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 If there's an item you're looking for or would like to recommend, or a link that's out of date, please let me know!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
Where do I shop for tools and supplies for my own large garden? If you're in the San Diego area, you can't beat Grangetto's Farm and Garden Supply.
Pest & Weed Prevention and Treatment
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! NOTE: A comparable product is Amaze Grass and Weed Preventer.
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
BurnOut weed killer 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.
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."
ultrasonic Rodent & Insect Repeller
I wouldn't be without these ultrasonic devices that emit high-pitched sound bursts. Plug one into an outdoor outlet and it'll repel all sorts of pests and critters, yet it won't bother you, your dog or cat at all. I use one near bird feeders that tend to attract rodents, and on my patio to keep mice and rats from nibbling lithops, cremnosedums and more.
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."
My personal grab-and-go's
Items typically in my wicker tool basket include:
- hand shovel (trowel)
- kitchen tongs for grasping cactus
- 70% alcohol with a spray attachment (for aphids and mealies)
- clippers for fine pruning (Joyce Chen kitchen scissors)
- small screwdriver for adjusting irrigation sprayers
- sun visor
- leather garden 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
- steak knife for sawing through soft limbs (such as those of yuccas)
forceps (Clamps, hemostats)
These are useful for grooming dried or damaged leaves from aloes, agaves and other succulents. By locking (clamping) the forceps---which are a surgical tool---onto the leaf, you can easily wiggle or pry it loose to remove it.
Soil Knife (Hori Hori)
It's handy to be able to cut through in-ground roots when planting succulents and cuttings. Get a soil knife that comes with a leather sheath. The 6-inch stainless steel blade has a deep serrated edge, a tapered slicing edge, and a sharp twine cutting notch.
Several brands of kitchen shears work well for pruning succulents, deadheading plants and other light pruning. The main thing to look for is a strong, sharp, pointed tip. Long, slender blades are good too. Once you have a pair of these among your garden tools, you'll wonder how you managed without them. Regular scissors (forgive the pun) just don't cut it!
These are the gold standard for serious gardeners and professional landscapers. I went through a dozen pairs of inferior pruners before getting my first Felcos. The grip, strength, sharpness and design are markedly superior. Plus they last forever. (When the blade gets dull, use a sharpening stone to make it good as new.)
Wide-Brim sun visor
I prefer this versatile sun hat/visor to a baseball cap because it shades my entire face and neck. Plus I think it's more flattering---it's fine for outdoor events, nurseries and the beach. It's comfortable, cool (vents through the top), and squashable. Rolls up if you need to pack it.
Leather garden gloves
Protect your hands from dirt, microbes, chemicals, abrasion, getting cut or poked, and broken fingernails with quality garden gloves. I prefer leather or suede, because such natural materials breathe. On average, I go through two pairs a year. Once I find a brand I like, I order them in quantity. Don't leave garden gloves outdoors, exposed to the elements---the leather stiffens.
For the money (around $45), Thorn Armor gloves are great at deflecting spines. They're what Arizona artist Jim Sudal wears when creating his life-sized Xmas trees from spiny opuntia pads. But if money's no object, go with the needle-resistant gloves ($80) police wear when searching suspects' pockets.
Kevlar sleeves are a must when gardening in close proximity to spiny plants like cacti and agaves. These cut-resistant tubes protect your arms, are made of stretch fabric, and have a thumb slot. Around $8 per sleeve (sold singly, so order two).
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.
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.
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 whatever you use to secure the tree. I've used it for woody trees, like acacia and palo verde.
Tools to Drill Holes In Pots
FROST AND SUN PROTECTION
When weather extremes such as frost or scorching sun threaten your succulents, it's best to cover or shelter them.
- If temps drop into the 20s, consider a Walk-In Greenhouse that can be dismantled and stored during warmer months.
- For overwintering succulents indoors, this ultimate plant-shelf unit from Gardener's Supply has adjustable lights with energy-efficient, full-spectrum bulbs; plastic drip trays; and wheels for easy positioning. Three shelves provide 18 square feet of growing space.
- You'll also need a timer that automatically turns lights on and off to simulate daylight. This has multiple outlets: Titan Apollo 14
Other Useful Items
Items You May Already Have
Kitchen tongs are handy for grasping and potting-up cacti and small agaves with sharp tips, and for twisting pads off opuntias.
A turntable (lazy susan) with a nonslip texture is helpful when doing container arrangements. Set the pot atop it and rotate it as you work on the composition.
I wouldn't be without a chopstick to settle roots of succulents. It's essential when small nursery plants are tucked together tightly, to manipulate their root balls to settle them.
An old metal teaspoon (mine was mangled by the 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 nitrile gloves (above) lets you pick up small cacti without getting poked.
Books (In addition to my three)...
Enjoy the quirky vibrancy of succulents wherever you live! Hardy Succulents by Gwen Kelaidis offers clear growing instructions for cold-climate succulents suitable for Zones 8 and below. This entertaining, comprehensive guide includes stunning photography by Saxon holt. A must for succulent collectors in northern and eastern states.
Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates
Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates: For those who thought that spectacular succulents were only for gardens in California and the Southwest, here are hundreds are fully cold-hardy varieties. Grow these outdoors from New England to British Columbia and Wisconsin to Texas.
Also see frost-protection items on this page (scroll up).
The Gardener's Guide to Cactus
Isn't it time that cacti found their rightful place alongside smooth-leaved succulents? In The Gardener’s Guide to Cactus: The 100 Best Paddles, Barrels, Columns, and Globes, Arizona designer/horticulturist Scott Calhoun brings the beauty and ease of cacti to home gardens large and small.
Author Ken Shelf owns Succulence, a garden and lifestyle store in San Francisco. Over the past decade, he has taught numerous classes and workshops on succulents and vertical gardening. He also creates masterful succulent centerpieces and arrangements for special occasions. Order Essential Succulents: The Beginner's Guide.
Rachael Cohen is the owner and creator of Infinite Succulent, a plant art and styling service. She's perhaps best known for combining geodes and semi-precious gemstones like amethyst with succulents. In Infinite Succulent: Miniature Living Art to Keep or Share, Rachael shows numerous how-to design projects, many of them suitable for parent-child projects.
Jessica guides you through 40 projects that utilize popular varieties of succulents, air plants and other easy-care botanicals. Find out how to fashion living centerpieces, transform an old fountain into a succulent-filled garden, and how to hand-wire a succulent wreath---to name a few. Stylish Succulent Designs and Other Botanical Crafts.
The Drought-Defying California Garden
Californians, face it: We're 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 are native to CA—making them uniquely adept at managing our 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 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. An essential reference for horticulturists and collectors.
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 please know that most are also available at brick-and-mortar stores.