If you’re having problems with your succulents, the answer could lie in the soil. Many care problems can be avoided and cleared up simply by using the right soil for your succulent or cactus.
If you have succulents or cacti, you likely know these plants need a different type of soil than most plants in order to grow and thrive. There are several factors that can determine the right soil for your succulent or cactus. Using the wrong type of soil can result in a seemingly endless amount of care issues.
What is the Best Succulent Soil?
The best kind of soil for any succulent is a well-draining soil. Drainage is essential for succulent soil because succulents’ ability to tolerate long periods without water makes them more susceptible to root rot if they are left to soak in wet soil.
Mimicking the conditions of a plant’s natural, or native, environment is key to growing any type of plant. Succulents in their native environments typically grow in sandy, gravelly, or gritty soils. In many cases, succulents even grow in rocky crevices or along cliff sides. Gritty soils like these can get drenched by heavy rains and still dry out quickly because the sharp, grainy texture is incredibly well-draining.
Many factors can influence how long a soil will remain wet. For example, the amount of water, sunlight, or airflow can all affect a succulent’s dry time. Optimal drying times balance all of these variables accordingly. For example, an indoor succulent with less air flow and sunlight will likely need a more gritty, textured soil to prevent root rot and subsequent pests. An outdoor succulent in a hot, windy region will likely need a more compact soil to avoid the need of frequent watering.
Pots with drainage holes support the long-term growth of succulents. Even the best succulent soil cannot prevent root rot and decay if you overwater or if your container doesn’t have adequate drainage holes. In addition, a layer of rocks at the bottom of your succulent container doesn’t add drainage—in fact, it creates pockets of water that will eventually breed bacteria. Consequently, gravel additions to soil should always be mixed throughout the soil, not layered at the bottom.
Organic vs. Inorganic Mineral Soil
Soil is naturally made up of both organic material and inorganic mineral material. In reference to soil, organic refers to things that were once alive. Conversely, minerals are naturally inorganic, meaning the substances do not come from living organisms. For example, tree bark and plant matter are organic substances while gravel or sand are inorganic mineral substances.
Both organic and inorganic are needed to create a healthy succulent soil. Organic elements store water and provide nutrients while inorganic minerals provide drainage. An optimal mix of organic and mineral matter will support succulent growth, improve drainage, and prevent root rot. In addition, this kind of soil allows gardeners to water succulents according to their native conditions: deeply but infrequently.
Common organic matter mixed in succulent soil includes: potting soil, compost, pine bark, or coconut coir. Common minerals used in succulent soil include: sharp sand, perlite, pumice, gravel, or chicken grit. It is generally advised to avoid minerals that store water, such as clay or vermiculite. Both will retain too much moisture and create soggy soil.
Texture and Porosity of Inorganic Minerals
The inorganic mineral section of succulent soil is broken into 3 different texture types based on size. The largest to smallest are sand, silt, and clay. Each grit size will affect how much water the soil can hold and how long it will take to dry out. For example, sandy soils will dry out faster than clay soils because they have larger particles, or a higher porosity. High porosity is best for growing succulents because it provides optimal drainage.
DIY Soil Recipe
Creating your own succulent soil is a little more difficult than purchasing a pre-made one, but it is a great way to specifically tailor the soil to all of your succulents or cacti. This all-purpose recipe blends one-third organic material and two-thirds inorganic minerals. You can mix-and-match your ingredients as you choose. Organic materials could include: compost, potting soil, pine bark, or coconut coir. Inorganic mineral additions could include: pumice, coarse sand, perlite, chicken grit, or gravel. This general recipe can of course be modified or adapted based on your environment, growing conditions, materials available, succulent type, and more. In addition, take note of the amount of time it takes your soil to dry after drenching your succulent. You can then adjust the organic-to-inorganic ratio as needed.
There isn’t one right answer to creating a great succulent soil. Most prepackaged soils can also be adapted and modified to suit a variety of growing conditions and succulent needs.
Got any soil questions? Drop us a comment below!