Stretching generally has a positive connotation when it comes to us human beings, especially in the realm of physical fitness. Or when we get to splay out on the sand or poolside for some deserved chillaxation. With succulents, though, not so much. A stretched plant is a light-deprived plant. All that stretching robs the plant of its attractive, natural, compact form. Light deprivation also prevents plants from exhibiting their full chroma potential. Instead, leaves become pale and possibly yellowed, as if suffering from chlorosis.
Well, one might say, “you know, this stretchy look is kind of neat to me.” One could say that, but those plants expend a lot of energy that would normally be invested elsewhere, resulting in weak, funky, elongated growth.
There’s a proper term for this vigor- and color-robbing condition: etiolation. Affected hens and chicks, for example — your sempervivums and echeverias — lose their lovely rosette shapes as stems grow awkwardly outward, the leaves becoming more spaced. Add excessive fertilization to the mix and you get one pallid, ungainly, monster hen. It might look like your plant is impersonating a serpent or pretending to be a tree. An odd, goofy-looking tree.
It makes sense that indoor plants might be more susceptible to stretching. As such, give your house cacti and succulents the brightest light or sunniest window that you can provide. Most are not happy in shady corners or north-facing windows, as they need at least four to six hours of strong light daily if grown indoors. For outdoor specimens, be mindful of introducing larger neighbors that in time could block treasured rays. Conversely, be careful not to overcorrect a too-much-sun problem by moving a potted plant to an overly dim new home.
So, can doubling down on good ol’ natural vitamin D fix an etiolated succulent, undo the damage? Well, no. One, unlike humans, succulents don’t do the vitamin D-from-ultraviolet-B-rays-conversion thing. They have their own sunlight-involved process. Two, Mr. Sun, while indeed powerful, lacks ctrl+Z powers. But that doesn’t mean you have to part ways with your fleshy friend(s).
All you need is some sharp clippers and, as Axl Rose once sang, a little patience. Snip the funkiness, leaving a handful of keepers, and provide the plant the light it craves. With some time and acclimation to improved exposure, new growth will emerge and proper coloring should return to the old growth.
The result: a happy, healthy, non-funky plant.