Succulents are typically well-suited to indoor living. They can even adapt to less-than-ideal conditions and tolerate a little bit of neglect. Still, no succulent can survive in sub-par conditions forever. Eventually inadequate lighting, incorrect watering, disease or pests will take their toll. Once your plants start to look sickly, you need to act quickly to right the problem.
Water and Soil Moisture
One of the quickest ways to kill indoor succulents is to water them incorrectly. Succulents use their thick, fleshy leaves to store water. They’ll rely on these water reserves to survive in dry conditions, but they still require regular watering to thrive. However, too much water is deadly to these plants. From spring to fall when growth is most active, water your succulent when the top inch (2.5 cm) of the soil feels dry to the touch. Pour fresh water into the pot until it begins to drain from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Allow all of the excess water to drain away completely. For most potted succulent plants, this means watering at least once per week. During the inactive growing season, or winter, water when the plant has almost dried out, or when the soil is mostly dry to the touch but not completely bone-dry. As a general rule, you’ll need to water about once a month in the winter. If your succulents appear deflated or shriveled during this season, you may need to water more often. It’s better to water too little than too much until you figure out the ideal watering schedule.
Your dying succulents could be suffering damage from water treatment additives. Tap water contains minerals and other additives that build up in the soil and have the potential to damage roots and cause poor growth or even death. If you use a water softener in your home, the excess salts can also damage your succulents. A telltale sign of mineral or salt buildup is a white crust on the surface of the soil or along the sides of the pot. If you can’t collect rainwater, try watering with distilled water or water that has been filtered to remove minerals. At the very least, leaving tap water out on the counter overnight before using it allows some of the treatment chemicals to dissipate into the air. If you suspect that mineral buildup or water treatment chemicals are to blame, you have two options. First, you can flush the soil of each plant with plenty of rainwater, filtered water or distilled water to rinse away excess minerals. Second, you can repot the plant, taking special care to gently knock some but not all of the old soil away from the roots.
Succulents typically do well in a variety of home lighting conditions. They do not always adapt well to abrupt changes in light. If your succulents were outside for a long period of time or in a shady garden center and they’re now in opposite conditions in your home, they could be suffering from shock. The key to saving your succulents is to gradually introduce them to the lighting conditions in your home. For example, if they were in bright, direct outdoor light, move them first to indirect outdoor light. After a few days, move them to a slightly shadier spot. After a few more days, move them indoors near a sunny window. After about a week, try moving them to their permanent home. If your succulents don’t respond to slowly introducing them to their new lighting conditions, it could be that they need more or less light to thrive. If you placed them next to a sunny window with hot, direct light, try moving them to a bright spot that doesn’t get direct light. If they’re in a shadier location, try moving them to a brighter one. If moving them to a new location entails a big change, adjust the plants gradually. You should notice improvement within a week or two.
Insects and Disease
Succulents that live in optimal conditions but still appear sickly are likely suffering from disease or insect infestation. Succulents are especially susceptible to mealy bugs, spider mites, scale and fungus gnats. Mealy bugs can be treated by applying rubbing alcohol to their fuzzy white homes with a cotton ball or cotton swab. Scale, which looks like brown scales or shells, can be treated the same way. If you’re not sure what type of pest or disease you may have, apply a product that contains a miticide, fungicide and pesticide from your local garden center. These combination products contain neem oil, fish oil, soybean oil or other types of oil, which create conditions in which insects, mites and other pests can’t survive.