Top-dressing succulents

Top Dressing Succulents| Pebbles| Decorative Rocks

Reasons for top dressing succulents with pebbles are many and vary from one person to another. If you are wondering whether to top dress or not to top dress, here is a number of reasons why you should. Apart from covering the benefits of top-dressing succulents with pebbles and decorative rocks, the post also covers the disadvantages of top-dressing.

Top-dressing with pebbles or decorative rocks is one of the most common ways of top-dressing all types of succulents. Using the pebbles and decorative rocks serve different purposes and are not just for decoration. In fact, the rocks are more practical than they are for decoration.

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Why you should top dress succulents

Create a barrier between the soil and the leaves

Placing a layer of pebbles underneath serves as a barrier between the lower leaves and the soil. Since there’s no contact between the two it reduces chances of rotting especially when the soil gets too wet.

Control erosion by top dressing succulents

Putting decorative rocks on succulents mitigates the effects of erosion. This is particularly relevant if you’re the type who hoses down their plants or if you expose them to the rain.

Water from hosing or direct rainfall will erode most of the fine topsoil exposing pockets of sand and sometimes the compacted soil. Creating a layer of pebbles protects everything by creating a barrier of top-dressing.

Increase weight

Including pebbles contributes to the density of the top layer. So, if you have top dressing this reduces the chance of lighter materials floating up onto the top of the soil. It is harder for the wind to blow away or for water to carry away rocks and pebbles compared to the fine topsoil.

Protecting the topsoil is important because it contains many nutrients and is also needed for healthy root growth and anchoring of the succulents.  

Reducing compaction of the top layer

Pebbles and other decorative rocks do not tend to compact, unlike regular soil. The problem of soil compaction is especially noticeable in succulents that are grown directly in the ground.

Top-dressing succulents means there are lots of air pockets around them which helps the plants receive proper aeration which helps them thrive.

Poor heat conduction

The decorative rocks and pebbles from top dressing succulents create air pockets which means that they are poor conductors of heat. Exposed soil will heat up a lot faster compared to top grass soil, as a result, the roots are less likely to burn provided that you keep them dry

It’s advisable not to water your plants when it is hot outside because it can burn the roots.

Light reflection

Light-colored pebbles reflect rather than absorb light. Scientifically, light surfaces reflected more light compared to dark surfaces. The decorative rocks reflect more light compared to bare soil around the succulents. As a result, less heat is being absorbed and even less of the heat reaches the roots of the succulent plants.

More light for the lower leaves

The sunlight that’s reflected off of the pebbles will bounce off of the lower leaves. This will provide them with their share of sunlight which they would need for photosynthesis.

Providing the leaves with sufficient amounts of light also reduces the likelihood of etiolation or becoming leggy.

Promotes overall health

You don’t have to worry much about reflected light because reflected light is weaker than direct light. If you are worried about the possibility of reflected light burning the undersides of your plant don’t be. By the time there’s enough heat, enough light to burn your plants from reflection then the plant itself should have long burned from direct light.

Promotes heat absorption

Dark-colored pebbles can be used to promote heat absorption. Using black pebbles might be a good idea especially for people who are growing succulents in places that experience extended periods of low temperatures.

Succulents generally grow in high temperatures in the natural habitat and many of the species are not cold-tolerant. Black pebbles can absorb heat and keep the roots warm.

Weed control

Putting a layer of gravel or decorative rocks reduces the likelihood of weeds growing on your topsoil. Although this is not a hundred percent effective, the pebbles, for the most part, control the rate at which the weeds sprout.

And even when the weeds find their way through the rocks you can easily pull them and pick them off one by one rather than having an entire area full of weeds.

Disadvantages of Top dressing Succulents

Cost implication for top dressing succulents

Although there are many benefits of using top dressing succulents there are some disadvantages. One of the downsides depending on where you live is that the pebbles cost more upfront than other organic materials. People sometimes use organic materials as such as woodchips and bark as a mulch.

However, in the long run, pebbles might be cheaper because they do not break down or decompose. If you use organic mulch you will have to top up every few months or years so the costs eventually add up.

Moisture retention

Inorganic mulch such as pebbles does not usually retain as much moisture compared to organic mulch. This may or may not be desirable depending on your climate and the needs of your plant.

When you are growing succulents, you want well-draining soil because the plants hate sitting in water. The leaves and the roots are affected negatively and begin to rot when the plant is provided with too much water.

No Nutrients Added

Inorganic mulch such as decorative rocks does not release nutrients back into the soil. Since they don’t break down, you’ll have to fertilize using other means which you should probably be doing anyway.

Cleaning is harder

Leaf debris on pebbles might be hard to clean up while with organic mulch you won’t care since they simply add to it. Depending on the size of your pebbles you could probably use a leaf blower or just good old hand picking.

Winds will eventually blow soil onto the pebbles which will allow weeds to grow, but if you think about it this problem is a lot worse with organic mulch.

I hope you found this post on top dressing succulents helpful. Don’t forget to share it and also follow us on Pinterest for more useful posts.

Top-dressing succulents| pebbles|decorative rocks

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