Guide to Fertilizing Succulents

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Fertilizing Succulents: What you need to know

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Do succulents need fertilizer?

Do succulents need fertilizer? Not really. *GASP*

Succulents usually get most of the nutrients they need directly from the soil but fertilizer will definitely help them grow big and beautiful quickly. Succulents have very tender roots so it’s important to choose a fertilizer that is balancedbalanced referring to the nutrient content or NPK numbers. An example of balanced fertilizer has 15-15-15 on the label. and not too strong otherwise you run the risk of burning them.

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dramatic spines on this agave
Super dramatic spines on this agave.

NPK on the Label

When you are shopping for fertilizers you’ll often see three numbers on a label. These three numbers indicate the macronutrients used by plants which are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium or NPK for short. Nitrogen helps leaf growth. Phosphorus helps the roots and flowers and potassium helps the plant in general. 

calandrina spectabilis flower
Calandrina spectabilis flower. It actually looks bright, neon purple in real life! Crazy!!

When you see higher NPK numbers that means that particular nutrient is more concentrated in the fertilizer. For succulents you want to make sure that you have a low nitrogen number because too much nitrogen is harmful. You could also choose a balanced fertilizer that has three of the same number. (ex. 5-5-5)

Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'

Homemade Succulent Fertilizer

Are coffee grounds good for fertilizing succulents?


Coffee grounds added to succulent soil are helpful because they add nitrogen which is a very important nutrient that succulents need to thrive. Coffee grounds also are slightly acidic which is helpful in keeping pests away from your succulents.

Are eggshells good for succulents?


Eggshells add calcium to the soil which is another vital nutrient that succulents need to thrive. The key to using eggshells in your soil is to thoroughly dry them out and remove the membrane and then pulverize them in a blender or a coffee grinder so that it is easier for the calcium to be released into the soil.

aeonium nobile succulent plant
Aeonium nobile is one of my favorites. It gets HUGE!! Here is a younger one in a 4" pot.

Does dirty fish tank water work for fertilizing succulents?

Definitely! When you change out your fish tank water because it has become inhospitable for your scaly friends, use it to water your succulents because it is high in beneficial bacteria and nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) as well as other trace nutrients. Plants, in general, love fish tank water. 

Fertilizing Succulents Indoors

Only fertilize during a succulents active growing season. If you fertilize when they are dormant, they won’t really take up any of the fertilizer and it will probably burn the roots. When you do use fertilizer make sure to dilute it to half or even a quarter of what the label recommends because they are very very sensitive to over fertilizing and can burn.

perfectly round euphorbia obesa succulent plant
I love the symmetry on this Euphorbia obesa.

With all of that said I mostly use the basic Miracle-Gro fertilizer and dilute it to about a quarter strength and add it to the water about once or twice a season. I have also been experimenting with slow release Osmocote pellets in my potted plants this season. We will see how much I like them. So far so good. 

Edit to Add: I first wrote this page earlier in the summer and as of Mid-September 2020, I am happy to report that Osmocote is awesome! I’ve been adding a dash of it to succulents that I’m repotting and also to some leaf propagation trays. It works wonderfully and doesn’t burn my plants. Thumbs up!There isn’t really any method to how I fertilize.

When NOT to Fertilize Succulents

When succulents enter their dormant period, their growth and metabolism slows way down. Do not water them during this time. 

For more info on which succulents are dormant and when, head on over here

If you need help identifying which succulents you have, start here

You'll be fertilizing your succulents at the same time you water them. Don't double up and learn the signs that your succulents are ready to be watered by clicking the image to the left!
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