To say there is an absolute best soil for succulents or a foolproof homemade soil recipe is not really reasonable. The types of succulent plants are so vast and varied their soil requirements also vary. However, given the unique water storing ability of succulents, generally any potting soil prepared for cactus will work.
Succulents and cacti generally are native to arid places with little rainfall. The roots absorb water quickly making it unnecessary for the water to remain around the roots. Root rot will develop if the soil around the succulent retains the water. This is the reason the main and essential quality of the soil is that it allow water to drain easily through the soil.
Having said this, though, I have rooted and maintained some of my plants in generic house plant potting soil. The containers always have holes in the bottom and I never allow the water to stay in the trays under the plants for more than a few hours. I never use a pot over 6 inches which ensures the soil will completely dry between watering. A larger pot with more soil retains the water longer.
There is, however, the strange but true scenario of my outdoor Aloe Vera plants. They are at least 7 years old and I suspect they may be more than 10 years old. They were planted in the outside landscaping of my townhouse before my husband and I moved here. The soil is rock hard. They closely share the planting area with oleander and boxwood shrubs. The aloes are gorgeous and healthy. They bloom profusely every spring. They routinely produce healthy pups that must be culled to keep the aloe from crowding the shrubs. All of this being said, our ‘aloe-oleander-boxwood’ garden is surely the exception. A wise and caring gardener will try as closely as possible to provide a good quality soil for their succulents.
The Best Soil for Succulents
When searching for the best soil for succulents it is important to consider the purpose of the soil, the variety of plant, lighting conditions and other factors.
Commercial Succulent Soil Brands
If you do not have any desire to purchase the different ingredients to make your own succulent soil you will want to purchase a brand that has everything already blended in the correct proportions. You can read our review article about the brand we recommend as the best cactus and succulent soil mix. We recommend Dr. Earth Exotic Blend Cactus & Succulent Potting Mix as an affordable and convenient way to provide excellent soil for all your succulents.
Now lets talk about the importance of good succulent soil and how to make it yourself.
Purpose of Soil
As explained by the Washington DC Cactus Society most succulents and other plants “derive at least six great benefits from soil that meets their individual needs”:
- Physical support for anchoring the root system
- Aeration and ventilation for the roots
- Pores for absorbing water and holding it for use by the roots
- Moderation of temperature fluctuations
- Protection from phytotoxic substances
- Supplies needed nutrients
This is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive yet simple description of the vital function of plant appropriate soil. This description should motivate any new or experienced succulent gardener to provide the best soil possible for their plants.
Now that we know the function of the soil, the content of your garden soil is also important. I live in the southwestern U.S. and desert soil is hard and salty at best unless it has been totally replaced. Wherever you live if you are putting your succulents into your garden, a soil tester is invaluable. Many varieties are available and can give you a great boost in ensuring your garden will thrive. Soil testing will eliminate the frustration of watching your plants just exist but not thrive, and you wondering why all your hard work is not producing award winning succulents.
Basic Succulent Soil
Most succulent experts advise a good cactus potting soil. If you can’t find soil prepared just for cactus, a potting soil recommended for African violets is a good substitute. Many experts recommend adding to this mixture one of the following to ensure good drainage:
- Coarse Builders Sand
- Decomp Granite
- Aquarium gravel
Specially Prepared Soil
The following are recommendations from the National Capital Cactus and Succulent Society. I found the information to be especially helpful and succinct. The website is a valuable reference for any succulent gardener whether a beginner or experienced.
“The most important consideration in making a potting soil for succulents is that it will drain well. The soil must be porous so that water penetrates easily and drains away quickly. ….
“There is no one way to prepare a succulent soil mix and any that drain well should support healthy succulent growth. By experimenting you can find the one that works the best for you. An example of a good succulent soil mix is 2 parts by volume of a potting soil, 1 part perlite, and 1 part small size gravel, e.g., pumice, turface, or crushed granite (“gran-i-grit”, a Southern States’ product for chickens). Even simpler is a 1:1 mixture of potting soil and perlite. If sand is added to a mix, it should be coarse grained such as builder’s sand. … To test your soil mix, moisten and then squeeze with your hands: the mixture should not form a lump but crumble loosely.”
1:1 mixture of potting soil and perlite. washington-dc.cactus-society.org
A Little Work:
2 parts by volume of a potting soil
1 part perlite
1 part small size gravel, e.g., pumice, turface, or crushed granite
25% garden soil
25% large-grain sand like decomposed granite
Probably the Hardest:
5 parts perlite
4 parts bagged potting soil
1 part coarse sand
Pinch of rock dust
Pumice as a Soil Conditioner
When doing research for this article I came across interesting information regarding the benefits of pumice. This applies mostly to succulents planted in the garden. The following are recommendations I found during my research:
“Pumice is an excellent soil conditioner, as it is highly porous, giving it excellent water and air holding properties. Advantages of using pumice in potting media and garden soils include:
—the porous nature of pumice allows it to hold vital nutrients in the microscopic surface pores, which helps regulate fertilizer feedings. It can even be supercharged with nutrients before it is added to the growing medium.
—excellent conditioner for soils that need increased aeration and drainage, as when growing cacti, bromeliads, succulents, or when rooting cuttings.
—loosens the density of heavy clay garden soils, letting in the air and water plants need.
—increases water retention in light and sandy soils.
—makes tillage easier.
—reduces crusting, cracking, flooding and shrink-swelling.
—holds moisture in the soil, reducing watering requirements, yet pumice will not compact or become soggy.
—pumice is inorganic, so it will not decompose or compact over time, meaning it functions continuously and can be recycled and reused.
—pumice is pH neutral.
—pumice does not attract or host fungi, nematodes, or insects.
—pumice makes an excellent component to composts, mitigating volatilization during composting and then contributing in-soil.
These advantages can be realized with as little as a 10% addition of pumice to the soil or growing medium.” Source: hesspumice.com
Since writing this article I have been hooked on pumice. I added almost 50% into the soil when planting my spring ground cover. They are going great! For plants that are established I just added some pumice to the surrounding soil. They look fine now, but time will tell if they surprise me with phenomenal growth and flowers.
Now, put on your garden gloves and enjoy the adventure of planting your unique succulent garden.