If only the bottom leaves of your succulent are drying up or dying, do not worry: this may just be part of your plant’s normal life cycle.
Your plant needs to lose its older leaves, which are at the bottom, in order to make new and younger leaves at the top. You can usually pull off these dry bottom leaves without too much effort, because they are going to fall off sometime soon anyway.
Just be sure that it is the bottom leaves that are dying, and not the leaves at the top. Leaves dying on the top of the plant is usually a sign of overwatering, which often cannot be remedied if it is too far gone.
What are the most common succulent problems?
Dead leaves at the bottom
This one is not really a problem, since these are most likely just succulent leaves naturally withering and dying. A succulent will produce new leaves at the center, so the ones in the outermost layer or at the bottom are the oldest leaves. These old leaves need to die and drop off in order for new leaves to have room to grow.
You can easily pull off these dry and dying leaves. Make sure you remove them from the pot so that insects cannot use them for shelter, as well as to keep your plant looking smart and tidy.
Dark spots or brown leaves
This is usually caused by sun damage or sunburn.This happens when the succulent is left under direct light for long periods of time or if an indoor plant that is not used to direct sunlight is transferred to a very sunny spot without acclimatizing it first. Even plants that are normally fine with lots of sun can get these dark spots during times of heat waves and drought.
You can fix this by moving your succulent to a shady area, such as under the eaves of your house or under a big tree. Also give indoor plants time to get used to the sunlight little by little, until they adjust to the light. Do not place baby plants under direct sunlight because they will get easily scorched. You can also use shade-cloth or light-limiting nets to filter the sunlight before it hits your plants.
Succulent leaves can also become dried and shriveled if the plant is being underwatered. The top leaves usually show signs first, because when a succulent runs out of water stores it will prioritize keeping itself alive rather than supplying the farthest leaves with water and nutrients. The longer the plant is left without any water, the more top leaves will shrivel up and fall off.
Fortunately, underwatering can be easily remedied. Just water your plant more frequently than you used to do, and it should do better. In the summer, make sure you water the plant more than usual as well.
Lack of nutrients
Succulent leaves can turn yellow when the plant lacks nutrients. The nutrients in the soil of a potted plant get depleted as the plant consumes them, and they also get flushed out because of the constant watering. This is why you need to either put fertilizer on your plants, or repot them every once in a while to exchange their soil for fresh soil full of the nutrients they need. Succulents are not heavy feeders, so you do not need to fertilize them too much. Feed your plant every two weeks during its growing season, and that should be enough.
A succulent’s leaves can misshapen because of improper watering or lack of nutrients. Both underwatering and overwatering can result in abnormally-shaped leaves. Less than usual water results in shriveled leaves, while too much water results in soft and soggy leaves that fall off.
If your plant has been in the same container for years and has never been repotted, the soil is probably depleted of nutrients and this can affect the color and shape of the leaves.
If water issues are the cause, adjust your watering regimen until you can find a balance that you plant likes. If it is a lack of nutrients causing the misshapen leaves, then repot your plant with fresh soil.
Stunted succulent growth can usually be attributed to a lack of light. When plants are not receiving enough light they will not be able to grow properly and can become weak. They will etiolate, meaning their branches will grow long and thin in the direction of the closest source of light because the plant is desperate.
Remedy this by moving your plant to a place that has more natural light available. You can place it on the porch or near a window. Make sure you do not shock your plant by placing it immediately in a place where it gets blasted with direct sunlight; try introducing it gradually until it gets acclimatized to more and more light every day.
If it is an indoor plant, you can buy a grow lamp with a 60-watt bulb and shine it on your plant for 12 hours a day.
If your succulent’s bottom leaves are drying or dying, do not worry, because it usually means your plant is growing and maturing. Succulents need to get rid of older leaves to make room for newer leaves to grow. You can simply remove these dried-up bottom leaves by pulling them off.
This is the case only if the bottom leaves are dying. If leaves at the center or on top are dying, it may be due to a different reason, which you might have to address and remedy.
Image: istockphoto.com / JIAN YI LIU