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Flowerdale Nursery & Landscaping
Succulents & Cacti

Succulents & Cacti


What are succulent plants?

Succulents are any & all plants that store water in the tissues of their stems or foliage. Succulents belong in no special botanical order. They are described simply as succulent. These plants come from nearly every climate on the globe. Southern California has a wide variety of native succulents. To combat water loss succulents evolved many other adaptations to conserve water. These include the following:

·        protective hairs

·        reflecting scales

·        reflective coloring

·         & many more

·        Many succulent plants lack spines or thorns.

The diversity of succulent plants is staggering making them popular among hobbyists.

What are Cacti?

All cacti are succulents but not all succulents are cacti.

Cacti are special plants in their own botanical family known as the Cactaceae, or cactus family. Plants belonging to this family have several things in common.

·        All cacti have areoles, specialized nipple like growth points were all growth occurs form.

·        Occur almost exclusively in the Americas.

·        All have similar complex flower structure.

·        Cacti exhibit CAM Anatomy which allows them to grow during the night rather than the day.

Cacti range from Canada to Patagonia, growing in a wide variety of climates. The greatest diversity is found in the arid regions. The following are more interesting facts about cacti:

·        The spines of cacti are really the specialized leafs of the plant. Photosynthesis takes place in the stem.

·        Spines are extremely variable coming in many forms & colors. Some cacti have no spines.

·        Some cacti have tuberous roots.

·        The many different forms of cacti have evolved from the reduction of surface area in order to conserve more water.

Cactus or Not?

Many succulent plants look similar to cacti in their growth forms; this is an example of Convergent Evolution. This is where plants from different places use a similar strategy to solve a common problem.

·        This results in common situation; two completely unrelated plants superficially look to be the same.

·        Remember that plants must have Areoles in order to be positively identified as a cactus.

Growing Succulents & Cacti

All succulents’ plants (including cacti) can be divided into two groups;

Warm season growers (May – October)

·        Succulents that actively grow in the warm season like to have water when the weather is warm to hot.

·        During their dormant period during the cool part of the year keep plants dry.

·        For warm season growers all propagation, transplanting, & pruning should occur only during the warm season.

Cool season growers (November – April)

·        These succulents grow during the cool part of the year when moisture is normally available in pour climate.

·        These are the easiest to grow here in Southern California with our mild moist winters & springs.

·        Keep these plants dry & happy during warm to hot weather.

·        For cool season growers all propagation, transplanting, & pruning should occur only during the warm season.

Many succulents are opportunistic & grow year round when conditions are favorable.


Both succulents & cacti benefit from a soil that is fairly well drained or at least dry enough to prevent rot.

·        “Cactus & Succulent Mix” is usually recommended as the standard for most succulents.

·        Do not add sand! Perlite & Pumice work better & make for lighter soil & containers.

·        Use gypsum to break up & loosen up hard clay soils.

·        Some plants have specialized soil demands so research is essential for success.

·        Use well drained soil gives you more control over how much water gets to the plants roots, this can improve the growing conditions & allow you to grow a greater variety of plants.


The standard watering regimen for most succulent plants in the ground is a deep watering (10 to 15 minutes) once a month (summer through fall for warm season growers, winter through spring for cool season growers).

·        In winter do not water warm season growing plants that are in the ground the rainfall will do just fine.

·        For cool season growers during the winter water once a month only if rains fail (keep them dry in summer but don’t let them shrivel away completely so wet them occasionally.

         New plants may need more water for up to six months until their established (four is standard).

         Plants in containers need much more water than those in the ground. Water plants when they need it, watering regimens change with the weather.  

         The wide variety of succulents means that many have specialized watering schedules so ask your local nurseryman.

         In sandy soils water more frequently but for less time, in heavy soil water less frequently but for a longer period of time.

Do not over water! It leads to the death of many plants; their roots suffocate & die of rot or disease.


There are two planting seasons in Southern California. The spring planting season: late March until late April.

         This time is reserved for planting of warm season growing succulents & cacti.

Fall planting season: starts late October through December.

         This time is for planting cool season growers.


Succulents & cacti growing in the ground should need only the most minimal of feeding. However plants in containers should be fertilized once every other month during the season of their active growth.


Seasonally prune four times a year. This gives you a balance of work & rest. Some plants need a hard pruning once a year either in spring or fall depending on the season of their dormancy.

         Plants that grow in the warm weather should be pruned in the spring, just before growth starts.

         Plants that grow in cool weather should be pruned in the fall, just before growth starts.

Remove dead flowers (deadhead) & corrective prune whenever necessary. Make accurate cuts with clean sharp tools. Remember some plants have special pruning needs so research.

Pest Control

The following are the most common offenders; aphids, mealy bug, ants, scale, white fly, grasshoppers, rabbits & gophers.

         Establish a threshold for a low pest population level. Monitor the pests in your garden frequently.

         Remove infestations or pest populations out of control manually at first.

         Use pesticides as last resort for problem situations.

         Attract beneficial insects, bats & birds.

Aim for prevention.

         Keep a clean garden remove dead leaves, twigs, fruits, etc.

         To prevent introducing new pests to your garden quarantine new plants, inspect their leaves, stems, & roots.

         Use low toxicity (less poisonous) pesticides first before using more toxic weapons.  Consult your nurseryman for more options.

         Insecticidal Soaps, Ultra-fine Oils, & Pyrethrin are good

         Organic choices. Imiraclorid & Malathion are sound conventional choices.

Disease Control

Most succulent plants grown correctly have few disease problems.

         Chose the right plant for the right location.

         Know when plants are dormant (not growing). They generally need much less water when dormant.

         Do not crowd plants too close together.

         Keep tools clean & sharp.

Many diseases are caused by improper growing conditions which stress plants.

         Over watering is the #1 cause of plant death besides lack of water!

         Avoid incorrect pruning, or pruning at the wrong time of year.

         Sulfur, Copper, & Neem Oil are good organic choices for disease control.

Weed Control

Remove weeds often & as soon as they are spotted. Manual pulling often works better than chemical sprays. Intensive weed removal in spring before they set seed helps control the weed population the following year.

         Use mulches.

         Never use plastic weed barriers it is not healthy for soil. Landscape fabric allows for gas & water exchange & is preferred.

         Use “pre – emergent” like Amaze in fall & spring to prevent weed seeds from germinating. The “Pre-emergence” kill weed seeds while leaving sprouted plants unharmed.

         Remove stumps of weedy trees or shrubs, Ortho Brush be Gone works nice.

Avoid over watering. Check irrigation for leaks & incorrect sprinkler spray paths. Use edging around lawns to keep the grass in its place. Ask your nurseryman when buying plants to avoid planting potentially weedy & invasive plants in your garden.

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