One of the most common problems encountered by succulent owners is when their plants break. This can mean either that a leaf has broken off, or a stem has been decapitated completely.
In this article, we will discuss the different ways of caring for a broken succulent.
So, if you are currently experiencing this exact predicament and wish to learn more, just keep reading.
What factors contribute to the likelihood of succulent damage?
Too much sunlight
It is a myth that all succulents love being under direct sunlight all day. Yes, there are varieties that can tolerate high sun exposure, but there are others that are quite sensitive to the ultraviolet rays emanating from the sun.
The latter can get easily damaged by sun exposure and can develop severe sun burns, which will weaken them and make them vulnerable.
If the succulent’s foliage has turned brown or black, it means it has severe burns and you are better off removing the damaged foliage because it cannot be reversed.
Typically, succulents do not need to be fertilized in order to thrive, but if you want to help your plant out, you can fertilize it.
You can light-feed the succulent during the spring and summer, but do not fertilize it during the colder months.
An over-fertilized succulent can develop root burn from the increased levels of minerals and nutrients in the soil. This can have negative effects on the plant and can even make it more prone to pests and diseases.
Another factor that can add to the likelihood of succulent breakage is the presence of pests. Normally, pests do not attack succulents, but they will do so when the soil around the succulent remains damp.
These pests include gnats, whiteflies, spider mites, aphids, scale insects and mealybugs.
You can get rid of these pests by mixing up a spray solution of eight cups of water with 15 milliliters of neem oil. If you do not have neem oil, you can also spray the plant down with rubbing alcohol.
Refrain from overwatering your succulent, and keep infested plants away from your healthy plants to prevent the spread.
Etiolation is a natural phenomenon that happens when a plant is kept in an area where it cannot get as much light as it needs. As an adaptive strategy, the plant will choose a stem or a branch and place all its resources into growing that specific branch in the direction of a source of light.
This does not necessarily hurt the plant in any way, but it does affect the overall aesthetic of a typically symmetrical plant.
The elongated branches also tend to be easier to break because they are so much thinner than normal.
Soil moisture levels in the succulent’s pot
Succulents can tolerate drought more than most plants, but that does not mean you can neglect to water them willy-nilly.
If your succulent has yellowing or browning leaves, it could mean that you need to give it more water. However, if the leaves are turning yellow or brown and also feel mushy when you touch them, this is most likely due to overwatering.
To avoid overwatering your succulent, check the dryness of the soil before watering, and make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
An underwatered or overwatered succulent will be more vulnerable to damage by even the slightest touch, so avoid doing either.
How to care for broken succulents
In most cases of a succulent breaking, it is just that a leaf has fallen or broken off. Succulent leaves can fall off for a multitude of reasons, but you do not need to throw away the fallen leaf.
Fortunately, a fallen leaf is one of the many ways to propagate a succulent. So, take that fallen leaf and prepare the required materials to propagate a new plant.
Collect the fallen leaves from your succulent and lay them out on a paper towel for a few days. Prepare a new container and fill it with succulent soil mix. Make sure the container has drainage holes at the bottom for any excess water to flow out of.
The surface of the soil should have some moisture, but it should never be soggy or waterlogged. Spraying the surface of the soil with water every other day should be enough to keep the new plants happy as they grow.
Not all succulents can be propagated using their fallen leaves, of course; for example, Sansevieria or Aeoniums. If you do have these plants, you can propagate them using leaves, but you have to remove them from the plant yourself. Just take the leaf from the plant and place it directly on the new soil.
Falling succulent leaves can be completely normal, as this is one of the plant’s ways of self-propagation. You can use this as an opportunity to multiply your succulents for free.
If the damage to your succulent includes a decapitated stem, you can also use this to propagate the plant.
Take the broken-off stem and leave it out on a paper towel for a few days, until it develops a callus over the broken end. Once a callus has developed, place the stem in a new container with succulent soil mix.
Remember that the new roots will not grow from the decapitated stem immediately; it will take a few weeks before you will even notice them. This is a slow process and it will take some patience on your part to propagate using a stem.
While you are waiting for the succulent to take root, make sure you do not place it in a spot where it gets direct sunlight. Indirect sunlight is ideal in this situation.
Aside from the initial spritz of water when you first plant the stem, refrain from watering the soil for the next three weeks. This is important for the plant’s ability to grow new roots.
Once you notice substantial root growth, you can transfer the new plant to a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom.
You can now care for your new plant as you would any other succulent.
Leaves that are cut in half
Another dilemma for owners of broken succulents is when the leaf is actually broken in half.
As mentioned above, it is possible to propagate new succulents using an intact leaf that has fallen off of the plant, but can you do the same with a leaf that has broken into two?
Yes, it is definitely possible to do this with a broken leaf, as long as you remove any rotten parts of the leaf before laying it out for a few days.
After a few days, you can plant the leaf sections as you would a full leaf. Remember that it is going to take weeks to a few months before this leaf starts growing any new roots.
Once the leaves start growing their own roots, you can transfer them to individual pots and care for them as you would a regular succulent.
Repot the old plant
While you can use the fallen leaves and the decapitated stems to grow new succulents yourself, it is also important to save the mature succulent that you already have, especially if it is already quite big.
The first step in salvaging your plant is to know exactly why it became so prone to damage in the first place.
As mentioned above, your plant could be getting too much or not enough light, you might be giving it too much fertilizer, it might have pests, or you might be over- or underwatering it.
If your plant has pests, first take care of that problem.
Also check the plant’s roots to see if it has root rot from overwatering. Remove the plant from its old pot and gently shake off as much of the old potting mix as possible from the roots. Check for rotten parts and prune them off with a sterile pair of scissors. Lay the plant on a paper towel and let the roots dry out.
Repot the succulent in a pot that has drainage holes, using a succulent soil mix, and do not water the soil for a week. Place the plant where it will get the right amount of light, and it should be able to make a full recovery in a few weeks.
When a succulent’s leaves or stems are broken, you might think that this is the end of the plant’s life, but you would be wrong.
In fact, this is actually an opportunity to propagate your succulent and you can then have more of the same plant to add to your collection.
You can use fallen leaves, a decapitated stem, or even a leaf that has broken in half to propagate your succulent. The existing plant can be repotted and should recover, provided you take care of the problems that caused its weakness in the first place.
It may take some time for the leaves and stems to grow roots, but just be patient and you will be rewarded with a host of new succulents.
Image: istockphoto.com / tuk69tuk