What Kind of Soil do Succulents Need?

what kind of soil do succulents need

It’s really important to grow succulents in a light, free-draining soil. Succulents don’t like to be kept wet and will not survive in damp spots in your garden either.

Mostly, they occur naturally in dry, arid regions where rainfall is only minimal. That’s why they have thick fleshy stems and leaves. These store water for the plant so that it can survive the many dry spells during the year.

Plus, the soil they normally grow in naturally is sandy and gravelly. This means it absorbs the rain when it does come and then lets it quickly drain away.

Let’s look at the type of soil that is ideal for growing succulents.

Growing Succulents Outdoors In The Ground

growing succulents outdoors

There are only certain areas that you can grow succulents successfully outdoors in the ground. This is precisely why most people grow them in pots.

If you’re lucky enough to have a coarse, sandy soil, then succulents are likely to thrive. Especially, if they’re not planted in dips or low-lying areas of the garden. Using some fine gravel as a mulch further adds to the optimum drainage.

Of course, if you can create some raised areas in your garden, you should be able to grow many succulents quite successfully.

Some gardeners like to plant succulents in among rocks in the garden too. This means you can fill the crevices in the rocks with just the right mix to allow adequate drainage for your plants.

However, a heavy soil that holds lots of moisture will not support the healthy growth of any succulents. Too much moisture in the soil will cause succulents to rot and eventually die.

Explaining The Ideal Structure Of Soil For Growing Succulents

A good growing medium for succulents needs to have a mix of organic and mineral components.

Let’s look at these more closely.

  • Organic component. Organic refers to something that was once alive. So for soil mixes this would include peat moss, coconut coir, tree bark and compost. The organic component of your mix will absorb the water and release the nutrients to the plant.
  • Mineral component. Minerals are inorganic substances and include things like gravel, perlite and sand. Mineral components will aerate the soil and allow for good drainage.

A soil mix with around 40 – 80% of mineral substances will allow you to water your succulents deeply but not very frequently. This is because the soil needs to dry out completely in between watering.

Pro Tip
You should not use peat moss as part of your organic material. Peat is known to be hydrophobic when it dries out. This means it actually repels water and it takes a fair bit of watering to re-hydrate it again. Therefore, because soil for succulents needs to dry out in between watering, it becomes almost impossible to drench the soil quickly.

The Ideal Solution Is Growing Your Succulents In Pots

grow succulents in pots

Growing your succulents in pots is the ideal solution because you have complete control over the mix that you use.

But first, you have to select the right pot too. Make sure it’s one that has a good number of drainage holes so that the water can drain away freely.

Putting gravel into the bottom of a pot with no drainage holes, just will not do. This is because the water will pool around the gravel and cause the roots of your succulents to rot. Plus, it also creates a breeding ground for bacteria and fungal growth.

Terracotta pots are ideal because they allow for excellent drainage. But you can use plastic pots too as long as there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. However, if your plastic pots come with saucers, it’s important to empty these completely after the water has drained out of the pot.

How To Create The Perfect Mix For Your Potted Succulents

To create the perfect mix, you want to have one part organic matter and two parts minerals. Here’s a table to explain this further.

1 Part Organic Matter 2 Parts Mineral Substance
Regular potting mix Coarse Sand (don’t use beach sand)
Pine Bark or other small wood chips Perlite
Compost Volcanic Rock
Coconut Coir Fine gravel

To make up your perfect mix, you need to choose 1 part from the left column and 2 parts from the right. You can even mix and match the components of your mix as long as you stick to the formula of 1 part organic: 2 parts mineral

On the other hand, you can purchase a quality mix which has already been formulated to mimic the ideal growing conditions for succulents.

Our favorite is Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil available from Amazon in bag sizes of 2 quarts, 4 quarts (1 gallon), 8 quarts (2 gallons) and 14 quarts (3.5 gallons). This is a super light and gritty mix that drains incredibly well. It’s made up of fine pine bark and calcined clay.

This mix may cost you a little more but because of its excellent free-draining quality, it’s almost impossible to overwater succulents that are growing in it.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can you use regular potting soil for succulents?

Yes, you can use regular potting mix as a base but you need to add either course sand or something like perlite to it so that it drains really well.

Do succulents like coffee grounds?

Definitely. Coffee grounds release nitrogen into the soil as they break down and succulents love this. They also help to aerate the soil which makes it drain much better.

Should you repot succulents when you buy them?

This is definitely a good idea as you want to grow them in an open, free-draining mix.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to remember when growing succulents is that you need a nice open, free-draining soil mix.

We’ve discussed all the options available and how to make the perfect mix from raw ingredients. However, if you just want to purchase a ready-made mix then I highly recommend the Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil.

Do you have a favorite mix for growing your succulents in? Please feel free to share it with us in the comments below.

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