Succulent Soil – Everything you need to know
The soil in which you put your succulent is probably the most important decision you’ll make regarding that fat plant, so we are going to tell you how to do it right.
Wait, I need special soil for my succulents?
Indeed you do! Most succulents are adapted to very dry environments that receive little water. The soils that they naturally grow in are also unaccustomed to holding water – the water drains through them very quickly. It has to do in large part with soil composition. The soil that succulents prefer has little clay (which holds water) and a lot of large particles like sand. Of course, succulents need nutrients too so there has to be an organic component to the soil (and the nutrients can be supplemented with fertilizer). Additionally, it should not be a dense soil. Aeration is important for the roots of all plants, and succulents are no exception! Crumbly dirt with objects such as gravel, perlite, or bark help prevent the soil from being tightly packed and allow airflow.
OK, I dug up some dirt from my backyard…
Nuh-uh. Put that back. Your crab grass will be upset. Soil composition varies greatly among geographic locations. It turns out dirt isn’t always just dirt.
That diagram is used by soil scientists to define different kinds of dirt, but it’s useful to us too! Dirt is composed of three things: clay, silt, and sand. The percentages of each determine what kind of dirt it is. Most common plants prefer to hang out in the middle of that triangle near clay loam or medium loam. Succulents, however, are all about that bottom left side. Sandy loam and loamy sand are a good starting point for your average succulent.
So where do I get this “loamy sand”?
If you’ve been getting your succulents from the same place as the rest of us (let’s be honest, it’s probably Lowe’s), you have no doubt seen large bags of soil for sale. If you looked closely, you probably even saw bags labeled specifically for cacti!
Yes, this is an appropriate medium for you to plant succulents in. Remember: there is no magic soil composition that will work for every succulent. A commercial cactus soil cactus soil is a great start though. They are mixed specifically to include large particles like sands and perlite while minimizing water retaining components like clay. You will often find them advertising their potential to drain water rapidly. That’s because they know, you know, and I know that retaining water in the soil is bad for succulents.
Why do we need quick-draining soil anyway?
Succulents have a hard time dealing with wet roots. They do, of course, take up water from their roots but they absorb what they need rather quickly. You never know how long a rainstorm will last in the desert! Plant roots are also designed to absorb oxygen (yes, plants need oxygen too!). The problem is: oxygen moves extremely slowly through water. When the roots are wet (surrounded by water) they can’t get any oxygen! Another issue fat plants have is that they are pretty greedy. If there is water, they’re gonna try to drink it. If they drink too much the cells can swell and burst.
Quick-draining soil remedies all of these problems! It slows down water just enough so that the roots have time to take a sip, but they don’t drown. That’s also why it is imperative that you plant your succulents in pots that have drainage holes. It would be pointless to have all this luxurious soil if the water is just gonna stay in the bottom of the pot anyway! Most people further recommend that you use unglazed terracotta pots, the reason being that they are less inclined to retain water than some other planters.
Can I just… make this special dirt?
I’m glad you asked! You absolutely can!
Everybody who makes soil does it differently. There are a few things they all have in common though.
- organic soil – I don’t mean free-range soil. I mean soil that is primarily organic matter – things like decomposed plants and bark. This is the basis of your dirt and will provide the nutrients for your plant.
- perlite – Those little white balls you see in potting soils. It turns out they are a kind of volcanic glass! They’re very porous so they don’t retain water for long. Their shape also promotes aeration in the soil, which is their primary purpose.
- small gravel – anything from sand to pea gravel to marbles. The idea is to simply break up the dirt and keep it from compacting. Do NOT layer the bottom of your pot with them! That is bad! Read here to see why.
There you have it! That’s pretty simple, right? In fact, if you bought a bag of cactus soil, all you really have to add is gravel! If you’re mixing it yourself, here’s the recipe I use:
- 2 parts soil
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part gravel
I know we made a big deal about the dirt we put these guys in, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Do you have any tips about soils for succulents? Tell us below!