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Succulent Plants Growing Long Stems: Why It Happens & What To Do

Succulent plants growing long stems is a common occurrence. I'm telling you what causes these stretched out, leggy stems & how to prune, propagate & replant them.

close up of various succulent cuttings in a bright blue pot

Oh, succulents we do love you but why do your stems grow long? My garden in Santa Barbara was chock-full of them but it didn’t bother me when this happened because I had so many. They intertwined and co-mingled. Every once in a while I’d cut some of them back to propagate and/or give away. Succulent plants growing long stems happens from time to time. This post will explain to you why it happens and what you can do about it!

I now live in Tucson which isn’t the optimal climate for growing fleshy succulents. Mine now grow in pots and look a bit sad when that intense summer heat rolls in. They’re all growing in pots in the shade – they can’t handle the sun here. One of my succulent plantings was due for a total cut back because the stems had gotten long, leggy and stretched out.

Are Your Succulent Plants Growing Long Stems?

a mature mixed succulent planting in a blue pot

The planting about 7 months ago.

In my experience, there are 3 reasons why succulent plants grow long, stretched out, or leggy stems.

1.) It’s the nature of the beast.

Some succulents naturally grow leggy over time & need to be cut back. Others stay in a more compact rosette form & rarely need cutting back.

2.) They’re reaching for the light source.

This, combined with #1 & the pack rats enjoying them as snacks, were the reasons I needed to completely cut my succulents back. The pot that you see here is right next to my front door & sits in a corner. I rotate it every 2-3 months but once the planting gets too leggy & those stems get too long, it won’t fit in the space. The light isn’t too low, it’s just not hitting the planting evenly all the way around.

3.) The light they’re growing in is too low.

This may be true for yours especially if growing indoors.

a garden with succulents & a tall rosemary in the background

A little snippet of my front garden in Santa Barbara. I needed to cut the graptoveria, narrow leaf chalk sticks & lavender scallops back every year or 2 as they grew into the walkway. And yes, the large shrub in the background is a rosemary in bloom.

My Paddle Plant patch growing under my Giant bird Of Paradise in Santa Barbara needed cutting back after 2 or 3 years of growing. Kalanchoes tend to grow long stems and as do many other fleshy succulents. Once a succulent stem gets bare the leaves won’t grow back on it. You need to cut it back and propagate by stem cuttings or have it rejuvenate from the base (the piece of stem & roots still in the soil). Here’s what you do, whether your succulents are growing in the ground or in a pot, with those tall, stretched out succulents.

a succulent planter with knee pads & a box with pruners & cuttings in the foreground

Getting ready for the big cut back!

When Should You Cut Back Your Succulents?

Spring & summer are the best. If you live in a temperate climate like me, early fall is fine too. You want to give your succulents are a couple of months to settle in & root before the cooler weather sets in.

How to Cut Back Succulent Plant Growing Long Stems

I used my trusty Felco hand pruners which I’ve had for ages. Whatever you use, make sure your pruning tool is clean & sharp. You don’t want the jagged cuts &/or infection to set in.

I usually take cuttings by making the cut straight across but have done them at an angle too. With succulents, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference.

a box full of succulent cuttings

The cuttings I got from wacking back this planting. 

What Should You Do with the Cuttings?

There were quite a few cuttings as you can see! I put them in a long, low box which I then moved to my very bright (but with no direct sun) utility room. The cuttings were prepped a few days later – I stripped off some of the lower leaves & cut off any curved stems. You want the stems to be as straight as possible because they’re easier to plant that way.

The cuttings healed over for about 6 days. Think of this as a wound healing over; otherwise the cuttings could rot. I’ve let some succulents heal over for 9 months just fine whereas something with fine stems like  String Of Pearls only needs a couple of days. It’s hot here in Tucson so I don’t heal any succulents over for too long.

After planting, they’ll be rooted in 1-2 months time.

3 different types of succulent cuttings lined up in a box

The cuttings after sorting through & prepping them.

How to Plant Your Succulent Cuttings

1.) Remove the top layer of soil (if planting them back in the same pot).

This planting was done 2 years ago so the soil mix hadn’t gone too old nor was it compacted. I removed the top 10″ to make room for a fresh mix. Succulents don’t root too deep so there wasn’t a need to remove it all.

2.) Use a mix formulated for succulents & cacti.

Fill the pot with succulent & cactus mix. I use 1 which is produced locally which I love but this one is an option. Succulents need a loose mix so the water can thoroughly drain out & they don’t rot.

3.) Mix in coir.

A few handfuls of coco coir. I always have this on hand but it’s not necessary. This environmentally friendly alternative to peat moss is pH neutral, increases nutrient holding capacity & improves aeration. If you feel your mix isn’t light enough, you can up the ante on the drainage factor which lessens the chance of rot by adding some pumice or perlite.

4.) Use compost.

A few handfuls of compost – I use Tank’s local compost. Give Dr. Earth’s a try if you can’t find anywhere you live. Compost enriches the soil naturally so the roots are healthy & the plants grow stronger. I mixed a bit of the good, fresh blend in with the old.

5.) Get ready to plant.

With the mix all prepped it was time to plant. I had a couple of small plants from another pot & started with 1 of those. I then placed the cuttings in groupings how I found pleasing to my eye. You may have to play around with them to get them to go the way you want.

looking down on newly planted succulent cuttings in a blue pot

My new planting. As you can see, I left a bit of space for the cuttings to all grow in. You can pack them in tighter if you’d like. Just know they do grow, especially when the weather’s warm.

How you arrange your cuttings is up to you. Just remember that some grow bigger & taller & will take up more real estate than others. I planted the Paddle Plants cuttings on the edge because the leaves are so big & they produce babies like crazy.

Here’s a tutorial video showing you how take care of succulent plants growing long stems:

How to Maintain the New Planting

I let it settle in for 3 days before watering. This is something I learned early on & it’s always worked well for me.

I’ll water this planting once a week until the weather cools. You don’t want to keep your cuttings as dry as you would an established plant. Remember, the roots are still forming. Conversely, don’t water it too often or the cuttings will rot out. Adjust according to your conditions.

Keep your cuttings out of any direct hot sun to avoid burn. Bright natural light (a moderate to high light exposure) is the sweet spot.

Fertilizer

In spring I’ll apply a 1/2″ topping of worm compost. This is my favorite amendment which I use sparingly because it’s rich. I’m currently using Worm Gold Plus. Here’s why I like it so much. Over that, I’ll put 1″ or so of compost. Succulents growing outdoors love this combo. Read about my worm compost/compost feeding right here.

close of of a beautiful mixed succulent planting

Here’s a newly planted succulent container which is tight & compact. Not for too long!

This also works with succulents which are getting too tall. If you have succulent plants growing long stems and getting too leggy simply give them a good haircut. They can take it and will come back stronger than ever. Gotta love those succulents!

Happy gardening,

Nell-Foster-Joy-Us-Garden

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