Cactus and Tender Succulents forum: Organic vs. synthetic fertlizer

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Feb 16, 2018 9:48 PM CST
Has anyone tried organic and synthetic fertilizers on succulents and noticed a difference?
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
Feb 17, 2018 10:13 PM CST


To the extent my soil is 50% organic (split between compost and coir) I guess that qualifies it as containing organic fertilizer. I have gone for long periods without providing (synthetic) fertilizer, and the most obvious differences when I do provide additional nutrients have to do with growth and branching and especially flowering.

When you rely on the breakdown of organic material to provide all the nutrients your plants need, you have to take into account the limited lifespan of that material in soil. Different kinds of compost last different amounts of time, but the kind I use now breaks down pretty completely after about a year. It turns to dust and washes out and the soil level drops accordingly if there aren't enough roots sprouting to fill the space. So you can rely on compost for your nutrients, but you have to replace it every so often (by repotting) in order to compensate for the ongoing breakdown in the pot.

My use of (synthetic) nutrients has to do in part with my general laziness and refusal to repot most of my plants every year. I suppose you could make some kind of compost tea to serve the same purpose, and "organic fertilizer" could also go a lot of other directions. But my own experience is probably similar to most people's in that the compost in the soil serves the role of an organic fertilizer, while it lasts.

For what it's worth, any use of nutrients for cacti and succulents should be measured and limited, usually to much less than the manufacturer's general recommendation... I get all the activity I need out of 50 ppm N on a regular basis, which is a few fold lower than other plants enjoy and up to 20 times lower than you may find recommended on certain brands. Consistency of dosage is one big advantage of the bottled or boxed kind of nutrients.

[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Feb 17, 2018 10:14 PM (+)]
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Feb 18, 2018 5:36 PM CST
Thanks! :)
Name: Alisa
Gresham, Oregon (Zone 8a)
Region: Oregon
Feb 25, 2018 7:11 PM CST
Have you add worm casting? To the soil or compost tea? The Hyro grow store ( Grow World) once in awhile does and saves the soil longer. I grow Schlumbergera Thanksgiving Christmas and Rhipsalidopsis hobby can't mix my own compost tea( for free) I also, buy Black Gold worm casting at local garden center like Fred Meyer. I agree
Feb 26, 2018 1:56 AM CST
I have not tried worming casting or compost tea; I've heard from a woman on youtube that she top dresses her succulents with worm castings once during the growing season and I like the sound of that!
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Feb 27, 2018 5:39 PM CST
Not for nothing, most commercial nurseries use synthetics. They are in the business of growing healthy plants as fast as possible.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Bev
Salem OR (Zone 8a)
Sempervivums Container Gardener Foliage Fan Garden Ideas: Master Level Photo Contest Winner: 2014
Feb 28, 2018 8:41 PM CST
I find that when my succulents are hyped up on something that promotes fast growth, they get huge and out of shape. Leaves are longer than they should be, the general shape of the rosettes are lost and loss of their characteristic shape does not allow them to be correctly ID'ed. Many succulents normally grow slow and have small root systems.
[Last edited by webesemps - Mar 4, 2018 12:31 AM (+)]
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Name: 'CareBear'

Sempervivums Hostas Dog Lover Irises Amaryllis Cactus and Succulents
Region: Pennsylvania
Mar 3, 2018 8:34 AM CST
An old article in Fine Gardening Magazine once said that Chemical fertilizers are like cocaine for plants. Growth is fast but not good for the plant down the road. Natural or organic fertilizer on the other hand is slow and safe and in the long run, the plants prosper much better.
The best way to look at this, over fertilizer with synthetics will kill the plant (just like an O.D.) but not so with organic. If you can use the synthetics in a very weak state, then I guess they are best.
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
Mar 3, 2018 8:43 PM CST


It's a bit of a stretch to call it cocaine. Those nutrients are food for the plants, so they don't develop tolerance or get addicted. They get fat and slow (in plant terms that would be stretched and weak). I've always been of the school that says the lowest amount necessary is the amount to use, so I have never ventured anywhere near overfertilizing.

There is an aesthetic consideration related to growing succulents, and you can affect how they look by how much light you give them, or how much nutrients you give them, or various other things, in cultivation. In that sense the grower realizes a vision based on the parameters they set for their plants. My goal is for my plants to be compact, relatively chunky in their proportions, as they grow. The average greenhouse grower might have different priorities from mine. Whatever, I'd rather wait longer and have my plant be smaller overall if that will help it develop the most compact form. So I turn the light up and the nutrients down. Sometimes I see plants for sale that have been overfed and grown soft, and it actually makes me recoil a little, like it's a reminder of what I am trying to avoid in my own space.

The advice I like to give to novices is to use fertilizer if they like for their succulents, but only in a limited and measured way. More is not better, as you all have pointed out. .

That said, fertilizer that comes out of a bottle with a certain strength (I use one that's 7-9-5 at the moment) will always be that strength, so you don't have to guesstimate any part of the nutrient input. So you get perfect consistency. Which is a real advantage because you can be sure your synthetic nutrients are not exceeding a reasonable or helpful dose, every single time you use them.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Mar 3, 2018 9:42 PM (+)]
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