Every indoor gardener is sure to have at least one succulent in their plant family. These awesome and unusual plants are super popular, partly because they need little maintenance.
Succulents don’t need watering often, and many will carry on growing happily even if you forget about them for a while!
Sometimes problems do occur though. One issue that we see new plant owners face a lot is yellow leaves on the succulent plant.
So Why are your succulent’s leaves turning yellow?
The number one cause for yellow leaves on succulent plants is overwatering. Succulents really hate being too wet, so don’t treat them like other house plants. Other common causes of yellowing leaves include underwatering, lack of sunshine, and a couple of common plant pests.
But a yellowing succulents is not the end of the world. So, let’s find the most common causes of a yellowing succulent leaves and discuss ways to get the leaves turn back to their vibrant color.
Use This quick symptom checker to diagnose the cause of your succulents yellow leaves
Look for the symptoms that match your plant and we’ll help you diagnose the problem and suggest the best treatment plan.
Crispy, shriveled leaves at the base of the succulent
Old leaves are dying away naturally
Simply remove the dead leaves
Leaves are yellow and mushy to touch
Leaves look shrunken and wrinkled
Leaves are soggy and/or roots are rotting
Wrong pot or potting medium
Move to a pot and potting medium with better drainage
Leaves deformed and yellowing. Powdery white substance visible
Apply insecticidal soap and/or soak the roots in diluted pesticide*
Leaves turning yellow and fine webbing on the plant
Apply a miticide* or predatory mites as a biological control
Plant is pale and yellow and has stretched-out growth
Lack of sunshine
Move the plant to a sunnier position
* When using pesticides always read and follow instructions carefully.
Causes of yellowing leaves on a succulent plant and how to fix them
So you’ve discovered what the problem is? Great!
Now let’s take a deeper look at each of these common problems causing yellow leaves. We’ll explain what to do to get your succulent looking lush and lovely again.
1: Leaves Go Yellow And Die Off Naturally
Sometimes older leaves on a plant will start to turn yellow as they die. After a while they dry out, turn crispy, and fall off.
It’s a natural part of life for many plants as they grow, just like humans will shed dead skin cells.
Succulents tend to lose older leaves naturally at the base of the plant. Turn over a squat rosette type succulent and you’re sure to see one or two shrivelled up yellow leaves.
How To Fix?
Simply pull the dead, crispy leaves away from the plant. They should detach easily. If not, you can use a sharp clean knife or secateurs to snip the dead leaves off.
Think of it as tidying up your split ends with a quick trim at the hairdresser!
2: Overwatering Is Making Succulent Leaves Turn Yellow
If the lower leaves of your succulent have started to feel squishy and go yellow, pale or even transparent, overwatering is probably the cause. Signs of rot may also appear in the roots and stem.
To cope with arid conditions, succulents store water in their fleshy leaves and stems. This means that they do not need frequent watering like other types of house plants.
Succulents simply can’t cope with a daily drenching and rot will set in quickly if nothing is done.
If your succulent has been sat in water for a while, you’ll soon notice that the lower leaves develop a yellow color and look more swollen than usual.
When you touch a leaf, it may fall off the plant. It will also feel mushy or soggy. These are all sure signs of overwatering!
It’s time to cut back on watering. Empty any excess water from the bottom of the pot and wait for your plant’s potting medium to completely dry out before watering again.
In winter, when the plant is dormant, you will need to reduce watering right back. It’s much easier to overwater at this time of year, so keep a close eye on moisture levels.
3: Underwatering Is Making Succulent Leaves Turn Yellow
Are the leaves on your succulent looking pale, yellow and wrinkled? Is the potting medium bone dry with big gaps around the edge of the pot? It could be lack of water putting your plant under stress.
Fortunately, succulents are well adapted to cope with low moisture levels, and this issue can be easily fixed.
Cacti, for instance, have ribbing on their stems so they can expand when water is plentiful and then contract as conditions dry up again.
Succulents in the wild will often shrink and shrivel in on themselves when the plant is low on water. The leaves may feel wrinkly to touch and take on a yellow color.
If your plant looks like this there is no need to panic. It’s just time to give it a good drink.
Water your succulent and make sure you increase your watering schedule. Remember, most plants need extra water during the growing season in the warmer months of the year.
Do you live somewhere that gets extremely hot in summer, with nighttime temperatures that do not drop below 80-90F?
Your succulents may go dormant in these conditions to cope with the heat. They’ll stop taking in water so always double-check soil moisture before you top them up.
4: Planting In The Wrong Pot Can Lead To Yellowing Leaves
If your succulent is in a pot with no drainage hole and/or you’ve used the wrong potting medium, your succulent leaves may turn mushy and yellow.
Even if you water correctly, water will not drain away. Poor drainage could start to cause root rot and stem rot.
The unique nature of succulents, and their dislike of excess water, means they need special types of pots and potting mediums to grow well. Good drainage is the key to succulent success.
If drainage is inadequate, your plant will display signs of overwatering, such as yellow, mushy leaves.
You may also notice black spots near the base of the stem, which means that the roots are starting to rot. The current pot and potting medium are not letting water drain away from the plant’s roots.
Wrong Pot Or Soil Treatment
You’ll need to re-pot your succulent into a suitable container with a drainage hole. Adding some stones at the base of the pot will also help prevent waterlogging.
It would also be a good idea to change your potting medium to something less moisture-retentive. A specialist Cacti and Succulent compost or perlite are good options.
5: Plant pests Cause Leaves to Turn Yellow
A couple of common succulent pests could be the reason for your succulents’ leaves turning yellow: Mealy Bugs and Spider Mites.
As these critters turn your succulent into lunch, small damaged spots of leaf tissue will start to turn yellow. If untreated, the leaves will eventually turn completely yellow and fall off.
If you introduce a new plant into your collection, keep it in a separate ‘quarantine’ area so you can watch for signs of pests.
If Mealy Bugs or other pests do appear later, you can prevent them from spreading to your other plants.
Mealy Bug Symptoms
Sometimes, pests can be the issue of leaf discoloration. If your succulent has yellow leaves, it could be the sign of general distress.
Mealybugs, which are insects, look like tiny pieces of cotton covering the leaves of your plants. Spider mites are small red insects that suck the juice out of the plant and cause yellow spots.
Both of these bugs could be causing the issue. Spraying the plant with insecticidal soap will usually take care of the problem.
Mealy Bug Treatment
Use a spray water bottle on the affected area and then treat with insecticidal soap. Unfortunately, the waxy residue Mealy Bugs create can make it difficult for pesticides to take effect.
If the infestation is in the roots, remove the whole plant from the pot and dip the roots into a dilute pesticide. Always follow instructions carefully when handling and using pesticides.
Spider Mite Symptoms
Teeny tiny spider mites are almost impossible to spot, despite being bright red.
Your first sign that they have invaded your succulent will be that the plant has turned lighter in color, and often a shade of yellow.
As the mites destroy more material the plant may eventually turn white.
Another sign of spider mites is very fine and dense webbing material across parts of the plant.
Spider Mite Treatment
Choose a miticide from your local garden store and make sure you follow the instructions carefully.
The first application is rarely 100% effective so you’ll likely need to apply some follow-up treatments.
If you would like to try a more natural solution, it’s also possible to obtain predatory species of mites. Let them loose and they’ll hunt down and dispose of your pest problem for you. Pretty cool huh?
6: Lack of sunshine Could be blame here
Another reason that the leaves of your succulents may start to turn yellow is lack of sung-light.
If your succulent is positioned in a low light area of your home, it may not be getting the sunshine it needs to thrive. Lack of sunshine can cause succulents to lose the rich colors we prize them for.
More brightly colored succulents (reds, purples, and pinks) need more sunshine than solid green varieties. If deprived of light, your plants may also start to stretch out in search of more light.
Lack Of Sunshine Symptoms
If your succulent is not getting enough sunshine it will start to lose its rich colors and become pale or yellow.
Alongside the yellowing leaves, you may also notice that your plant is starting to grow tall and gangly. Leggy, thin growth is a sure sign that your plant is on the hunt for more light.
Lack Of Sunshine Treatment
Move your plant to a location where they will receive more hours of sunshine, such as a bright window sill. In order to avoid sunburn, try to move the plant to its new position gradually if possible.
Brightly colored succulents, in particular, will need a hefty dose of sunshine each day to maintain their vibrant shades.
7: Nutrient Deficiency In Plants
The leaves on your succulent can also turn yellow because it’s not receiving enough nutrients. It’s not something which develops overnight but takes some time to develop.
A succulent can be grown in the same pot for an extended time before it needs to be repotted.
Even though the original soil mix you used may have had compost or fertilizers in it, the plant could have used it all up.
How To Fix This
If your plant has yellow leaves due to a nutrient deficiency, then repot your plant into fresh potting soil.
If your succulent has been in the same pot for a number of years, repotting will provide it with what your plant needs. Fertilizer can also be applied for a quick fix.
Just be sure to use a well-balanced fertilizer or one that is specially blended for succulents and cacti.
A succulent doesn’t need much, so only use half of what is recommended. Feed your succulent every two weeks during it’s growing season.
How To Prevent Succulent Plant Leaves From Turning Yellow
The three key things to remember for pretty much all types of succulent are that they like:
Keep a close eye on your succulent for any problems. If something is going wrong, usually your plant will tell you by changes in its leaves.
Soggy, yellow leaves indicate overwatering. Shrunken, wrinkled leaves are a sign of underwatering. Tall, leggy growth, in addition to yellow leaves, usually points to a lack of sunshine.
It may take a little while to get a feel for exactly what each succulent in your plant family likes.
If you continue to have issues with a particular succulent, we recommend looking up more detailed information on that species. You may find it has unusual care requirements that do not fit the general rules.
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.