Succulent Dying? Causes, Mistakes And How to Avoid Them

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Identifying symptoms of plant distress early on can help gardeners take the necessary steps to prevent the succulent’s death. Some of the causes may be abiotic, generally due to plant management. However, several diseases and pests may cause succulent’s distress.

Is My Succulent Dying Because of What I’ve Done?

We all love our plants and want them to share our space as long as possible.

When not accompanied by experience, that love can often cause our plants distress – even when our intentions are only the best.

Poorly Drained Soils

All succulents need soils that drain quickly. Several retail nurseries provide specialized “cactus” mixtures, which are designed for plants in pots.

Poorly draining soils will make plants more vulnerable to infections that cause root rot and even kill plants.

To successfully cultivate cactus, agave, and yucca in heavy clay soils, careful irrigation management is essential.

Pumice can be added liberally (up to 25%) to outdoor landscapes to help drainage and soil structure.

Sandy soils should be avoided because they will quickly drain and hold little water and nutrients. Sandy soil should always be supplemented with coconut coir and cured compost.

Fresh manure has a high salt concentration, is bad for root development, and shouldn’t be used as a soil supplement.

Poor Watering Practices

Overwatering is one of the most dangerous abiotic issues. This and soggy soils are a surefire prescription for plant failure.

Depending on the type and species of the plant, the interval between irrigations should be moderate to thorough.

Contrarily, additional water will lessen heat and sun damage during droughts or extended periods without rain.

Watering succulents in well-drained soils every 10 to 14 days should be sufficient to ensure plant health and growth during the summer.

The watering period may be shortened on denser soils, such as clay. The frequency must be increased on sandy or very quickly draining soils.

The root zone should be checked two to three inches (5–7.5 cm). Wait to irrigate the soil until it has dried out if the ground is damp.

You may better understand your plants’ water requirements by inspecting the root zone before watering.

After thorough irrigation, there should be a 2–14 day dry interval to allow the soil to dry out and prevent soil-borne diseases’ growth.

In the fall and winter, irrigation may be scaled back as daylight hours get shorter. Irrigation should not be continued when the evening temperature is below 60°F (16°C).

Plant Depth

For succulents to survive, planting should be done at the proper depth. Green stem tissue should not be underground in columnar cacti like the saguaro.

This frequently occurs with Carnegiea gigantea (saguaro) and other columnar cacti, which results in poor establishment and plant death.

Incorrect Plant Location

Serious issues can be reduced or eliminated by carefully choosing appropriate species for your region or creating an indoor environment to match your plant needs.

Visit specialized cactus and succulent nurseries and speak with the staff about cold hardiness, heat and cold tolerance, mature plant size, growth pace, and any known issues with a particular species.


When exposed to direct sunlight, parts of the plant that are not accustomed to it will burn readily. Plants that have been sunburned turn yellow, and as the damage worsens, the epidermis turns straw-yellow and dies.

If the damage is not serious enough, leaves may recover at cooler temperatures, but in severe situations, they may die. When plants are produced in nurseries, sunburn can be reduced by initially hardening the plant.

Many nurseries mark one side of the plant to ensure that a plant is transplanted in the same orientation. Newly acquired plants are protected from sunburn by being covered with cheesecloth or 30% shade fabric.

Common Succulent Diseases

Dry Rot

The spots begin as tiny, black circles that grow larger over time until they have a diameter of one to two inches.

The emergence of callus tissue prevents further advancement.

Infected tissue exhibits tiny fruiting structures.

The disease is partially physiological and is primarily impacted by soil moisture. Destroy and remove sick specimens.

Cotton Root Rot

The fungus that causes cotton root rot (Phymatotrichum omnivorum) can affect several cactus species.

Infected plants pass away. Brown fungus threads can grow on the root surface when the plant is taken from the soil. There isn’t a control method accessible.

Soft Rot 

The bacterium (Erwinia carotovora) enters the tissue through open wounds. High humidity promotes the bacteria’s rapid reproduction, which allows it to spread to healthy plant sections.

Diseased tissue deteriorates quickly and is fluid, soft, and dark.

The progression of the disease might be stopped if the environment becomes dry.

The best prevention is avoiding wounds, treating broken surfaces as soon as possible with a copper fungicide, and avoiding having plants in areas with excessive humidity.


The majority of succulents and cacti are vulnerable to infection by root-knot nematodes. When clean, washed roots are seen, the disease can be distinguished because infected roots exhibit tiny galls typical of the illness.

Before planting, sterilize or fumigate the soil.

Stem Rot of Cacti 

Cacti seedlings with basal or top rot develop into a shriveled, spore-covered mummy. Yellow patches are the first symptoms. A plant can rot to the core in just four days. The fungicide Captan should give some control.

Pests that Cause Succulents Distress

Several aloes, cacti, agaves, and yuccas are susceptible to damage from various insects. Most pests can be controlled without using chemicals.

A healthy, unstressed plant is more resilient at enduring the occasional insect infestation than plants that faulty management practices have stressed.

Examine plants thoroughly before buying any cacti, agaves, or yuccas to prevent bringing the pests home and infecting your other plants.

Agave Snout Weevil

The adult weevil attacks several agave species. The large Agave americana or century plant is more vulnerable to weevil damage than smaller species.

Cactus Longhorn Beetle

Prickly pear and cholla cacti (Cylindropuntia species), barrel cacti (Echinocactus and Ferocactus species), immature saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea), and other species are all attacked by the cactus longhorn beetle.

Soft Scale

Stressed agaves are more vulnerable to soft scale. Stress could be brought on by insufficient water or unfavorable growing circumstances.

The most vulnerable plants have been neglected; thus, they must be checked frequently for pest symptoms. The plant might already be beyond repair by the time the scale is found.


Although they are not insects, mites are related to spiders.

Because they are so tiny, mites can only be seen under a microscope or with a magnifying glass.

Eriophyid mites, plant-feeding mites that frequently induce galling or abnormal growth of the host plant tissue, attack aloe and other species like Haworthia and Gasteria.

In Closing

This article summarizes some of the risks to your succulents’ survival. Well-cared-for indoor succulents are resilient to diseases and pests, so keeping them strong should be your first line of defense.

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