Essential Tools for your Succulent Garden
My succulent tool kit includes both conventional garden tools and other handy items you might not expect. Find out what they are and how I use them.
When my husband began to see that the succulent bug might become a long-term condition, he gifted to me my first official succulent gardening tools: tweezers and shears. Over the years, I’ve added to that makeshift starter kit, making it convenient and easy to tend to my succulent garden–you might be surprised by some of the items I find essential.
What’s in my Succulent Garden Tool Kit?
I’ll start by listing all the items I have pictured in this post. I’ll follow this with the best use for each item and links if you wish to purchase them for yourself. The list may seem long but they don’t take up much space and most are inexpensive.
- Tweezers in various sizes
- Brushes in various sizes
- Pruning Shears
- Hand Trowel
- Moisture Meter
- Measuring Cup with Spout for watering small pots
- Mini Measuring Cup for precise watering of water-sensitive succulents
- Spray Bottles
- Small Bottles
- Clear Plastic Tray
- Collapsible Crate with Handle
- Gardening Stool/Tool Caddy
- Mini Broom/Dust Pan
- Garden Gloves
- Window Screen
- Plastic Spoon
- Drinking Straws
Tweezers (and Long-Handled Scissors)
Ask any succulent gardener what their favorite tool is and most likely a tweezer will be the answer. They are ideal for:
- plucking dead leaves,
- pulling weeds,
- tucking the roots deep into the soil when planting small succulents and
- for picking foreign items from tight arrangements without damaging your succulents.
One size is not enough for all jobs (see tweezers in action in images below). In my tool kit my tweezers range from standard-length (for eyebrows) up to over 18 inches long. I love the curved tweezers best as they also come in handy for loosening root balls when potting up succulents. Larger tweezers are typically marketed for fish tank plants but they are perfect for succulent gardening, too. The long-handled scissors are great for clipping small cuttings in tight arrangements. Here are links to the tools I use:
- 10″ Aquarium Scissors (similar)
- 18.6″ Long Tweezer (scroll down the images to see it in use)
- 3-in-1 Aquarium Tool Set
With succulent gardening comes the unavoidable: pests. Mealybugs and aphids are the bane of a gardener’s existence. They’re tiny, sticky and often hide in the tightest spots of a succulent. The most common solution offered on the web to remove the pests is a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol (I’ll share my favorite homemade treatments for pests in a separate post). Not knowing any better this is what I did in the beginning but I found that the rounded tip of a swab was still too big to get into the leaf crevices.
Artist’s Brush – Far superior than a cotton swab and one of the most important items in my succulent tool kit is a flat, Filbert brush with an oval tip that you can get at any art supply or craft store. I prefer the half-inch wide size like this one. This brush will get into the tightest crevices without damaging the succulent and is excellent at “grabbing” the pesky mealybugs and aphids. If possible, select one with semi-firm bristles–they may cost an additional dollar or two ($6-7) but the extra expense is worth it.
Paint Brush – I use a paint brush for clean-up after putting together an arrangement (to brush loose dirt from succulents and rim of the pot). The disposable brushes from Home Depot are inexpensive and come in various sizes though I find the two-inch one handy for most of my projects.
Everyone has a favorite pair of pruning shears. I’ve pictured only one here but I have several. Here are two I use:
- Felco Hand Pruner (more expensive)
- Pro Pruning Snips (under $20)
I use two garden trowels in my garden and this Soil Scoop with Birch Handle is particularly handy because it does more than just scoop up soil. The serrated sides are good for cutting through old, webbed roots and the pointed tip is excellent for loosening hard, packed soil. The sturdy construction is excellent for tougher jobs.
One of the most important tips when watering succulents is to allow the soil to dry between waterings. In my garden this is particularly important for my rarer specimens which tend to be more sensitive to water. Sticking any stick into the soil works, too, but this meter from Lowe’s is inexpensive and has the added bonus of measuring light and pH in addition to moisture.
Measuring Cup with Long Spout
This is one of the less conventional items I was referring to. Normally a kitchen item, I’ve found this measuring cup to be very handy when watering my collection of small potted succulents. I have a small watering can but this three-cup size from Norpro is great for small jobs and for making sure only the soil and not the leaves get wet when I’m watering my rare plants.
Mini Measuring Cup
This measuring cup had its start in my kitchen but after losing a few rare plants to rot from overwatering this Angled Measuring Cup from OXO has been a lifesaver and has earned a permanent place in my succulent tool kit. I’ve found the 1/4-cup capacity to be the right amount of water for my individually potted rare succulents.
Because of the birds and bees in my garden I don’t use pesticides. Instead, I use rubbing alcohol, Windex, plain water and a solution using water and dishwashing detergent for pest treatment. I’ll share my pest treatment process in a separate post but my succulent tool kit is never without spray bottles filled with the above.
I’ve collected a number of small bottles from my local craft store over the years. In my garden they are useful in three ways:
- water therapy for dehydrated succulents (will share in a separate post);
- rooting succulents in water (will share in a separate post);
- spot treatment for pests – Spray bottles are great for treating large areas but sometimes it’s not necessary. For the random mealybug sighting it’s handier to walk around my garden with a tiny bottle containing Windex or rubbing alcohol and my Filbert brush (see two images down). Even with non-toxic treatments as I’ve described here, the solutions leave a mark on the succulent so a spot treatment can minimize the area that scars on the plant.
Clear Plastic Tray
My potting bench has become an overflow area for my succulent arrangements so my potting projects happen everywhere else. This plastic tray from IKEA is sturdy but light and is not only perfect for transporting small items from one location in my garden to another I also use it for containing the potting mess. I usually discard the soil that comes in the nursery pot in favor of my own soil mix so this tray collects the soil to be discarded and keeps the mess to a minimum. This tray is so inexpensive and practical that I keep a few in my garden and a couple more for my food blogging.
Collapsible Crate with Handle
This crate from the Container Store comes in two sizes and I love both. The smaller one pictured in this post acts as a carrying case for my spray bottles, large tweezers and whatever else I might need. I keep the larger one collapsed in the trunk of my car for when I shop for succulents.
Gardening Stool/Tool Caddy
It took some time for me to find a comfortable garden bench and carrying case for my succulent tools. When I found the Sit, Step and Store from Garland Products I loved it immediately. I store all the items that I’ve pictured here except for the 18-inch tweezers and spray bottles in the storage area with plenty of room remaining. It’s light and sturdy and easy to clean.
Mini Broom/Dust Pan
This small size fits in the caddy above and is great for small clean-ups. Here is a similar one.
Admittedly, I’m bad about using gloves–I use them when I think of it and I keep several pairs in my garden. I tend to like the water resistant ones for handling wet soil but I will use anything that is comfortable.
I have rolls of window screen that I use for sun protection for my succulent bed during the hot summer months. I cut up small pieces and set them on top of a pot’s drainage hole to keep the soil from falling through the bottom when filling the pot for a new arrangement. This Phifer Charcoal Fiberglass screen is what I use.
I use a plastic spoon to fill tight spaces with dirt or top dressing. You can also use a bucket shovel that comes in mini succulent tool kits but I find that a plastic spoon works fine, too.
You’ve probably been told that it’s not a good idea to leave water droplets on succulent leaves to prevent them burning on a hot day. During summer when I feel that the droplets of water that collect on the center of a succulent rosette might be a sunburn risk connect two flexi-straws and go around my yard blowing the water off my plants after I’ve watered them. I’ve tried using an air dust blower but I’ve found it not to be effective. My lungs and a straw work much better and doubling up on the straws allows for some distance between the plant and you so the water doesn’t blow back in your face (speaking from experience).
Chopsticks are just the right size for poking a hole in the soil before sticking a stem in a new arrangement. You can certainly use other items that are already in your succulent tool kit but if you have a spare chopstick lying around it would be a handy addition.
I hope you’ve found this list useful. If you have a must-have item in your own succulent tool kit that’s not mentioned here please let me know in the comments below.
Debra Eliotseats says
So, I wandered over after a trackback on my blog to yours from an old C.L.U.E. post. (Remember those?) I have become a cactus queen so I love these ideas. I was thinking of hemostats for pulling weeds but those long tweezers may be the ticket!
Hi, Debra! I’ve been migrating my recipes to a new plugin and gosh, I’m sorry if you’ve been getting tons of trackback notifications! I do remember the C.L.U.E. group and I’m so glad you found the succulent post. Welcome to the crazy succulent lady club! 🙂 I also have a hemostat in my tool box but I’ve found that it doesn’t get a lot of active time–the tweezers are my go-tos and I hope you will find them useful, too. Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving a note!!
I love your succulent posts. More information and equally beautiful photos than any succulent book I have.
(Seriously, you should write a book. This is so much more informative than what I’ve read by Debra Lee Baldwin, Robin Stockwell, and so on. Your photos are both better and more realistic in terms of what you grow than Baldwin’s in Succulent Container Gardens. I have book suggestions but I’ll refrain.)
It’s also fabulous to see that you use a lot of the same eccentric items I do. Chopsticks also make good stakes for small plants. Since my plants are right off my kitchen, I use spoons from the flatware drawer for any task requiring a tiny “shovel” / scoop / trowel.
I learned a lot reading this,, too. I started growing succulents by taking cuttings (SMALL cuttings) on walks around SF. Only recently have I started buying plants. So I’ve never bothered with (and never really knew how to do) the fine detail work you describe. No succulent that survived on the city streets through the long drought, or the last two rainy winters (not to mention a ride in my handbag folliwed by inept propagation attempts) *needs* to be handled with tweezers. Now I’ll know how to care for the sort of stuff I’m starting to buy.
I’m getting a real artist’s paintbrush right away. The crummy I have isn’t much use. I have the same OXO measuring cup: now it’s also a “watering can”. Drinking straws sound like they have lots of potential. And I’m ordering the moisture meter today! (I’ve always wondered if “completely dry” soil in books actually means what it does in my containers. You’ll have to write a post about plants’ differing water requirements, though.
One semi query, and two pest control suggestions:
I’m thinking of trying an air bulb for getting dirt and pumice bits out of leaf axils. (Not sure I’m quite ready for the 18” tweezers.) Lens cleaning bulbs used by photographers seem like a good way to go. Have you ever tried this?
Pest stuff: (1) nicotine tea. It’s just like it sounds. Nicotine is highly toxic, but ephemeral in the environment. So you can spray the tea on individual plants and be confident that unless one if your desirable insects gets in between the spray bottle and the target, it will be unharmed. I keep a package of rolling tobacco in the freezer. Put a tablespoon or so in hot water enough for a spray bottle and let it steep overnight. I don’t think it’s dangerous enough to require protective gear, but don’t drink it! (2) Ladybugs! You can order them, and they’ll eliminate your small insect pests. Mine all flew away, but I haven’t had aphids outside for months now. The ones I tried to “install” in my indoor propagation area weren’t so effective. They did have a window to escape from.
(“Semi” query because I don’t expect you to respond to a comment on such a long ago post. But I really mean about the book. There is nothing out there that’s anything like as helpful as these blogs posts.)
Megan, your thoughtful comments and generous compliments have made me very happy. I so appreciate your taking the time to provide this feedback on my posts and I’m happier that you found them helpful. I have a backlog of succulent posts that I intended to publish in spring and summer but they’ll be trickling in over the next few weeks instead. I hope you find value in them, too. Thanks so much again!
PS: 1.) I love ladybugs and have often considered picking some up but haven’t done it yet. 2.) Nicotine tea: I’ve never heard of it but I’ll be looking into it after your recommendation. 3.) The artist’s brush is a must-have and I’m glad you’re adding it to your succulent tool kit. It works so much better than a cotton swab.
PPS: Your comments have motivated me to hurry up and publish the other succulent posts. They take a bit of time to draft and I don’t want to publish one that’s not carefully written but I’ll bump them up on the list. Thanks also for your encouragement about a book–the idea had crossed my mind but I didn’t think that there would be any interest for another succulent book out there. I will give it more thought. I might have missed some other questions in your comments but I’ll come back to read through again. Thanks again.
Cristina De leon says
Hi! Where do u get your pots from.? Thanks. Learning so much from your succulent blogs. Thank you for sharing.
Hi, Cristina. My pots are all from local shops here in the Bay Area. I’m lucky to have some local nurseries and pottery shops that have stocked their shelves with a nice variety of pottery over the years. Also, over the last few years I’ve seen more ceramic offerings in stores like Marshall’s and Home Goods, particularly, talavera pottery. When they open their doors again they would be worth checking out. Thanks so much for the nice feedback. 🙂