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Do Succulents Like Iron

We all know the basic macronutrients plants need: Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. This is commonly seen in fertilizers abound, abbreviated as NPK. But what about all the other nutrients needed for growth, like magnesium, calcium, and iron? Do succulents like iron?

Succulents need an appropriate balance of macro and micronutrients, including iron, to function correctly. Without a balance of these nutrients, it can be difficult for your plant to photosynthesize and, therefore, survive.

Continue reading to learn more about succulent nutrition and how you can ensure your plant is getting the food it needs.

Why do plants need iron?

Iron is an important micronutrient in the world of plants because of its role in synthesizing chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives plants their green color. This pigment is of utmost importance to a plant because it absorbs light, and light is the “food” source for plants to generate ATP, or energy, to perform cellular functions to keep your plant alive and well.

The ability to photosynthesize is so closely dependent on adequate iron levels, so even though it’s not a “macronutrient,” it certainly has a “macro” role in the plant’s overall health.

Additionally, iron helps maintain the chloroplast’s structure, which is the center of the light reactions your plant needs to stay alive. By being deficient in iron, the plant cannot photosynthesize to its full capacity and will start to lose its green coloration.

This yellowing occurs more obviously in non-succulent leafy plants and yellows around the veins, which stay green. This phenomenon is known as “iron chlorosis” and is usually easy to spot once you know what you’re looking for.

It is harder to tell in succulents since the leaves don’t have veins like a maple or oak tree. If you notice stunted growth and yellowing of your succulent leaves, it may be experiencing an iron deficiency and will need some intervention to keep it functioning.

Signs of an undernourished succulent

Plants will let us know when they’re lacking in something but aren’t always very forthcoming with precisely what they need. Here are some general signs of a plant that needs a boost in nutrition:

  • Poor or stunted growth
  • Yellowing of leaves (chlorosis)
  • Leaves curling or falling off the plant while still succulent or “fat”

These symptoms can also indicate poor watering practices (both under and over-watering) or a lack of light. Ensure all other parameters of care are in check before jumping to grab the fertilizer; over-fertilizing plants can be just as detrimental as under-fertilizing.

Don’t be too quick to mistake drying lower leaves for being a nutrient deficiency: if only the lower leaves appear to be drying out, then it’s just the graceful process of aging on your succulent. Let the leaves dry out completely so they fall off on their own, or you can gently pick them off once they’ve dried completely.

Plants fervently follow the mantra of “waste not, want not,” so they absorb everything those older leaves have to offer until they are completely devoid of water and nutrients.

What makes succulents grow faster?

Succulents are naturally slower-growing plants. They’ve evolved in harsh conditions, often devoid of water, so they take things a bit slower than plants that have known more cushy or nutrient-abundant environments. While you can’t necessarily force your plant to grow faster, a few things can help ensure your plant puts out healthy growth at an appropriate rate.

Light is a big one for succulents. They can usually tolerate (and prefer) bright, direct light. This type of light will keep your plant compact and can even cause your plant to show off bright colors, such as Perle von Nurnberg Echeveria succulents, for example.

Water is important, though not necessarily in the way you think: succulents, by name, retain water in their “succulent” leaves. So, more water and moist soil are not the way to encourage growth. Succulents like to dry out thoroughly before getting a good soak. This mimics the conditions many have evolved under, so by emulating these conditions, your plant is more likely to grow better.

Fertilizing is another way to ensure your plant gets the nutrients needed to function well and grow new leaves. They don’t require much, but if you notice slow growth or stunted, minuscule leaves, you may need to give it a once-yearly meal of a balanced fertilizer. It’s important not to overdo this; after all, everything is in moderation!

What is a good fertilizer for succulents?

Succulents aren’t particularly heavy feeders, so you won’t need to fertilize your plant as often as you might fertilize a tropical plant, and definitely not as much as a fruiting plant would need to be fed.

Good fertilizers for succulents are usually balanced NPK fertilizers with added micronutrients. The preference for slow-release granular or liquid is up to the plant owner. Still, no matter what type of fertilizer you use, it’s important to dose it correctly or dilute the fertilizer if a liquid is used.

This is because an excess of nutrients can burn the roots, rendering them ineffective and leading to issues transporting nutrients and water to the plant. As one might imagine, this can lead to problems worse than the original problem encountered and is harder to remedy than if the plant was weak or under-fertilized.

Succulent plant food by Miracle-Gro is probably the easiest and most cost-effective way to fertilize your succulent. However, other organic fertilizers, such as worm castings or the addition of compost, can also be used just as effectively.

Fertilize your plant during the growing season and avoid applying during dormant seasons unless you have a winter-blooming succulent. Indoor succulents can be fertilized once a year at the beginning of spring, carrying them through to the next year. Outdoor succulents may need more frequent fertilizing, but not by much: fertilizing weakly once a month through the growing season is plenty.

Final thoughts

Iron is a particularly important micronutrient to maintain your plant’s chloroplasts. Nutrient deficiencies can be difficult to spot, especially in succulents. Once you can rule out watering and light issues, nutrition is the next place to look if your succulents are struggling to chug along slowly.

Since iron isn’t part of the big “NPK,” you will want to look for fertilizers that contain micronutrients. This can be in the form of liquid or granular fertilizer, inorganic or organic. With so many options for fertilizers, your plant can partake in a well-balanced diet and be on its way to living its best life.

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