Healthy Plant

Things to look out for when getting a plant

When you get a plant, it’s a good idea to check it’s healthy before you bring it home. It might feel tempting to nurse a poorly plant back to health, but this is usually a mistake as plant pests and other problems can spread.

Spray painted plants
Echeveria succulents that have been spray painted

Fake flowers and painted plants

They might look fun but spray-painted succulents aren’t happy! Plants need light to produce food and spray paint will create a barrier the light won’t pass through. It can also clog up the plant’s pores so they can’t “breathe”.

You sometimes see cacti that have papery flowers or other things glued onto them. The glue can stick the spines together and is hard to remove without damaging the plant.


Plants that have been sitting in a shop without much light will start to stretch and grow pale (this is called etiolation). Unfortunately, the damage is permanent so it’s best to avoid plants like this.


Cacti and succulents can be sensitive to over-watering. If they stay wet for too long, they can easily rot. A rotting plant might have dark patches on it, ooze smelly liquid or be soft and squishy. It’s never worth buying a plant with rot as it usually kills the plant quickly.

Etiolated <i>Mammillaria</i>
A Mammillaria cactus that has become etiolated (stretchy) from lack of light


Meally bugs on <i>Echinopsis</i>
Mealy bug on a cactus (the small white/grey blobs)
Red Spider Mite damage
Red Spider Mite damage
Scale insects on <i>Agave</i>
Scale insects on an Agave

There are many pests that can damage and kill cacti and succulents. They usually get into collections from infested plants. The three most common pests to look out for are mealybugs, spider mites, and scale.

Mealybugs are grey/white in colour and are small but can be seen with your eyes. They make nests of wooly wax that are often more obvious than the bugs themselves. They like to hide in between the ribs of cacti, under leaves, and where the plant meets the soil.

Spider mites are very small and difficult to see. They leave damage that looks silvery or orange and matte, giving the plant’s surface a dull or crusty appearance. If spider mites get out of control they leave a fine webbing over the surface of plants.

Scale insects look like tiny shields stuck to the surface of plants. It can be quite difficult to tell the difference between a scale and a scar on a plant. Scale will come off if you gently press them with a cocktail stick, and scars will not.

If you already have a plant that looks like it might be sick, we have some helpful guides online, and the people at your local branch meeting will always be happy to give you advice.

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