How to Revive a Succulent

A sick holiday cactus with dried leaves against a white background with gardening tools.

Nikita Burdenkov / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 20 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 20 mins - 3 wks

There’s no worse feeling than going to check up on your beloved succulent only to find that it's dying on you. Especially if it seemed fine the last time you checked on it just a few days before (or was it weeks?). Unfortunately, it can take a while for succulents to show signs of stress which makes a sudden decline appear as if it's coming out of nowhere when in reality it has probably been brewing for a while. Not to worry—as long as your succulent is still showing signs of life, it can be revived.

When to Revive a Succulent

Generally, any type of plant care like repotting or pruning should be done in the spring or summer months when the plant is actively growing. However, when it comes to reviving a succulent the best time is whenever you first notice the issue. It can take a while before a succulent begins showing signs of stress so once it finally does it’s important to act fast to ensure you save the plant.

Before Getting Started

The method for reviving a dying succulent will vary depending on what is causing the problem. Before getting started, it’s important to figure out what the main issue is. The most common culprits include overwatering, under watering, leaf burn, and pests.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pruning shears

Materials

  • Cactus/succulent soil
  • Plastic or terracotta pot
  • Insecticide
  • Glass container

Instructions

How to Revive a Succulent Dying From Overwatering

Overwatering is the most common reason that succulents die when grown indoors. Succulents are extremely drought-tolerant plants and should be allowed to dry out thoroughly between waterings. A succulent that has been overwatered is susceptible to root rot which can quickly kill the plant. Watch out for signs of overwatering like mushy stems and roots, yellow leaves, and dropping leaves. At the first sign of overwatering, follow these steps to revive your succulent.

  1. Prune Away Mushy Roots & Stems

    Remove the succulent from its pot and prune away any mushy roots and/or stems using a pair of pruning shears. Don’t worry about cutting all the roots off if you need to. The most important part is ensuring that you remove all of the rot as it can spread quickly.

  2. Prepare a Fresh Pot of Succulent Soil

    Fill a plastic pot or terracotta pot (one that has drainage holes) with succulent or cactus soil. Alternatively, you can use an equal-part mixture of indoor potting soil, sand, and perlite.

  3. Repot the Succulent

    Whether your succulent has some roots left, or you needed to cut it down to the stem, the next step is to plant it back in fresh, dry soil. However, if your plant doesn’t have roots left it is best to allow the cut end of the stem callous over for a few hours before planting it back in the soil.

  4. Return the Succulent to Its Original Location

    Move the succulent back to its original location and whatever you do, don’t water it. Wait to water your plant until the leaves begin to pucker slightly, especially if you potted your plant up without any roots. Just like when you propagate succulent cuttings, roots will begin to grow on their own in the soil, but it's very important to wait to water your plant until roots have developed, otherwise, it will just sit in wet soil and begin to rot again.

How to Revive a Succulent Dying From Underwatering

While succulents are known for being drought-tolerant they do still require the occasional watering—they’re still plants after all. Chronic under watering can lead to a succulent’s roots drying up which then prevents it from absorbing any moisture when it is eventually watered again. The most common way to tell if your succulent is under watered is to check its leaves. If its leaves are looking wrinkled and dried up then you may be dealing with under watering. Ensure that you check the plant’s roots to confirm.

  1. Remove Damaged Foliage and Roots

    Remove the succulent from its pot and cut back any dried or shriveled leaves and roots. If the stem is dried too don’t be afraid to cut it back.

  2. Let the Cutting Callous Over

    Allow the succulent to sit in a dry location (out of the soil) for a few hours so that the cut ends can callous over.

  3. Place the Succulent in Water

    To help rehydrate the succulent and encourage it to grow new roots, place the succulent in a small container filled with water. The leaves should sit above the surface while the bottom of the stem and any remaining roots should be below the water. If needed, remove some of the lowest leaves to prevent them from being submerged. Place the container in a location that gets bright, indirect light.

  4. Repot in Fresh Soil

    After a few weeks, the succulent should have some roots established. If so, you can replant the succulent in a pot with fresh succulent soil. Alternatively, you can use an equal parts mixture of indoor potting soil, perlite, and sand. Water it well after repotting, allowing the excess water to drain from the pot.

How to Revive a Succulent Dying From Leaf Burn

Some succulents enjoy lots of bright, direct sunlight while others enjoy more mild conditions. Either way, all succulents are susceptible to leaf burn if the conditions are right. If your succulent has large brown, crispy spots on its leaves then this is an indication that your plant is suffering from leaf burn—sunburn for plants. This can happen if a succulent is exposed to more light than it needs, or if there is a sudden change in its lighting conditions (moving from indoors to outdoors for example) without adequate acclimation.

  1. Remove Affected Foliage

    Using a pair of pruning shears, remove any foliage that has been burned. This is mainly for aesthetic purposes as the burns cannot be fixed, but it also ensures that no bacteria is introduced to your plant via the burns. This may leave your succulent looking a bit scarce but don’t worry, it will sprout new growth.

  2. Find a New Location for the Succulent

    To prevent further leaf burn ensure that you move the succulent to a new location with less light. If you would like to move a succulent to a brighter location in the future, ensure that you properly acclimate the plant so it does not get leaf burn again.

How to Revive a Succulent Dying From Pests

Pests are every plant parent’s worst nightmare. Not only is the thought of your houseplants being infested with pests gross, but getting rid of them can be difficult and often requires a lot of persistence. If your succulent is suffering from pests you may see the insects crawling on or flying around the plant. You may also see some discoloration on the leaves, or a sticky residue left on the leaves and stems. While the exact course of action for removing pests may vary slightly depending on what type of pest you’re dealing with, these general steps are a good guideline.

  1. Isolate the Succulent

    First things first, the infested succulent should be isolated away from any other succulents or plants in your house to prevent the pests from spreading. Ensure you move it somewhere with adequate light—it will likely need to stay isolated for at least a few weeks.

  2. Remove Badly Damaged Foliage

    Using a pair of pruning shears, remove any leaves or branches that have been badly damaged by pests. If there are areas of the plant that are particularly badly infested you can also just remove those entirely at this time rather than attempting to treat them.

  3. Spray Down the Plant and Treat

    Move your succulent to the sink or shower and spray it down to remove as many remaining pests as you can. Then apply the correct insecticide/treatment for the type of pest you are dealing with.

  4. Repeat

    Unfortunately, one round of treatment usually isn’t enough for most pest so you will likely need to repeat the process a couple of times over the following weeks to ensure your plant is cured.