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Tools & Must-Haves for Succulent Gardeners

My personal favorites

The tools, books and products for succulent gardeners shown here are among my personal favorites. I update this list when I run across something I'm excited about and want to share. If there's an item you're looking for or would like to recommend, or a link that's out of date, please let me know! -- Debra

Click on the links below to jump directly to that section, or scroll down to take a look at everything.

Pest & Weed Prevention and Treatment

Agave snout weevil drench

Per my online article and YouTube video, both titled "Agave Snout Weevil Prevention and Treatment," experts recommend a systemic insecticide that contains Imidacloprid, such as Compare N Save Systemic Tree & Shrub Insect Drench.

weed preventer 

Sprinkle this granulated powder from Preen on the ground wherever you don't want weeds. It stops seeds from germinating. As a garden chemical, it's safer than most, much safer than Round-Up (which you won't need if you use this).

Spread "pre-emergent herbicide" in late fall or early winter, before annual weeds sprout. It should be watered-in, so right before a rainstorm is ideal. Bare dirt+sunlight+water=weeds, so distribute it mainly on exposed soil, and anywhere weeds grew previously.

Be sure to spread under spiky agaves and cacti so you don't have to weed around them come spring!

snail bait (sluggo)

Sluggo contains mainly iron phosphate and therefore is safe around pets and wildlife. It's labeled for use in vegetable gardens up until harvest, and remains effective after rain or irrigation. Pellets break down into fertilizer. 1 lb. covers up to 2,000 sq. ft. Apply Sluggo at the start of the rainy season (late fall in most of the US) and again in spring.


Safer insectical soap

Safer brand liquid insecticidal soap is environmentally safe and designed for plants. It's gentler than dish soap, which can damage leaves. To treat opuntia cactus infested with cochineal scale (white blotchy patches), dip a soft-bristled shower brush in Safer soap, and use it to scrub the pads.

weed killer

BurnOut is made with natural ingredients so it's environmentally friendly. Use it as an alternative to synthetic grass and weed killers. Controls annual broadleaf weeds, perennial broadleaf weeds, annual grasses, and perennial grasses. Works in just hours, dries after application, and becomes waterproof. 


ant powder  

Safer brand diatomaceous earth is a "green" alternative to powders containing pyrethrum. Comprised of crushed fossilized diatoms (fresh-water algae), it's soft to the touch for humans, but scratches and penetrates insect exoskeletons, dehydrating them. It must remain dry to be effective.

See my article: "Ants in Your Succulents? What to Do."

Cactus weeding tool

Per the Ruth Bancroft Garden's newsletter: "This special tool helps grab weeds and other debris from inside and around your prickly plants so you can avoid impaling yourself with spines and glochids. We use them all the time here and they work great!"

On Amazon it's the "R1 Stainless Steel Fish Hook Remover Extractor 11-1/2 inches"

Garden Tools

Hose-End trigger sprayer

A hose-end trigger sprayer ensures water goes where you want it and isn't wasted.

Gilmore's Thumb Control Hose Nozzle is a terrific sprayer with easily adjustable apertures, from mist to narrow blast. Every time I use it, I marvel at its design and usefulness.

basic succulent tools

My own garden tools include a trowel, tongs for grasping cactus, 70% alcohol for spraying aphids and mealies, clippers for fine pruning, a small screwdriver for adjusting irrigation sprayers, a sun visor, leather gloves, Felco pruners, two pairs of pliers (one for holding a riser, the other for unscrewing the head), long tweezers for reaching where my fingers can't, a soil knife for cutting roots, and a serrated kitchen knife for sawing through soft limbs (such as those of yuccas).

Window screen

I use pieces of window screen (sold by the roll for around $8.50) to keep soil from falling through the drain holes of pots. You also can use drywall tape, but I prefer the finer mesh of window screen because it keeps pests (like ants) from entering the soil through the drain hole. I know it's overkill to buy a roll of screen for a single pot, but really, you should be using it in ALL your pots. Share the surplus with gardening friends. Cuts easily with scissors.

Nitrile gloves

Before potting small cacti, I put on a pair of nitrile gloves and have a friend wrap them with duct tape. Pack of 6, $11.50

Rubber coated wire

I prefer soft, flexible rubber-coated wire to rope, stretchy green tape or regular wire for tying branches and training plants. It's tough but bendable, easy to secure (simply twist) and easy on the hands...and eyes. The color blends right in.

I use pieces of closed-cell pipe insulation to protect young tree trunks. The cylinder is slit lengthwise, so it's easy to wrap around the trunk. Staking is often needed with young trees to keep them upright. The foam protects the bark from being abraded or cut by coated wire or rope used to secure the tree. I do this for my garden's woody trees, like acacia and palo verde.

Kevlar sleeves

Kevlar sleeves are a must when gardening in close proximity to spiny plants, such as cacti or agaves. These cut-resistant tubes protect your arms, are made of stretch fabric, and have a thumb slot. Around $8 per sleeve (sold singly; order two).


Ironite, Balanced Granular Fertilizer & Moo Poo Tea

Annually in your garden right before a winter rainstorm, spread Ironite according to package directions.

In spring, as succulents awaken from dormancy, apply a balanced (15-15-15) fertilizer.

March or April is also the best time to feed container-grown succulents; I give mine Moo Poo Tea, a tea made from composted, dehydrated cow manure.

Tools to Drill Holes In Pots

Dewalt DW246 7.8 Amp 1/2-inch drill

Diamond Drill Bit

The diamond drill bit ("1/2 inch Diamond Tipped Hole Saw Drill Bit for Ceramic Tile Glass") came from Home Depot, but it's also available on Amazon


The Gardener's Guide to Cactus

When it comes to garden plants, cacti are anything but standard issue. The bulk of home gardens contain exactly zero species of cactus, and the thought of growing them makes gardeners think, “Ouch!” In The Gardener’s Guide to Cactus: The 100 Best Paddles, Barrels, Columns, and Globes, Scott Calhoun is out to change that perception, and bring the beauty and ease of cactus home. It’s high time that cacti took their place alongside the trendy succulent.

Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates

Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates: There are many reasons to grow cacti and other succulents—they're drought-tolerant, low-maintenance, and they look great. But what about hardiness? For those who thought that these spectacular plants were only for gardens in California and the Southwest, guess again—hundreds are fully cold-hardy and can be grown outdoors from New England to British Columbia, Wisconsin to Texas.

The Bold Dry Garden

Ruth Bancroft is a dry gardening pioneer. Her lifelong love of plants led to the creation of one of the most acclaimed public gardens, The Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek, California. The Bold Dry Garden offers unparalleled access to the garden and the extraordinary woman responsible for it. In its stunningly photographed pages, you’ll discover the history of the garden and the design principles and plant palette that make it unique. Packed with growing and maintenance tips, profiles of signature plants for a dry garden, and innovative design techniques, The Bold Dry Garden has everything you need to create a garden that is lush, waterwise, and welcoming.

The colorful Dry Garden

A design-focused, user-friendly guide to colorful, eye-catching foliage and flowers for your whole yard, from ground level to tree canopies. A must-have for homeowners and landscapers faced with replacing thirsty gardens in California and other dry regions of the West. And if you live in California's Coachella Valley, I highly recommend Palm Springs Gardening, also by Maureen Gilmer.


Gardeners and garden designers are having a love affair with agaves. It's easy to see why—they're low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and strikingly sculptural, with an astounding range of form and color. Many species are strikingly variegated, and some have contrasting ornamental spines on the edges of their leaves. Fabulous for container gardening or in-the-ground culture, they combine versatility with easy growability. In Agaves, plant expert Greg Starr profiles 75 species, with additional cultivars and hybrids, best suited to gardens and landscapes.

The Drought-Defying California Garden

In recent years California has been facing extreme drought, and in 2015 they passed state-wide water restrictions that affect homeowners. Unfortunately, the drought is only going to get worse, and gardeners who aren’t willing to abandon their beloved pastime entirely are going to have to learn how to garden with the absolute minimum of water. The Drought-Defying California Garden highlights the best 230 plants to grow, shares advice on how to get them established, and offers tips on how to maintain them with the minimum amount of water. All of the plants are native to California—making them uniquely adept at managing the harsh climate—and include perennials, annuals, shrubs, trees, and succulents.

Guide to Succulent Plants of the World

In The Timber Press Guide to Succulent Plants of the World by Fred Dortort, the plants are organized into 28 intuitively logical groups, such as succulent euphorbias, mesembryanthemums, bulbs, succulent trees, aloes, agaves, and haworthias. Each entry includes information on the plant's native habitat, its cultivation requirements, and its horticultural potential. As useful to novice growers as to collectors and those with an existing interest in succulents, this will be the standard reference for years to come.

To Prevent Cold Damage ...

In my post, "How to Get Your Succulents Through Cold, Wet North American Winters," I recommend:


Other Useful Items

Items You May Already Have

Kitchen tongs (around $6) are handy for grasping and potting-up cacti and small agaves with sharp tips, and for twisting pads off opuntias.

I wouldn't be without a chopstick to settle roots of succulents. It's essential when small nursery plants are tucked together so tightly, I'm not able to manipulate their root balls to settle them.

An old metal teaspoon (mine was mangled by a garbage disposal) is perfect for funneling topdressing into gaps between plants. You can also use a real funnel, but anything larger than coarse sand may clog it.

A soft artist's brush is great for cleaning dirt off leaves and spines, and the pointed end of the handle can be used like a chopstick to settle roots.

Duct tape wrapped around the fingers of gloves lets you pick up small cacti without getting poked.

Gloves for holding cactus

Please note: Many of these links go to Amazon because their prices are as good as any, and as an affiliate, I receive a small percentage of any sales that originate on my website. I'm grateful if you obtain items that way, but many are readily available at brick-and-mortar stores as well. 

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