Etiolation -- Beginners' Innocence
In the previous blog, we talked about how to keep our succulent plants in their adorable small size as much as possible, and we learned that, apart from the natural fast growth of some species, the major cause of succulents "growing too fast" is the lack of sufficient sun light. In these conditions, succulents would appear taller, less compact, leaves drooping, and colour fading to dark green. This is called etiolation as the plants are stretching for more sunlight.
Not giving succulents their ideal growing condition is one of the most common rookie mistakes among new succulent growers. Since it is so common, it is worth a blog post to talk about, once we realized our succulent plant had become an ugly stretched one, should we simply give us and toss it away?
Of course not! Succulents are one of the most amazing types of plant on earth, not only because of their beauty, but also because of their resilience and toughness. Etiolation is one of those things that succulents can be forgiving about in the end.
So how can we fix a stretched succulent plant such as the one shown in the picture above?
Drooping Leaf Pruning
If your succulent's stretching condition is not too serious, i.e., the top part is still a relatively compact rosellete and only the lower leaves are drooping and stretched, such as the one in the picture below. In cases like these, you can probably take a less destructive approach: simply pull the lower leaves and introduce your plant to a location with brighter and ideally direct sunlight (make sure you make the transition gradually). Make sure when you pull the leaves, there is nothing left on the stem.
The leaf pruning would leave you with a skinny plant with a cool long stem. In addition, don't throw away the leaves you pulled out just yet! They can be very useful for propagation later on. We will talk about succulent propagation in future blogs.
Beheading -- Need to be Cruel to be Merciful
In cases where your succulent has suffered more severe etiolation, or if a long stem with a compact roselette on the top isn't your cup of tea (I personally think it's pretty cool), you have the perform the ultimate fix -- beheading.
There's a saying in the succulent community: you need to be cruel in order to be merciful -- this ultimate fix is precisely what this saying is about .
The beheading procedure is quite simple:
- Find a pair of scissors. This would be your execution tool.
- Sanitize the scissors. This part is very crucial to prevent any potential risk of infestation in the beheading process.
- Find a suitable spot on the stem to perform your cutting. Ideally, this spot should be picked as such: for the top part (the part which you would pluck into soil later), you need a bare stem of about 6cm (~2ch) long.
- If your original plant has stretched enough, you can also take advantage of the remaining part (the part below your cutting point) as well. Don't throw them away; they will surprise you in a few months! Keep reading to learn more :)
Beheading as a form of Propagation
Although we will be dedicating a single post to discuss succulent propagation in more detail, we have to mention the amazing byproduct of performing beheading to your stretched succulent.
New growth on the bottom part can be expected after the beheading
Given that the bottom part (the part was original rooted in the soil) is still long enough after the beheading, you can actually witness a new growth after the surgery. Below is a picture of my Cotyledon Orbiculata, which had been stretched a bit after the winter season, and I just performed a beheading a few weeks back. See that little guy growing right there?
However, if the bottom part is too short, it may not have enough energy to support itself or simply rot to death before the growth is developed.
A way to encourage multi-headed growth
In fact, beheading, as a technique itself, is also common used as a human intervention to encourage multi-head growth on succulents. For example, I beheaded my Echeveria Subsessilis and you can see from the picture below it then grows out numerous heads!! How awesome is that?! I am now looking forward to a giant magnificent cluster in the summer time.
This might sound scary -- as a matter of fact, when I first started practice this procedure, mostly because I wanted to fix my super stretched succulents after a long winter season (remember I said every rookie had that moment of truth?), I was worried sick, wondering if the cutting can actually survive, or if the bottom part can actually develop new growth.
Guess what? This technique is almost bullet proof! I works with an exceptionally high success rate! These days, as I said, not only is beheading used as a way to fix ugly stretched succulent, but also a way to promote new growth, especially multi-headed growth, as a propagation approach.
As you can see below, I performing beheading quite regularly. The ghost plant in the foreground is a multi-headed one now thanks to beheading, and also the Fred Ives in the background (at this moment still an almost bare stalk with a few pink little pups).
Well, this picture was taken a year ago, and as you can see, I didn't have a nice pot for these babies at that time. They would get a prettier house very soon when I do the spring repotting in about two weeks (spring comes to Canada late). I'm thinking of this beautiful and big enough concrete planter in my mind now.
No matter whether you are just looking for a way to have your old compact succulent back, or if you wish to grow an impressive cluster, beheading is the way to go.