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 If there's an item you're looking for or would like to recommend, or a link that's out of date, please let me know!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

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. 

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! 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

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 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. 

 

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."

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."

Garden Tools

My personal grab-and-go's

Items typically in my wicker tool basket include:

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.

 

Long Tweezers 

When your fingers are too large, or a succulent has sharp points, use long (15-inch) tweezers to reach into it to remove fallen leaves and debris. Tweezers with serrated tips are best.

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.

 

Kitchen shears

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!

 

Felco Pruners

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.

Nitrile gloves

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

Thorn Armor gloves

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

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.

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.

Rubber coated wire

I use soft, flexible rubber-coated wire instead rope, stretchy blue-green tape or regular wire for tying branches and training plants. Rubber-coated wire is tough but bendable, easy to secure (twist), and doesn't harm plants or your hands. 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 whatever you use to secure the tree. I've used it for woody trees, like acacia and palo verde.

Fertilizer

Spread "Triple 15" in spring

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

 

Ironite in winter

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

 

Moo Poo Tea for containers

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

Ozmocote when planting pots

When you pot succulents, add 1 tsp. of Ozmocote per six inches of the container's diameter. See how expert Tina Zucker uses it when planting echeverias in this video, at 1:54.

 

Tools to Drill Holes In Pots

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.

FROST AND SUN PROTECTION

When weather extremes such as frost or scorching sun threaten your succulents, it's best to cover or shelter them.

Cover plants during brief frosts and heat waves with DeWitt's “winterization cloth freeze blanket, Agribon's floating row cover; Pellon nonwoven fabric; or simply use old bedsheets.

  • 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)...

Hardy Succulents

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.

Essential Succulents: The Beginner's Guide

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.

Infinite succulent

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.

Stylish succulent designs & other botanical crafts

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.