In Basic Care

What is an Etiolated Succulent and How to Fix it?

While you may try to provide a great living environment for your succulents, getting enough sunlight is the hardest part. An etiolated succulent is due entirely to a lack of light. These stretched succulents are a cry for help and easily fixed though.

What is Etiolation

Stretched echeveria

Etiolation is where a plant grows taller and thinner than it would normally be. This will make it look somewhat leggy and stretched out. 

Etiolation will make normally compact succulents look like they have grown on stalks. And succulents that would normally have long limbs would have long stretches where no leaves grow.

Is Etiolation Bad for Succulents

Etiolation, in its own right, is not necessarily bad for succulents. It is merely an indicator that the plant needs more light. The lack of light is what’s bad for the succulent. Etiolation is just a symptom of the disease, not the disease itself.

Which Succulents are Prone to Becoming Etiolated

  • Echeveria
  • Crassula
  • Sedeveria
  • Sedum
  • Graptopetalum
  • Gaptrosedum

Will Etiolation Kill My Succulent

Etiolated succulents will eventually die because they do not grow the proper amount of leaves for their size. If your succulent becomes etiolated, you need to increase the amount of sunlight the plant receives quickly. And you should consider propagating your succulent to revitalize it.

What Causes Succulent Etiolation

Succulents become etiolated when they do not have enough sunlight to grow correctly. The plant shifts its growth to grow longer limbs and stems so that it may be able to reach more sun. Succulents grown in enough sun will not become etiolated.

Etiolation is typically caused by a lack of sunlight

How do I Know if My Succulent is Etiolated

The difficult part of figuring out if your succulent has become etiolated is that some succulents are naturally leggy. You can use pictures of what that type of succulent normally looks like to help determine this. However, etiolated succulents can also be identified by looking for unusual growth patterns.

Leaves Point Downward

A major indicator of etiolation in succulents is leaves that point downward. Typically, succulent leaves will point upward, though there are a few types where leaves point sideways. Downward pointing leaves are not normal in a healthy succulent.

Succulents Lean on Their Sides

Succulents that start to lean to the side are also in early stages of etiolation. They lean because they are trying to reach toward the light. This is the first sign that your succulent needs more sunlight and should be moved to a better spot.

Leaning succulent

Unusually Rapid Growth

It’s easy to feel like a plant growing quickly would be a good thing. However, succulents are supposed to grow very slowly, with a few exceptions. If your succulent is growing quickly enough for you to see changes from week to week, it is starting to become etiolated.

Pale or Weak Appearance

Along with a stretched appearance, an etiolated succulent will start to become pale, yellow, or generally weaker in appearance. The plant will look frail and wilted. 

It is sometimes difficult to determine if your plant is becoming etiolated or if it is overwatered. You need to consider if there is a reason to suspect overwatering.

Etiolation vs Healthy Growth


It is hard to tell if your succulent is growing normally or becoming etiolated. Succulents that do tend to look leggy include those in the jade family, hanging succulents, and aeoniums. 

Make sure you check to see what your plant should look like when healthy so that you know if its growth is normal.

How do You Fix an Etiolated Succulent

The easiest and fastest fix for an etiolated succulent is to move it to a sunnier location. This will only save an etiolated succulent if you catch the problem early, when the succulent is just starting to lean or become pale.

Most etiolated succulents can only be fixed by propagating them by cutting or beheading them. While this sounds vicious, it’s a common method of propagating succulents and it will make your plant healthy again quickly.

Cutting an Etiolated Succulent

To behead your succulent to propagate it, you need to use a sharp and clean knife or scissors. Cut the main stem between ½” and 1” below the base of the healthy plant. This gives the plant some stem from which to grow new roots.

When your new cutting is removed, plant it in a new pot full of fresh succulent or cactus soil. Do not reuse the same soil your old plant was in. The old soil is lower on nutrients and you may contaminate your new plant with bad microbes or fungus.

How do You Prevent Etiolation in Succulents

The only way to prevent your succulents from becoming etiolated is to provide them with enough sunlight. Of course, most succulents will survive in lower light conditions. But they will not thrive and they will become etiolated in time.

Move your succulent to a sunnier spot at the first sign of etiolation

Reposition or Rotate Your Succulents

If you don’t have the proper amount of sunlight for your succulent, you can consider moving your succulent to a spot with more sunlight for small amounts of time. For instance, in its main growing season you can put the succulent in plenty of sun while in the dormant season, the plant is in a lower light condition.

For those plants that are reaching to the side, you can always rotate them on a regular basis. This will help them to keep a straight growth pattern. Of course, this may be enough to stave off other symptoms of etiolation. But if it isn’t, you may need to take more drastic measures.

Use a Grow Light

Many succulent growers have small grow lights in their homes to keep their plants from presenting issues with etiolation. Grow lights are an excellent option for people who don’t have anywhere perfect for their succulents to grow.

Choose a Different Variety

  • Snake plant
  • Gasteria
  • Zebra haworthia
  • String of pearls
  • Burros tail

You need to consider a succulent variety that will grow in the conditions that you have available to it. If you have a full sun area, you can grow just about any succulent. But if you don’t have a lot of sunlight, you need to choose a variety that will not become etiolated in that environment.

There are several popular succulent varieties that will tolerate low light conditions without becoming etiolated. If there is any doubt which succulent variety you should choose, any of these are excellent options.


Etiolated succulents are something that every succulent grower will have to deal with at some point. It is difficult to provide perfect growing conditions for every plant. But there are several ways of fixing an etiolated succulent and they are all easy to do for a grower. From moving your plant to a better location to propagating it, etiolation is easy to fix.

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