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? In this article we will explain what characteristics the soil of your succulents must have to ensure that they grow healthy and beautiful.
- 1 Do Succulents Need Special Soil?
- 2 What Kind of Soil do Succulents Need?
- 3 Factors to be Considered When Making Your Own Succulent Soil
- 4 Components of the Substrate for Succulents
Do Succulents Need Special Soil?
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.
What Kind of Soil do Succulents Need?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Factors to be Considered When Making Your Own Succulent Soil
Let's face it, this is an important factor for many. If money is not an issue for you, you can move on to the next point.
You can always buy a ready mix substrate for succulents and cacti, but that is more expensive than at home. Especially if you have a large collection or an outdoor succulent garden.
On the other hand, some of the recommended components for substrates may be scarce in your area and it is better to replace it with another. Or there may be an abundance of materials in your area that you can use to make the substrate and that is inexpensive. It is always going to be cheaper to use local materials.
As you already know, the succulent soil must be wet enough so that the plant can absorb and feed on the moisture, but it must also dry quickly so that the roots are not wet for too long and rot.
Logically, the substrate dries faster in dry and warm environments than in cold and humid environments. So if your climate is cold you will need more drainage.
Indoor vs Outdoor
You must bear in mind that the substrate responds differently if the plant is indoors or outdoors. Generally dries faster outdoors than indoors. If you have succulents in both environments, it is convenient to make a substrate with greater drainage for indoor plants than for outdoor ones. And, at the same time, if you live in a warm climate and have succulents outdoors, you should use materials in your substrate that retain moisture for a little longer. This way you give your succulents the opportunity to efficiently use the irrigation water.
In this article we explain the best way to water succulents.
Container, Pot or Ground
In containers or pots, the escape route for water is through the drainage holes, while in the ground the water expands over the entire surface. Thus, succulents in containers need more drainage than those that are planted in the ground.
In the same way, the material of the containers influences the retention or release of moisture and, therefore, you should take this into account when making the soil mix to guarantee adequate drainage. For example, plastic and metal pots retain moisture longer than terracotta or ceramic ones.
We recommend that you do not miss our article on the different types of pot for succulents.
Some species tolerate excess moisture better than others. For those that are especially sensitive to humidity and prone to dying from excess love in the form of water, you should use a substrate with greater drainage and porosity. For example, you shouldn't use the same substrate for a Sedum morganianum as for a Lithop.
In this section we talk about types and characteristics of 1,000 succulents.
The weight of the substrate may be an important factor for you. In the event that you want to make shipments for gifts, sales, arrangements of succulents, transport for removals or simply move your succulents from one place to another, you should have a light substrate. Therefore, you should choose lightweight components that do not add extra weight.
Components of the Substrate for Succulents
The substrate for succulents is made by mixing organic and inorganic components. In simple terms the organic components will provide nutrients and the inorganic ones are richer in porosity and drainage (although some organic ones also contribute porosity). Here is a list of the most common components used in soil mixes for succulents and cacti.
- Coarse sand
- Expanded clay
- Volcanic rock
- Pine bark
- Coconut coir
- Rice husk
- Wood chips
- Earthworm humus
It is advisable to use a higher proportion of inorganic than organic components. This guarantees the three characteristics that the substrate must have for your succulents: drainage, porosity and low composition in nutrients.
You can study each component, see if there is one in your area and at what cost, what characteristics each one provides and thus make your own succulent soil recipe. Remember, again, that there are also ready-made options.