An Echeveria stretching is a common but preventable problem. When your Echeveria stretches its stems look leggy, which means that you are not quite meeting its needs. Specifically, the succulent is stretching its stem because it is not getting sufficient sunlight.
Echeveria stretching explained
The main reason why your Echeveria is stretching itself is that it is not getting enough light.
Succulents have the reputation of being slow growers. However, if you notice that your plant is growing unusually tall, it means that it is etiolating or stretching. Some succulents are more prone to stretch than others.
Initially, an etiolated succulent develops longer stems, while the space between the leaves becomes more noticeable. If you look closely at the leaves, they are smaller in size and do not have the color typically associated with healthy plants.
Additionally, the leaves curl downward to increase their surface area. By increasing their surface area, the leaves attempt to get as much light as they can get.
At around this point, it is easier to correct the problem and prevent long term damage. All you have to do is to move your plant to a sunnier location.
Alternatively, you can put your plant under a grow light if you do not have a spot in your home that can provide adequate sunlight to your Echeveria.
If the plant is kept in the same spot, it will start to lean toward a light source. At this point, the plant focuses all of its energy toward survival. You will notice that it barely produces new leaf growth.
Can etiolation kill your Echeveria?
Etiolation is not necessarily a death sentence for your Echeveria. In fact, a stretching Echeveria can live one to two years when placed in a low light location. However, your plant will look unhealthy and cannot reach its full potential. And although it is possible to rehabilitate an etiolated succulent, you cannot reverse the long term damage.
Fixing your stretched Echeveria
When your Echeveria has become too leggy, you cannot do anything to restore it to its compact form.
The next best thing that you can do is to propagate your succulent. Here are the steps that you need to undertake.
Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut the crown of the succulent. Be sure to leave one to two inches on the base of the stem and two to three leaves.
Your succulent will have a better chance at rehabilitation if you leave enough leaves to absorb sunlight. The base can grow new offshoots but it will take a long time.
Next, allow your cuttings to dry and callus over. You will know when your cuttings are ready to be planted when you see calluses or scabs develop on the ends of the stem.
Plant the callused end of the stem into the soil. After planting the stem, water your plant.
Unlike mature plants, cuttings need to be watered more frequently, just until they begin to fully develop their roots. Do not go overboard with the watering. Just water the cuttings a little more than you would a mature plant.
The stem will not rot as long as you use a well-draining potting mix.
The cutting will develop roots anywhere between a couple of days to three weeks. Once the new plant develops its root system, you can water it deeply but infrequently, the same way that you would water your mature plants.
Caring for the original plant
As for the base of the original plant, continue caring for it as you would usually do.
After a few weeks, it will grow new offshoots while the leaves that you left on the stem will eventually die out. Do not worry about these old leaves.
Adequate sunlight is essential
You can attempt to save your Echeveria through propagation but all your efforts will result in nothing if you cannot meet its lighting requirements.
If the cuttings and the original plant do not receive adequate sunlight, it is highly likely that you will need to deal with etiolation later on.
Before attempting to propagate your Echeveria, you should first find a sunny spot inside your home.
If you cannot find an area in your home that provides enough sunlight for your succulent, you should strongly consider buying a grow light.
Indoors, Echeverias should be placed either in a south or west-facing window where it can get the most amount of sunlight.
You can put your succulent directly on the windowsill or on top of the furniture next to the window.
Prevention is better than the cure
When an Echeveria stretches, it means that it is not getting enough sunlight. Fortunately, it will tell you that it needs more sunlight. If you keep a watchful eye on your plant, you will notice when your succulent is deprived of sunlight.
Although etiolation does not directly cause the death of an Echeveria, it can cause long term damage that you cannot do much to correct. Your only recourse would be to propagate your succulent and then make sure that your new plants get enough sunlight to prevent stretching from happening again.
Or as the adage goes, prevention is better than the cure.
Image: istockphoto.com / S J Kehl