In Diseases & Problems

Why is My Succulent Shriveling (The Answer May Surprise You)

Growing succulents is so incredibly difficult that it’s easy to get frustrated when they exhibit signs of distress. A succulent shriveling up is definitely a cry for help! Shriveled succulents are usually a sign of underwatering. But there are a few things the plant could require so more investigation is needed.

Overwatering vs underwatering

The simplest cause of succulent shriveling is a problem in the watering schedule. Both overwatering and underwatering can cause a succulent’s leaves to shrivel. Of course, the main cause of shriveling is underwatering. Yes, even a succulent can be under watered and it’s a serious concern.

Symptoms of Overwatered Succulents

There will be several signs that a succulent has been overwatered before the leaves start to shrivel. Once succulent shriveling has occurred, the plant is really beyond repair. Try to propagate it but you won’t rescue the original plant. The signs of overwatering are as follows, in order of occurrence:

  • Succulent will turn a lighter green or yellow at the base of the leaves and stem
  • The lighter color spreads up the leaf
  • The leaves and stem will start to turn gray
  • Leaves will start to shrivel and fall off
  • The succulent will die

Symptoms of Underwatered Succulents

Succulent shriveling is almost always due to underwatering a succulent. The plant will try to take as much water as it can from each leaf before conceding defeat and dying. As the leaves lose water, they shrivel up and eventually fall off. The signs of underwatered succulents are as follows:

  • The soil dries up and pulls away from the side of the pot
  • The leaves shrivel up starting at the top or edges
  • Aerial roots growing from the stem
  • Leaves turn brown
  • Leaves start to fall off
  • The succulent will die

Look at Your Watering Schedule

If you’ve neglected your succulent a little too much you need to do a couple of things immediately. First, water your succulent! Give it a good, long drink.

Next, try to establish what type of succulent you have. Every succulent is different and some of them require more regular watering than others.

If you see succulent shriveling, once you figure out what type of plant you have, you need to get back on a regular watering schedule. Whatever you do, don’t compensate by overwatering as this will only kill the succulent faster.

For people at a total loss as to how often to water your succulent, start by watering the plant every 2-3 weeks. Look for signs of overwatering or underwatering and adjust.

Look at Sun Exposure and Air Flow Around Succulent

You may be surprised to find that your succulent shriveling is due to extra sun or air flow around the succulent. Even if you are watering your plant enough, the extra sun and air could dry out the plant.

This would cause the same symptoms as underwatering. Look for signs of sunburn or air vents nearby while looking for other symptoms of watering issues just in case.

Being planted in regular potting soil

Believe it or not, succulent shriveling could be the result of a succulent being potted in regular potting soil. Yes, regular potting mix usually leads to overwatering, but not always. Regular potting mix is made with a high percentage of peat.

Peat becomes hydrophobic when it dries out. This means that when you pour water onto dry soil, the water will bead up and have trouble sinking into the soil. The hydrophobic potting mix can keep the water from reaching the succulent’s roots.

If you made this mistake, carefully uproot your succulent and plant it in the appropriate succulent or cactus potting soil mix. Check out the recipe from Get Busy Gardening for succulent potting soil mix.


Succulent shriveling is almost always the result of underwatering your succulent. Since most people think this isn’t possible, it isn’t something considered when the leaves start to shrivel. Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to save a shriveled succulent.

Make sure it’s potted in the correct soil and that it gets watered on a regular basis and enough for its location. You’ll have a happy succulent in no time.

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