Plant Care Suggestions

Soil | Pots | Light | Air | Water | Fertilizer

We ship our plants bare root for your protection. By taking plants out of the soil prior to shipping, we can inspect the roots to make sure the plant is healthy and free of pests. Also, the soil in the pots may be depleted in nutrients or the plant may need repotting, giving our customers the choice of type and size of pot to house their new acquisition. The pot and soil can weigh more than the above-ground parts, which could cause plant damage if the boxes are treated roughly during shipment. Finally, soil can be heavy and increases shipping charges, so we save our customers money by removing the soil. Since some customers want their plants shipped in pots, we will do that upon request but we will charge exact shipping costs for those purchases.

Soil provides an anchor for the plant and holds water and nutrients, but soil is only one factor in a good regimen for growing succulent plants. Other important parameters in a growing regimen are light, air movement, water, fertilizer, and container types and sizes. All of these factors must be considered when growing succulent plants; change one, and others may need to be adjusted. We know that no two nurserymen – or growers for that matter – will agree on how to grow succulent plants, so take our suggestions as suggestions only. This is what we do; your results may vary and we encourage people to experiment with their conditions.


Most succulent plants can adapt to a wide range of soil types and grow quite happily, and while most growers agree that simulating native soils is not necessary, how the plant grows in habitat is an important consideration. It is also true that a soil mix that works in Arizona may not work that well elsewhere, so you should experiment and find out what works best for you. Finally, no two nurserymen in Arizona will agree on the best mix, so keep in mind that there is no one answer to the question of “what is the best soil mix?” Here is what we use, at least most of the time, for a soil mix that meets our needs for good drainage, some water-holding capacity, some nutrient-holding capacity, and aeration for good root elongation and growth:

We use two parts (50%) pumice (3/8 inch granules, usually sieved to remove fine material). You could use perlite, coarse sand, or gravel instead; pumice merely makes pots lighter. We use one part (25%) organic material, usually some combination of peat moss and aged compost. You could use coir or commercial potting soil, sifted to remove the larger pieces. We use one part (25%) coarse sand, typically called “concrete sand” in Arizona, to further enhance drainage. Do not use “mortar sand,” which contains paraffin in some commercial configurations and is too fine in any case. We will adjust the coarse to organic ratio, increasing it for some tropical species or decreasing it to pure pumice for some sensitive Euphorbias.


We use every type of pot imaginable to grow succulent plants. For many years, we’ve used unglazed clay pots to grow large specimens. The idea is to have a more natural drying through the pot sides than is possible with plastic pots. At first, we blocked the bottom hole with broken pottery or gravel; we now use cut window screen because toxic salts built up when flow was restricted with pottery. For most of our saleable plants at Arid Lands Greenhouses, we use plastic pots of a wide variety of shapes and sizes. When we repot, we try not to overpot our plants, raising the size up a little bit in diameter over the size of the plant root ball. Many times, we do not increase pot size, instead raising the caudex up above the soil line (especially for Adeniums and some Euphorbias). Sometimes when plants do not grow well in larger pots, we underpot the plant to try to get better growth. Pushing plants, by seriously overpotting, works with some species but not all, and care and experience will help determine when this can be done safely or when it will likely result in rotting the plants.


Most succulents come from areas of low humidity and very clear skies, which means that most like strong light. However, there are many species (Stapeliads, Sansevierias) that do not grow out in the open in habitat, but grow under shrubs, or trees, or on the shaded side of rocks and hills. Full sun would be too much for such species, particularly in Arizona. Watch your plants closely. If a plant is showing pale green, thin growth, it is probably not getting enough light. If a plants is blanching or discoloring, it is probably getting too much light. When adjusting the light a plant is getting, do it slowly. Moving a plant directly from subdued light into full sun can burn it severely. We always recommend a slow adjustment of light, using small pieces of shade cloth, for example, when moving a plant from low to high light to ease the adjustment. In Tucson, we grow most of our plants in 50% shade. Recently, we’ve grown some species, such as Adeniums, under 30% shade, but this should be done with caution and with an adjustment to watering. For some genera, such as Haworthia, we use 75% shade in the hot months and 50% shade during the growing season, which helps to maintain good plant form.


Most plants need air movement for proper strong stem development. Air quality and the amount of movement can have a strong influence on plant vigor; some pests (e.g., spider mites) decrease with strong air movement. Adequate air movement in a small greenhouse or window greenhouse can be a problem. A small fan running 24 hours a day can usually provide adequate air movement. Hot air rises, so during the winter, air movement is necessary to properly mix air temperatures from top to bottom (and longitudinally) in your greenhouse. In Tucson, we open our greenhouses to the atmosphere during spring, summer, and fall months and let the natural winds do the job.


If you have more than a few plants to water, you’re probably stuck with using what comes out of the tap. The quality of water varies greatly around the country. Try to find a local source for water testing; at the very least, find out what the pH of your water is. If your pH is high, many pesticides will be neutralized and trace elements will be locked up; a low pH may be ideal for some species but may kill most. When you water, if your water is hard, a residue will be left behind in the growing medium. After a time, the concentration of calcium and magnesium salts can reach a detrimental, even lethal, level. To prevent this, make sure you flush out salts with a thorough watering regularly. Do not use water that has passed through a water softener, because that water is high in either sodium or potassium and will damage your plants. Watering frequency depends on many factors, particularly air temperature, light, and soil, and there is no formula that can be applied to get the proper watering frequency. Trial and error is the best teacher. In Tucson, our watering rates in our conditions ranges from around once a month in winter to every 3-4 days during summer, but with way too many exceptions to mention.


As with other parameters in a growing regimen, fertilizer must be adjusted to suit the overall regimen. The use of a balanced (20-20-20) fertilizer with chelated trace elements, used in a very dilute concentration (50 ppm nitrogen), is good for most plants. Do not fertilize with every watering, and only fertilize when plants are growing. A good rule would be to use clear water every fourth watering to wash as much buildup out of the soil as possible. Some growers use a diluted fertilizer solution with every watering during the growing season while others may fertilize with a more concentrated solution, but no more than once or twice during the same period. Do not fertilize plants going into or in dormancy. It generally is not a good idea to fertilize plants immediately after repotting either.

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