succulent indoor in a pot

“Why Do My Succulents & Cactus Smell?”(5 Reasons+Solutions)

Succulents are popular and “easy to care for” xerophytic plants that come in many shapes and sizes. However, from time to time, some people have found their succulents to give off strong scents. Let’s take a deeper look at this. So…

“Why do my succulents smell?” Succulents can produce a sweet strong fragrance while flowering. Apart from a few exceptions, the majority of the succulent doesn’t give off any strong scent when not flowering. However certain conditions of root rot or improper drainage can initiate fungal or pest manifestation & result in a foul smell.

Do Succulents have a scent of theirs own?

Succulents by default don’t contain a very strong essence of their own. There are however exceptions to this.

But mostly in their growing conditions succulents do not have a strong scent. This changes when they start flowering. Matured succulents start flowering and the flowers have a particular scent that in turn makes the plant smell sweet.

  • This is commonly seen in the case of the majority of flowering cactuses and other members of succulents including the Hoyas and Lithops.

Examples of Some Fragrant Succulents 

  • Lithops produce scented flowers with little to moderate smell mainly during the afternoon period in their blooming season. Hoyas are surely one of the most popular succulents you can explore if you are looking for sweet-smelling succulents.
  • Mammillaria genera of cactuses produce some of the best sweet-smelling flowers.
  • Hedgehog cacti is a large genus of South American cactuses that produce beautifully scented flowers and it is one of the most popular succulents known for its beautiful scent.
  • Agave virginica has moderate blooms but leaves a trail of a sweet fragrance behind.
  • The Cereus genus of cactuses is known to produce some of the most wonderful smelling flowers especially the night-blooming ones. However, the smell can be pretty strong for some people especially when growing indoors.
  • Even Sansevieria is known to produce a strong sweet smell when it blooms.
  • Epiphyllums and Discocactus are other genera in the cactus family which is known for their delightful citrus-like fragrance.

In the case of Aloe and Haworthias even when they flower, the smell is extremely mild.

However, apart from the wonderful sweet fragrance, some succulent lovers have complained that certain succulents have a specific smell of their own which is not that good.

This can happen due to a variety of reasons, some of which can be alarming whereas others are not so much.

Common Reasons Why Succulents Have A Bad Smell

1. Root Rot

Root rot is the worst nightmare of any gardener or plant lover. With succulents encountering root rot can be pretty common cause succulent roots are very sensitive to improper watering practices and poor drainage conditions.

  • Succulents are xerophytes that have low watering needs and when watered more frequently than needed their roots easily catch a root rot which starts giving off the smell of rotten eggs from the soil.
  • If nothing is done, the rot then slowly spreads across the upper plant body and kills the succulent within a week or two. You need to check whether the roots are healthy or not and if needed you have to do a bit of surgery on them to save the plant.

To look for signs of root rot and its possible solutions refer to 6 Signs of Root Rot in your Succulents(& their solutions)

2. Fungal manifestation in the soil

The most important aspect of growing plants indoors is to make sure that the drainage system is top-notch.

  • This is because as the supply of resources in indoor conditions is limited hence even minor issues that the plant can easily sort out while growing outdoors becomes an alarming issue.

Poor drainage will mean the soil mix will remain damp for a long time which will easily aid in the growth of fungal gnats and pests of all sorts.

And also the chances of the succulent roots catching root rot elevates when the succulent regularly sits upon waterlogged condition for days.

Must Read: How to Get Rid of Flies & Gnats in Potted Succulent Plants?

3. Urination by Pets

This is a reason which can be easily overlooked while investigating the reasons behind why your plants are smelling bad suddenly even when they look perfectly healthy.

Even though this mainly happens if you have pets, if you grow succulents in the garden then it can be possible that other animals are trespassing and urinating on your plants. This is the least probable reason but definitely, it is a possibility.

4. Usage of an Excessive amount of Compost in the soil mix

Firstly for growing succulents in pots using compost is never a must. This is because succulents are well adapted to grow in arid drought-prone conditions of nutrient-deficient soil.

  • Infact using compost will do more harm than good for growing succulents in pots as the drainage and aeration of the soil will be significantly low. Secondly, compost is known to stink a lot.

If you made your own compost and added a good amount of that in the soil mix of your succulent then it can be a viable reason behind the foul smell. For example, if you use too many greeneries in the compost mix then it can smell like sewage. So you have to make sure the balance is right if you wanna use compost (source).

5. Certain types of Succulents are known to be a bit smelly

Yes, some succulents smell sweet especially during the blooming season whereas others can give off a “not so good” kind of a smell.

However, this varies a lot from person to person. One can find the smell of a succulent lovely whereas another member of the same household can be irritated with it.

  • Scents are hard to interpret. Different People are sensitive to different scents. Personally, I haven’t had such an experience till now.

I have seen many complain that succulents like Crassula muscosa have got a foul smell similar to smelly dresses. However, I have also seen people saying that its smell is not that disturbing and completely fine.

In the end, it all comes down to personal smell sensitivity. I can find a scent wonderful whereas you can get irritated with it.

How to Remove Foul Smell from your Succulents?

Well, it totally depends upon the cause.

  • If the foul smell is caused by root rot then you need to get rid of the affected areas with a sterilized knife.

Make sure you wear a glove especially when handling cactuses. Feel the plant by pressing it slightly and see if it feels squeezy or firm and check if discoloration of the leaves is happening or not.

  • If you feel the soil mix is not drainage friendly then you should consider first checking how long it generally takes for the soil to be dry and then act accordingly.

You can use a moisture meter for this which is the most convenient method. Or else you can insert a toothpick into the soil every other day to check for dampness.

Must Read: 5 Simple Ways To Determine Soil Dryness in Succulents

If you find it takes more than 2 to 3 days for the soil to be dry then you should seriously consider changing the soil mix. Succulent soil mixes must be enormously drainage friendly and should have a higher content of inorganic materials in them.

For more information on this refer:

In case you feel the usage of excessive compost is the culprit behind the smell then you can go ahead and plant the succulent in a new soil mix.

  • Succulents can do really well under gritty soil mixes. You can use a store-bought cactus soil mix and add a little bit of pumice or akadama with it and the succulent will do good on its own.

If you are sensitive to a sharp scent and feel the succulent is giving off a bad smell naturally while being in perfect health, you can grow it outdoors or you can potentially gift it to someone in your friend or family who doesn’t find the succulent to be smelly.

Checklist to make sure your succulents do not smell bad in the future

  • Succulents are sun-loving plants and love getting 4 to 6 hours of indirect sun daily. So for best results keep them beside the south or east-facing windows and balconies. Proper sun exposure will not only help in better plant growth but in drying up the soil faster.

Read: Sunlight Exposure: How Much Sunlight Do Succulents Need?

  • With succulents having superb drainage is a must! So grow them in a cactus mix soil or you can make your own soil mix at home by using larger amounts of inorganic components like pumice or perlite, pebbles, coarse sand, gravels, etc. Having a strong base will save you from loads of headaches down the line.

Read: Is Akadama Good for Succulents & Cactus? (Pros & Cons)

  • If you are particularly sensitive to specific scents then make sure to ask around regarding the scent of a particular kind of succulent before bringing it home from the nursery.
  • Always transplant succulents after bringing them home from local garden shops or after buying them online. This is cause you have no idea about the kind of soil you are bringing home and if there is already pest manifestation in that soil, it can spread from that pot to the others.
  • Succulents hate overwatering, in fact, underwatering does lesser harm than overwatering. So when in doubt hold back on watering for a few more days. Let the soil properly dry up before you water again.

Read 8 Signs Your Succulent is Overwatered(& How to Fix Them)


Succulents in general do not have a strong fragrance unless they are flowering. In case it gives off a strong scent any other time, in most cases, it is not a good sign.

If the succulent starts giving off a foul smell suddenly then thoroughly observe the plant and look for signs of distress.

  • If it looks in good health you can wait for a day or two and make sure it is getting sufficient sun. If it looks unhealthy, make sure to pluck it out carefully with both hands and then check the root health.

Act as per need, if there are signs of rot, get rid of the affected parts and repot them ina new soil mix. Or else make sure the soil is drainage friendly and the succulent is not getting overwatered.

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