#3 Recipe for suc­cess

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Although suc­cu­lents are hardy wa­ter­wise plants, they still need a bit of at­ten­tion. Buck tells you how to keep your suc­cu­lents happy...


As with any plant, soil prepa­ra­tion is key, es­pe­cially when you grow them in con­tain­ers. Use spe­cial suc­cu­lent pot­ting soil from a nurs­ery or make your own mix­ture with one-part or­ganic mat­ter and one-part por­ous in­or­ganic ma­te­rial. Leaf mould, com­posted pine bark or top­soil are all suit­able or­ganic ma­te­rial and are avail­able at most ma­jor nurs­eries. For in­or­ganic ma­te­rial, use fine gravel, per­lite or ex­panded clay pel­lets. If you choose per­lite, you need to add coarse washed plaster sand as bal­last (not beach sand or sil­ica sand – it will form a dense layer that ham­pers ad­e­quate drainage).

Fill the con­tainer up to just be­low the rim. Other than aes­thetic rea­sons, half-empty con­tain­ers are not a good idea as they tend to trap air, form­ing the per­fect breed­ing ground for harm­ful bugs.

Wa­ter and drainage

Suc­cu­lents don’t like wet feet and should never stay too wet for too long – their roots will rot. Make sure the soil in the con­tainer has dried out well be­fore wa­ter­ing again. Also, give less wa­ter dur­ing the plant’s dor­mant phase (usu­ally in win­ter).

If you’re a be­gin­ner, rather use unglazed ter­ra­cotta pots as con­tain­ers. They are por­ous, which helps ex­cess wa­ter to evap­o­rate. Glazed, plas­tic and porce­lain pots can also be used, but take care not to ap­ply too much wa­ter. Drainage holes are ob­vi­ously a must.

Also, choose the small­est pot suit­able for the size of your plant – too much wet soil with­out roots en­cour­ages rot­ting. The ideal pot is about 2cm greater in di­am­e­ter than the plant.


Feed the plants dur­ing their ac­tive growth phase with a di­luted, bal­anced fer­tiliser low in ni­tro­gen (there are dif­fer­ent prod­ucts for dif­fer­ent suc­cu­lents – en­quire at your lo­cal nurs­ery). Add this to the wa­ter ev­ery time you ir­ri­gate your plants or use as a fo­liar feed. Di­lute liq­uid or wa­ter-sol­u­ble fer­tilis­ers to a quar­ter or half of the nor­mal strength. Tap wa­ter is usu­ally too al­ka­line for suc­cu­lents; acid­ify it by adding 15ml white vine­gar to 5L wa­ter.


Never place suc­cu­lents in a damp, un­ven­ti­lated spot – a lack of proper ven­ti­la­tion will en­cour­age pests that are at­tracted to the fleshy leaves. Since their nat­u­ral habi­tat is dry and hot, suc­cu­lents have lit­tle re­sis­tance to these pests.


Most suc­cu­lents need bright light to main­tain their best form and to pro­duce flow­ers. Although most can han­dle full sun, some suc­cu­lents get scorched leaves in the hot sum­mer sun, and ex­ces­sive heat can da­m­age roots. To en­sure your suc­cu­lents get the right amount of sun­light, start by plac­ing them in fil­tered sun­light and then grad­u­ally move them to full sun. Your plant will soon tell you if it’s strug­gling in its cur­rent lo­ca­tion.

Did you know?

Mealy bugs, aphids, red spi­der and scale are com­mon prob­lems. Pre­vent these par­a­sitic pests from spread­ing by con­trol­ling ants in your gar­den.

Mother Na­ture al­most never causes suc­cu­lents to rot as a re­sult of rain; we do that with a hosepipe. – Buck

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