Succulent Growing Tall Instead Of Wide – How To Fix It

Is your succulent growing tall instead of wide? Succulents that do not receive enough light start to grow towards a light source searching for more light.

Usually, that means your succulent will grow upwards, which can result in a stretched-out succulent that is leggy and not the beautiful compact shape you want.  If the light source is to the side of the plant, it can grow in a bent shape as it leans towards the light.

I have to admit to being guilty of producing succulents that are tall instead of wide. My office is a little dark, but I still want beautiful plants on my desk. They can end up looking leggy, but when that starts to happen, I’ve got some surefire ways to bring them back to health.

In this article, we will explain why succulents become stretched-out and leggy and grow tall and lanky rather than wide and bushy. We will also give you some tips on how to fix it.

Leggy, etiolated, stretched jade plant

Succulents are one of the easiest and most beginner-friendly plants you can grow. They’re a great option for those who may not have much time or space to devote to their green thumb. And since they’re low-maintenance, they’re ideal for busy people.

Succulents are, for the most part, easy to take care of. They’re resilient and don’t need a lot of water. They can thrive even when neglected. But they do need light!

Why Is My Succulent Growing Tall And Skinny?

The main reason for a succulent to grow tall and skinny is because it does not receive enough light.

Some of the causes of insufficient light exposure in succulents include:

  • Growing in an area that is too dark – too far from a window, too shaded, or not enough light coming through the window.
  • Growing in a location that gets dark days – in far northern or southern latitudes the number of daylight hours in winter can be very short. Succulents need at least 4 – 6 hours of bright, indirect light each day. Even though succulents do like seasonal changes and can cope with less light over winter, some geographical locations may be simply too dark for succulents to thrive with natural light alone.
  • Too crowded – are your succulents in a tightly packed arrangement? If succulents are planted too close together, they may shade or block the light from reaching other plants in the arrangement.

Etiolation

The scientific name for this stretched, lanky look in plants is Etiolation. If you check this term in Wikipedia, you will get

Etiolation is a process in plants grown in partial or complete absence of light. It is characterized by long, weak stems; smaller leaves due to longer internodes; and a pale yellow color (chlorosis).

Etiolated succulent
Etiolation, source: Reddit

The stretching effect is more noticeable in fast-growing succulents that naturally grow taller than slow-growing succulents, such as compact cacti.

Signs Succulent Is Not Getting Enough Light

These are the common signs that indicate your succulent is not receiving enough light for it to thrive:

  • Bending towards the light source
  • Leaves growing flatter and wider as they try to increase the area exposed to sunlight. (Conversely, a plant exposed to too much light may have leaves that curl up in an attempt to reduce the area exposed to sunlight).
  • Stretched out and leggy
  • Long stem with few leaves
  • Spaced-out leaves – greater distance than usual between leaves along the stem
  • Leaves are paler and less vibrant in color

How To Give Your Succulent More Light

There are two options to give your succulent more light.

  1. Move it to an area with more natural light
  2. Place it under a grow light that provides artificial light

What Natural Light Is Best For Succulents?

The best natural light for a succulent depends on the type of succulent. Some succulents, such as desert cacti, prefer full, direct, hot sun while other succulents prefer dappled, indirect light, and some can cope with quite low light levels.

However, in general, most succulents will thrive with bright, indirect light for at least 4 – 6 hours each day. If your succulent is indoors, placing it close to a bright window is ideal, although you may need to diffuse the afternoon light with a sheer curtain if it’s a particularly sunny window and you live in a location with intense sun.

Why Is My Succulent Not Growing Straight?

Succulents tend to grow towards the light. If the source of light for your succulent is coming mainly from one direction, the plant will bend its stem to grow towards that light source, and as a result, your succulent will not grow straight. This is usually a bigger problem for indoor plants receiving light from just one window. It’s a good idea to rotate your plant pots and turn them, say a quarter turn, every few weeks to ensure the plant receives light evenly.

In the extreme case of the office plant below, it has grown sideways in order to find more light from a distant window off to the side of the desk.

etiolation in office succulent

Can Succulents Get Too Much Light?

Succulents can get too much light. It does, of course, depend on the species, but signs of overexposure to too much light include:

  • Discoloration of leaves – light-stressed plants can have leaves that turn red, rust-colored or purple.
  • Leaf burn or scorching – the edges of succulent leaves may develop brown or yellowish patches resembling burn marks.
  • Folding or curling leaves – the leaves curl up to minimise the surface area exposed to the light.

If you notice your succulent exhibiting any of these signs, move your succulent to a location with less intense light or provide.

Can Succulents Get Sunburn?

Succulents can receive too much direct sunlight, resulting in sunburn on the leaves. Intense sunlight can produce brown, damaged sunspots on the leaves of your succulent. If you notice this happening, move your succulent to a shadier spot or provide shade cover if you can’t move the plant.

No Option For More Natural Light?

If you have an indoor plant that is not receiving enough light, but you don’t have anywhere to move it to that would give it more light, try using a grow light to provide them with the light they need.

What Are Grow Lights?

Grow lights are artificial light sources that can be used when there isn’t enough natural light available for your succulents. There are different types of grow lights available, but the best grow lights for succulents are those that mimic natural daylight as closely as possible.

The best choice of grow light for succulents is a full-spectrum LED grow light. These generate less heat (which could damage your plant) than some other types of grow light and are more energy efficient. A full-spectrum grow light mimics natural sunlight more closely than reduced spectrum lights. However, you can buy customizable spectrum grow lights to tune the light to the optimal range for your particular succulent (if you want to get really serious about your succulent care).

When using grow lights, it’s crucial to provide the right light duration and intensity for your plants, as different species have varying light requirements for optimal growth.

How Do I Use A Grow Light?

Turn the grow light on during the times that a plant would naturally receive light.

Try to place the grow light directly above the plant to avoid uneven growth. If that is not possible, rotate the plants every month so all sides of the plant receive even light.

Don’t place the grow light too close to the succulent – the ideal distance will depend on the power of the grow light and the type of succulent. You may need to experiment to find the optimal height for your grow light. Too close, and the light may be too intense and too hot. To start, place your succulents about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) away from the light source. This provides a good starting point for most succulent varieties.

When you first start using grow lights, keep an eye on your succulents. If you notice signs of stress, such as leaf discoloration, or if the plants start to become leggy, you may need to adjust the distance between the succulent and the light.

How Do I Fix A Leggy Succulent?

Succulent growth that has become stretched out cannot be changed. If you start to provide enough light for your succulent, it will return to its vibrant color but it won’t shrink back to a shorter, more compact plant. Your plant will grow and thrive, and there is no need to do anything further if you are happy with the way the plant looks. However, if you dislike the look and want a more compact succulent, you can prune your plant back to shape or take cuttings to grow a new plant.

Whichever option you take, you need to make sure you place your plant in brighter light conditions moving forward. If you put it back in the same environment that caused the legginess, your plant will grow leggy again.

So here is how you help your succulent to stop growing tall and leggy and encourage beautiful compact growth.

  1. If your succulent looks otherwise healthy and strong, prune off the leggy growth. That might mean cutting off virtually all the plant.
  2. If the plant is looking less healthy overall but has new healthy growth towards the tips of the stems, take some cuttings of the healthy tips using sharp, sterile scissors. Allow the cut ends to dry out and callous over for a couple of days, and then plant the cuttings.
  3. Move your succulent to a location that receives at least 4 – 6 hours of bright light every day, or use a grow light if that is not possible.
  4. Water your succulent correctly. For more information see our guide to watering succulents.
  5. Apply fertilizer sparingly during your succulent’s growing season (this varies from succulent to succulent but spring is a good bet for most)

Final Word

A leggy, stretched-out, lanky look in a succulent is usually caused by insufficient light. It is usually accompanied by paler, less vibrant leaves. While the color can be reversed if your succulent is moved to a place with enough light, stretched-out growth cannot be reversed. If you want a more compact look for a stretched-out plant, the only option is to prune it or to take a cutting and grow a new plant.

Most succulents require at least 4 – 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight every day. If you don’t have a location with enough light for your succulent, you can supplement with artificial light from grow lamps.

We hope we have given you some pointers on how to deal with a succulent that is growing tall instead of wide.

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