Succulent leaves turn brown due to four possible reasons: over-watering, under-watering, sun damage and natural leaf loss.
Why succulent leaves turn brown
Identifying the real reason behind the color change in your succulent leaves can be tricky. Here is how you can distinguish each potential problem from each other.
If you have just started raising succulents, one of the possible reasons why you see the leaves of your plants turn brown is over-watering. In fact, over-watering is the number one mistake new succulent owners make. Unlike other plants, succulents do not need as much water. These plants are well-equipped to survive long, dry spells.
Before the leaves of an over-watered succulent turn brown, these change their color into yellow or transparent first.
If you touch the leaves, you will also notice that these feel mushy and soft.
If you ignore these signs, the leaves will take on a darker color. When that happens, it means that rot has set in and your plant may no longer be salvageable.
Once your plant turns black, you will see insects like gnats hovering around it. These insects are attracted by the moisture and rot.
At this point, your best option is to throw away your plant, especially if you have other succulents in your home. If you leave that rotting succulent indoors, the pests that have become attracted to it can infest and damage your other plants.
Saving an over-watered succulent
Can an over-watered succulent be saved? If you act fast and perform the necessary steps, yes, you can save your plant. And even though a plant that has begun to rot will still have salvageable parts that you can propagate.
If the affected plant has just started showing signs of overwatering, the first thing that you need to do is to remove it from the wet soil.
After removing the plant from the soil, allow it to dry out completely. This can take anywhere from a few days to a week.
Place your plant in an area with lots of airflow and sunlight. However, do not leave it under direct sunlight. Doing so will cause sunburn damage.
When the plant is completely dry, you can replant it. If the soil you used for it previously is appropriate for succulents, you can plant your succulent back in the same soil after it becomes completely dry.
However, if you have used the wrong potting mix, you should use a different soil, and possibly, a new pot with drainage holes.
Do not water your succulent immediately. Instead, just wait for it to dry. After a week, you can water your plant. But before you do, take a quick check on the soil. It should be completely dry at this point. If it is still moist, you probably used the wrong type of soil.
Saving a rotting succulent
If the plant has begun rotting, the first thing that you need to do is to determine the severity of the rot. This will help you decide if some plant parts are still worth saving.
Save as many leaves and stems as you can. There are no guaranteed results when it comes to propagating succulent leaves and stems. This is why you need to save as many as you can.
Be sure to set aside complete leaves. Broken leaves do not usually propagate. As for the stems, look for the viable ones which should be colored green. If you see brown or black parts inside the stem’s cross-section, that means that rot may have started. Throw these away.
Allow the leaves and stems to dry out in an area with enough sunlight and airflow.
When the leaves are dry, you can either lay these flat on a potting mix or stick one end into the soil. You can also stick one end of a stem directly into the soil.
While waiting for the leaves and stems to grow new roots, you should mist the soil every few days. Do not put your new plants under direct sunlight.
Succulents have earned the reputation of being resilient and drought-resistant. But this very reputation can be detrimental to these plants.
Some succulent owners mistakenly believe that they need to water their plants too infrequently. As such, it is not uncommon for many succulents to be under-watered.
Apart from having brown leaves, under-watered succulents look deflated and shriveled. If you touch these plants, they will feel dry.
Saving an under-watered succulent
Fortunately, it is easier to revive an under-watered succulent compared to one that has been severely over-watered.
The first, and probably the most important thing that you need to do is to quench your succulent’s thirst. Water your succulent until you see water exit from the pot’s drainage hole.
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, succulents love to be watered deeply. And if you are using a fast-draining soil mix and if you wait until the soil is dry before you water your plant again, you have nothing much to worry about.
After that initial watering, observe your succulent for about a week. Water it again once the soil is dry. After two or three waterings, you will notice that your plant looks livelier.
However, if things do not seem to turn around, you may have to take a more drastic measure in the form of water therapy. Water therapy entails soaking the plant’s roots in water.
Water therapy re-hydrates under-watered succulents quickly. However, there is no guarantee that it will work 100 percent.
Like humans, succulents can also get sunburned.
If you put your succulent under direct sunlight for a long period, it can succumb to sunburn. Initially, you will notice white patches on the leaves.
Eventually, if the plant continues to stay in its current location, the sunburn can become severe, manifesting in the form of brown patches. Typically, when these brown patches appear, it means that the sun damage has become extensive and the plant can eventually die.
Sunburnt succulent leaves are incapable of carrying out photosynthesis, adversely affecting the wellbeing of a plant.
Once you notice white spots on your succulents, move them to a shaded location. For succulents kept outdoors, it is a good idea to invest in a shade cloth that offers a formidable amount of protection against the sun’s scorching rays.
Natural leaf loss
Of all the possible causes of browning succulent leaves, natural leaf loss is probably the least concerning.
Like other plants, succulents drop leaves when these are no longer of any use or value to the plant.
Before dropping its old leaves, your succulent will take all the moisture and nutrients from these leaves. This is why these leaves are brown and crispy.
Typically, these leaves will naturally drop from the plant. However, you can pick these dead leaves off the plant without risking any harm to your succulent. In fact, it is highly advisable to set aside time to prune dead leaves from your plant for aesthetic and functional reasons.
If you leave these leaves on the plant, harmful insects like mealybugs may become attracted to these.
You do not need any special tool to remove dead leaves from your succulent. All you have to do is pull these away.
Sometimes, you will encounter leaves that are not completely dried up. Do not attempt to pull these off. Pulling these leaves off when they are not yet completely dead can cause infections in your plant.
Wait a few more days until those leaves are completely dry.
Protect your succulent from turning brown
The discoloration of leaves of a succulent is often a sign that there is something wrong with it.
Fortunately, potential causes like over and under-watering and sun damage are easy to avoid.
Learn how to properly water your succulent and use a good potting mix for your plant. This minimizes the chances of discoloration and other problems significantly.
It is also a good idea to learn the light requirements of your plant. Ensuring that your succulent gets adequate and not too much sunlight is the key to preventing sunburn.
Succulent Leaves Turning Brown
Succulent leaves turn brown due to four possible reasons: over-watering, under-watering, sun damage, and natural leaf loss.
Image: Istockphoto.com / kynny