Why is my succulent squishy? Do you have a squishy succulent with soft, yellowing or translucent leaves that are falling off? Or does your succulent have a squishy stem and mushy leaves?
If your succulent or cactus has gone squishy and soft, you have a problem, and your succulent needs some urgent TLC to bring it back to health.
The main reasons for an unhealthy, soft, squishy succulent or mushy cactus are:
- Overwatering – this is usually the culprit
- Root Rot – which is caused by overwatering
- Poor Drainage – soil that is too compact and drains poorly or a container that prevents excess water from escaping
- Cold Stress
- Fungal or Bacterial Disease
In the article, we’re going to guide you through how to recognise the reason your succulent is squishy and soft and advise how you can go about fixing it and bringing your succulent back to health.
Succulents are designed to store water in their leaves and stems. They have evolved to survive in dry conditions where rain and water supply are scarce.
When they have too much water too often, they can’t get rid of it fast enough. The excess water causes the leaves to become bloated, soft and squishy.
Think of a succulent leaf like a balloon – it can hold water and stretch and swell to hold more, but there comes a point where it can’t hold any more, and it may even burst.
The best way to avoid squishy succulents is to let the soil dry out completely between each watering. Water only when the soil is dry, and if in doubt, wait a day or two before watering again. It is much easier for a succulent to recover from a little underwatering than from overwatering.
See our full guide on how to water your succulents the right way.
How To Tell If Your Succulent Has Been Overwatered
The best way to tell if your succulent has been overwatered is from the leaves.
Look at the lowest leaves first.
When the succulent is overwatered, the leaves stop being plump and firm and start turning soft, mushy and squishy. They may turn yellow, translucent, or even brown or black. The leaves may fall off – either by themselves or at the slightest touch.
The leaves will show signs of distress from the stem end first, where they will start to feel squishy or even show signs of rot. The ends of the leaves may still look relatively healthy.
An underwatered plant will start to show signs of distress from the tips of the leaves (the hardest part for water to reach). They will tend to turn brown and crispy.
Ignore any old leaves at the very bottom of the plant that have died as a part of normal growth. They will be dry and crisp.
Can A Succulent Recover From Being Overwatered?
Most succulent growers have experienced the heartbreak of overwatering their succulent. It’s easy to do. But in this instance, ‘caring too much’ for your plants is a bad thing.
But don’t despair. In most cases, succulents can recover from being overwatered if you take the right steps early enough.
If you do find that your succulent has started to become squishy, there are a few things you can do to try and save it.
- First, it’s important to stop watering your plant immediately and allow the soil to dry out completely. If the roots are waterlogged, they won’t be able to absorb water and nutrients properly, which can kill the plant.
- Next, remove any squishy leaves or stems, as these will not recover and will only continue to rot.
- Once the soil is dry, start watering your plant again. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch, and be sure to drain any excess water from the pot.
- If necessary, you may need to repot your plant in fresh, dry soil.
- Finally, make sure your recovering succulent is in an optimal growing spot with bright, indirect light. Don’t place it in direct sun as this could stress the plant even further.
If you take these steps, there’s a good chance your succulent will recover.
However, if your succulent has black spots on the stem, the rot has well and truly set in, and your plant may be too far gone. In this case, it may be best to try and start again. If there is healthy growth at the top of your plant, try and take a cutting of a healthy stem section or leaf and propagate a new plant.
For a stem cutting, use sharp, sterile scissors to take your cutting and allow the cut end to callous over and dry out for a couple of days. Plant the cutting in well-draining soil and place it in a spot with bright, indirect light. Water lightly when the soil is dry to the touch. Within a few weeks, your cutting should root and start to grow a new plant.
For propagation from a leaf, gently twist the healthy leaf off the stem and allow the end to callous over. Then, follow the procedure described above for a stem cutting.
It will take longer to grow a reasonably sized plant from a leaf than from a stem cutting, but with an unhealthy plant, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got!
2. Root Rot
Root rot typically occurs when the soil remains damp for prolonged periods. Most succulents have evolved to survive in dry, arid soils, and succulents are particularly susceptible to root rot when subjected to damp conditions.
The excess moisture encourages fungal and bacterial decay and prevents air from circulating around the roots. The result is the succulent’s roots become diseased, decayed, and rot away.
If left untreated, the rot spreads to the upper part of the plant. The stem can get squishy and mushy, turning yellow first and eventually going brown or black. The leaves will turn yellow and squishy and fall off.
Unfortunately, you often don’t spot root rot until it has advanced enough to spread to the visible parts of the plant.
If you suspect your succulent may have root rot, try wiggling your plant gently in the soil. If it’s loose, that’s a sign the roots are weak and not holding the plant in place as firmly as they should.
You then need to inspect the roots by removing your plant from its pot and gently brushing away the soil from the roots.
If the roots are brown, mushy and smelly, you’ve got a root rot problem.
To treat root rot, you need to cut away the diseased and rooting roots with sharp, sterilised scissors and replant your succulent in fresh, dry, well-draining soil.
Resterilise any tools afterwards to prevent cross-contamination.
Read more in our in-depth guide to root rot and how to prevent it and treat it.
3. Poor Drainage
Succulents need loose, well-draining soil that allows air to circulate around the plant’s roots and water to dissipate quickly.
Soil that is too compact and keeps water sitting around the roots can lead to root rot (see point 2 above).
Use a succulent or cactus-specific potting mix and ensure it is well-draining. Some types of succulents may even need additional grit or sand mixed through the soil to increase the drainage speed even further.
See our guide to the best type of soil for succulents and cactus in pots for more information.
If at all possible, choose a container that:
- is only just larger than the root ball of the succulent – a smaller container equals less volume of soil; the soil will dry quicker when there is less of it
- has at least one drainage hole in the bottom. A drainage hole allows any excess water to escape from the bottom of the pot. If that beautiful pot you want to use does not have a drainage hole, consider ‘double-potting’. Plant your succulent in a smaller pot that does have a drainage hole, and then hide that pot inside your preferred decorative container.
- is made of porous material – such as unglazed terracotta or other ceramic material, rather than plastic or glass. A porous pot allows water to evaporate through the walls of the pot and aids the quick drying of the soil.
4. Cold Stress
The majority of succulents do not tolerate frost and freezing temperatures. When a hard frost hits, the water inside the succulent can freeze and damage your plant. When it thaws, you could have a squishy, mushy mess on your hands!
To prevent cold stress, bring your plant inside at the first signs of frost and freezing temperatures. If you are not able to move your plant inside, try to protect it with a frost cloth.
Find out which succulents can cope with cold temperatures and more about which succulents are cold-hardy in our online guide.
An infestation of common succulent pests, such as mealybugs, aphids, scale or spider mites, can damage your plant if not treated. The sticky substance they excrete can lead to fungal and bacterial growth, which can eventually cause rot and a squishy, soft plant.
Most common pests will appear as visible dark dots and bumps on the leaves, the undersides of the leaves and the stems of your succulent.
Most can be treated with rubbing alcohol or neem oil spray. Learn how to identify common pests and effective treatments in our dedicated post.
Bugs can move from plant to plant through close contact. Keep your succulent away from other plants until you have gotten rid of the pest infestation.
6. Fungal or Bacterial Disease
Succulents and cacti have typically evolved in dry, arid areas of the world, although there are a few exceptions. Most prefer low to mild humidity. Excess moisture in the air around the foliage, moisture left on the leaves after watering or a lack of airflow around the plant can provide the perfect conditions for fungal or bacterial growth on the plant.
If untreated, this can lead to rot and a squishy, soft succulent.
Fungal or bacterial infections can appear initially as dark spots or powdery coatings on the leaves and stems.
They can be treated with neem oil or fungicidal sprays. If possible, remove any diseased leaves and stems.
While there are a number of reasons why your succulent has become unhealthy and turned squishy, the most common reason by far is overwatering. Be sure to check the soil before watering, and only give your succulent more water if the soil is completely dry.
In most cases, your succulent can be rescued by following the tips above.
If your plant is too far gone, you can try and propagate a new plant from any stems or leaves that are still healthy.
Remember, early identification of the problem and early action is key!