Choosing the Right Soil for Succulents. Succulents are having a major moment. These drought-resistant plants have exploded in popularity over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. Succulents are great houseplants. They have unique shapes, textures, and colors. They can thrive indoors with minimal care. They come in a huge variety – from tiny string of pearls to giant jade trees.
But there’s one key to keeping your succulents healthy and happy: choosing the right soil. Although succulents can tolerate dry conditions, they require well-draining soil to avoid root rot. Regular potting soil will be too dense and moisture-retentive for most succulents.
In this blog post, we’ll dig into everything you need to know about choosing the ideal soil for succulents. You’ll learn why drainage and soil ingredients are so important for these plants, along with tips for mixing your own succulent soil blend. We will also talk about pre-made soils made for succulents that make choosing soil easier.
|Essential characteristics of soil:
|Well-draining, gritty texture to prevent rot and mimic natural habitat.
|Avoidance of regular potting mix:
|As it retains too much moisture, which is detrimental for succulents.
|Ideal soil composition:
|70-80% inorganic components like perlite, sand, or pumice.
|DIY soil mix options:
|Create a mix with ingredients like coconut coir and bark added for improved drainage.
|Commercial soil blends:
|Choose cactus/succulent soil mixes with high perlite/minerals content, not peat or moisture retention.
|Importance of careful potting and repotting:
|Use appropriate soil for the health of succulents.
|Critical factors for soil health:
|Drainage and air flow to prevent soggy soil and suffocated roots.
Why Soil Matters for Succulents?
Succulents may be adapted to dry conditions, but that doesn’t mean these plants can thrive in just any old soil. The potting mix used for succulents is critical for their health and longevity.
Though their fleshy leaves and stems store water, succulents still need the right balance of moisture and drainage to prevent rot. These plants have very specialized root structures and adaptations that require fast-draining soil. Using a dense, moisture-retentive potting mix can easily lead to disaster for your succulents.
Well-Draining Soil is Essential
For succulents to grow well, it’s crucial to have soil that drains fast and doesn’t retain water.
Succulents are accustomed to dry conditions in nature. Their native habitats tend to be very arid places like deserts and rocky outcrops where water drains away rapidly.
If succulent roots remain wet for too long, rot quickly sets in. Their tissues are not designed to withstand damp soil. Fungal infections, mold, and root rot can occur. This can rapidly lead to the decline and death of the plant.
A soggy soil environment encourages pests and diseases. Thrips, fungus gnats, and other succulent killers thrive in perpetually moist soil.
Succulents are used to soil that drains well, like their natural habitat. They’ve adapted to this over many years. These plants need a dry, porous environment. This prevents moisture from gathering around their roots.
Using a fast-draining potting mix avoids all the problems caused by wet soil. The right soil ensures any excess water flows right through and doesn’t stick around. This maintains healthy roots and prevents disease.
Avoid Regular Potting Mix
It’s tempting to just grab any old bag of potting soil to use for your succulents. Standard potting mixes are usually too dense and moist for succulents because they hold too much water and nutrients.
Using regular potting soil can lead to major problems for these plants. Here’s why it’s important to avoid regular potting mix:
Retains Too Much Moisture
The biggest issue with regular potting soil is that it retains too much moisture and doesn’t drain quickly enough for succulents.
Potting mix is formulated to be water-retentive to support the needs of most common houseplants. But succulents have the opposite need – soil that drains rapidly.
Regular potting mix will stay soggy after watering, keeping the roots wet for too long. This wet environment leads to rot and fungal diseases.
Dense and Compacted
In addition to holding onto moisture, typical multipurpose potting soil can become very dense and compacted over time.
This further reduces drainage and aeration. Succulent roots need room to spread out and access oxygen. They’ll suffocate in dense, compacted soil.
Standard potting mixes also tend to be high in organic matter like compost or peat moss. This provides nutrients for plants but also increases water retention.
Succulents prefer less fertile, mineral-based soils with lower organic content. Too many nutrients can burn succulent roots and even damage the plants.
The bottom line? Don’t use regular potting soil for succulents. Seek out a specialized cactus & succulent mix instead.
Best Soil Ingredients for Succulents
To create an ideal potting mix for succulents, you’ll want to use a blend of inorganic and organic components. Different ingredients serve important functions.
Inorganic materials form the basis of a well-draining succulent soil blend. These granular components create air pockets within the soil that allow for rapid drainage. Key inorganic ingredients include:
Coarse Sand – Adds crucial drainage and aeration. Look for coarse builder’s sand, not fine sand.
Perlite – Lightweight volcanic glass that improves drainage and prevents compaction. Perlite provides air space.
Pumice – Light, porous volcanic rock that creates air pockets for drainage. Helps keep soil loose.
Gravel or Pebbles – Chunky materials that aid drainage through the soil. Avoid smooth, small pebbles.
Vermiculite – Absorbs water then releases it slowly to plant roots. Creates spaces for air circulation.
Avoid soil ingredients like clay or silt that compact down and retain moisture. Focus on coarse, gritty materials of varying particle sizes to allow for drainage and air flow.
While inorganic materials provide drainage, organic matter offers water retention and nutrients. Good choices include:
Coconut Coir – Retains some moisture but not as much as peat moss. Provides air pockets.
Compost – Nutrient-rich, improves moisture retention. Use sparingly in succulent soil.
Tree Bark – Creates air space, absorbs some water. Look for coarse orchid bark chunks.
Worm Castings – Boosts nutrients without excessive moisture retention.
Limit high-moisture organics like peat moss or garden soil which tend to compact and remain soggy. Focus on lightweight organics.
The ideal succulent potting mix contains 70-80% inorganic matter and 20-30% organic materials. Combine components to create the fast-draining, nutrient-providing soil succulents need.
Mixing Your Own Succulent Soil
Creating your own customized succulent potting mix allows you to control the exact ingredients and ratios used. Mixing your own blend isn’t difficult – and it allows you to cater the soil to your specific succulents’ needs.
When making your own mix, use a combination of inorganic and organic components. Start with a base of 60-70% inorganic gritty materials like perlite, pumice, or coarse sand to provide drainage and aeration. Then add 20-30% organic matter like coconut coir or compost to retain some moisture and nutrients.
A good starting recipe is:
2 parts pumice
2 parts perlite
1 part coarse sand
1 part coconut coir
To this base mix you can add amendments like:
Crushed granite or lava rock for weight and drainage
Activated charcoal to prevent rot
Crushed eggshells or oyster shell for calcium
Always use sterile, soilless ingredients where possible to avoid introducing diseases. Thoroughly combine all ingredients together to distribute evenly through the potting mix.
For established plants, you may only need to amend regular cactus/succulent soil by adding extra perlite or gravel to improve drainage further. Start with a quality store-bought mix, then customize to enhance it.
Creating your own specialized soil blend allows you to provide exactly what your succulents need to stay healthy. And mixing up a batch is simple with the right ingredients on hand.
Commercial Succulent Soil Options
If making your own succulent soil is too hard, you can buy good soil mixes.
Specialized commercial cactus and succulent soil blends take the guesswork out of choosing the right ingredients. These ready-made options are formulated specifically to meet succulents’ drainage and soil needs.
When shopping for an off-the-shelf succulent potting mix, check that the bag is marketed for cacti and succulents. Avoid multipurpose potting soils as these retain too much moisture.
Look for key characteristics like:
High percentage of inorganic gritty materials like perlite, sand, pumice, etc. These provide crucial drainage.
Low proportion of peat moss or soil that holds moisture. These can compact over time.
Added nutrients from organic matter like worm castings or compost. But nutrients should not be excessive.
Soilless, sterile ingredients to prevent diseases.
Coarse texture with varying particle sizes to allow air circulation.
Some reputable succulent soil brands to consider include:
Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil
Superfly Bonsai Succulent Soil
Espoma Cactus Mix
Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm, and Citrus Potting Mix
Be cautious with cheap bagged “cactus mixes” that are mostly peat and don’t actually drain well. Read labels and reviews carefully before purchasing.
A quality commercial succulent soil makes it simple to pot up plants while giving them exactly what they need to stay healthy. Look for a fast-draining pre-mix specifically designed with succulents in mind.
Potting and Repotting Succulents
Once you have an appropriate succulent potting mix, it’s time to plant your succulents. Proper potting and repotting ensures the plants get established in the ideal soil environment.
When potting new succulent cuttings or plants, follow these tips:
Select a container with drainage holes to prevent moisture buildup
Add a layer of gravel or charcoal at the bottom for drainage
Fill the pot about 1/3 full with fresh succulent potting mix
Carefully remove the plant from its current pot and loosen the roots
Place in the new container and surround with more soil, firming down gently
Leave about 1/2 inch between the soil and the container rim
Water sparingly at first until the succulent adjusts to its new pot
For established succulents, repotting into fresh soil is recommended every 2-3 years.
Remove the plant and gently loosen the root ball
Trim off any dead or rotting roots
Downsize the pot if the roots have not filled out the existing container
Repot into a sterile container filled with fresh succulent potting mix
Water a few days later once the plant has settled into its new soil
Proper potting and repotting ensures succulents have the well-draining environment they need to thrive. Take care when handling the plants and water sparingly after reporting.
When it comes to growing healthy, thriving succulents, the soil is just as important as the plant itself.
Choosing an appropriate potting mix is critical for mimicking the fast-draining, mineral-based soils these plants thrive in.
Avoid regular multipurpose potting soils, as these retain too much moisture and lead to rot.
Seek out specialized cactus and succulent mixes instead, with high proportions of gritty inorganic materials like perlite, gravel, or sand.
You can easily make your own custom succulent soil by blending ingredients like pumice, coconut coir, and bark. Aim for 70-80% inorganic components and 20-30% organic matter. Commercial pre-mixed soils also take the guesswork out of getting the perfect succulent potting blend.
Always use a sterile, coarse soil with excellent drainage to prevent soggy roots. When potting or repotting succulents, carefully handle the plants and water sparingly at first. With the proper soil environment, your succulents will stay healthy and bring you joy for years to come.
The right soil drainage and composition is vital to growing gorgeous, thriving succulents. Follow these tips to give your plants the well-draining, mineral-based soil they need to live their best lives.