Soil for Succulents and Cacti: 4 Recipes and Buying Guide

Soil for succulents and cacti

Succulents are popular plants for their beauty and resilience, but to ensure their healthy growth, it is very important to consider the soil in which you will grow them.

An appropriate soil should be porous and allow good drainage to avoid excess moisture, two fundamental aspects for the success of your succulents.

In this article, I will show you the best soil for succulents, 4 recipes to make it at home, and a quick guide on where to buy it in case you don't have time to prepare it.

Let’s get started!

Table

Where to Buy Soil for Succulents and Cactus?

If you are wondering where to buy pre-prepared substrate or soil for cactus and succulents so that you don't have to invest time in making it, there are several options in the market, but here are the 3 most common:

  • Amazon: If you don't want to worry about searching for local stores or risking getting poor quality soil, Amazon is an excellent option because you can see ratings and comments from other people before buying the soil. If you prefer this option, here are the links to the lists with the best soils for succulents and cactus in Europe and United States.
  • Home Depot and similar stores: If you prefer to buy in person, but from recognized chains, there are stores like Home Depot that have their own gardening department where you can find a variety of substrates. In the case of Home Depot, they also have an online store, but I don't recommend it much because most of their products do not have enough ratings or haven't even been rated.
  • Local stores or nurseries: If you don't care about ratings or the backing of big chains, another option is to buy your substrate directly from a local store or nursery. Some of these establishments that are dedicated to the cultivation and sale of plants also usually sell other related products such as pots, fertilizers, and of course, substrate.
Bag of soil for succulents and cacti filling a pot
Photo by @spikeandbloomstore

What is the Best Soil for Succulents?

The choice of substrate is one of the most critical factors in the healthy development of these plants, so it is essential that you know what the ideal soil composition is and what you should consider if you decide to buy or prepare it at home.

The best soil for succulents and cacti is one that has good drainage and aeration capacity. These plants are native to arid regions and have a shallow root system, so they need a substrate that allows water to drain quickly and does not stay moist for long periods.

A good substrate mix should contain a combination of coarse sand, perlite, gravel, peat, and/or potting soil. In some cases, it is also recommended to add coffee grounds, lawn clippings, or leaf pieces to strengthen the substrate and improve plant anchorage.

As you can see, there are various recommended options for these plants, but most sources suggest that the substrate should be very porous and firm, with a proportion of approximately 60% inorganic and 40% organic or even 70% inorganic and 30% organic.

However, it is important to note that each type of cactus or succulent has specific soil needs that, although not so different from each other, there may be some variations in the ideal proportions for each species.

Soil for succulents in a transparent container
Photo by @plantsalonchicago

Therefore, it can be very helpful to research the specific needs of each species in your collection. I recommend you to check out our section on cactus and succulent species to find more detailed information about each one.

Variables that Influence Substrate Choice

Although I already mentioned what the best substrate is for succulents and cacti according to the widely accepted standards of the community, there is actually no substrate that is perfect in all cases.

There are some variables that you should consider when choosing a substrate, and I will explain each one in detail below:

Cost

Cost is one of the most important variables to consider when choosing a substrate for succulents and cacti, especially if you have many species in your collection.

Commercial soils will always be a more expensive option than homemade substrates, but they will save you time and effort.

On the other hand, homemade substrates require more work to prepare, but they will be cheaper as long as you use local materials.

If you choose to make a substrate that requires materials that are not available in your city, the cost of the soil plus shipping costs may end up being higher than if you had purchased a prepared substrate on Amazon or any other online store.

Weather

The weather in which succulents and cacti are grown can cause the composition of the substrate to vary.

In regions with warm and dry climates, a substrate that retains a little more moisture is needed, as in these climates the soil dries out more quickly.

On the other hand, in regions with more humid climates, it is best to have a substrate with very good drainage that helps to not retain moisture for too long.

Location

The location of the plant is another factor that influences the composition of the substrate.

If you grow your succulents indoors, you will need a substrate with greater drainage as they will not receive as much sunlight or wind, so the substrate can remain moist for long periods of time.

If you grow them outdoors, it is better to use a substrate that retains a little more moisture, as in these conditions the substrate will dry out more quickly.

Soil for cactus and succulents with small white stones
Photo by @iyara.shop

Growing space

The type of container or space where you grow your cacti and succulents can also affect the composition of the substrate.

In pots or similar containers, drainage holes are the only way for water to escape, while in soil, water spreads throughout the surface. Therefore, succulents in pots need a substrate with more drainage than those planted in soil.

Furthermore, the material of the pots also influences the retention or release of moisture, which affects drainage. For instance, plastic and metal pots retain moisture for a longer time than terracotta or ceramic ones, as the latter are more porous and well-aerated materials.

Species

The tolerance to excess moisture varies depending on the species. Therefore, it is essential to research the specific tolerances of each species before selecting the best substrate for them.

Some succulents like Lithops have very little tolerance for excess moisture, and thus require a substrate with better drainage than other succulents like Haworthias or Echeverias, which are more resilient and have better tolerance.

Weight

The weight of the substrate is an important consideration, especially if it will be used in larger containers or elevated areas. Substrates that contain a large amount of organic matter are heavier and can make the pot or container difficult to move.

Comparison table

As a summary, I leave you a comparative table with all the variables and the cases in which you should use a substrate with higher drainage or one that retains more moisture:

VariableSubstrate with higher drainageSubstrate that retains moisture
WeatherVery humid climatesHot and dry climates
LocationOutdoorsIndoors
Growing spacePots or containersSoil
SpeciesLow tolerance to moistureGood tolerance to moisture
WeightLighterHeavier

How to make soil for succulents and cacti?

If time is not a problem for you and you prefer to make the soil instead of buying it, I will give you the 4 recipes for homemade soil that have worked best for me:

Homemade soil recipe for succulents #1

  • 1 part of universal soil with worm humus
  • 1 part of gravel, volcanic rock, tree bark, or a mixture of all
  • 1 part of peat or perlite
  • A little river sand
  • Optional: A little ground eggshell and activated aquarium charcoal to prevent fungal growth

This is my favorite recipe and the one that has worked best for me to keep my succulents in good condition and help them grow. If you can get all the ingredients, I highly recommend it.

Preparing soil for succulents and cacti with white gloves
Photo by @thoughts.and.prayerplants

But as I know it's not easy to get them all, below I give you 3 other recipes with fewer ingredients but that have also worked very well for me.

Homemade soil recipe for succulents #2

  • 1 part of universal soil
  • 2 parts of coarse sand

Although it seems very simple, this combination will give your soil good drainage and your cacti and succulents should grow without any major problems. But if you want to take an extra step by using an extra ingredient, you can make your soil even more draining with the following recipe.

Homemade soil recipe for succulents #3

  • 1 part of universal soil
  • 1 part of coarse sand
  • 1 part of perlite or pumice stone

By adding perlite or pumice stone the soil will be more varied, and this will help improve drainage and aeration, both important aspects to keep the roots in good condition and allow them to grow easily.

Just remember that perlite is a very lightweight material, so it is not convenient to use it in outdoor soils since the wind can easily blow it away. It is ideal to use it only for pots, terrariums, or similar containers.

Homemade soil recipe for succulents #4

  • 1 part of coarse sand
  • 1 part of perlite or pumice stone
  • 1 part of pine bark

This is the recipe with the highest drainage of all, but it is low in nutrients. Pine bark is the only organic element, which helps retain water and leave air spaces that allow the necessary porosity and drainage in the soil.

In addition to drainage, another advantage of this recipe is that pine bark is a material that decomposes slowly, so your soil will last longer than with the other options.

FAQs

What is the universal substrate?

The universal substrate is a pre-made mixture ready for use in the cultivation or transplanting of plants such as cacti or succulents.

Usually, it contains coconut fiber, blonde and black peat, composted plant material, perlite, and fertilizer to provide nutrients and stimulate plant growth.

What is the best stone for succulents?

Gravel and pumice stone are among the best options as they allow water to flow quickly and prevent the roots of succulents from becoming waterlogged.

It is important to make sure the stones are not too small and do not contain clay, which can clog the drainage and cause root rot problems.

What is the difference between substrate and soil?

The substrate is a mixture specifically designed for plant growth, while soil is the natural earth present on the Earth's surface.

Unlike soil, the substrate can be sterile and free of microorganisms, which can be beneficial for plants that require specific growing conditions.

What is perlite and vermiculite?

Perlite is an expanded volcanic mineral used to improve substrate drainage and aeration, while vermiculite is an expanded laminar mineral that improves water retention and reduces the frequency of watering.

Both materials are lightweight and sterile, making them ideal for use in plant cultivation mixes.

Conclusion

As you saw, substrate is a crucial aspect for the growth of your plants, as it provides the necessary structure and nutrients to keep them healthy. That's why it's important to consider all the variables before choosing the right substrate for your succulents and cacti.

Remember to look for a balanced mix of inorganic and organic materials with percentages close to 60-40 or 70-30, to ensure that it has a good drainage capacity, but also contains the nutrients for your plants.

If you liked this article, consider sharing it with other succulent enthusiasts on your social networks. We will be thrilled if it reaches more people and helps them know what the best substrate for succulents and cacti is and what to consider if they prefer to make a homemade substrate.

All the best taking care of your plants!

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Luis Camacho

I'm passionate about traveling, trekking and gardening. In this blog i want to share everything I learn throughout my journey and help you get the best of your plants.

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