Succulents Turning Brown? Here’s a Guide to Succulent Problems (and How to Fix Them)

Whether you’re a first-time plant owner or have a garden in your home, a succulent is a great plant to have. Most succulents are a type of small cactus, making them easy to care for in all types of climates. They come in multiple shapes, colors, and sizes, so you can choose one that best suits your style preference.

And some of them, like aloe vera, can have plenty of uses around the home.

They’re fairly easy to care for, but that’s not to say you won’t come across any problem. If your succulent is turning brown or red, gets spotted, or dies, then you might have handled it the wrong way. Here’s our guide to growing succulent plants the right way, and symptoms that you might encounter raising a succulent.

What You Need to Know About Succulents

Succulents are plants that store water in its leaves or stems. This makes them a great choice for house or office plants; they can survive for weeks or months without water, depending on the type.

Contrary to popular belief, not all succulents are cacti. Succulents refer to the types of plants that retain water, and these plants can be found in different plant families. So, while all cacti are succulents, not all succulents are cacti.


Naturally, succulents are found in dry climates where rain isn’t common. The plants rely on dew, mist, and the little rainfall they receive to survive by retaining water.

Succulents come in different shapes and colors. Their common characteristics are the thick and fleshy leaves that can hold water. Their roots are more shallow than regular plants to absorb as much moisture as possible. These plants often have spikes, spines, or jagged edges; these are meant to reduce humidity and air movement to keep the plant hydrated.

Watering (and Overwatering) Your Succulents

As long as your succulents are potted properly and cared for, they are very low-maintenance house plants that require very little attention. They only need adequate sunlight and watering once a week. In fact, infection and decay are more likely to hit your succulent through over-watering.

A good rule of thumb is to only water your succulents once a week, but this can vary. Your succulent may require more water, the soil retains water longer, or your pot doesn’t have enough drainage. Water your plants if the soil or potting mix is completely dry.

If you stick a finger into your succulent’s potting mix and find it a bit damp or sticks to your skin, then it’s a sign that it is still wet and you shouldn’t water it. If you find your leaves soggy or mushy, it means it is being overwatered. And if you find the soil has a bad odor and is soft, it means that the roots have rotted from infection.

Succulent Turning Brown

If your succulent is turning brown or you notice brown spots, it could be a sign of sun damage. Generally, succulents can survive high temperatures and hot climates. But if you’ve transferred your plant to a brighter location or are experiencing above-average high temperatures in your area, those brown spots are the plant equivalent of sunburn.


Smaller, younger plants are more susceptible to brown spots than more mature plants. Unfortunately, these spots are permanent, which may ruin the aesthetic appeal of your succulent.


Your only solution is if the brown spots occur on one leaf. Eventually, that leave can fall off or you can propagate a new succulent from another leaf to create a new plant free of blemishes. This will, however, take a lot of time to grow.

To prevent your succulents from turning brown, place them away from direct sunlight. If outdoors, keep your succulents in a shaded area; if indoors, place it a few feet away from a window.

If you want to move your succulent to direct sunlight, you have to let it adjust to higher temperatures before increasing the amount of sun exposure it receives. Be sure to check your smartphone’s weather app daily to take note if it will be particularly hot that day; if it is, keep it in a shaded area.

Succulents STILL Turning Brown

If you think sun exposure is not the problem, it may be because you’re underwatering your succulents. Succulents can survive for a week or so without water, but sometimes you might forget to water them or you might be underestimating how much water it needs.



Water your succulent, don’t mist it. It’s more practical to moisten the potting mix and wait for it to dry out before watering it again rather than misting every few days. To check if your succulent needs water, dip your finger into the potting mix at least an inch deep to see if it’s dry.

Succulent Turning Yellow and Mushy

Yellow leaves, on the other hand, are a sign that you are overwatering your succulent. If you press on the yellow leaves, you will notice that it is soft and mushy compared to the regular stiff and fleshy leaf. This is because your succulents have been overwatered and are now storing too much water that they are swelling up and discoloring.


Cut back on watering and let the potting mix dry out before watering again. Ideally, place your succulent in a shaded but hot area outside to help get rid of excess water in the soil.


If your potting mix consists mostly of soil, try repotting your succulent with a potting mix of soil, course sand, perlite, and pumice. These added ingredients in your potting mix do not hold water well, which can lead to faster drainage. Remember: for succulents, it’s much better to underwater than to overwater your plant.

Succulent Turning Yellow But Stiff

Another reason your succulent is turning yellow may have to do with the potting mix, especially if it is an older succulent plant. Your succulent may not be getting the nutrients it needs from the potting mix. Try pressing on the leaf: if it’s mushy, it’s overwatering (see above), but if it’s stiff, it’s due to a lack of nutrients.


This is a sign that your succulent is older and has been in that pot for years. This means the soil may no longer have the nutrients needed to keep the plant healthy. So, to fix that, repot your succulent with a fresh new potting mix.

For the best soil for succulent, mix compost or fertilized soil with well-draining ingredients like sand or pumice.

Succulent Turning Red or Black

Black or red leaves on your succulent is a sign that you’ve overwatered your plant so much that it is beginning to rot from the roots and upwards. Root rotting happens when there is so much water that your plant cannot use that it develops mildew or bacterial infection, rotting the roots in the soil.



If you don’t think you’re overwatering your plants, it could be a sign that your potting mix doesn’t have a lot of drainage. Make sure you’re using a pot that has sufficient holes for drainage and your potting mix is filled with materials like sand and perlite that don’t hold water very well.

Rotting plants are not necessarily a lost cause. If it isn’t totally black yet, remove the succulent from the soil and cut out any of the black parts from root to plant. Save the green parts and let it dry before repotting with good drainage filled with potting mix.

In worst-case scenarios, only a handful of leaves are still green but the stem and most of the plant have gone black. Your only option then is to salvage the green leaves, propagate them, and then wait for the leaves to root.

If the Worst Happens to Your Succulents

If the worst happens and you find that your succulents are too far gone to be saved, the best thing you can do is to salvage any leaf that still looks healthy. When you cut off the leaf, make sure you’re cutting it down to its base, otherwise, you can’t do anything with it.

With your leaves, you can start propagating succulents. This will take time, but as a result, you will be able to re-grow your succulent (or succulents, depending on how many leaves you can salvage).

Succulents are a low-maintenance plant, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ignore your plant for long periods of time. It’s important to keep it healthy by watering it regularly, keeping track to make sure you’re not overwatering or underwatering, which are the common suspects of succulent discoloration.

Taking care of a succulent can be a passive hobby at home or in the office. So, if you see these types of discoloration happening to your plant, then at least you have a good idea about what to do should you notice your succulents start to change color.

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