Three things are accomplished by good soil for succulents:
- It nourishes them by providing nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus (N and P).
- Anchorage is facilitated by it. A plant’s roots must be able to dig deep into the soil and get a firm grip in order to thrive.
- By absorbing and releasing moisture, it hydrates the plant. The time it takes for water to evaporate varies between different soil types.
What Makes a Good Soil for Succulents?
The most important thing we consider when selecting the best soil for succulents is that it has good drainage. So we are specifically interested in the “moisture” portion of the list above.
Let me start by asking a question: how does soil drainage work? In simplest terms, it refers to how fast water leaves the soil. You will see some of the water flowing out of the bottom of the pot after you water the plant, but most of it will stay in the soil. Depending on the plant, either that water must be absorbed or evaporated.
There are actually different types of soil for succulents and cacti than for regular houseplants. Plants that grow indoors are typically tropical. Their original homeland probably has a lot of rain and high humidity. In addition to the decomposing plants that enrich the soil, the soil there is also naturally rich in nutrients.
Deserts and other arid (dry) regions, on the other hand, have little rain and poor soil which makes succulents an ideal choice. You probably won’t find much nutrients in the soil there because it is gritty and coarse. Naturally, the closest to natural conditions as possible is the best. However, it may surprise you that the most important thing to copy isn’t the amount of nutrients they get – it’s the amount of water.
Soil composition is important
Essentially, the soil is made up of two elements – inorganic matter and organic matter. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that the universe is made up exclusively of these two elements.
In the context of this article, organic matter refers to former living matter that is now dead. Various stages of decomposition may precede a body’s death, or a body may simply be dead. Here are some examples:
- Peat or sphagnum moss
- Decomposing plants or animals
- Coconut coir
- Leaf or bark shreds
The term inorganic matter, then, refers to anything that has never existed alive. Dirt, on the other hand, means merely minerals. Dirt is composed primarily of clays, silts, and sands, with varying ratios of each. You get soil when you combine organic matter with inorganic matter.
Organic matter provides the soil with a better capacity to hold water. Do you get where I’m going with this? When organic matter is higher (and soil is wetter), drainage is less efficient. Hence, succulents prefer soils that are highly deficient in organic matter.
How do you know if the drainage is adequate?
Therefore, we know what soil drainage is and how to achieve it. What is the recommended amount of drainage? In general, within a day or two of watering your succulent soil, it should be dry. And by dry, I mean no moisture. Bone dry.
A quick way to test soil moisture is by sticking your finger into the soil – or a moisture meter for more convenience. You can test this by sticking a finger in the soil about an inch deep. Not only should it feel dry, but it should also feel warm. The feeling of coolness is probably caused by a slight dampness and you’re misinterpreting it. When your succulent has filled out the pot, it may be difficult to check the soil dampness, and the mass of roots could benefit from more room. Repotting your succulent may be necessary.
Most soil is bad soil
Even though we’ve talked about the negative effects of wet soil on succulents, we haven’t even mentioned why that is. Let me tell you how it works.
It is possible for roots to rot when the soil is wet. Find out how you can prevent a succulent from dying by reading all the common ways they can die.
Succulents are more prone to this danger than other plants, though. It’s not their habit to immerse themselves in water for extended periods of time. They lose water very quickly in their natural habitat due to the dry soil and hot air.
The disease of root rot is particularly interesting. You might be surprised to learn that plants breathe more through their roots than their leaves. In addition to carbon dioxide, they take in oxygen (yes, they also need oxygen) from the soil.
There’s a reason people, when they talk about soil, always mention how great loose soil is. In addition, worms help gardens grow by breaking up the soil and creating tunnels through which air can reach the roots.
The soil cannot move air when wet (duh). Plants have to wait until the soil dries out again before they can breathe again. It may take too long for the root to absorb sufficient water to survive. The succulents didn’t have to deal with prolonged periods of wetness and drowned quickly as a result.
Choosing the Right Soil for Succulents
It may seem impossible, but it’s really not that hard to choose the right soil for succulents. Use those good watering techniques we discussed and minimize organic matter amounts.
It is true that every succulent species has its own needs and wants, but 99% of them are happy with pretty much the same soil. If you are unsure, watch how the plant reacts after being planted in new soil and adjust your care accordingly.
How to make your own succulent soil
Your succulent soil can be made pretty easily; you probably already have all that you need around the house. To make our recipe, follow these steps:
- 2 parts potting soil. You can use any dirt you have lying around – those that are specifically designed for cactus and succulents. Don’t use composted dirt to make your potting mix.
- 1 part perlite. The secret ingredient in succulent soil mixes is not so secret after all. Perlite is in fact volcanic glass that is “puffed” with extreme heat using the same method as Rice Krispies (Seriously). The perlite particle has air pockets, so it keeps the soil loose, promotes soil drainage, and promotes airflow.
- 1 part grit. Grit, simply defined, is a large, inorganic particle that ideally varies in size. In many ways, grit and perlite work similarly (and perlite is a kind of grit). The particles can be as large as construction sand, as small as gravel or rocks, or as small as chicken grit.
There you have it! Everything you need to know about soil and how it relates to succulents and cacti! Is there anything you need clarified or do you have any questions? How about sharing a soil recipe with us? Comment below and let us know what you think!