Native to Namibia and South Africa, Baby Toes Succulent (Fenestraria rhopalophylla) can withstand hard winds, prolonged periods of drought, and even almost a total neglect. It isn’t one of those plants you have to babysit and check on every single day, making sure it isn’t thirsty or lacks something. Having said that, when we try to grow a succulent outside of its native areas–for example in Europe or North America, where a climate is different, it may sometimes struggle, and we may experience problems. With Baby Toes Succulent, the most common problem is shriveling.
Before we dive into details so you understand what’s exactly going on, and how you can revive your succulent (if that’s possible), let me briefly summarize the three main causes of shriveling Fenestraria: Over-watering and subsequent root rot is definitely the most common reason, second one is under-developed root system, which can easily happen when you use wrong soil mix for Baby Toes Succulent, and the last one and least common is under-watering. Let’s have a look at each cause, how you can identify it and what you can do to address it.
Over-watering as no. 1 reason for Baby Toes Succulent shriveling
It may seem illogical that a plant shrivels when you give it excessive water. As soon as you understand the chain of cause and effect here though, you won’t find it strange anymore. What happens is that roots of your Baby Toes Succulent start to rot, if they bath in water, for example when you water the plant too often or have bad drainage in place. Once the roots rot, they cannot transfer water or required nutrients to the body of the plant anymore. It will start shriveling, and in many cases it will eventually die.
In order to identify the problem you should inspect the roots. Gently take away part of the soil and check the roots. If they are brownish in color and soft and have a weird smell, you are almost certainly dealing with root rot. In extreme cases you may not even find any roots in the soil, since they have already rotten and decomposed. Secondary signs also help with the identification of the problem. If you use a pot without a drainage hole, and the soil is wet anytime you check it, over-watering is likely the culprit here.
Bad news is that you typically cannot save the succulent, unless you spot the problem early (which is rarely the case since symptoms like shriveling develop only when the root system is heavily damaged). I suggest you to simply throw the plant away and start from scratch, avoiding repeating the same mistakes (such as having a pot with no drainage, or watering the plant more often than once in every two weeks). Of course you can try saving the succulent, repotting it and removing rotten roots, but in my opinion this plant is quite delicate when damaged and your chances of succeeding are rather slim here.
Under-watering as no. 2 reason for shriveled Baby Toes Succulent
Before you blame under-watering, mark my words: Baby Toes Succulent is native to places like South Africa and Namibia. It doesn’t rain much down there, and this succulent is adapted to longer periods of drought. However, in some special cases, such as when you have a very small succulent, or when some major problem occupies your head and you forget to water your plants for a month, it can happen that it lacks water, and shrivels.
Remedy is very simple here: Soak it out thoughtfully with water, just as a rare rain in desert would soak it. Make sure that the excess water drains away from the pot. If this was really the cause of the issue and your Baby Toes Succulent was thirsty, you should notice significant improvements within 48 hours of watering. It is important to point out that you shouldn’t go bananas here, starting to water the succulent very often since you neglected it for some time. The key is to soak it with water once, and then simply return to normal watering schedule, which isn’t too frequent for this succulent.
Under-developed root system as the no. 3 cause of Baby Toes Succulent shriveling
What I noticed with this succulent is that the roots are quite delicate, and they do not grow as easily as it is the case with most other succulents, especially in soil mixes that are too gritty. If you pot your Baby Toes Succulent in such a mix (which may by the way work perfectly well with many other succulents) it can happen that the roots remain minuscule, and they just cannot transfer enough water and nutrients to the entire plant. What happens in this case is that some leaves will shrivel, typically not all, and you should see at least some completely healthy leaves on your succulent. New leaves may also be “sprouting” from the ground.
In order to address this problem, you can either try to repot your succulent, to a more fitting soil mix. Anything with 70%+ pumice will do, but you may have to experiment and see. Another option is actually pruning your baby toes succulent, removing some of the leaves (or even half of it), which will lessen the strain on the roots, since they won’t need to “feed” such a big plant, and even if minuscule they should manage to do their job with the leaves still left on the plant.
Fenestraria rhopalophylla, knows as “Baby Toes Succulent” thrives in neglect, and doesn’t mind lack of water in its native land. When we try to grow it in our houses and flats, however, it may experience some issues, and the most common is shriveling. As you know now, different things can cause your Fenestraria to shrivel, including over-watering and subsequent root rot, under-watering, and under-developed root system for the size of the plant, which happens commonly in soil mixes that are too gritty. I hope this post helped you identify the core of the problem, and that you will successfully address it. Good luck!
May also interest you: How to prepare a perfect potting soil mix for succulents?