Some succulent owners are surprised and confused to find a long stem growing from the middle of their plant, and they have no idea why this has happened.
The most probable reasons for this are either that your plant has naturally long stems, or the plant is not getting the light that it needs.
In this article, we will discuss these two possible reasons for your plant having a long stem, what you can do about it, and how to prevent it. If you are currently experiencing this issue, keep reading to learn more.
Why is my succulent growing a long stem in the middle?
The succulent’s stems are naturally long
Before you worry about the sudden growth of a long stem from the middle of your succulent, you should check whether this is not actually a feature of this particular succulent species.
There are lots of succulent varieties that grow long stems, such as agaves and the string of pearls succulent.
These varieties are best displayed in a mixed succulent container where the contrasting sizes and heights will be complimentary.
The best way to make sure that your succulent’s long stem is a natural occurrence is to do some research on the particular species you are growing.
The succulent is not getting sufficient light
If your succulent is not naturally long-stemmed, then a long stem indicates a problem, and the most likely culprit is a lack of sunlight.
All plants need light to be able to photosynthesize, a process without which they cannot survive. While some plants are adapted to surviving in low light conditions, succulents are not.
Succulents come from some of the hottest, driest places on earth, and are also used to getting plenty of sunlight on a daily basis. Depriving them of this need can affect them more negatively than it might other types of plants.
When a succulent does not get enough light, it will start growing stems that are longer than normal in a process called etiolation.
Etiolation is when the plant channels its remaining energy and resources into growing an elongated stem, with smaller leaves or no leaves at all, in the direction of the closest source of light. This is the plant’s desperate attempt to keep itself alive by getting just enough light to be able to photosynthesize, even if not at the rate it would with an ideal amount of light.
When this happens, you need to transfer the plant to a sunnier spot immediately. If you live in an apartment, place it near a window that lets in bright light. If the natural light that enters your home is not enough, you might have to use a grow light to give the succulent the light that it needs.
How will I know what kind of succulent I have?
Do not feel bad about being unsure of the name of your succulent, especially if you are just a novice plant enthusiast. There are literally thousands of different succulent varieties and even experts sometimes have a hard time differentiating plants from one another.
There are many options you can use to identify your particular succulent. The first is an online database. The internet is host to myriad free databases that can be accessed by anybody. These contain thousands of pictures of different succulents that you can compare with yours to help you narrow down the possibilities.
Another option is to ask online groups for plant enthusiasts, which you can find on sites like Facebook or Reddit. Just join a large and active group and post a picture of your plant, asking for help identifying it. These forums are typically very friendly and would be more than willing to give a few minutes of their time to help you out.
You can also visit your local nursery or public garden. Chances are there is at least one plant expert there that can help you with your query. This way is even better than online because the expert can actually see your plant and inspect it up close for more accurate identification.
There are also plenty of apps on your smartphone that is programmed to accurately identify plants from pictures. They may not be 100 percent correct all the time, but more often than not they can at least identify a plant from the same family as yours.
Does etiolation, or legginess, hurt the succulent?
No. While etiolation may alter the overall aesthetic and symmetry of the plant, the growing of a long stem itself does not harm it. This is basically the plant’s stress response and its way of indicating that there is something wrong that needs to be resolved as soon as possible.
However, although the long stem does not hurt the plant, the continued lack of sunlight can definitely harm it, and even cause it to die. If the plant is kept in low light conditions for weeks on end, it will deplete all its chlorophyll and thus have no food supply, and it will eventually die. So, before the problem becomes any more serious, salvage the plant by giving it more sunlight which is truly the easiest fix to this problem.
Can etiolation, or legginess, be prevented?
Prevent etiolation in your succulent by making sure it gets the light that it needs every day. Do your research on your particular succulent species so that you know exactly how many hours of light it prefers, and the exact type of light, too.
If you spot a stem starting to grow from the succulent, double-check that your lighting setup is appropriate.
If you have a plant that gets ample time under the sun but still seems to be growing a long stem, try increasing its light exposure by about an hour every day and see if that solves the problem.
Also, be wary of too much light. Do not overcompensate by leaving the plant under the full sun for too long, because this might lead to sun damage. If you see brown spots on the plant’s foliage, that could be due to sunburn and you need to reduce its light exposure.
Even if you place the succulent near a window, etiolation can still happen if only one side of the plant is always facing the light. To avoid this, rotate the plant every couple of days so that all sides get some time in the sun. This way, no one side is favored and the plant will grow evenly and more symmetrical.
How can I fix a leggy succulent?
Propagate the plant using the long stem
Unfortunately, you cannot really do anything about the long stem once it has grown. The best thing to do is make sure the plant is healthy again, cut off the stem, and use it to propagate new succulents.
Before propagating, you need to make sure that the species you are growing can indeed be propagated using cuttings.
The succulent should also be well-hydrated and healthy before you propagate it. Remove some leaves from around the long stem to get a better view of its base, so that you can remove it easily.
Be gentle when you pull the leaves off. Pinch them between your fingers and move them back and forth until they loosen and you can pull them off. You can also use these removed leaves for propagation if you wish.
Once you have a good view of the base of the stem, use a sterile pair of scissors to cut the stem at the soil level. The little stump of stem left in the middle of the succulent will dry out in a few days, and you might even see baby plants growing around the stump after a few weeks.
Take the long stem that you have cut and place it on a dry surface for a few days so that the cut part can dry out and form a callus. Once the cut end is dry, remove the leaves from the sides of the stem, leaving just the rosette at the top.
Plant the stem several inches deep in a pot with well-draining soil, and water it a few times a week to keep the soil moist, but never soggy.
After a few weeks, check for roots by gently pulling at the cutting. If you feel resistance, it means that the new roots have anchored themselves and you can now care for the plant as you would a regular plant.
Propagate the plant using leaves
The leaves that you removed to expose the stem can also be used to propagate the succulent.
Make sure the leaves are whole and have no tears or breaks on them. When you remove them from the parent plant, just wiggle them gently or make a slight twisting motion so that they do not break and can then be used for propagation.
If the leaf has tears or breaks, there will be less chance that it can sprout roots.
Place your leaves on a dry paper towel and let the wounded ends dry out for a few days.
When they have dried, you can plant the leaves in a container of well-draining succulent soil. Make sure that the container has drainage holes at the bottom to prevent root rot.
Place the container in a spot that gets bright, indirect sunlight and mist the soil when it becomes dry.
After a few weeks, check for roots by pulling gently on the leaves. If there is resistance, that means roots have been established; you can then transfer each new plant to its own pot and start caring for them as you would a regular plant.
Succulents that are great for low light conditions
If you live in a place where it is difficult to provide sufficient light for your plants, you can always choose to grow succulents that are more at home in these kinds of conditions.
1. Ox tongue plant
The ox tongue plant is one of the best to grow in low light conditions because it actually prefers to get shade for most of the day.
Echeverias are low-maintenance and perfect for people who do not have time for plants that need lots of attention. These succulents only need four hours of light every day; they also do not need to be watered very often because they can store water in their fleshy leaves. Although this plant can grow in low light, keep in mind that it does need a little light every day to avoid etiolation.
3. Lance aloe
The lance aloe is a great succulent for those that live in dark apartments. It does well in low light and is also quite compact, so it will not take up too much space. It only grows to about eight inches tall and 12 inches wide. It is also very easy to grow and care for and only needs to be watered a few times a year.
This is another succulent that does well in low light conditions. It adapts easily to changes in its environment, which makes it a very resilient plant. It is also a great beginner plant for those that are just getting into succulents. One variety of Haworthia is the zebra plant, which only needs to be watered once a month and can grow in darker rooms than most plants.
A long stem suddenly growing from the middle of your succulent can be a justifiable cause for concern. Although a long stem can be completely normal for certain species, it can also be caused by the plant not getting as much daily light as it needs.
There are thousands of succulent species and in order for you to know if the long stem is normal or not, you will need to research your specific variety.
If the long stem is due to etiolation, which is a desperate attempt to reach the closest source of light, then you will need to transfer it to a spot where it can get more light.
If you do not like the aesthetic of the long stem, you can cut it off and use it to propagate the plant.
To prevent etiolation, or legginess, in your succulent, make sure that it gets the light that it needs every day.
Image: istockphoto.com / Oscar Yoshinori Toyofuku