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What's the best fertilizer for succulents?

8 lectura mínima

What is the best fertilizer for succulents?

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Fertilizing is a key skill in gardening, and we've been using it to help our crops and plants grow since the beginning of agriculture. Farmers in ancient times used natural fertilizers like animal manure, compost, and plant remains to ensure their soil was rich enough to support their crops. In modern gardening, especially with the popularity of houseplants and smaller gardens, fertilizing has become much simpler and more convenient. Today’s fertilizers are designed with specific plants in mind, so you can find just the right mix for whatever you're growing. This is actually very useful when it comes to one of the most popular and special types of houseplants: succulents. 

We usually think that succulents can get by with just about any well-draining soil, particularly sandy and dry soil, and don't need much attention when it comes to feeding. But the truth is, succulents, like all plants, benefit from a little extra help, and the right fertilizer can make a big difference in their growth and health. The tricky part is finding the best fertilizer for your succulents because not all of them need the same thing. It helps to do a bit of research to understand what each type needs, as well as where and how they're growing. Are they outside in a warm, dry climate, or are they indoors on your windowsill? The environment plays a huge role in deciding what kind of fertilizer you should use.

Do Succulents Need Fertilizing? 

Succulents don't need a lot of fertilizer to stay healthy. Many types grow well in sandy soils even without extra feeding. But while succulents can handle low-nutrient conditions, occasional fertilization can give them a boost. Adding some fertilizer can encourage healthy growth, keep leaves looking vibrant, and promote blooming in flowering varieties. Still, you need to be careful not to overdo it, as too much fertilizer can cause leaf burn or make succulents grow too quickly.

Succulents growing outdoors in garden beds or pots often need less frequent fertilization than indoor succulents because they can draw nutrients from natural sources like rainwater and decomposing soil matter. Outdoor succulents usually find enough nutrients in their environment without additional feeding. Indoor succulents, on the other hand, may need some extra help since potting soil doesn’t provide as many nutrients over time. Fertilizing indoor succulents should be done with care—use a diluted solution and apply it lightly, typically during the spring and summer when they are actively growing. It's best to avoid fertilizing during fall and winter when succulents enter a dormant period and require less water and nutrients.

Organic vs Commercial Fertilizers

Photo by Plant Care Today

Fertilizers can be categorized as organic or inorganic based on their origins. Organic fertilizers are derived from natural sources, like compost, worm castings, seaweed extract, or animal manure. They release nutrients slowly and help improve soil health. This gradual release aligns with the needs of succulents, which are adapted to low-nutrient environments. Organic fertilizers also promote beneficial microbial activity in the soil and enhance moisture retention, making them a sustainable choice. However, the nutrient content in organic fertilizers can vary, which means you may need to use them consistently over time to see noticeable results.

Commercial fertilizers, on the other hand, are synthesized from chemical compounds and designed to deliver specific nutrients to plants. These fertilizers typically have clear labeling with exact nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) ratios, allowing for precise control over nutrient composition. Commercial fertilizers act quickly, providing an immediate boost, which can be useful during the growing season or when succulents need extra support. They also come in different forms—liquid, granular, and slow-release—giving you flexibility in application. But this fast-acting characteristic can also increase the risk of over-fertilization, potentially leading to root burn or excessive growth, which can distort succulents' natural shape.

Choosing between organic and commercial fertilizers comes down to what you value most. If you prefer a natural, environmentally friendly approach with the added benefit of improving soil health, organic fertilizers are an excellent choice. They're ideal for succulents that need a gentle, steady supply of nutrients. On the other hand, if you need quick results and enjoy the flexibility of various application methods, commercial fertilizers might be more suitable. They work well for succulents that require targeted feeding and can be easier to manage with clear dosage instructions.

The Best Commercial Fertilizer For Succulents?

Succulents

Using commercial liquid or granular fertilizer is simple and convenient, however, succulents generally require a different fertilizer composition compared to other plants because they have adapted to survive in nutrient-poor environments. A well-balanced fertilizer for succulents typically contains low nitrogen (N), moderate phosphorus (P), and moderate potassium (K), each serving a distinct role in plant health and development.

Nitrogen is a crucial nutrient for all plants as it plays a major role in promoting leafy growth. In many plants, higher nitrogen content can encourage lush, green foliage. However, with succulents, excessive nitrogen can be problematic. Since succulents are adapted to arid environments where nutrient levels are low, too much nitrogen can cause them to grow too quickly, leading to weak stems and distorted growth. This can also cause them to become "leggy," where the stems stretch and lose their compact shape. This is why fertilizers for succulents typically have a lower nitrogen content compared to fertilizers for other types of plants. When it comes to Phosphorus, this nutrient is essential for root development and helps in flower and fruit production. For succulents, a moderate amount of phosphorus is beneficial to encourage strong root growth and overall plant health. It also aids in energy transfer within the plant, contributing to photosynthesis and other vital processes. A moderate level of phosphorus can also promote flowering in succulents that are known to bloom, enhancing the plant's aesthetic appeal. The last nutrient Potassium plays a role in maintaining the overall health and resilience of plants. It helps with water regulation, photosynthesis, and resistance to diseases and pests. For succulents, a moderate potassium level is important because it supports their ability to withstand drought conditions and maintain a healthy balance of water within their tissues. This makes them more resilient to stress and contributes to their characteristic plump and sturdy structure.

The Best Organic Fertilizer For Succulents?

Photo by Revival Gardening

There are many types of organic fertilizers, such as worm castings, compost, seaweed extract, or fish emulsion, but compost tea is hand down the best. While each type of organic fertilizer has its unique benefits, compost tea offers a combination of versatility, nutrient richness, and ease of application that makes it a top choice for many gardeners. Compost tea provides a balanced array of nutrients, including essential macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as micronutrients that support healthy plant growth. Because it's made by steeping compost in water, compost tea retains many of the beneficial elements from the original compost, delivering them in a form that's easily absorbed by plants.

Photo by Martha Stewart

One of the key benefits of compost tea is its high concentration of beneficial microbes. These microbes play a critical role in promoting soil health by breaking down organic matter and enhancing nutrient availability. This microbial activity helps plants develop strong root systems and increases their resilience to diseases and pests. Moreover, as an organic fertilizer, compost tea is environmentally friendly. It repurposes organic waste, reducing landfill use and minimizing the need for synthetic chemicals. Compost tea is less likely to cause environmental contamination, making it a more sustainable choice for eco-conscious gardeners. Compost tea can be used in various ways, providing flexibility in its application. It can be applied directly to the soil as a liquid fertilizer, used as a foliar spray, or even incorporated into hydroponic systems. This versatility allows gardeners to use compost tea in a variety of settings, from small indoor gardens to large outdoor plots. Compost tea is easy to make, requiring only a few basic materials. This simplicity makes it accessible to gardeners of all experience levels. Beyond providing nutrients, compost tea can improve soil structure. The organic matter and beneficial microbes help enhance soil aeration and moisture retention, leading to healthier plants.


Fertilizers For Different Types Of Succulents

Different types of succulents have varying fertilizer needs, depending on their growth patterns and tolerance for nutrients. Cacti, for example, are generally adapted to nutrient-poor environments and require less frequent fertilization. A balanced, low-nitrogen fertilizer is best, applied once or twice during the active growing season in spring and summer. These succulents are sensitive to high nitrogen levels, so slow-release fertilizers work well, providing nutrients gradually without overwhelming the plant. Liquid fertilizers can also be used, but they should be heavily diluted to avoid nutrient burn.

Rosette succulents like Echeveria and Sempervivum need a slightly higher phosphorus content to support their compact growth and encourage blooming. For these, a balanced fertilizer with moderate phosphorus levels is ideal. Fertilization every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season is usually sufficient, with reduced applications during the dormant period. Liquid fertilizers are particularly useful for rosettes, allowing you to control the amount of nutrients precisely. Slow-release fertilizers are also suitable, especially for outdoor rosettes, as they provide a steady nutrient source over time. Trailing succulents, such as String of Pearls and Burro's Tail, benefit from a consistent but gentle nutrient supply to maintain their unique growth patterns. A balanced fertilizer with moderate nitrogen content is best to avoid overstimulation, which can cause weak or elongated stems. Succulents like Crassula and Sedum have a bit faster growth rate and thus they are generally more tolerant of fertilization and can handle slightly higher nutrient levels. 

For all types of succulents, it is recommended that you apply fertilizers correctly and in moderation to ensure healthy growth without risking over-feeding and fertilizer burn. 

DOs And DONTs When Fertilize Succulents

DOs

  • Do use low-nitrogen fertilizer because succulents thrive in low-nutrient environments.
  • Do apply sparingly as succulents need minimal fertilization. Apply fertilizer lightly, following the recommended dosage. If using liquid fertilizer, ensure it's diluted to prevent over-fertilization.
  • Do fertilize during the growing season. This is the best time to provide extra nutrients.
  • Do monitor your plants and keep an eye on your succulents for signs of over-fertilization, like yellowing leaves, leaf burn, or excessive growth. Adjust your fertilization routine if you notice these signs.
  • Do combine fertilizing with proper watering. Make sure your succulents are watered only when the soil is dry to the touch, as overwatering can lead to root rot and other complications.

DONTs

  • Don't over-fertilize because over-fertilization can cause root burn, distorted growth, and other issues.
  • Don't fertilize during the dormant season (fall and winter), as succulents are not actively growing during this period and can be damaged by excess nutrients.
  • Don't use high-nitrogen fertilizers. Fertilizers with high nitrogen content can lead to excessive growth, causing weak stems or elongated leaves. Avoid fertilizers with a high nitrogen ratio.
  • Don't ignore signs of over-fertilization. If you notice yellowing leaves, leaf burn, or rapid growth, take immediate action to reduce fertilization frequency or dilution.
  • Don't fertilize unhealthy succulents. If your succulents are stressed or unhealthy due to overwatering, pests, or other factors, avoid fertilizing until they recover. Fertilization can do more harm than good when your plants are not healthy.
  • Don't apply fertilizer directly on leaves. Fertilizers should be applied to the soil, not directly on succulent leaves, as this can cause damage or burn.

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