For succulent gardeners there is no greater urge, and no greater problem, than the desire to over fertilize your succulents and cacti. There is specialized succulent fertilizer available but many people still put it on at too high of a rate, at the wrong time, or too often. This complete guide to succulent fertilizer will help you know when and how to fertilize.
Do Succulents Need Fertilizer
Some succulents, especially those that produce seasonal blooms, do need a little bit of fertilizer. But something you need to remember is that succulents are adapted to live in poor, rocky soil. This adaptation makes them very easy to burn when they have too many nutrients in the soil.
What if I Don’t Fertilize my Succulents
Even if you have a succulent variety that does okay with a succulent fertilizer applied occasionally, you don’t have to fertilize it. Succulents will not die if they go unfertilized. They may not grow as quickly and they may not bloom as readily. But they won’t die.
Many varieties of succulents do not need any fertilizer at all throughout their lives. They will survive years with no care other than water and the correct amount of sunlight. The varieties that do not need fertilizer are typically those adapted to the desert or those that do not flower.
When Should I Fertilize my Succulents
Succulents should only be fertilized when they are actively growing. Each succulent variety will have a different growing season but most are actively growing in Spring and Summer. Right before your succulent goes into its active growing season, you can fertilize it.
But what if you don’t know what type of succulent you have? First, see if you still have the plastic plant tag that came with it. If you don’t, try to remember when it flowered or when you saw the most growth. That is the succulent’s active growing season.
If you cannot identify which type of succulent you have, it is not recommended that you use fertilizer, even a succulent fertilizer. More succulents have been killed by fertilizing them than not. It’s always better to forgo applying fertilizer until you know the plant needs it.
Is it Okay to Fertilize my Succulents More Frequently
Let’s remember that, more often than not, succulents do just fine without fertilizer. They have adapted to living in poor soil and that includes being adapted to living without the wealth of nutrients that your other house plants require.
Do not fertilize your succulent more than once a year. Just to remind you, most shouldn’t even be fertilized at all. If you fertilize more frequently than that, the succulent will be “burned” or shocked by the overabundance of nutrients. This will kill the succulent.
What is the Best Fertilizer for Cactus and Succulents
If you ask ten different succulent collectors what the best succulent fertilizer is, you’re going to get ten different answers. They’re all going to recommend different brands and different application rates. However, there are a few general guidelines to follow.
Start by looking at the NPK ratio that you will find on every package of fertilizer. This stands for N (Nitrogen) – P (Phosphorous) – K (Potassium). These are the three major components in any fertilizer, including succulent fertilizer.
There are several in depth articles that you can find on how NPK plays a role. The important thing to know is that succulent fertilizer should have an even ratio of nutrients.
Look for fertilizers with an even ratio, for example 10-10-10, as low as possible. The closer to 1-1-1 the better. This is because the lower the numbers, the less concentrated the nutrients. Regardless of what you find, you should plan to dilute the succulent fertilizer to about half its guided application rate.
Type of Fertilizer
Look specifically for a succulent fertilizer if you are going to use anything. These fertilizers are typically more diluted and slower releasing than most house plant fertilizers. This helps to prevent your succulent from getting shocked by too many nutrients all at once.
If you can’t find a succulent fertilizer, check the orchid fertilizer because they are typically very similar. They are usually more diluted and typically about equal in their ratios. You should still dilute the formulas down to about half the suggested application rate just to be safe.
Best Homemade Succulent Fertilizer
To make your own succulent fertilizer at home, you can use eggshells, coffee grounds, or banana peels. Banana water is simple to make and there are several methods to make banana water.
Coffee grounds and eggshells can be ground up and then set on top of the soil. Just be sure to remove the ground up material after a few days. If you leave it longer, your succulents will burn.
Store Bought Succulent Fertilizer
Since succulents are so difficult to fertilize correctly because they’re so delicate, store bought fertilizers are much easier. They have their application rates listed and they are specific as to their chemical makeup.
The only thing to remember about using a store bought fertilizer is to find a balanced NPK ratio and to dilute it down to half or even a quarter of its suggested application rate. You can always add more fertilizer next time but you can’t take any back.
Organic Succulent Fertilizer
Organic fertilizers are a great option. They tend to be slower releasing and they are definitely more friendly to the mindset of a gardener. The term “organic” is not well regulated at this time. However, if you see a green circle with “OMRI” in it, this is a certified organic product and it is a well-regulated stamp of approval.
Jobe’s Organic All-Purpose Plant Food–Jobe’s has an organic plant food that, while it isn’t labeled for succulents, is a great option. It has an equal NPK ratio of 4-4-4 at this time. Since it is a granular fertilizer, it is difficult to apply as evenly or as lightly as succulents need.
Espoma Organic Indoor Plant Food–This organic fertilizer is another all purpose fertilizer option. Again, it has an equal NPK ratio of 2-2-2. This organic option is a liquid fertilizer so it’s much easier to apply evenly. It is labeled as “organic” but it is not stamped by OMRI.
Synthetic Succulent Fertilizer
Synthetic succulent fertilizers are not necessarily a bad thing. Synthetic simply means that the compounds that would normally come from nature are just made in a lab instead. Don’t be too afraid to try a synthetic fertilizer for your succulents.
Miracle Grow Succulent Plant Food–Miracle grow is an old standby for fertilizers. This succulent fertilizer is an ultra low concentration of an equal NPK ratio. It is a liquid fertilizer so it is easy to dilute and simple to control the application rate.
How do you Fertilize a Potted Succulent
Succulents need to be fertilized at an incredibly low rate of use. They should only be fertilized once a year and only as little as possible. When you do use succulent fertilizer, make sure to apply it around the entire plant.
If you use a granular fertilizer or a homemade fertilizer, such as crushed eggshells, remove them a few days after applying them to the top of the soil. Make sure to never leave the fertilizer on the leaves, stem, or roots directly.
It is incredibly difficult to maintain discipline and not fertilize your succulents. If you do feel the need to apply succulent fertilizer, you should only do so right before their growing season and only as little as necessary.
Just remember, more succulents have been killed by over-fertilizing than under-fertilizing. Dilute the fertilizer you use and if you can’t do it right, don’t apply succulent fertilizer at all.