Succulent plants sometimes develop long stems, and if you’re wondering why, keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore the reasons behind this phenomenon and provide solutions to address it.
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Understanding the Growth of Long Stems in Succulents
While I was living in Santa Barbara, my garden was filled with succulents. I never really minded when their stems grew long because I had an abundance of plants. They intertwined and mingled, creating a beautiful display. Occasionally, I would trim some of the stems to propagate or give away.
Now, living in Tucson, a less suitable climate for fleshy succulents, my plants grow in pots. When the intense summer heat arrives, they tend to look a bit sad. To make matters worse, they are all placed in shaded areas since they can’t tolerate direct sunlight here. Recently, I had to completely cut back one of my succulent plantings because the stems had become long, leggy, and stretched out.
Three Reasons Why Succulents Develop Long Stems
Based on my experience, there are three primary reasons why succulents may grow long, stretched out, or leggy stems.
1) It’s Natural for Some Succulents
Certain succulents naturally grow leggy over time and require regular trimming. On the other hand, some varieties maintain a more compact rosette form and rarely need cutting back.
2) They Reach Towards the Light
Often, succulents develop long stems because they are reaching for the light source. This, combined with the natural growth habit mentioned earlier, might cause the stems to become excessively long. In my case, the succulent pot you see here is placed near my front door in a corner. I rotate it every 2-3 months, but despite my efforts, the light doesn’t evenly reach all parts of the planting.
3) Insufficient Light
If your succulents are growing indoors, inadequate light could be the reason behind their long stems.
In my front garden in Santa Barbara, I regularly needed to trim back the graptoveria, narrow leaf chalk sticks, and lavender scallops as they grew into the walkway. It’s worth noting that succulent stems won’t regrow leaves once they become bare. To address this, you can either cut the stem back and propagate using stem cuttings or rejuvenate the plant from the base (the portion of stem and roots still in the soil).
To tackle the issue of succulents with long stems, regardless of whether they are growing in the ground or in a pot, follow these steps:
- Determining the Right Time for Cutting Back Succulents
Spring and summer are the best seasons for cutting back succulents. However, if you live in a temperate climate like me, early fall works well too. It’s important to allow your succulents a couple of months to settle in and establish roots before the cooler weather arrives.
- Cutting Back Succulent Plants with Long Stems
For this task, I used my trusty Felco hand pruners, which have been serving me well for years. Ensure that your pruning tool is clean and sharp to make clean cuts and avoid infections. When cutting succulents, the angle of the cut doesn’t seem to have a significant impact, so you can make the cut straight across or at an angle.
- What to Do with the Cuttings?
After trimming, you’ll end up with a collection of cuttings. I recommend placing them in a long, low box and moving it to a bright room with indirect sunlight. A few days later, prepare the cuttings by removing some lower leaves and trimming any curved stems. Keep the stems as straight as possible to facilitate planting.
Allow the cuttings to heal for about 6 days. This healing process is crucial to prevent rotting. The duration of healing depends on the succulent species and the climate. In Tucson’s hot weather, I don’t heal the cuttings for too long, usually less than a week. However, I’ve successfully healed some succulents for up to 9 months. After healing, the cuttings will be ready for planting and should root within 1-2 months.
- Planting Your Succulent Cuttings
If you’re replanting the cuttings back in the same pot, start by removing the top layer of soil. For this particular planting, which was done two years ago, I only removed the top 10 inches since succulents don’t root too deeply. Next, use a succulent and cactus mix to fill the pot. I prefer a locally-produced mix, but there are other options available. It’s important to use a loose mix that allows for thorough drainage and prevents root rot.
Incorporate a few handfuls of coco coir into the mix if desired. Coco coir is an environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss. It helps improve aeration, increase nutrient-holding capacity, and maintain a neutral pH. If the mix doesn’t feel light enough, you can enhance the drainage by adding pumice or perlite.
To enrich the soil naturally and promote healthy root growth, add a few handfuls of compost. I usually use a local compost, but if you can’t find one in your area, Dr. Earth’s compost is a good option. Blend the fresh compost with the existing soil.
With the mix prepared, it’s time to plant the cuttings. If you have small plants from another pot, start by planting those. Then, arrange the cuttings in groupings according to your preference. Don’t forget to leave enough space for each cutting to grow. You can place them closer together, but keep in mind that succulents tend to expand, especially in warm weather. Take into account the growth habits of different succulent varieties, as some plants might become larger and taller, occupying more space than others. For instance, I placed the cuttings from Paddle Plants on the edge of the pot because their leaves are large, and they produce abundant babies.
To help you visualize the process, here’s a tutorial video on how to care for succulents with long stems:
Maintaining Your Newly Planted Succulents
Allow the succulents to settle in for three days before watering. This practice, which I learned early on, has always yielded good results for me.
During the initial period, water the planting once a week. Unlike established plants, cuttings need more moisture to develop roots. However, be cautious not to overwater them, as excessive moisture can cause rotting. Adjust your watering frequency according to the conditions in your area.
Keep the cuttings away from direct sunlight to prevent sunburn. They thrive in bright natural light, ideally with moderate to high exposure.
In spring, apply a 1/2-inch topping of worm compost to provide rich nutrients to your succulents. I personally use Worm Gold Plus and find it highly effective. Additionally, you can add a layer of compost on top. This combination works wonders for outdoor succulents. For more information on feeding succulents using worm compost and compost, check out this article.
This method can also be applied to succulents that are becoming too tall. If you have succulent plants with long stems and they’re getting leggy, don’t hesitate to give them a good haircut. They can handle it and will bounce back even stronger. Truly, succulents are remarkable!
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