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Five Minutes With Derya Önol

A while ago, when my Crassula Barklyii was missing a core, I posted it on Instagram to ask everyone for their opinion. Later that day I found out that a caterpillar had munched the mother plant. On that day, Derya reached out to me and suggested a pesticide that could help solved the problem. I barely knew her, but she was genuinely concerned with my problem. After a quick chat, I found out that she's been growing succulents for awhile and lives in Sydney. I asked her if I could do a quick interview and here's what she had to say.

How long have you been collecting succulents and what was your first plant? 

I got my first succulent from a colleague of mine in 2014 and killed it instantly in a month or so with too much love. It was an Echeveria “Blue Wren”. I hate killing plants. Whenever I kill a plant, I do an intensive research on it, talk to people who have it or ask about it on a succulent group. That’s how I joined so many Facebook groups and learnt from others’ experiences. Also swap groups helped me start my collection four years ago. I don’t swap as much as I used to since I have an extended collection now and it has become difficult to find the ones on my wishlist. Once you have common ones, you acquire rather a much more expensive taste, which is not good for your bank account balance. Your list gets longer and longer day by day as well. 

 Graptoveria Rusbyii
Graptoveria Rusbyii


What is the most challenging part of growing succulents in Sydney?

I think we are very lucky in Sydney. I really like the climate. Personally I don’t find it very hard to grow succulents here. We get frost very rarely and we don’t have extreme water conditions. One thing that’s a bit challenging for me is that it gets very humid at night where we live even in winter, which can sometimes cause issues. Heavy dew sets on plants and causes fungi. I need to use a fungicide regularly. 

Echeveria SerranaEcheveria Serrana 


Mealies can be another problem for some, but I always have my eyes on my succulents. I use different pesticides systematically for my plants and soil. Therefore, I have few casualties. 


Echeveria Jelly Jam
Echeveria Jelly Jam


What are your most prized plants?

That’s a very hard question to answer. I love all my babies. However, my Echeveria “Fukusyuu Nishikivariegated is the most prized one by far. I like watching it grow. The colours are amazing. 


Fukushyuu Nishiki” variegated or Syoufuku-nishikiEcheveria Fukushyuu Nishiki Variegated


What has been your biggest learning curve in gardening?

Having an extended collection with different varieties has pros and cons. I mainly have Echeverias. For other varieties, I’m still learning their growing seasons and water requirements. Sometimes it’s just trial and error. You shouldn’t take it personally when you kill a plant- you learn from every mistake you make. There are endless resources published and online. There are many lovely people with experience who would love to share their experience with others and help them. I’ve met many people through this addiction/interest, which I greatly enjoy.

 Echeveria Amestro
Echeveria Amestro


How do you deal with mealybugs and other pest issues?

Mealybuys don’t like the sun and that’s why they hide between leaves to shelter from the sun and predators. Depending on the variety I have, I try to keep my succulents mostly in a sunny position for better results- for colour and health. I use a spray or usually a brush to kill mealybugs. Spray might damage young plants. Your soil also plays an important role as mealies love sucking the life out of your plants from the roots too. I use Bug Killa for my soil and have minimum soil in my mixture. I like my mix being very gritty. I add volcanic rocks to my soil mix. It reduces the risk of having living organisms in your soil and provides good drainage as well. It is a good way to keep pests away from your plants.

Echeveria Knucklehead
Echeveria Agavoides Knucklehead


If I have aphids on the flowers, I use natural products like Yates Nature’s Way Citrus & Ornamental Spray not to kill any bees. I spray them with Caterpillar Killer, from Yates Nature’s Way again, after rain. Caterpillar is my nemesis. They can destroy a succulent in 5 minutes. Some like to eat the core of them which kills your plant and you don’t realise until it’s too late. 

 Echeveria Rainbow SunsetEcheveria Rainbow Sunset


Do you fertilise your succulents? What product do you use? 

No, I do not fertilise them. However, I got different brands which I will try this spring.  Succulents do not need a very nutritious soil. Sometimes giving them too much nutrition in a short time can weaken your plants even if they grow fast. They become more subjected to rot. It’s very important to find a good balance and not overdo it. They need their rest time. They shouldn’t be fertilised when they’re not in their growing season.

Thank you Derya for your time. Please follow Derya @succulentmania_syd to find out her plant collection.


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