#3 Recipe for success
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