11 Reasons Your Succulents Are Turning Yellow, Brown, or Black

Are your succulents turning yellow, brown, or black? There are many factors that can cause plant discoloration, and most are treatable. In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley takes a deeper look at the most common reasons your succulent may be discolored, and what you should do next.

Succulent With Brown Leaves in Plastic Pot

Succulents are fun, easy-growing plants. They are the perfect addition to any indoor or outdoor plant collection. Succulents can withstand some pretty extreme conditions, which makes them excellent houseplants for beginners.

Many succulents are native to drier and hotter regions where other plants can’t thrive. There are many different types of succulents but they all have similar care and maintenance needs. But that doesn’t make them immune to some common mistakes that gardeners make when growing them indoors or outdoors. These mistakes can cause plant discoloration, including plants that turn yellow, brown or black.

Keep reading to learn most common reasons your succulents are discolored. Luckily, many discoloration causes have solutions if you act quickly. By taking swift action, you can help prevent your succulent from dying. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!


Woman Watering Succulent Plant in Plastic Pot. She is using a white ceramic small water container to water a crassula plant in a terra cotta colored plastic pot.
Watering too frequently can cause discoloration.

The most common reason your succulent leaves are turning yellow is overwatering. Succulents are generally native to dryer regions of the world and have the ability to survive in drought conditions. This is due to their thick leaves that store water for drier periods of the growing season.

Yellowing leaves are the first sign that your plant is stressed out. If you are noticing random leaves that are turning yellow, inspect them. If the leaves feel soggy or mushy, this is a good sign that they are being watered too much.

Overwatering is common and easily avoidable. Only water your succulents when soils become dry. If soils are still damp when you check for watering, wait a few more days and check soils again. If they are planted in pots, check that the pot has proper drainage holes and that the drainage holes aren’t blocked.


Plant in pot with dry soil that has not been watered enough. The soil is dry, brown and cracking. The plant that is in the pot is dry, and shriveling up due to the lack of water.
Similar to overwatering, underwatering can also cause discoloration.

A less common problem than overwatering is underwatering, which can lead to yellowing and browning of the leaves. Leaves will look dried and shriveled and be very brittle. Succulents have evolved to store water in their leaves. When soils are dry for too long, they will begin to take water from their leaves.

If you are noticing these symptoms, it’s time to give your succulents a drink. Continue to water once the soils become dry and they should perk up. If symptoms have not progressed too far, you can save your succulents.

Check your succulents every couple weeks to determine if they need to be watered. It’s best to give them a good soaking versus a light watering. A good soak will allow the water to move through the entirety of the pot or deep into the soil profile. This allows the succulents to access water for many days or weeks.

Lack Of Sunlight

Plant with red leaves sitting in a white pot in the shade. The pot is a white ceramic material, and the plant is young, with tender red leaves.
When placed in conditions with too little sun, succulent leaves will start to change color.

Your succulents will display a number of symptoms if they aren’t receiving enough sunlight. Succulents are naturally low growing and if they begin to grow upwards, this is a sign of insufficient lighting. Succulents will also begin to turn yellow or their once vibrant leaves will become pale.

Many succulents rely on the sunlight to produce vibrant colors. A loss of color is a great sign they need more sunlight. If you believe your succulents aren’t getting enough sunlight, consider moving them to a brighter location. Every succulent has different sunlight requirements so do some research on your specific variety and the proper sunlight they need.

Generally, succulents need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. This is very dependent on where they are planted. Indirect sunlight is best for succulents grown indoors and outdoors as too much sunlight can cause sunburn. Finding the right location can take time but once you find the right location, they will stay low-growing and vibrant in color.

Too Much Sunlight

Succulents in Pot Dying Off in Dry Soil. There are three different plants in a single pot, and the soil is dry, as well as the plant which is turning brown.
Too much sunlight will cook your plants, and causing a color change that matches the health of the plant.

Succulents are susceptible to sunburn just like humans but they don’t turn red, they will turn brown. Sunburn typically starts as white dots on the surface of the leaves and left untreated will turn the leaves brown. Sunburn occurs when the plant is exposed to too much sunlight and needs to be provided more shade.

Browning of the leaves is a sign that the sunburn is very severe but the plant may grow out of it. If you believe your succulents are suffering from sunburn, move them to a shadier area. Afternoon shade is best for succulents because the sunlight and temperatures are typically more intense in the afternoon.

If you can’t provide natural shade, you can place a shade cloth over your succulents to prevent burn. You can also plant in the shade of taller plants with similar care. Be careful not to provide too much shade that the plant begins to stretch.

Root Rot

Plants with root rot sitting on wooden board outside in gravel. The plants are healthy, but the roots are damaged.
Root rot stems from overwatering and can lead to plant discoloration.

This fungal disease is common in succulents that are planted in poor draining soils. If soils aren’t able to drain water away , root rot will develop quickly. Root rot is common in succulents that are overwatered or planted in unsuitable containers.

Root rot starts below the soil surface and is difficult to catch until it’s too late. The leaves will begin to turn yellow to black. The leaves will also appear and feel mushy or soggy. Root rot is unfortunately irreversible but there is a chance you can save the succulent.

If you believe root rot has affected your succulent, remove the plant from the soil. Examine the plant and remove any mushy, black leaves and roots that appear affected by the rot. The best way to prevent your succulents from developing root rot is to provide the proper soil. Succulents need well-draining soil to prevent this fungal disease.


Aphids crawling on the leaf of a succulent plant. The bugs are small and green. There is an ant on the leaf as well that is trying to eat the aphids off the plant.
Pests like aphids can cause problems for your plants.

A plant owner’s worst nightmare is a pest infestation. There are a few pests that will cause yellowing to leaves such as mealybugs and aphids. Both these pests feed on the sweet sap of succulents. If the infestation is severe enough, the leaves will begin to yellow in areas they have drank the sap.

Pests are more likely to attack plants that are already stressed from other factors such as root rot and sunburn. These pests are easy to treat if caught early enough. If you believe your plants are affected by pests, it’s best to remove them from areas with other plants. You can use an insecticide designed for the specific pest and follow all label directions.

Poor Draining Soils

Hens and Chicks Plant in Dry Soil that is not draining well. The plant is dry, and the edges are turning brown. The soil is black, rocky, and not well draining. The pot that the plant is in is made of black ceramic.
Poor-draining soils can increase the chances of your plant developing root rot.

Succulents prefer soils that are well-draining and many prefer soils that have a bit of gritty material added to them. Gritty material can be sand, gravel, pumice or any other larger material. Gritty materials allow soils to drain water away more easily, prevent standing water and increase air circulation.

There are specific soils that are designed for succulents which already have a balance of gritty material and potting soil. You can make your own succulent potting soil if you have a standard potting mix and sand, gravel or pumice. Mix about half potting soil and half gritty material for an even balanced potting mix.

If you are planting succulents directly into the ground, amend the soils with gritty material before planting. Amending the soils once the succulents are planted will be difficult and could damage the plant. Check your soils often to ensure water is draining away properly. Transplant your succulents if you are struggling to drain water even after you amend them.

Nutrient Deficiency

Aloe plant growing in a terra cotta pot with soil mixture below it. The mixture is not of the right nutrient density, which can cause problems with the plant.
Soil without the proper nutrient balance can cause plant discoloration.

Succulents are typically not heavy feeders and don’t need added nutrients. But occasionally the leaves can turn yellow from a lack of nutrients. Nutrient deficiencies generally show up rather quickly. Because succulents can stay in their pots or location for long periods of time, soils can be depleted of nutrients due to rarely being repotted or moved.

After time, nutrients in the potting soil or ground will run out and need to be replaced or amended. If the plant is lacking nutrients, leaves will start to discolor and turn yellow. They can also appear misshapen and thin.

The best solution is to repot your succulent and add new soil back into the original pot or container. Fresh potting soil is a cost effective and efficient way of solving a nutrient deficiency issue. You can also apply fertilizer as a fast solution but can be more expensive and fertilizers can cause burn if not applied properly.

Incorrect Containers

Plants growing in pots with yellow and brown leaves. There are many different plants growing between two containers. One container is a terra cotta pot that is painted blue, with an aloe vera plant that has yellow and browning leaves. The other is a green metal canister pot with a different succulent growing inside, also with yellowing and brown leaves.
Incorrectly sized containers can cause many problems, including plant discoloration.

Choosing the right container will help prevent stress that can lead to discoloration. There are hundreds of beautiful containers to choose from but are their containers better for growing succulents?

Succulents tend to stay smaller but can spread over time, choosing the right pot that they can spend their whole life in is key to healthy succulents.

When choosing a container, there are a number of factors to consider. Size, style, material and drainage are all important factors to grow healthy, thriving succulents.  A container should be large enough to grow the succulents but not oversized. Consider a container that is about 10 percent larger than the plant. This will allow plenty of room for root and plant growth.

Pots come in many different materials such as plastic, ceramic, terracotta, wood and many more. The best pots for succulents are ones made of terracotta or ceramic. These two types of materials are breathable which promote proper air circulation and water drainage. Keep in mind that these types of pots become heavy and should be placed somewhere that can hold their weight.

Drainage is one of the most important factors in choosing a container. Succulents don’t like a lot of water and a container that can drain away extra water is key.

Even if you are careful not to overwater your succulents, your containers should still have drainage holes. If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, consider drilling in holes to avoid pooling water that leads to root rot.


Succulent plant growing in a cold hardiness zone with frost on the leaves. The plant has leaf tips that are starting to yellow and brown from the cold temperatures.
Colder weather causes frosts, which can contribute to plant damage and discoloration.

If you live in warmer regions of the United States, you can most likely leave your succulents outdoors year round without the fear of frost. But if you live in colder regions, succulents left outdoors are susceptible to frost damage. Many succulent owners will move their succulents outdoors during the summer and bring them indoors during the winter.

Some succulents, like hens and chicks are winter hardy and can be left outdoors all year long even in colder regions. But not all succulents are created equally. There are hundreds of succulents and each one will have different temperature requirements. Do some research on your succulent variety to see if you can plant them outdoors and how high or low of temperatures they can handle. 

Frost will look similar to sunburn and will turn the leaves yellow or brown. The leaves will also become mushy and depending on how hard of a frost, can kill your succulents.

If your succulents are planted outdoors in the ground, you can cover them to protect them from frost until it’s too cold and they go dormant. But if you have them planted in a container, bring them indoors before the first frost to prevent damage.

Natural Life Cycle

Browning and yellowing succulent plant growing in terra cotta pot. The plant is old, and dying in its natural life cycle.
As plants age, their leaves will turn brown, black and yellow.

Succulent leaves will naturally die on their own without any cause. The leaves will begin to turn yellow towards the bottom of the plant. Eventually, they will turn brown and fall off the plant. The plant stops providing nutrients to these leaves and the leaves will  die.

If you are noticing the bottom leaves of your succulent are begging to turn, don’t panic. It is trying to shed these leaves to grow new leaves towards the top of the plant. It is also common for bottom leaves to turn brown around flowering as the plant transfers nutrients from the leaves to the flower.

Final Thoughts

Succulents are beautiful plants that bring life and style to any home. Although they are pretty low maintenance, they can develop problems. When your succulent leaves begin to turn yellow, brown or black it can be very concerning. The sooner you act on the issue, the better off your succulent will be and more times than not you can save them.

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