Succulents are plants that are native to the desert regions of Africa, Central America, Mexico and some parts of Europe. As part of their adaptation to the hot and dry natural habitat, succulents develop thick, fleshy stems and leaves which function to store water and survive the drought.
Therefore, their roots don’t absorb water all the time as they already have enough tucked away in their leaves. We know this by the type of soil found in the desert. It is sandy and the hot weather helps the water to drain quickly so succulents do not sit in wet soil for long.
Damp soil is not only unnecessary for succulents, but it may also lead to root rot and a host of pests, not to mention the fungal diseases that accompany wet soil.
So, what kind of soil do succulents need?
Succulent Soil Selection Criteria
Struggled with succulents and not known what the problem was? The answer could be in the soil.
To cultivate any plant, it helps to mimic the natural environment from which it came. Wild succulents tend to grow in sandy, gravelly soil. Many even thrive in small, rocky crevices or cliffsides. Their native, gritty soils get saturated by heavy rains but dry out rapidly.
The biggest cause of death for succulents is over-watering, and the biggest threat to succulent survival is root rot.
When the roots – the main channel for water and nutrient uptake rots, the entire plant will become weak and eventually die. Needless to say, soil drainage plays a huge role in keeping a succulent alive and thriving.
Therefore, planting your succulents in the right soil cannot be stressed enough. A good succulent soil should fulfil the following criteria:
1. Succulent Soil Needs to be Well-Draining
Of course this tops the list. Succulents and damp soil just don’t get along together.
Many variables influence how long soil stays wet, e.g. quantity of water added, sunlight, airflow, and soil structure. While looking for the right soil, be aware that drying time is a balance of all these factors.
For succulent soil to be well-draining, the secret lies in the ratio of organic to mineral material. The organic materials provide nutrients and store water while mineral constituents improve drainage.
The right ratio will support growth and prevent rot. It will also allow you to water your succulents deeply, but infrequently.
Soil texture and porosity also affects how much water it can hold and how long it will take to dry. Sandy soils have large particles and pores, allowing them to dry out faster compared to clay soils. This is ideal for succulents.
When planting outdoors in the ground, aim for a sandy loam that is 50% to 80% coarse sand or fine gravel. For potted plants, use coarse grit minerals about 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch wide. This will ensure rapid drainage and keep your succulents from rotting in damp soil.
Soil requirements for succulents planted in the ground are less strict than those planted in containers. Ideally, even landscape succulents would be in a gritty, sandy loam with a gravel mulch. The nature of outdoor conditions eg. sunlight and airflow, however, means you can get away with a less than perfectly draining soil.
Whether you choose to buy a well-draining soil or make your own, this guide here goes into detail on what to look out for.
2. Succulent Soil Needs to have Good Aeration
Succulent roots do not like compact and heavy soil. Light and airy soil provides room for the roots to breathe and grow, thus making your succulent plants happy. To add lightness to the soil, consider adding perlite into the mix.
To learn more on how to do this, check out this guide here.
3. Succulent Soil Must Not Have Excessive Nutrients
This may seem odd to you but it’s true.
Soil that contain too much nutrients, especially nitrogen, may cause your succulents to be lanky, brittle, and unpleasant.
This guide here goes into detail on what’s a good mix of nutrients in succulent soil.
4. Succulent Soil Must Not Contain Too Much Peat Moss
Why is that?
Peat becomes hydrophobic when dry, meaning that it repels water. It takes gradual soaking to rehydrate dry peat and fully saturate the soil. Since succulents need to completely dry between each watering, it is difficult to quickly drench the roots of a succulent grown in peat.
What Kind of Soil Do Succulents Need?
Don’t feel like getting into the nitty gritty of succulent soil? Keep it simple by purchasing our recommended soil for succulents in pots.
And because soil is only part of the succulent care puzzle, we highly recommend reading through the following guides and filling in all the gaps: