.

A special potting mix helps to replicate the preferred soil type in the succulents native environment. This dramatically reduces the risk of root rot and can help to revive your succulent.

Always use a pot that is relatively proportional to the size of the succulent, so if you are repotting move to the next pot size up rather then an excessively large pot as this could retain moisture in the soil for too long, causing root rot.

Ultimately the steps to saving a dying succulent after repotting are the same as saving an overwatered succulent (which is detailed in this article above) as the the problem is too much moisture around the roots, so scale back the watering of your succulent and allow the soil to dry out completely whilst it it is showing symptoms of stress due and the succulent may start to recover.

(To learn more about saving succulents due to root rot read my article, How to Revive a Dying Succulent Plant).

Dying Succulent Turning Brown

The reason succulents turn brown is because of overwatering or sunburn. Brown leaves are a sign of stress due to too much moisture around the roots from overwatering or slow draining soils. Succulents also turn brown due to sunburn if moved from a shade to intense sunlight without time to adjust.

If your succulent leaves are turning brown with a soft mushy texture, then this indicates that overwatering or damp soils is the cause (in which case you should read the overwatering section at the top of the article), but if you are watering succulents responsibly and it is planted in the appropriate well draining soil then sunburn is most likely the problem.

Succulent can differ significantly in their preference for sun with aloe vera plants preferring full sun having adapted to growing in relatively open areas in direct sunlight the Arabian peninsula, whereas other succulents such as string of pearls or some jade plants prefer bright indirect light and can scorch to a brownish yellowish color in full sun.

However all succulents regardless of species can suffer sunburn when they have been in a relatively shaded area for a period and then moved to an area of intense sunlight, even if they habitually prefer direct sunlight.

This is because succulents are very adaptable and try to acclimatize and adjust to the level of light that they consistently experience even if the light conditions are not ideal, in order to survive.

If the succulent is then moved location from lower light to intense full sun then this sudden contrast in light intensity causes even the sun tolerant species of succulent to turn a scorched brown or yellow color.

The solution

  • First of all it is important to establish whether you succulent species grows in full sun or prefers bright indirect light and move the succulent to a location with to bright indirect light for the time being to prevent any further browning or damage.
  • Succulents need time to adjust to different levels of light so if your succulent requires some direct sunlight, it is important to gradually expose them to more sun over the next 2 weeks rather then in one go.
  • Move the potted succulent in the sun for a bit longer each day for 2 weeks which is enough time for the succulent to acclimate to the higher intensity of light without burning. Succulents produce chemicals that protect the leaves from sunlight, and the production of these chemicals is triggered by greater exposure to the sun.

Unfortunately the sun burnt succulent leaves do not recover in appearance once they have been burnt, however as long as the plant has had chance to adjust to the light or you have moved it to indirect light, the damage should not get any worse.

Succulents can carry on living with sun burnt areas however they do not turn green again and stay the scorched yellowy brown color.

The only way to revive the appearance of succulents after sunburn is to cut the most severely burnt leaves back to the stem or base with a sterile pair of pruners to create space and stimulate more leaves to grow and take their place, however only cut back 1 or 2 leaves at a time over a period of weeks to prevent more stress on the plant.

You can of course take cuttings from any healthy areas of the succulent for propagation as this may be the only way to salvage sun burnt succulents depending on the extent of the damage.

Succulent Dying From the Bottom

Succulent with dying brown, dry leaf at the bottom is part of the succulents natural life cycle.
Succulent with dying brown, dry leaf at the bottom is part of the succulents natural life cycle.

The reason for succulent leaves dying at the bottom is because of not enough light, underwatering or because of the age of the succulent. If succulents do not have enough moisture or light, they redirect moisture and energy to persevering newer leaves causing the bottom leaves to die back.

Succulents commonly lose leaves at the bottom of the plant as they grow which is a natural part of the plants life cycle and does not mean your succulent is dying, so most of the time there is nothing to worry about.

To improve the appearance of your succulent, wait until the leaf is dry and crispy and then it should be very easy to twist off gently. If the leaf is still resisting then leave it for a few weeks and try again rather then forcing the leaf off as this can damage the plant.

However if several leaves are dying at the bottom of your succulent then the reason is underwatering or a lack of sun.

How to distinguish whether the leaves at the bottom are dying due to too much shade or underwatering:

  • If the bottom leaves of succulent dying due to too much shade, they also grow tall and leggy, often with the growth weakening and entire leaves or stems drooping downwards.
  • If the bottom leaves are dying due to underwatering, then there is usually some visual shriveling of the remaining leaves as their moisture reserves become depleted.

The Solutions

How to solve leaves dying at the bottom of the succulent due to drought stress…

  1. If there is some shriveling of the newer leaves in addition to the lower leaves dying then you need to increase how often you water the succulent or replace the soil if it has baked hard and repels water off the surface. The same instructions apply to saving underwatered succulents, so give your plant a soak in a basin of water to give the roots a much needed drink.
  2. Wait for the soil to dry out again (to avoid root rot) and give the succulent another good soak. With 2 or 3 watering cycles the succulent should recover and the leaves at the bottom should stop dying.
  3. If you notice water running off the surface of your soil rather then soaking in properly (which is common for potting soils containing peat moss) then you can either carry on watering your succulent by submerging the root ball in a basin of water or by repotting your succulent and replacing the soil with special succulent and cacti soil which retains a porous, aerated structure that allows water to infiltrate effectively even if the soil has dried out.

How to solve leaves dying due to lack of sun

  1. As a general rule, succulents either require full sun or bright, indirect so it is important to find the preference of your particular succulent type and locate it accordingly.
  2. Brighter light encourages the succulent to stay healthy and compact with better colors and an attractive appearance, rather then leggy growth with leaves dying.
  3. Avoid moving a succulent immediately from shade to full sun as it can suffer from sunburn due to the sudden contrast in light intensity. Instead gradually expose the succulent to more sun over a 2 weeks period with more sun each day to give the succulent a chance to adjust.
  4. If the succulent has grown leggy and drooped over, then often it is best to take a cutting from a stem or leaf to propagate as once the succulent has drooped under its own weight, it does not tend to return to a normal appearance.

Succulent Dying from Cold Temperatures

Succulents are adapted to living in hot and dry climates (Jade plants are native to Africa and aloe vera plants are native to the Arabian peninsula), therefore most species are not particularly cold hardy and most popular succulent die if they experience temperatures lower then 50°F (10°C) for a significant amount of time and most succulent are susceptible to frost damage.

Succulents grow much better as house plants with the optimal temperature range of around 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) being optimal for growth.

If succulents experience cold or even frost, the leaves and stems turn brown or black and mushy as the moisture stored inside the leaves freezes.

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

The Solution

Move your succulent to an location of your home or garden that is between 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C) and ensure that the leaves are not in direct contact any with windows as they can be 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 damage from cold should not necessarily get any worse in the short term.

If the succulents leaves feel mushy then wait until the mushy, cold damaged part of the succulent dries out and callus over.

Once the mushy part of the leaf has dried up, cut the leaf back to below the damaged area as the cold damaged areas of the succulent typically do not recover but the succulent plant as a whole can be saved if the damage is not too extensive.

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

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for succulent plants dying is because of overwatering and damp soil. Succulents are drought tolerant plants and require the soil to dry out before watering again. In damp soil, succulent leaves turn yellow, brown or black and die of root rot.
  • The reason succulent leaves shrivel and wilt is because of watering too lightly, not watering often enough or due to soil baking hard and repelling water off the surface, causing drought stress. Succulents store water in their leaves which shrivel when the roots cannot access enough moisture.
  • The reason for succulents dying after repotting is because of transplant shock or damp soils. Succulents die back due to a sudden contrast in light, soil and moisture levels. The new soil can retain too much moisture for repotted succulents to tolerate causing leaves to turn yellow, brown or black.
  • Succulents leaves die at the bottom because of underwatering or lack of sunlight. Drought stressed succulents and succulents In too much shade redirect their resources to preserving the upper leaves of the succulent causing the lower leaves to die back at the bottom of the plant.
  • Most succulents are not cold hardy and die back, due to cold temperature and frost. As a general rule succulents prefer a temperature range of 55°F-80°F (13°C-27°C). Freezing temperatures damage the moisture reserves in the succulents leaves causing the plant to turn black and die.

Recent Posts