Have you struggled with your succulents and you’re not sure why they’re not thriving? The answer could easily be the soil, especially if you’re not sure what the best soil for succulents is in the first place as general-purpose potting soil usually won’t work without amendments. Succulents require different soil to do well, and indoors or out, you have a lot of factors to consider when it comes to determining the best soil for succulents to get beautiful, healthy plants. If you use the wrong type of soil, you’ll find yourself constantly troubleshooting care issues and battling to keep your plants alive.
But, fear not. We’ve put together a quick guide that explains everything you need to know about the best soil for succulents, from what you should look for if you buy it to recipes to help you create your own.
Succulents are very unique and colorful plants, but they can be much more picky about their soil.
Why Succulent Soil Mix is Important
Succulents usually bring to mind plants that have fleshy, thick stems and leaves that they use as an adaptation to store water. In other words, succulents are great for desert landscaping and have recently seen an explosion in popularity for use indoors in minimalistic planters for their stunning and unique look.
It rarely rains in the desert, but when it does, it tends to pour. Succulents store water in the leaves and in the stem, and they use this stored water during the dry weeks when they get no rain. So, for this plant, the roots don’t take up all of the water the plants need as they already have enough stored in the leaves. The type of soil you’ll get in the desert is sandy, and the hot weather ensures it drains very quickly. So, damp soil for succulents is bad as it can lead to pests or root rot, and there are also fungal diseases in wet or damp soil.
Creating the same environment for your succulents inside is critical. Getting the best soil for succulents is essential, and it accomplishes three things for your plants, including:
- Anchorage – This soil will help anchor your plants, and the roots need soil with substance to dig into and grip to make them more stable.
- Moisture – This soil will absorb water and make it available for the plant. Different types of soil will hold water for different lengths of time.
- Nutrients – It provides the nutrients that the plants need, mainly phosphorus and nitrogen.
Best Soil for Succulents – Key Points
The biggest threats to your succulents surviving is root rot as it tends to attack the main channel for water and nutrient uptake of the plant. In turn, you end up with a shriveled, weak plant when rot takes hold. Most plants will die from it, and planting your succulents in the best soil will help avoid it. The best soil for succulents should contain the following components:
Your plant’s root system needs some space to breathe. This will ensure that the nutrients and soil absorb easier, and it’ll also work to create a sustainable environment for any beneficial microorganisms to thrive in the soil.
Non-Compacting and Breathable
Compact and sticky soil is terrible for succulents. The roots won’t do well because this type of soil retains moisture for far too long and makes it hard for your plant to breathe.
You want to ensure that the best soil for succulents doesn’t have too many nutrients. If it does, especially nitrogen, this can lead to brittle, slight, and unpleasant plants. No one wants to deal with this type of plant.
Succulent soil must drain fast to keep the roots semi-dry and ward off rot, but it also needs nutrients to feed your plants.
Essentially, your soil has two main factors in it, inorganic and organic matter. Organic matter, in the context of soil, means that the things were once alive and are now dead. It can be in different stages of decomposition or just regular death. A few examples or organic matter include but are not limited to:
- Peat or sphagnum moss
- Decomposing plants or animals
- Coconut coir
- Leaf or bark shreds
So, inorganic matter is everything that was never alive. When it comes to soil, this means the minerals. Soil is mainly composed of varying silt, clay, and sand ratios. When you add organic and inorganic materials together, you get soil. The more organic matter it contains, the more water it’ll hold. Does this make sense? More organic matter means very little drainage and soggy soil. So, your best soil for succulents will have very little organic matter and it needs to stay on the dry side and drain well.
Succulents that sit in damp soil are waiting for problems. But, what is soil drainage? In the most basic sense, soil drainage is how fast the water leaves the soil. After you water the plant, some water should come out the bottom of your container, but most of it will stay in the soil. This water either has to evaporate into the air or get taken up by the plant.
When you create your succulent potting soil, you want it to drain quickly and well after each watering. Grainy and loose soil is perfect for succulents. But, how do you know if it’s draining well enough? As a general rule, your succulent soil should be dry within 1 to 1 ½ days of watering it. And we mean bone dry.
There’s a quick way to check how dry your soil is. Take your finger and stick it into the soil an inch or two down. It should feel warm and dry. If it feels cool at all, it’s probably still slightly damp. If your succulent has filled out in your container, it can be hard to check your soil dampness, and your plant’s root system could use more room. If this is the case, you may want to consider repotting it.
Common Succulent Soil Problems
Generally, you won’t run into many issues when it comes to the best soil for succulents as long as it’s created correctly. The following issues can be indicators that you need to amend your soil:
If you water your succulent and you notice that the water drains straight through the pot without the soil absorbing anything, your soil may be compacted. Soil compaction is more rare with succulents if your soil mixture is made correctly. However, soil compaction can happen if you haven’t watered your plants in a long time or you have too much organic matter like compost in the soil’s composition.
If this is the case, it’s usually best to repot your succulent in new soil. Try mixing more pumice, sand, or perlite into the soil to help prevent it from compacting in the future. Water your repotted plant right away.
Too High in Nutrients
If your succulent has unbalanced, leggy growth, this could be a sign that you have too many nutrients in your soil. This could sound like a strong problem to encounter, but most succulents don’t need a lot of nutrients in the soil. Too much nitrogen can be the biggest issue with these plants. If you run into this problem, you can try amending your current soil with more perlite or sand to help reduce how much organic matter it contains.
DIY Succulent Soil Recipe One
While it’s true that mixing your own best soil for succulents is more involved, it’s a nice way to save money and get the perfect blend for your different succulents that mimic the best growing conditions possible. Think of this one as an all-purpose, general recipe that will work both outside and inside, in the ground or in containers. You can adapt it based on your climate and the materials you have available too.
To create a balanced succulent soil, you’ll mix one part organic material with two parts of mineral materials. You can pick several different ingredients and mix and match to get different components. The ending total volume for the best soil for succulents is ⅔ mineral materials with ⅓ organic matter. You’ll need:
- Bucket, pail, or plastic bin
- Coarse sand to also incorporate into the soil mix
- Common gardening soil
- Gardening gloves
- Measuring cup
- Perlite or Pumice to incorporate into the soil mix
Ratios to Create the Best Soil for Succulents
The mixing ratio for your three elements (soil, sand, and perlite or pumice) is one part sand to two parts amendment. So, if you want to use cups, you’d use three cups of sand, three cups of soil, and 1.5 cups of pumice or perlite. Perlite and pumice will work to add drainage and aeration to your soil. Pumice is very useful for helping hold moisture and nutrients, and you can use either one. You can also combine the perlite and pumice before adding it to your mix to get a very rich end product. Sand will also work to make the soil less compact while increasing drainage.
There are dozens of succulent soil recipes available, and all you have to do is ensure that they drain quickly and don’t allow for compaction.
How to Make the Best Soil for Succulents
Put on your gardening gloves and start the project. The first thing you should do is slightly moisten the soil to prevent dust from getting in your mixing container or bucket. Put the sand in and mix thoroughly, and using your hands will mix it more efficiently. Scoop in the pumice or perlite and give it a good stir to get a uniform mixture.
That’s all you have to do. It’s just a matter of knowing what ingredients to include in the best soil for succulents and the ratios to add it in. You can use this soil for repotting, potting, and storing it for future use. If you don’t want to mix it, there are also premixed options available to buy. You can water once the soil is completely dry.
DIY Succulent Soil Recipe Two
If you’ve started looking for the best soil for succulents and you’ve found that many of the commercial mixes aren’t coarse enough, you may want to create your own. The following will be an inexpensive, easy recipe to attempt. All of the ingredients should be easy to find at your local nurseries or online, and you’ll only need three ingredients to pull this recipe off. You can find them at garden centers or home improvement stores, and you’ll need:
- All purpose potting soil
- Coarse sand
- Perlite or Pumice
All Purpose Potting Soil
Generally, any type of all-purpose potting soil will work as a solid base to create the best soil for succulents. You can use whatever you have on hand as long as it’s sterile and fresh, and you don’t have to necessarily stick to a specific brand. It’s best to use a porous and light mix as you base though, so keep this in mind when you shop.
You do want to avoid heavy potting soils, mixes that have vermiculite, or any type of soil that claims to retain water or offer moisture control. Succulents require a potting soil that drains well, not one that traps water in.
Succulents tend to thrive in sandy, porous potting mix, so amending your potting soil base with sand is critical. You could potentially use any type of sand you like, but to ensure that it drains quickly for your succulents, we recommend purchasing coarse sand instead of really fine sand. Don’t use fine sand from the beach, garden, or the sandbox as you have no idea what contaminants it contains. You can also use poultry grit or turface instead of sand if they’re easier for you to get.
Perlite or Pumice
Perlite is a very lightweight organic soil amendment, and it’s usually made up of small white pieces that look a lot like Styrofoam and you see in commercial-grade potting mixes. Perlite won’t hold a lot of moisture, so it helps better drainage and helps prevent soil compaction. In other words, it’ll help you soil drain much quicker, and this is exactly what you want for the best soil for succulents. You can buy pumice or perlite at almost any garden center, or it’s also available online.
To create the recipe for this fast-draining potting soil, you’ll need:
- 3 parts all-purpose potting soil
- 2 parts coarse sand, poultry grit, or turface
- 1 part perlite or pumice
But, what is a part? A part is a very generic term that you use when it comes to potting mix ratios. You can use anything you’d like to measure out your ingredients, as long as you use the same thing for each measurement or part.
So, if you choose to use a scoop to measure out your one part perlite, you’ll use the same scoop three times for the potting soil and twice for the sand. If you wanted to use a cup with this recipe, you’d mix three cups of potting soil with two cups of sand and one cup of perlite or pumice.
How to Mix the Best Soil for Succulents
Mixing your best soil for succulents recipe is very easy. All you have to do is dump everything into a potting tray, bucket, or whatever you want to use as a mixing container and stir it up. Use your hands or a trowel to mix it, but you do want to make sure everything is evenly mixed before you use it.
Storing Your Leftover Succulent Soil
One thing that is nice about mixing up your own DIY succulent soil is that you can mix up a very large batch and store anything you have left. Succulent soil will store nicely on a shelf in your basement, garden shed, or garage. You could make a batch ahead of time and store it for later use, or you could mix it as you need when it’s time to repot.
We like to mix up bigger batches and store the leftovers in a sealed plastic bucket in the garage so you always have this soil on hand when you need it. Make sure that you store your soil in an airtight container. The last thing you want is bugs getting in there. If you don’t have an airtight container on hand, you should consider buying a bucket with a sealing lid to keep it ready to go.
You should be very careful when you store your succulent soil to ensure that pests can’t get into it and cause problems when you use it.
Coconut Coir vs Peat Moss
Succulents are not usually grown in peat moss, and many nurseries choose to use a mixture of coconut coir instead with a small amount of perlite. This mix gets tailored to the younger plants in greenhouse environments, and it can work well for indoor succulents in hotter climates. However, indoor plants in cooler conditions should use two parts mineral ingredients for every one part coir.
Along with being poorly suited to your succulent’s watering needs, peat is much less sustainable than coconut coir. Peat gets harvested from wetlands with Sphagnum moss that slowly grows and decomposes over hundreds of years. Peat doesn’t grow quickly, and destroying peat bogs means the loss of a big carbon sink.
On the other hand, coir is simply the fibrous byproduct that you have left after you husk coconuts. Coconuts regenerate much faster than peat bogs, so this makes coir much more sustainable and allows you to use it in large quantities as it would otherwise be a waste product.
Why not amend your succulent soil with peat moss? Peat is hydroponic when it’s dry, and this means that it repels water. It will take a gradual soaking to rehydrate any dry peat moss and fully saturate the soil. Since succulents need to be 100% dry between watering sessions, it’s difficult to quickly drench the roots if you have them surrounded by peat moss.
Is Coir Right for You?
While coconut coir is the right choice if you have a nursery with younger plants, it’s not 100% perfect for every situation. Because it stores a high amount of moisture and it’s light, it can be a decent choice to grow succulents outside in hotter planting zones. To improve how well it drains if you live in a humid climate or you’re growing indoors, you should amend it with perlite or a coarse sand with a 2:1 mineral to coconut coir ratio.
Best Soil for Succulents FAQS
Below, we’ll answer some of your most frequently asked questions about the best soil for succulents.
1. Can you put succulents in regular potting soil without any amendments?
You could try and put your succulents in an all-purpose potting soil. This tends to work better if you routinely forget to water them for longer periods, or if your plants are very small. However, you want the soil to completely dry out between watering sessions.
2. What happens to succulents in regular potting soil?
If you put your succulents in regular all-purpose potting soil, it dramatically increases your chances of overwatering it. When the soil has too much moisture in it, it can cause rot to take hold.
3. What’s the difference between succulent soil and all-purpose potting soil?
The differences between these two potting soils are the consistency and the ingredients. Regular all-purpose potting soil has organic materials in the makeup that help retain moisture while succulent soil is very porous and designed to drain rapidly. Succulents can do very well in a homemade potting soil, and it can save you a lot of money.
There isn’t one perfect best soil for succulents, but you can adapt most to suit a range of growing conditions. A few differences tend to stand out when you shop and compare the various soil options. If you don’t feel like making your own, you can shop for a well-draining, gritty soil that is at least 50% minerals by volume. Pay attention to how long it takes the soil to dry out after you drench it and adjust the organic ratio as necessary to get thriving, healthy succulents.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.