If your succulent is suddenly growing a long stem, you might become worried, especially since such growth can significantly alter the symmetry and shape of some plants.
It can also be a problem if you allow the stem to grow and it ends up intertwined with the stem of another plant. In this case, the only thing you can do is prune off the offending stem. A pruned-off stem or flower stalk can be used to propagate the plant, so do not worry that it will go to waste.
The most likely reason your succulent’s stem is growing so long is either that it is not getting the light that it needs, or that the species of succulent you are growing has naturally long stems.
In this article, we will discuss both of these reasons, and what you can do to fix or prevent the problem. So, if you are experiencing this issue and wish to learn more, just keep reading.
Why is my succulent growing a long stem?
The most likely reason your succulent is growing a long stem or stalk – assuming it is unnaturally long for that particular species – is that it is not getting as much light as it needs every day.
Remember that most succulents come from the hottest, driest regions on earth, so they get plenty of light in their natural habitats. The best way to grow them in your home is to give them the same light that they would get in the wild.
If you do not keep your succulent in a spot where it can soak up plenty of sun, it can become leggy due to etiolation. This is a process whereby a plant grows longer-than-normal stems in an attempt to stretch in the direction of the closest source of light. The stems in this case will be thinner than usual, and the leaves smaller than normal.
A succulent, just like any other plant, needs sunlight to be able to photosynthesize and produce chlorophyll, which it uses for energy. If it does not get enough light, it will become pale and weak from the lack of chlorophyll and will have no energy.
Through the process of etiolation, the desperate plant is concentrating its remaining strength and energy on its search for light. This is why the leaves on the stem are smaller, because producing leaves of a regular size requires resources that the plant cannot afford to deplete.
So, if you see a long, thin stem growing from your succulent, with small leaves or even no leaves, the plant might need to be transferred to somewhere that will give it more light.
Try placing it on the porch or patio or, if you live in an apartment, place it near a window. If there is very little natural sunlight where you live, you can also use a grow light to help the plant out.
The plant naturally grows long stems
If you see an elongated stem on your succulent, do not immediately assume the worst – it might just be naturally long-stemmed, like agaves, string of pearls and burro’s tail succulents.
Succulents such as those mentioned and many others can look great in a mixed container along with others that are flowering perennials.
So, if your plant has a long stem, first do your research and check whether or not this is normal for the type of succulent that you have.
If you are not the most savvy when it comes to identifying succulents – which is understandable because there are thousands of species – there are plenty of resources to help you identify your specific plant.
You can check online plant databases, where you can look at pictures of plants, compare them with what you have, and narrow down your search for your plant’s name.
There are also plenty of online communities you can join, where people will be more than happy to help you identify your plant. You can check Facebook or even succulent-specific subs on Reddit. All you need to do is upload a picture of your plant and the many experienced gardeners and plant collectors will take it from there. You will most likely get an answer to your query in a matter of minutes, or hours at most.
If you are friendly with the people who work at your local nursery or gardening store, they are probably the best people to approach for help in your own community. You can give them a call or even bring the plant in so they can see it for themselves.
With the convenience of the internet and the many applications available to us, there are plenty of apps made specifically to identify a plant using just a picture. The downside of these apps is that they may not always be accurate.
Does etiolation hurt my succulent?
Aside from affecting the overall aesthetic and symmetry of your plant, etiolation or legginess does not actually hurt your plant. The growth of the long limb itself will not kill the plant, but the reason it became leggy in the first place, might.
If you continue keeping the plant where it cannot get the light that it needs, it will die eventually, so it is best to transfer it to a sunnier spot immediately.
How can I fix a long stem on my succulent?
You cannot really fix a long stem in the sense of reverting to how the plant looked before the stem grew. The best you can do is cut off the stem and use it to propagate the plant.
Make sure the parent plant is watered before you attempt propagation. If the leaves or cuttings are dry or overwatered, the chances of successful propagation will be lower.
Before you cut the stem off, make sure you have a good view of the entire stem so that you do not accidentally cut off any parts unintentionally. Pluck off any old or dead leaves to get a better idea of where on the stem you want to cut it. Do not worry if you accidentally remove some healthy-looking leaves, because you can use those for propagation too, which we will discuss a little later.
Use a sterile knife or pair of scissors to cut off the stem and make sure you cut it at the level of the soil.
Do not worry about the stump left on the plant; new baby plants will likely grow around it in a matter of weeks. Refrain from watering the succulent before the stump has dried out, because this can cause rot.
Lay your stem cutting on a dry surface for a couple of days to allow it to callus over. This is so that the wound at the bottom of the cutting does not develop rot. When it has become callused, remove the leaves from the sides of the stem while leaving the rosette at the top.
Fill a shallow container with a well-draining potting mix and place the stem into the soil up to the level of the first leaf from the bottom. Now all you need to do is to water the soil a few times a week to keep it moist but not soggy.
After a few weeks, check if the roots are established by tugging on the cutting. If you can feel some resistance, that means the roots are growing well and you can now replant the cutting in a new pot and care for it as you would a regular plant.
When it comes to propagating flower stalks as opposed to actual stems, successful propagation will depend on the type of succulent you have, because there are varieties that do not propagate from flower stalks.
How can I prevent etiolation in my succulent?
To prevent etiolation, you need to make sure that the plant gets adequate and bright enough light on a daily basis.
If you transfer the plant to a sunnier spot, do not do so abruptly; help it adjust to the change in lighting by gradually increasing its exposure to the sun by 30 minutes to an hour every day. Do this until the plant has fully adjusted to the new lighting conditions.
If there are brown spots on the leaves, or if the tips of the leaves are turning brown and drying out, the plant may be getting a little too much light and you should then move it to an area where the sunlight is not as direct.
Another way to avoid etiolation is to rotate the plant every couple of days. This is especially needed for plants that are placed near windows, because usually only one side of the plant gets most of the light. Byt turning it every couple of days, all sides of the plant get their time in the sun and the plant will grow more symmetrically.
How to propagate a succulent using leaf cuttings
If you removed some leaves from the succulent while you were removing the stem, do not throw them away because you can use them, too, to propagate the plant.
When removing leaves from the parent plant, twist and wiggle them gently until they separate from the plant. This method makes it less likely for the leaf to break when you pull it off. A damaged or broken leaf will be unlikely to sprout roots and is not ideal for propagation purposes.
After you have removed the leaves, place them on a dry, clean surface to dry out for a few days. Once they have become callused, place them in a shallow container with well-draining soil and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Place the container where it can get lots of light, and after a couple of weeks you should see baby plants growing from the leaves. If you do not see any growth after one or two weeks, that does not mean the propagation was a failure; it might just need more time.
Never overwater the cuttings because that could lead to rot, and make sure all of the roots are covered at all times. If you see new roots, sprinkle some soil over them to cover them and protect them from drying out.
When watering your new plants, do not wet the leaves; instead, water the soil directly.
Also do not place the growing cuttings under direct sunlight; they will burn and could die.
It may be tempting to remove the original leaf from the new plant, but wait for it to dry out completely so that it separates easily from the plant.
If there is a long stem growing from your succulent, it could be due to one of two things: either the succulent variety you are growing has naturally long stems, or the plant is undergoing etiolation because it is not getting as much light as it needs to survive.
In the latter case, the plant is growing an elongated stem to reach for the closest source of light, because it is desperate. The growth of the stem will not harm your plant, but keeping it in low-light conditions will eventually kill it.
Transfer the etiolated plant to a spot where it can get plenty of light, and remove the stem if it bothers you. You can use the stem to propagate the plant and then you will have two of the same plant.
Image: istockphoto.com / HuyThoai