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Succulent Fertilizer – Which, When and How Often

One of the (many) reasons people love succulents is that they are so easy to grow with little care. But low care is not the same as no care. Although these charmers survive with little water, succulents do need proper watering. And though they are adapted to nutritionally lean soil, succulents do appreciate the right amount of fertilizer at the right times. Their exceptional adaptation to low nutrients means it can be easy to over-do it when it is time to feed. With the right nutritional support, your succulents will thrive! Let’s look at some options for succulent fertilizer and how best to use them.

Best Fertilizer for Succulents

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

Do Succulents Need Fertilizer?

Do succulents need fertilizer? Strictly speaking, no. Your succulents will certainly survive without you feeding them. But the right fertilizer will provide a boost of nutrients that will make your succulents healthier with fuller, more abundant growth. With sufficient nutritional support, succulents grow more quickly, bloom more fully and have more perfect form. They are also better able to respond to environmental stresses and to withstand pests. With a light fertilizing, your succulents will truly thrive.

Feeding Succulents

Feeding succulents is as much about what not to do as it is about doing it right. Some chemical plant food is likely to burn succulents or even cause scarred or misshapen leaves, unless it is diluted to a quarter-half strength of the general recommended dosage. I prefer to go with a mild organic solution that is rich in micronutrients. An organic fertilizer supplies your succulents with the broad array and low levels of nutrients they need to thrive, while feeding the soil they grow in.

I fertilize all of my succulents, those in the ground and those in containers. I’ll show you my favorite succulent fertilizer treatments.

Benefits of Manure for the Garden

Nature is so clever to have the manure of grazers replenish the land where they drop it.  Well-composted manure from a variety of grazing animals like cows, horses, sheep and chickens has long been recognized as a boon to garden soil. It is rich in an array of micronutrients and minerals. These feed the microorganisms in the soil that are so critical to the health of your plants. Manure increases the soil’s aeration and is a premium soil conditioner. It also makes the soil’s carbon content more accessible to the plant. It is a wonderful amendment that nourishes and revitalizes the soil and promotes larger and lusher plant growth.

However, not all grazers are created equally, and neither are plants. While well-composted horse manure may be a boon to vegetable and ornamental gardens, it is not a wise choice for succulents! Horse manure contains a bacteria that leads to mycoplasma infection, which causes cracked, scabbed leaves on succulents. There is no effective treatment.

Well-composted cow manure is the best choice for succulent fertilizer.

Manure Tea for Succulent Fertilizer

If you want all the farm-bred benefits of organic cow manure for your succulents and plants, but none of the fuss, mess or smell — this is the product for you. Authentic Haven Brand Manure Tea is well-composted manure that will never burn your plants, and that your hands will never touch! The manure comes from organically raised cows, living in California. Annie Haven, the owner of Haven Brand is an avid succulent grower who created her “Moo Poo Tea” to best feed and fertilize succulents. Used as a tea, this cow manure tea is an accessible supply of nutrients for your plants that gives fast-acting results. I use Moo Poo Tea to soak my bare root roses and fruit trees for 1-2 days before planting them. It gives them a terrific nutritional boost and gets them off to a strong start. And my succulents love it!

For a wholesome succulent fertilizer, I put a pre-packed manure tea bag into a 5-gallon bucket, and set it in the sun for 24-36 hours. The water turns the tea a rich brown-tinted golden color. I water most of my plants and succulents with that manure tea solution. I water when the soil is dry, in place of a regular watering. The tea bag can then be reused for another tea batch, though I steep it for 3 days on the second use. For some plants, like tomatoes, I dilute it 1:1 with fresh water and use it every other time I water the plant. When you’re done, toss the tea bag, manure and all, onto the compost heap. The entire process is both green and sustainable.

Most of my plants get manure tea once each month. Because I grow my succulents “hard”, I plan on just three regular feedings each year with the manure tea. Once in the early spring to get them ready for the growing season. Once in June, before the high heat of summer sets in. Then again in late summer / early autumn after the heat of summer has broken. If you want to treat your succulents to more frequent feedings, you can use manure tea once each month, including for indoor plants or those over-wintered indoors. For those gardening in cold winter climates, I recommend feeding your in-ground sempervivum and cold-tolerant sedums and opuntia in early autumn, to give them a great jump on the cold season to come.

The Benefits of Worm Castings in Your Garden

There is one other form of manure that is an exceptional organic fertilizer I use for my succulents — and all of my plants get it. Worm castings are the waste product of earthworms – essentially worm manure. It is an invaluable soil amendment for gardeners. Everything you grow, from vegetables to roses to fruit trees to succulents, benefits from an application of worm castings. The benefits include:

  • Worm castings are rich in over 60 different micronutrients and minerals, including potassium, carbon, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium and calcium in addition to nitrogen, phosphate and potash.
  • The use of worm castings will balance out high or low soil ph, allowing the plants’ roots to take up the nutrients they need.
  • It is rich in humus and improves the aeration of the soil and the nutrition of beneficial micro-organisms, boosting the health of the plants.
  • Worm castings fix heavy metals in the soil, preventing the plant from absorbing too much of these compounds, which could otherwise prove toxic.
  • Worm castings contain enzymes that will repel many pests, including whiteflies, mealybugs and aphids.

Worm Castings for Succulent Fertilizer

Like the manure tea, worm castings are rich in micronutrients and results in stronger, healthier plants. But there is an added benefit I just love, especially for a succulent fertilizer. Worm castings are rich in an enzyme called chitinase. This enzyme breaks down the chitin in an insect’s exoskeleton. As the succulent takes in the chitinase through its roots and distributes it throughout the plant, it becomes quite resistant to mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids and other leaf-sucking pests. They sense the presence of the chitinase and avoid feeding on it, to avoid their own damage and death. Yet beneficial insects like ladybugs are not harmed, because they do not feed on the plant. My favorite pest control is one that prevents the problem!

When I plant my succulents, either in the ground or in a container, I add dry worm castings directly to the soil, and mix it in. In a small pot, I add a couple tablespoons of the worm castings. For a large pot or for a plant in the ground, I add a couple handfuls of the worm castings. You can also make a tea of worm castings to use as a soil drench or as a foliar spray. This is a great option for both feeding your plant and fighting an infestation of mealybugs or whiteflies. This way, my plants have an excellent succulent fertilizer and protection from pests, 24/7.

How to Use Succulent Fertilizer

My personal approach to succulent fertilizer is to use worm castings and Moo Poo cow manure tea. I add worm castings to the soil when I plant my succulents. You can also add worm castings to established plants as a top dressing. Just scatter the worm castings on top of the soil from the base of the plant to the “drip line” or the edge of the plants’ foliage. Lightly scratch the worm castings into the soil then cover with an inorganic top dressing. The results are happy, healthy succulents highly resistant to pests. Beautiful! Next, I provide cow manure tea at least three times a year, in the early spring, early summer and fall. Adust the timing to suit your climate.

How often should you fertilize your succulents? You can use a succulent fertilizer as often as once each month. Commercial growers feed this often, to ensure the largest, lushest plants in the shortest period of time. However, any plant grown in consistently perfect conditions tends to be less capable of surviving when conditions are less than perfect. In the gardening trade, this is known as growing plants “soft”. This is why so often a beautiful plant from the nursery just doesn’t truly thrive in your garden.

Environmental stresses are a part of life. While I do feed my succulents, I do not baby them. I want them fully capable of surviving the stress that comes their way, either from crazy heat waves, a clumsy cat knocking over a container or my own imperfect care. That is why I grow my succulents “hard”, with far fewer applications of organic fertilizer than they might ideally like. But for show-quality succulents, aim for using succulent fertilizer once a month.

Choose Organic Succulent Fertilizer Carefully

The saying goes, “you are what you eat”. This is just as true for cows and worms – and their manure – as it is for us. I prefer to know that the cows and worms that provide manure for my garden were raised organically, free of pesticides, herbicides and hormones. If this is important to you, read the labels carefully to verify the conditions under which the manure was developed and harvested. Then you will have a succulent fertilizer perfect for your needs. You can count on the Haven Brand Manure Tea and Dr. Verm’s Premium Worm Castings.

Should You Use Succulent Fertilizer Indoors?

Your indoor succulents will appreciate a feeding of manure tea or worm castings, too, responding with more vigorous growth. But consider your plant and its growing environment before you feed them. If you have abundant light, by all means, give your indoor succulents a boost with the organic tea. However, if your plants are etiolated – stretching as a result of low light, remember that this organic food will spur faster growth. It will not compensate for the low light but will encourage more stretching, faster. If you plan to give your indoor succulents a summer vacation in bright, indirect light outdoors, then definitely give them a good drink of manure tea or worm castings a couple of days before you move them.

To Your Succulents’ Good Health!

Thanks for reading my post on succulent fertilizer, or my Ode to Manure. 🙂 If you have any questions, please take a moment to leave a comment. I just love it when I hear from you! And I would love to know what you feed your succulents. I learn from all of you, too!

‘Til next time,

Happy Gardening!

P.S. For my FREE course on succulent care, 7 Steps to Succulent Success, please subscribe! Thank you!

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P.P.S. Why not join my Facebook Group for succulent-lovers? We talk succulent care, propagation, identification and design. It’s a warm and welcoming group that would love to meet you!

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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Cindy Sipos

    This is a wonderful article. Thank you so much. My succulents collection is growing and I want to keep them all happy!
    I have been seeing worm castings all over lately and didn’t know what it was. This was very helpful.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Cindy,
      I am so glad this was helpful!
      Worm castings are a boon to the garden for all types of plants. Many of my vegetables and all fruit trees get an inch layer of worm castings as a top dressing to the soil. With every watering, nutrients and pest resistance are carried down through the soil and to the roots! 🙂
      Have fun with your succulents, and let me know if you have any questions!

  2. Trynie Viljoen

    I enjoy reading your articles on cultivating succulents. I live in South Africa and need advice re watering of Lithops. Some aricles say they should not be watered during the summertime, i.e. September to April! As that is our rainy season and teperatures of 35 to 40 degrees Celsius occur, I can hardly believe any plant can survive without water.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Trynie,
      The reason lithops can go for several months at a time in the heat of summer without water, is because they go dormant at this period of time. When a plant is dormant, its normal biological activities are greatly reduced. In the case of lithops, they are dormant in summer to lessen the plant’s need for the scarcest resource in its native habitat – water. The thick, fleshy leaves have lots of moisture and nutrients stored for the plant to draw upon in need. Please take care to protect your lithops from rainfall during your summer months. When autumn returns, your lithops will emerge from dormancy and renew active growth. That is the time to renew your watering.

  3. Toni Singh

    Ok, can I use worm casings mixed in my succulent soil {for indoor potted succulents} as fertilizer? or is it not the same? Please clear up my confusion. Thank you for your web site and help.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Toni,
      Absolutely! Use worm castings mixed into the soil of any plants you grow, indoors or out — not just succulents! 🙂
      I think the only source of your confusion is that it can be hard to believe that a terrific organic fertilizer also prevents insect infestations. But that is the beauty of worm castings! If I’m wrong, and part of my blog is confusing, please let me know and I’ll work to make it better and clearer.

  4. Renee

    Can you please provide references for the claims you make about the benefits of worm castings? Specifically the claims regarding soil pH, heavy metals and pest repelling enzymes. Thank you 🙂

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Renee,
      You bet!
      Worm castings feed both plants and soil, which helps to improve drainage, balance soil pH and boosts beneficial organisms in the soil.
      They’ve also been found effective at absorbing and removing heavy metals like lead, zinc, etc from soil and urban waste.
      And worm castings are rich in chitinase, which decomposes the exoskeletons of insects.
      There are many (many) more articles on each of these benefits and more from worm castings, but this gives you a start.
      Thanks for the question!

  5. Ingrid

    Hi Kat,
    My sister raises worms for her favorite sport of trout fishing. I benefit by getting her worm castings! It’s a great symbiotic relationship. Thanks for a great article. ?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Ingrid,
      Awesome! That is black gold for every plant in your garden!

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