What is the best soil for succulents and cactus? Succulents and cacti are loved for their unique, beautiful appearance and low-maintenance requirements. They have adapted to live and thrive in harsh, dry, sandy environments with soil that is low on nutrients and drains water quickly.
In this article, we will discuss the best soil for succulents and cacti to thrive and why it is important to use the right soil for these plants and not just a regular potting mix or garden soil.
Why is the Right Soil Important for Succulents and Cacti?
When you pot a plant to grow in your home, it will grow best if you recreate its natural environment as closely as possible. That means providing well-draining soil that doesn’t overwhelm the succulent or cacti with organic nutrients. Succulents and cacti like sandy, gritty soils which can look, to those of us used to the rich organic potting mixes used for other plants, like it wouldn’t sustain a living plant.
The number one problem most succulent and cactus owners have is over-watering. They end up plants with soggy, waterlogged roots that just don’t survive. A well-draining soil mix is one of the important elements of thriving plants. If the soil is too heavy or retains too much moisture, it can cause the roots to rot, leading to the death of the plant.
While providing such poor-looking soil and only water infrequently might feel mean, over-watering and rich soil will kill your succulent or cactus with kindness.
The right succulent or cactus soil mix will provide the plant with the necessary nutrients while also allowing water to drain away from the roots quickly. The soil mix should be well-aerated, allowing air to circulate around the roots, which is important for healthy root development.
What is the Best Soil Mix for Succulents and Cacti?
As with watering succulents and cacti, there is no one-size-fits-all for the very best soil to suit every succulent and cactus. Some prefer sandier soils, while others prefer soils with more nutrients. If you are a perfectionist, you might want to experiment with different soil types and balances. But, if you are happy to try the middle ground, you can buy preprepared succulent and cactus soil mixes that will suit most succulents and cacti. Or, you can make your own.
The ideal soil mix for succulents and cacti should combine organic and inorganic materials, usually in a ratio of 1:2 organic to inorganic (so twice as much inorganic material as organic). The organic material will provide nutrients, while the inorganic material will help create larger air pockets in the soil, allowing water to flow through more easily, resulting in better drainage.
Here are some of the best materials to use in a succulent and cactus soil mix:
- Sand: Sand is a great addition to succulent and cactus soil mixes. It is a natural material that provides excellent drainage, which is important for preventing root rot. Coarse sand is the best choice, as it will not compact over time, allowing for adequate airflow. Look for coarse river sand, not fine beach sand.
- Perlite: Perlite is a lightweight, porous material perfect for succulent and cactus soil mixes. It helps to aerate the soil, improving drainage and preventing compaction. Perlite is the small white ‘rocks’ you often see in potting mixes. Don’t confuse perlite with vermiculite. Both can be used to aerate the soil, but vermiculite is also used to retain moisture, which is not what you want for succulent soil. Pumice can also be used in place of perlite.
- Gravel: Fine gravel is another excellent material for succulent and cactus soil mixes. It provides good drainage, and its larger size prevents compaction, allowing air to circulate around the roots.
- Coco coir: Coco coir is a sustainable, renewable material that can be used in succulent and cactus soil mixes. Coco coir is lightweight, porous, and provides good drainage.
- Peat moss: Peat moss is a common material used in soil mixes, but it is not the best choice for succulents and cacti. It retains too much moisture, which can lead to root rot. If you decide to use peat moss, mix it with other materials that provide drainage, such as sand or perlite.
- Compost: Ensure you use a light, fine-textured, well-draining compost that is well-broken down
- Potting mix: Regular potting mix, choose a well-draining one, just steer clear of peat-based potting mixes
How to Make Your Own Succulent and Cactus Soil Mix
You can purchase pre-made soil mixes specifically designed for succulents and cacti. These are great; you can use them straight from the bag without needing to mix anything else in with them.
If you are feeling confident, you can make your own succulent soil. Making your own will cost less than buying prepared soil mixes.
Here is a simple recipe you can use to make your own:
- 1 part sand
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part gravel
- 3/4 part coco coir
- 3/4 part regular potting mix
Be sure to wear gloves and a mask, as some of the materials can be dusty.
Mix all the ingredients together in a large container. Make sure you mix it well so there is an even distribution of the different elements throughout the mix.
Remember, the key to healthy succulents and cacti is a well-draining soil. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different soil mixes until you find the perfect combination for your plants.
When potting or repotting your plants, choose a pot with drainage holes if at all possible. This allows excess water to escape and goes a long way to preventing over-watering.
The right soil mix is essential for the health and growth of succulents and cacti. These plants require soil that provides good drainage with just the right amount of nutrients to allow the plant to thrive.1