Etiolation (stretching) in succulents and how to fix it

Etiolation (stretching) is one of the biggest challenges of growing succulents indoors, especially if you live in a temperate climate that does not get much sunlight during the cooler months. The main culprits that sport this tall and stretched out look, thanks to the lack of sunlight, are echeverias. Famous for their beautiful rosette shapes and beautiful colors, they are the ones that suffer the most and lose their shape, and once that happens there isn’t much you can do to fix it, even if you start to provide more light.

I live in temperate climate and once daylight savings hits, most of the light goes bye bye by 4 o’clock, and that on a sunny day, because if it gets overcast then, well, you get the idea. So what can we do to prevent this without investing in some heavy duty and expensive grow lights.

Time to get creative 😀 using the natural propagation power of succulents. As we all know, succulents are very easy to propagate using leaf cuttings, so basically once you bought a plant, the potential to get numerous plants by just planting some of the leaves is there. Now I know what you are about to ask “How does this help if the new baby plants will end up stretched out as well?” Now here is where the creative part comes in: if you are familiar with sempervivums or commonly known as the hen and chicks plant, you know that they are very famous for growing as a cluster of plants similar to a beautiful compact bouquet. By mimicking the compact way that sempervivum naturally grows, using echeveria leaf cuttings, we therefore fight back as much as we can with the effects of etiolation by clustering them all in a nice bouquet, giving them very little room to stretch out. So on we go with the tutorial.

 

STEP ONE

Start by gently removing some leaves from your plant; make sure that the base of the leaves has a nice clean breaking point that will help with the healing process. Wait for a couple of days for the leaf cuttings to dry out. Once the ends have calloused over and formed a nice thick scab then you can plant them.

STEP TWO

Choose the pot you want to plant your cuttings in and fill it with the appropriate cactus and succulent potting mix. Remember that cacti and succulents need a fast draining soil since they don’t like to stay wet for too long and you don’t want your cutting to rot. Not only do the leaf cuttings act as little seeds, but they also provide nutrients and moisture for your new plant babies and help them form roots, so you don’t have to go overboard with the watering, just make sure that the soil is slightly moist. Plant as many cuttings as you wish, keeping in mind that not all of them will form new plantlets, so pack’em in there.

STEP THREE

And the last step and the hardest, is that now all we have to do is wait and wait and in a couple of months your mini succulent bouquet will be complete.
Another optional way you can achieve this for a more instant plant effect is by compacting existing rosettes. Keep in mind that depending on your plant, some leaves might die back until they acclimate and grow roots (my echeveria nodulosa is famous for doing this, but not all of them do this).

Note: In my experience this works best if you have a bottom stem that can get into the soil. Without one, the effect can’t be achieved, since they will be moving all over the place and they need to touch the soil to form roots. All you need to do is take your existing plants, fold them in gently into a tighter rosette and just create your bouquet. Like so!

References

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