Succulents are mostly admired for their stunning, water swollen foliage and unusual shapes, but the flowers are quite beautiful as well. Succulent flowers come in many colours and shapes and mostly appear once per year, though there are species that flower more often. While succulent flowers grow for a purpose there are advantages and disadvantages of leaving them on the plant.
Why is my succulent growing a long stem with flowers?
Succulents flower in order to reproduce. Most succulents will send their flowers up on a long stem, possibly to attract more pollinating insects and nectar feeding birds.
When a succulent flower is pollinated seed pods form. Most succulent seed is tiny and will disperse on its own when the seed pods have hardened off and opened.
Advantages of succulent flowers
Succulent flowers are attractive, feed a number of beneficial insects and birds. They are also a means for plants to reproduce when a flower is pollinated and grows seeds, or when a bulbil forms on the stalk.
Disadvantages of succulent flowers
The main disadvantage of succulent flowers is their irresistibility to pests. Mealy bugs and aphids love the new, succulent growth of a fresh flower stalk and blooms. Inevitably, the pests spread beyond the flowers to other plants. Growing a flower also takes away some of the plants’ energy.
Should I cut succulent flowers?
From a succulents’ point of view, flowers serve one purpose- reproduction. Pollinated flowers will produce seed which will help the plants spread. But they also consume energy and attract pests. Thus, it may be better to cut them off if you’re not propagating seeds.
It really is up to you whether or not you cut succulent flowers off. If you’d like to try your hand at seed propagation, you may want to keep the flowers. Propagating succulents from seed is generally quite difficult, but there are many enthusiasts out there that have grown some amazing succulent hybrids by cross pollination, so it’s not impossible.
I have also grown a new Haworthia by accident when one of the plants produced seed pods and I planted them once they opened up to see what will happen. To my surprise, the seeds germinated and 2 years later I had Haworthia I have never seen before (the pollination happened between 2 different species one of which I’m unsure of).
Some species also produce a bulbil. Bulbil usually appears on flower stalks of Aloe, Haworthia, Gasteria and some other species, and looks like an offset. Bulbil is able to send root once the flower stalk starts dying and it forces it to bend all the way to the ground.
Succulent flowers can also be planted and propagated. Unfortunately, it is a minority of succulents that have the ability to root succulent flower stalks and produce a whole new plant. I have written a detailed article on which succulents do propagate from flower stalks and which don’t.
Succulent flowers are very pretty and a succulent garden in flower looks absolutely spectacular, so they might be kept purely because of the fact they are so aesthetically pleasing.
Succulent flowers make excellent long-lasting cut flowers and a lush bunch will look fantastic indoors.
Beneficial insect and nectar feeding birds love succulent flowers and I have found many types of bees, hoverflies and butterflies feeding off the succulent flowers in the nursery. To be honest that is the main reasons I keep the flowers on our succulents as I love to see all the native bees and tiny birds coming in and feeding off the nectar.
Succulents have to sacrifice growing energy to produce the flower and I have seen many people write they cut the flowers so they use that energy is directed towards growing bigger plants and producing pups. But to tell the truth I really cannot see much of a difference between plants that have had their stalk cut off and those that I left to finish flowering.
My nursery grows hundreds of thousands of succulents yearly and so I have the advantage of observing how succulents grow in different scenarios. To a naked eye, same species of plant, of the same age look exactly the same, with similar amount of pups with or without the flower.
The main reason we cut succulent flowers off at our nursery plants are aphids and mealy bugs. But more aphids. These little sucking pests are very strongly attracted to succulent flowers and it is almost a given that if you have succulent flowers, you will also have aphids.
Mealy bugs are common too, though nowhere near as much as aphids. If I see just one aphid on succulent flowers, they are immediately cut off and binned as a single aphid can turn to dozens in days and will eventually spread on the foliage below.
Furthermore, aphids excrete sticky sap that can sometimes leave black marks all over the leaves as well as deformed growth. Aphids would be my number one reason for encouraging cutting flowers off.
How to cut succulent flowers off?
Most succulent flowers can be cut off easily with a pair of scissors. It may, however, be difficult to cut the whole of the stalk from species such as Echeveria, as the stalk grows too close to the leaves and the plant can be damaged.
The good news is that not all of the stalk has to be cut. The remainder can be left to dry and then pulled off clean.
Succulents that don’t form a rosette shape are easier to rid of the whole of flower stalk. Even if a bit of the stalk is left, it tends to fall off in its own in time.
But succulents like Echeveria, Haworthia or Pachyphyllum can form tight rosettes and trying to get right to the centre of the rosette with sharp scissors can damage the leaves. I tend to just cut the top part of the stalk with the flower heads attached and then wait until the rest of the stalk completely dries up. Once dry, it is quite easy to pull out without damaging the rest of the plant.
Succulent flower stalks are quite tender and can also be broken and snapped off, no scissors needed.
Do Succulents Flower When Stressed?
Whether a succulent will flower when stress will depend on species and intensity of stress.
In most scenarios, stressed succulents will flower less, the blooms will be smaller and not as prolific. Extremely stressed succulents (for instance, plants that have been root-bound for years) might not flower at all.
When a succulent is stressed it focuses all its energy on staying alive and flowering takes a lot of that energy away. Some stressed succulents may even forego flowering in favour of retaining what little growing energy they have left.
In succulents that are not stressed, this lost energy does not seem to bother succulents and is negligible.
To conclude cutting or leaving succulent flowers is a personal choice. They are beautiful and many people enjoy the flowers. Succulent fans may also want to give growing succulent seed a go or let the insects and the birds enjoy the nectar.
But leaving succulent flowers finish their show is not always a great idea as they are a pest magnet. Sure, the aphids and mealy bugs can be sprayed with insecticides but that can wipe out good insects that are already struggling and dying out around the world.
My advice would be to cut the flowers off when pests are noticed or once they naturally start dying off, otherwise they can be left and admired.