Succulent Leaves Curling Down: Reasons Explained

Succulents are popular houseplants since they’re aesthetically pleasing, easy to grow, and can survive harsh conditions and negligence particularly well. However, like other plant life they still require proper care and maintenance.

Reasons Why Your Succulent’s Leaves are Curling Down

Succulent leaves curling down suggest that the plant is not in good health. There can be multiple possible problems that can cause these symptoms like overwatering, underwatering, poor drainage, insufficient and/or excessive light, transplant shock, and various types of pests.

Overwatering

Overwatering is one of the most common causes of leaves curling down. Overwatering causes the soil to be saturated with water such that there’s limited room for air between the soil particles.

overwatered aloe vera plant
An overwatered Aloe Vera Plant with Leaves Curling Down with Black/Brown Spots

The succulent roots are deprived of oxygen; Oxygen is required for the aerobic respiration of plant parts, including roots. Roots are unable to respire aerobically in waterlogged soils, eventually resulting in root rot.

Solution

If the problem is caught early, it is possible to reverse the symptoms with improvement in the watering schedule.

Start by reducing the watering frequency. Follow a consistent watering schedule that covers the plant’s requirements without saturating it.

The best approach is to water deeply each time until extra moisture drains out through the hole at the bottom of the pot. Allow the soil to entirely dry out before watering again.

The fastest way to relieve the symptoms of overwatering in succulents is to repot the plant in fresh soil and a new pot. Carefully trim roots that show signs of rotting before placing them in the new pot.

Once the plant is in its new home, follow your amended watering schedule to prevent the problem from reoccurring. Indoor succulent species are typically best watered every 14-21 days.

Underwatering

Similar to overwatering, underwatering is also a threat to succulents. Succulents are adapted to arid areas and their fleshy leaves, stems, and roots have specialized cells to store moisture.

During periods of prolonged drought, the plant consumes these stored moisture reserves until it can absorb water from the soil.

underwatered crassula succulent
underwatered crassula succulent

As the water stored in the fleshy leaves is used up over time, they sag and curl downwards. If the lack of water persists, the plant gradually uses up all of its stored water; Eventually, it wilts and dies.

Succulent leaves curling down due to underwatering is more common in summers when water evaporates faster. Succulents will need to be watered more frequently through the summers to prevent this problem.

Solution

Overwatering is easy to treat if caught in time. Offer the plant a deep watering and the leaves will soon regain their structure.

Follow a regular watering schedule, offering enough water each time that it drains out of the drainage holes. Allow the soil to completely dry before the next watering.

Inadequate Drainage

In some cases, succulents may still show signs of overwatering even if watered correctly. If the issue is not a result of a poor watering schedule, it might be due to incorrect drainage.

If the succulents are planted in a container with poor drainage or in heavy, poor-draining soil, water will pool around the roots each time the plant is watered.

Considering their natural habitat, i.e. semi-arid and arid regions, succulents are used to growing in dry, sandy soil. Growing them in heavy, slow-draining soil that retains water for a prolonged period will result in root rot.

Solution

Add drainage holes at the bottom of the pot or container if they are not present already. If the succulent is not growing in light soil with good drainage, you will need to repot it.

Garden soil or standard potting mix are not the best options for growing succulents. Grow them in a potting mix that is specifically formulated for cacti and succulents.

Cacti and succulent potting mixes are readily available in garden centers. These blends have the ideal structure and nutrient requirements.

Insufficient Light

Succulents are native to desert and semi-desert areas. This means that they’re adapted to growing in bright sunshine. Though they’ll grow well as a houseplant, exposure to bright light is the requirement for many varieties; Some species will also grow well in indirect sunlight. Together with leaves curling down, stunted growth is also a common symptom of insufficient lighting.

When succulents are growing outdoors in the garden, insufficient lighting is possible if they are shaded by surrounding plants, trees, or structures. Lighting is even more critical when growing plants indoors. If the succulents are not placed next to a sunny window, or the sunlight is shaded by curtains through most of the day, leaves may start curling down.

Solution

The obvious solution is to ensure optimal lighting. Place the pot near a sunny window, preferably a south-facing one. Make sure the plant receives at least 6 hours of bright sunlight each day.

Relocating it outdoors to a sunny location may also improve the condition in certain cases. However, abrupt changes in the environment can stress the plant. Expose the succulent to an increasing number of sunlight hours gradually over a course of a few days before relocating it to the new location permanently. The temperature conditions outdoors will also need to be considered when relocating.

Excessive Light

Too much sunlight can also cause the leaves on the succulents to curl down. Different succulent varieties have slightly different requirements. Growers need to find out the growing requirements for the particular variety they are growing before placing it in a designated location.

The problem is more common in newly planted succulents. Exposing them to direct sunlight scorches them. Other than succulent leaves curling down, browning of leaves and brown spots appearing on the leaves’ surface often suggest that the succulent is receiving more light than it appreciates.

Solution

Garden-grown succulents can benefit from some shade from the mid-day sun, especially during summers. If indoor-growing succulents are receiving excessive exposure to sunlight through the window, move them a little further away from the window or shade the sunlight partially with curtains.

If newly planted succulents are to be exposed to full sunlight, it should be done gradually. Increase 1 or 2 hours of sun exposure each day before the plant is ready to sit in full sunlight a week or so later.

Transplant Shock

Succulents are prone to transplant shock when moving them from their original containers, similar to most other plants. When you remove the plant from its original soil and pot and place it in a new environment, it will take some time to adjust to the new setting.

Often, if the plant is not looking its best for the fist couple of days after transplanting, their original vigor will be restored in a few weeks once it has adjusted in its new home.

Solution

Allow time to the plant to adjust to the new environment. Water lightly during this time to allow the mobility of nutrients and air around the roots. At the same time, make sure it receives enough moisture to settle in the new environment. Avoid fertilizing as it can stress the plant further.

Do not transplant on exceptionally hot days and make sure the new home is ready to be planted in before taking out the plant from its original container. Avoid leaving the plant roots exposed longer than necessary.

Pests

The most common pests that bother succulents are mealy bugs, root mealy bugs, spider mites, aphids and fungus gnats. They feed on the plant sap and infect them with toxins. The leaves become wrinkled and bend as a result.

Solution

As soon as pests are noticed on a plant, isolate it so the pests are not transferred to the surrounding plants. A strong jet of water can knock them off the plant. Neem oil spray, at least once a week, is also effective in getting rid of bugs. Alternatively, you can spray a mixture of alcohol and soapy water to drive away the pests. Let the soap and alcohol sit on the leaves for a few hours before washing it away with clean water.

Final Thoughts

Succulent leaves curling down is a common problem in these plant species. Often the reason can be easily identified and employing the right solutions can reverse the symptoms and revive the plant.

Making sure that the succulents are receiving ideal moisture, sunlight and drainage will prevent such problems. Additionally, keep an eye out for pests and diseases so that the issue can be addressed before it gets the best of the plant.

Kinza Zaheer
Kinza Zaheer is an aspiring Horticulturist; She received her Bachelor of Science (B.Sc. Hons.) in Horticulture from the University of Punjab (2016 - 2020). On Phyt Plants she shares her knowledge and experience of plant life in order to help her fellow Gardeners.