Many succulents, especially indoor ones, are typically small in size and come in various shapes and hues. Tall succulents stand out for their unusual size and form, and it can be confusing when you see a tall succulent that would normally not be tall. This article will help you understand why these plants tend to grow too tall.
Why do succulents grow too tall?
Succulents grow too tall and become stretched out when they are not getting enough sunlight. The first thing you will notice is that the succulent will start to turn and bend toward the light source. As the plant continues to grow, it becomes taller and there will be more space between the leaves, which become smaller and lighter than their normal hue.
The lack of sunlight can also make the plant lose the vibrance of its original color or become less colorful.
What is etiolation?
When succulents do not have enough sunlight, they start to grow longitudinally. This condition is known as etiolation, a state exhibited by plants grown in insufficient sunlight. Succulents growing too tall is a trait of etiolation, whereby they appear stretched and their leaves are spaced far apart. They also appear pale, and may have a bent stature.
Etiolation is usually observed in indoor plants, since most of these are placed in poorly-lit or dark rooms. It could also occur in outdoor plants if they are placed in shade or blocked from the sunlight for a long period. Aside from long, stretched-out stems, the leaves may also appear smaller due to longer internodes, and the plants may be pale yellow in color.
Etiolated succulents are unable to produce chlorophyll which produces a bright green color, and the leaves and stems lose pigmentation and become pale.
During the early stages of etiolation, the plant will lean towards the sun or light source. After a while the stem starts elongating quickly, but stays thin. The spacing between the leaves is far apart, since they do not grow with the stem. Eventually, the plant takes on a distorted, disoriented shape, and the stems could break off as they become pale and weak.
Is it normal for succulents to grow a tall stem?
Some plant owners believe that succulents with tall and stretched stems are healthy, fast-growing plants and that this is normal. Unfortunately this is not always the case, since plants tend to become tall and stretched due to inadequate sunlight.
The condition is a unique survival mechanism, and could even lead to withering and death.
Inversely, some succulent varieties spread vertically by producing lots of offsets and naturally grow longer than others. These plants have dense, vibrant leaves and thick stems, which are obvious indications of healthy growth.
How much light do succulents need?
Light requirements vary depending on the variety of succulent, but generally they do not need light all day. Certain varieties prefer partial to full sunlight and need at least a few hours of direct light daily. Other succulents prefer low lighting and grow best in an indoor environment.
Plants indicate their light requirements silently; there are certain signs that will indicate if they are lacking sunlight. Droopy leaves or downward-bending leaves indicate insufficient sunlight. Another sign is if the leaves are leaning: when a plant senses where the light source is, it will lean in that direction to reach the light it needs.
Succulents growing too tall: What to do?
Here are some steps you can take to prevent your succulents from growing too tall and stretching out:
1. Try to reposition the plant.
Try to move the planter or potted succulent near a window or to an outdoor area for at least a few hours daily. This will allow the plant to soak up sufficient sunshine.
2. Be sure to make changes gradually.
Allow the plant to have at least half an hour more of direct light at least every three days. After two weeks, check whether the leaves have tipped upside. The pale color should also be reversed once it has been exposed to enough sunlight. Do not expose the plant to bright sunlight or full sun suddenly; rather do it gradually.
3. Use a grow lamp.
A grow lamp is an artificial light source designed for plants that are grown indoors. It provides the required lightwaves for plants to continue the process of photosynthesis. It is also ideal if you live in a country that has long winters or cold weather most of the year.
4. Opt for other species that are less light-sensitive.
If you notice that your stretched-out succulent is not responding well to the previous measures, you may have to opt for other varieties or species. Some succulents are just more sensitive to light compared with others.
Here are some low-light succulents that you may like to consider:
- Aloe barbadensis, or Aloe vera
- Haworthia margaritifera, or Zebra plant
- Sedum morganianum, or Burro’s tail
- Sanseveria trifasciata, or Snake plant
- Schlumbergera, or Christmas cactus
Succulents are lovely plants that do not grow too large, which makes them ideal indoor plants. They enhance the aesthetic features of homes and offices. However, some tend to grow too tall and become pale and stretched; these are signs of etiolation due to growing in conditions with insufficient sunlight.
To prevent succulents from growing too tall, you need to reposition them and gradually increase the time they are exposed to the sun. You can also use a grow lamp so the plants can continue to photosynthesise despite being indoors.
Image: istockphoto.com / by sonmez