Succulents Dying, How Can I Save Them?

mom2matoskahJuly 18, 2013

Father's Day (Sunday, June 16 2013)
First Picture taken:

Showing Growth, about a week later:

Dying, a month later (Thursday, July 18 2013):

Succulent Garden, kept on kitchen table in moderate to full light. Lightly sprayed as needed, watered deeply once a month. In medium planter, layer of rocks on bottom with Cactus soil and decorative rocks on top. Temperatures in the 70-80 range.
1 Fenestraria (Baby Toes)
1 Pleiospilos nelii (Split Rock)
1 Lithops (Living Stone, Rock Face)
1 Echeveria runyonii (Topsy Turvy)
4 Sedum Robotinctum (Pork & Beans)

Had an infestation of gnats, used insecticidal soap once daily for 3 days, then every two days for one week to kill gnats. Gnats ate the baby toes to death, I think. Overwatering also happened, with some split leaves and way too much growth. Baby toes eventually just all died. The split rock is liquifying after growing a new set of leaves. The rock face is looking very droopy and sickly. The topsy turvy is looking a little stressed with some dead leaves on the bottom, and it looks like it is shrinking a bit. Most of the pork & beans are dead or have shed most of the leaves. This all came on rather suddenly following a burst of growth in all of the plants, and right when I thought they were doing very well! Within the span of 1 week, they have gone from thriving to dead and dying. What am I doing wrong here, and is there any way to save the plants that remain?

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if there was gnats there was likely too much moisture to begin with and sounds like that was compounded with the spraying of more water (soap). maybe pull them all out and let dry out as best you can before repotting. sure looked great in the beginning! gnats were bad this year for me too. as I understand it they are harmless, the adult gnats. the larva feed on roots. best way to eliminate gnats is to keep the soil dry.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2013 at 11:27PM
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Hey there,

I to have had similar issues with succulent gardens. Baby toes in particular can be tricky. First question: Did you get the baby toes from Lowes? If so, I'm assuming it came in a small 3" pot. They few I have bought came very root bound. Common mistake is to pot up without loosening the root ball and getting all the peat/organic soil out from the middle. If succulent leaves are falling off without shriveling, chances are you overwatered. I wouldnt mist at all and just give a good soaking in between waterings (let dry completely before resoaking).

To save the plants you have, I would take the advise above and unpot whats left, gently rinse any and all soil off what roots arent rotted and leave laying out to completely dry. My succulents grow much better now that I'm using Al's gritty mix.

Most succulent growers recommend NOT growing multiple species in a dish garden setup like that, as most require differ lighting and watering schedules. If you try to save these guys, maybe pot them into individual smaller clay pots (better airflow to root system) and get them a bit more established?

Good luck, key with succulents excellent drainage, strong filtered light and a good watering schedule (hardest part)

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 9:28AM
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Definitely overwatered to death if you're misting AND watering. It looks like the pot has no drainage, either. The rocks at the bottom of the pot just isn't a good strategy for cacti and succulents.

I've never been able to keep lithops or baby toes alive, I just can't NOT water something for weeks. The sedum and the echeveria like more water than the lithops, split rock, and baby toes, so they shouldn't be in a pot together.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 12:00PM
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I had a hard learning curve last year with our first Baby Toes... yes, they came from Lowe's last year and this year as well, but I have loosened up and cleaned up the root balls both times. Last year, we kept moving them outside in mid day and inside in the evening, misting gently every other day or so, then my husband left them outside in direct sun in midsummer and the whole center of the plant burnt and died. I was able to nurse it back to health in a window sill that never got direct sun, but plenty of indirect filtered light (the picture shows it nice and healthy again)... then our kid got his hands on it one day in a naughty mood and emptied all the soil out of the pot (into the living room carpet!) and pinched all the healthy "toes" which killed them all.... Yes, he got into a lot of trouble and hasn't messed with our plants since....

Do you think there is a chance to regrow the baby toes if there are any viable roots left, or would I do better to just get another plant and try again?

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 1:47PM
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Hi mom,
In my experience, Fenestraria, Pleiospilos nelii, and Lithops should never be planted with other plants. They do best alone.
From what I can see in your photo, the Pleiospilos looks like a goner. I have learned that, for me at least, I should only water these plants 3-4 times a year TOPS. I lost a lot of lithops before I finally figured out a schedule that works for me. Usually, if they start to look wrinkly, that indicates to me that they need water.
If the plants have roots, water them and water them thoroughly..until you see water coming out the drain hole. Then don't water again until the soil is dry. If you need to stick a skewer into the soil to determine this, then do so, because the lower parts of the pot take a little longer to dry out than the section closest to the top which is actually exposed to air and light. Misting is typically only done when trying to get something without roots to grow roots.
Your potting medium should be very well draining. As sradleye pointed out, if you had gnats, chances are your soil was too water retentive. Try a mix of cactus soil, perlite and crushed granite (chicken grit) or some other small stones. Mix at a 25/50/25 ratio or @ 40/60 if you can only get cactus soil and perlite. Pot up everything in this mix, just not in the same pot, then leave alone for about 5-7 days. After that, you can begin to water as I described above.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 2:35PM
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greenlarry(UK 8/9)

Look far too wet to me! These are desert plants needing the minimum of water.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 3:46PM
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f you repot them, maybe you can put the pots in the basin and cover with the decorative stones to hide the pots?

I never buy plants from Lowes anymore. I always get gnats from them, and they get into my other plants. Every dang time :-(

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 10:16PM
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To answer you original question "Succulents dying, how can I save them?". The quick answer - you won't save them. Throw them away. If you really are interested in growing healthy plants, you have lots of work to do. It's a great hobby, but you can't go into it blindly.

I will try and keep this as simple as I can, please don't take offense:

- You should not be growing these plants until you have done at least a modicum of research, unless your intention is to only have them as temporary, short-lived decorative plants. These plants were doomed from the start. Poor pot selection, poor soil mix, inadequate light, inadequate air movement, inadequate temperature range, and an owner with a lack of information. I partially blame the retailer for selling an attractive but terribly ineffective mini-garden.

- Succulents ARE NOT houseplants. They will not be healthy indoors without significant effort. What you may think are "healthy" plants are instead plants that are tolerant of abuse which can only put up with so much before they start to go downhill. Most succulents need fresh air and sunshine for at least a few months a year. Indoors year-round they are essentially being tortured.

-"gnats" are fruit flies. They feed off of organics in the soil, like decomposing peat. Peat is probably the single worst ingredient for growing pot plants.

-We have all been in the same position. We have all killed plants in the beginning. What defines success, IMO, is how you take it from there.


    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 7:26AM
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'terribly ineffective dish garden' is exactly what I thought, or, closer to the truth, 'Someone was selling you a pot of plenty of failure'.

Mark's (X) informative post points to the problems there - inappropriately matched plants, information given to you that is completely at odds with the truth (no matter who the grower is) and probably bad soil in a pot that doesn't stand a chance of growing those well. I'd return it and inform that that this is an example of corporate greed which they shouldn't be involved in.

If you really like those plants, and Lowe's is the only place that you can get them, get another planter and some small pots - I think each of those plants can be grown on their own, and while you may have to bring them in in the winter (none of them are cold-hardy), you can grow them outside the rest of the year.


Bravo, sir. We need to paper the country's mixed-plant dish outlets with this gospel.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 12:06PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

OK, I just need ,need, need to be contrarian. I have had success growing a bunch of these succulents together. Below are two views of one planter. The plants are mostly 2 - 4 years old. Most are growingand have filled in nicely ecxept for that D@rn Cereus 'Ming THing'. The Echeveria could stand to have its head cut off but the stapeliads, Huernias, Opuntia, Plieosopilos neli and the others are doing well. They bloom and grow. I have had to trade out rocks for smaller rocks around plants , especially the baby toes.. There used to be two huge E. perle von nurnberg ( or E. metalica) but I cut one back and the roots died and did not pup so I planted another Faucaria Tigrina and P. bulusi in its place, and so far so good. They are outside.

I do have them in a very lean mix, raised with rocks in the center. When I water, I will water the side with the hearnia and stapeliad and dribble some on Ms. neli and friends. I did put in a P. neli "royal blush" and watered it too soon and it croaked, but that was the only death I have had in this pot.

If you click on the image it will enlarge.

It is possible but one has to beware of the details. Sun , dirt , watering wants. I try to get things in pots referenced to cold hardiness. I would never buy a potted up arrangement with these unless I planned to take it apart and rebuild it.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 5:48PM
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wantonamara Z8 CenTex

Your glazed pot and the large rocks on top combine to slow evaporation of the soil dangerously. I like the rock mulch to help deal with the Texas heat and the extreme evaporation here, but I have an unglazed pot that has thick walls. In Your case , the combination of both in an indoor situation helps with your kiss of death scenario. The big rocks are pretty but they don't allow much air through.. Combine this combination with your water retentive peat based soil and woe baby. Bad news.

This post was edited by wantonamara on Sat, Jul 20, 13 at 18:08

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 6:06PM
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cowgurl160(4 SD)

Beautiful succulent dish wantonamara!

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 9:26PM
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Congratulations on a beautiful set of plants! I had a Ming Thing once, and it eventually got so big that I had it in a pot on its own next to the garden gate, so I presume that you will eventually be faced with having to replace it in the dish. On the other hand, here in So. Cal, near the shore, we have quite different conditions from those in Texas!

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 12:30AM
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