- How to Make A Cactus Garden
- Choose your Cacti (and succulents).
- Pick out your container.
- Add potting materials.
- Arrange until it’s perfect.
- Safely plant cacti.
- Water and enjoy.
- How to Make a Cactus Dish Garden
- Cactus and Succulent Dish Gardens for Sale
- Cactus Potting Soil – Proper Planting Mix For Cacti Plants Indoors
- Cactus Growing Conditions
- What is Cactus Mix?
- How to Make Cactus Soil
- How to Know if You Need Different Soil
- Repotting a cactus
- About cacti
- What to do
- Five to try
- Cactus Soil Requirements
- Ready To Use Packaged Cactus Potting Mix
- Best Potting Soil For Cactus – Making Your Own
- Cactus Roots And Desert Environments
- Characteristics Of A Good Cactus Potting Soil
- Inorganic Media For Cactus Potting Mixtures
- Organic Media For Cactus Potting Mixtures
- Commercial Cactus Potting Soils
- Can I Use Regular Potting Soil For Cactus?
- How Do I Make Good Cactus Soil?
- How Do You Know When To Water A Cactus?
- Should I Repot My Cactus?
- What Is The Best Soil For Jungle Cacti?
- What Is the Perfect Succulent Soil?
- Key Succulent Soil Factors
- Soil Reviews and Recommendations
- DIY Succulent Soil Recipe
- Outdoor Soil for Succulent Landscaping
- Peat Moss versus Coconut Coir
How to Make A Cactus Garden
If you have the itch to get your hands dirty and plant something, a cactus garden is an enjoyable gardening activity to do whenever it’s in the middle of intense summer heat. If you’re looking for a solo gardening project or family-friendly activity, making a container garden is fun and useful. No green thumb required! You can even throw in some succulents.
Choose your Cacti (and succulents).
Cacti plants come in a wide variety of color, shapes, and sizes. So, when you go to purchase them from a home center or greenhouse, pick whatever plants that suit your needs. Just make sure they’re all plants that tolerate full sun. Don’t be afraid to get eclectic with your pairings; container gardens are meant to be fun!
Pick out your container.
Get creative with your cacti container selection. Most any container will do, as long as it is shallow. You can pick out a plant container that catches your eye, or you can decorate your own. We especially recommend DIY containers for a family activity.
Add potting materials.
Fun fact: cacti require a particular type of potting soil because most other soils retain too much moisture for plants to thrive. But before you loosely fill your container with soil, put a layer of small rocks or gravel in the bottom.
Arrange until it’s perfect.
Let your inner floral designer come out by experimenting with some different arrangements. Don’t try to pot them without looking at the size of the plants, or you might have regrets. Once you are comfortable with the design, you can begin the planting process.
Safely plant cacti.
To get them out of their original containers, and potted into your new container, you’ll need to protect your hands from the pricks of the cacti. Here are a few must-haves: Gardening gloves, folded newspaper, or cardboard will be sufficient. If the cacti cling to their original container, try going around the edges with a knife. Once they’re out of the old container, dig shallow holes for each cactus in the soil of the new container and gently place them in. After that, pack the plants into the soil by gently firming the soil with a spoon or small trowel. Add more potting mix if necessary.
Water and enjoy.
Luckily, cacti are low-maintenance. They only need to be watered whenever the soil has dried completely. The rest of the summer you can enjoy seeing your little cacti grow.
How to Make a Cactus Dish Garden
You’ll discover how to plan and plant an impressive cactus dish garden here. Whether you want a small grouping of cacti or a large bowl spilling over with a huge array of succulents, you’ll get ideas plus all the steps to make your own dynamic display.
Different types of succulents and cacti look great when put together, adding a wide range of shapes, textures and colors to your miniature desert landscape.
The creative possibilities for your own imaginative cactus dish garden scheme are endless. Your only restriction is to choose plants that require the same growing conditions if you want to grow them together.
Choose Your Plants
Succulents offer geometrical form and unique beauty all their own. Yet, somehow they seem to complement each other when planted together.
Echeveria elegans (pictured at right) is an easy-to-grow plant for succulent gardens. It has a beautiful rosette form with tall spikes of bell-shaped blooms appearing in summer.
Their green or blue-green color provides a common thread. Repeating similar shapes also gives continuity to a planting.
Echeveria fimbriata (shown at left) has an upright, rosette form with leaves that often turn purplish-green. You can expect it to bloom in late summer with red and orange flowers.
Choose plants that like each other. If they share the same demands for light, temperature and water, you can be sure that they’re compatible.
Prickly pear cactus (pictured at right) has flat, fleshy pads that grow on top of each other, resembling bunny ears. It is part of the largest cactus genus, Opuntia. Handle with caution — its barbed spines are sharp!
Want More Ideas? Check out the succulent and cacti indoor rock garden for more tips and resources.
Gather Your Supplies
- A fast-draining, sandy mix, such as cactus potting mix works best for all types of succulents.
- Choose a shallow planter. Cacti and other succulents have shallow roots, so the dish only needs to be 3 in (8 cm) deep. A 9 in (23 cm) terra cotta bowl works fine. It doesn’t need to have drainage holes because the sandy potting mix is fast-draining. Just be careful not to overwater.
- You’ll need a small trowel to fill the cactus dish garden with potting mix.
- A small, clean paintbrush comes in handy to clean off plants after they are planted.
- Small pebbles or rocks for the surface of the cactus dish garden.
Plan Your Garden
Before planting, set your plants in the dish to see how they’ll look together.
Give it focus. Use 1 or 2 taller plants to give the arrangement a focal point. If you plan to display your dish garden against a wall or in a corner, place the taller plants in the back. For a dish in a central location to be viewed from all sides, put the tallest plants in the middle.
Don’t overcrowd. You’ll want to show off the contrasting forms and textures of the plants. Giving your plants some space will also allow for growth and good air circulation.
Repeat yourself. Add 2 or 3 of the same type of succulent, such as 2 column-shaped cacti or 3 rosette-shaped echeveria. Repeated forms give instant continuity to your garden.
How to Plant Your Cactus Dish Garden
- Fill the dish half-full with potting mix.
- Remove each plant from its pot and place in the new dish. Use your fingers to spread the roots over the mix, if necessary.
- Once all plants are in place, add more mix to fill the container. Make sure the plants are sitting at the same depth as they were in their original pots. Lightly pat the potting mix around the plants, leaving about 1/2 in (1 cm) space below the rim of the container to allow for watering.
- Use a small, soft paintbrush to gently remove any potting mix on plant leaves or between cacti spines.
- Spread small stones or pebbles on the top of the soil after planting. A dressing of small stones will give your arrangement a finished look. Add decorative rocks to fill in gaps, if you want.
Watering Tips: After your dish garden is planted, water succulents right away with room-temperature water. Wait a few days to water cactus plants, watering lightly for the first couple times.
If you plant succulents and cacti together, keep in mind that cacti need watered less often than other succulents.
Cactus and Succulent Dish Gardens for Sale
Choose a beautiful garden already planted with thriving cacti and/or other succulents, or make your own. Care is easy — these plants are low-maintenance and drought-resistant. Best of all, you’ll enjoy your cactus dish garden for a long time.
Cactus Potting Soil – Proper Planting Mix For Cacti Plants Indoors
Cacti are one of my favorite types of plants to grow inside all year and outside in summer. Unfortunately, the ambient air tends to stay moist during most seasons, a condition which makes cacti unhappy. Cactus potting soil can enhance drainage, increase evaporation and provide the dry conditions that cacti favor. What is cactus mix? This medium promotes optimum health for your cactus and mimics the natural gritty, arid and low nutrient soils they grow in naturally. You can purchase the mixture or learn how to make cactus soil yourself.
Cactus Growing Conditions
The cacti families are succulents which store moisture in their pads, stems and trunks to use during dry and drought periods. They are generally found in desert conditions, although a few are tropical to sub-tropical. The plants favor sunny locations with plenty of heat, areas which have little to no rainfall and harsh soil.
The majority of the family will make excellent houseplants due to their minimal needs and forgiving nature. These hardy plants do need water but not on the scale that the average plant requires. They are unique in form and flower with an ease of care that borders on neglect. They prefer a cactus growing mix that is partially sand or grit, some soil and a pinch of peat moss.
What is Cactus Mix?
Cactus potting soil is available in most nurseries and garden centers. It forms a better basis for cactus roots than regular soil and keeps roots and stems from sitting in moisture, which can cause rot. The right planting mix for cactus plants has superior drainage and will dry out quickly after watering. Cacti will harvest the moisture they need immediately to store in their bodies and excess water needs to be evaporated or drained to prevent fungal disease and rot.
Commercial mixes use the classic elements these plants grow in naturally and add peat, which tends to hold moisture. Once the peat has dried out, it is hard to get it to absorb water again which makes the pot too dry. The glass really is half empty in this case because not enough water will stay in the medium for the plant to uptake.
Homemade cactus growing mix can be tailor made for any type of cactus. Just like our personal tastes, one mix is not always right for every variety of cactus and growing region.
How to Make Cactus Soil
It is actually cheaper to make your own mixture. If you live in a very arid climate, you will want the addition of peat in your potted plants but be careful and don’t let it dry out completely. In most other areas and in the home interior, the plants are fine with one part washed sand, one part soil and one part gritty amendment such as pebbles or even pot shards.
A very different mix combines five parts potting soil, two parts pumice and one part coir for a mixture that dries out evenly. You may have to tweak the soil recipe depending on where you are using your cactus growing mix and what variety of succulent you have.
How to Know if You Need Different Soil
Sadly, by the time you notice a decline in the health of your cactus and think of repotting it in a different planting mix for cactus plants, it may be too late. A better option is to choose right the first time. Determine where your cactus naturally occurs.
If it is a desert species, use the simplest blend of clean fine sand, grit and soil. If you have a tropical species, add peat.
Plants such as Euphorbia are remarkably adaptable to almost any soil and can even thrive in dry potting soil. Give the plants a hand by choosing unglazed containers that evaporate excess moisture and watering deeply only when the soil is completely dry but not crusty.
Repotting a cactus
Cacti come in all shapes and sizes, textures and flower colours. There are two main groups of cacti – the desert cacti (usually covered in spines), and the jungle or rainforest cacti (often without spines and most are epiphytes). Choose the right cactus for the right spot and you’ll have a trouble-free, interesting houseplant that’ll last for years.
When to repot
Cacti should be repotted as soon as the roots begin to show through the drainage holes at the bottom of its pot. As a general rule, fast growing species should be repotted every two to three years and slow growing species every three to four years. Repotting is best carried out in the spring, when cacti are enjoying active growth. Water the cactus two days before repotting, so the roots are moist but not saturated.
What to do
How to repot
- Most cacti have sharp spines, so it’s important to wear gloves or take other protective measures when handling these plants.
- Gently remove the cactus from its pot and discard any topdressing.
- Carefully check the roots for pest and diseases, cutting out any roots that are dehydrated or dead and adding a fungicide if necessary.
- Choose a new container, one size larger than its original, and place a layer of drainage material (washed gravel or broken crocks) in the base.
- Add a well-draining and slightly acidic compost with a pH of 4 to 5.5.
- Repot the cactus to its original depth and gently firm in the compost.
- Trickle a thin layer of grit or gravel around the surface of the cactus which will help water to drain quickly.
- Make sure the plants are watered regularly throughout their growing season in spring and summer. Moisten the soil thoroughly, allowing it to almost completely dry out before watering again.
- Water in the early morning or late in the evening, as plants may scorch if they’re covered in water droplets during the heat of the day.
- Plants in pots may also be watered by placing the container in a shallow pan of water. Lift the container from the water to drain as soon as the surface of the compost appears moist.
- In October, when days shorten, light grows poor and growth subsequently slows. Stop watering all cacti and allow them to go dormant for the winter months. They should only be watered if temperatures rise above 10°C (50°F).
- Cacti need little maintenance in order to thrive, but adequate light, warmth and ventilation are all essential for healthy growth. Most cacti are suitable for sunny south or west-facing windowsills where they receive high light levels and are protected from frost. Plants should be kept at around 27°C (81°F) during the day and at around 13ºC (55°F) in the evening.
Five to try
- Opuntia microdasys var. albispina – a desert cactus that thrives in a warm, dry spot
- Echinocactus grusonii – a golden, spiny cactus that needs to be handled with care!
- Rebutia minuscula – a spiny, mountain cactus which has bold red-orange flowers
- Mammalaria microcarpa – a large desert cactus with unusual red spines
- Cleistocactus strausii – this hardy cactus grows vigorously and needs repotting annually
Cacti are popular for a variety of reasons, including their unique look, easy care, and long life. Many flower beautifully in the spring or summer most are beautiful in both shape and coloration. There are two type of cactus plants: desert and forest. The desert varieties are the ones most commonly seen in garden stores and many are hardy in all types of weather.
Growing Conditions for Cactus Plants
Cacti require full sunlight in almost all cases. Only a select few are shade varieties. Many cactus plants sold in the U.S. are tolerant of cold weather and even snowy winters, but be sure that your choices of plant are able to withstand whatever elements they may be exposed to in your area and growing conditions. Nearly all small and medium sized cacti are good potted varieties.
Most cacti require a relatively long hot growing season, so they will need to have at least six months of 70+ degree Fahrenheit weather continually in order to thrive. Most areas of the U.S. can provide that outdoors and all indoor plants will have these criteria met.
Soils for cacti should be fast-draining, so regular potting mix will probably not work well. Special cactus-specific potting soils are available or you can add sand to standard potting soil in a 1:4 ratio to cut the soil and make it thinner.
How to Plant Cactus Plants
Most cactus plants are purchased already growing, so planting is just a matter of digging a hole and putting the cactus in it or adding it to a suitable pot. Some things are different from normal transplanting procedures, however.
When planting outdoors, make sure the soil is correct for the plant then dig a hole about double the size of the pot the cactus is currently in and about half, again, as deep. Then put the plant in the soil, filling in and tamping down. Follow the directions that came with the cactus, of course. Usually, you will wait 2-3 weeks before watering in order to let the roots set and the cactus acclimate to its new home.
Potting cactus is easy, but most people over-pot their cacti. Cactus plants grow very slowly, so pots that are just large enough to contain the plant are all that’s needed. Indoor cacti take to replanting well, so replanting the cactus every 3-4 years is not going to hurt it. Wait 2-3 weeks before watering.
Care of Cactus Plants
Once settled in, caring for a cactus is not difficult. A lot of light, the right temperature ranges, and water. Most people under water their cactus plants. In the spring and early summer, when the cactus is doing most of its growing, the soil should be kept damp below the surface. So at about an inch down from the top, the soil should always be damp. For outdoor cacti, this usually means watering two or three times a week and for indoor it means a twice weekly watering.
Fertilizers should be specialized for cacti. Most standard fertilizers will short cacti on nutrients. Another thing to be careful about is watering after the peak season. In the late summer and winter, watering should be tapered off to almost none. In the winter, if the plant is outside and weather is harsh, no watering is generally necessary while indoor plants will likely require at least one watering a week because of the warmth of the indoors.
Cactus Plants Pests and Diseases
The most common diseases with cacti are due to over watering. In the fall and winter, cactus plants are susceptible to rot from over watering. Damp soils and the natural conserved dormancy of the cactus will cause outer edges, especially those close to the water source, to rot. This can usually be remedied by ceasing the water and cutting away the rotted portions.
Cacti can also have problems with mealy bugs, aphids, and mites in some areas. There are sprays for these.
Cactus Plant Varieties for Yards
The most common yard varieties are the echinopsis, with their bright red flowers, and astropythum, which have beautiful yellow flowers in the spring. Many other regional varieties are also commonly grown outdoors.
Cactus Plant Varieties for Containers
Container cacti are the most common type grown in the U.S. Probably the most common is the aloe vera. Also, flowering varieties and ornamental species from around the world are popular choices. Here is more information on varieties of cacti by Clemson University.
Want to learn more about how to grow cactus plants?
Check out these helpful resources:
Care of Your Cactus
Growing and propagating your own cactus and succulent plants is a very rewarding process. There’s a lot to love about potted plants of cactus and succulents – they have an unusual and diverse range of growth forms.
First, you have the desert cactus, the most popular type that immediately springs to mind whenever anyone mentions “cactus.”
Then you have the jungle cactus (think Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus), which is somewhat the opposite of their desert species in that they are without spines and are considered as epiphytes. They thrive in the rainforests and places where you’d expect them the least.
Top Bagged Cactus Potting Soil Mixes
- Espoma Organic Cactus Mix
- Hoffman Organic Cactus and Succulent Mix
- Cactus Mix with Mycorrhizae from Green Planet Naturals
In order to grow healthy cactus successfully as houseplants or outdoors, there are 3 major environmental factors to keep in mind – light, water, and soil. Most new to growing cactus and succulents ask:
- “What is the best type of soil to plant my cactus in?”
- “How should I water my cactus plant?”
- “How much light should my cacti get?”
In this article, we’ll address the first question – “What is the best type of soil to plant my cactus in?”
Cactus and succulents should never be overwatered, the potting soil mixture needs to provide good drainage to help solve any overwatering problem.
Cactus Soil Requirements
Optimal potting soil for cacti shouldn’t be moist all the time or root rot will occur and ruin your cactus plant. A good cactus soil mix for your cactus plant is one that drains easily. This is why you don’t use garden soil on your cactus or succulents.
It’s a must that your pots (I prefer clay pots) have working drain holes and that there’s no water sitting in the bottom. Mix in some organic material to keep the soil from quickly drying out. The roots love an airy, well-draining soil mixture like this one that will dry out completely and gets wet easily.
You must prepare for repotting as soon as you see the cactus’ root system begins exiting through the drainage holes in the bottom. Most species of cactus and succulents need repotting at least once in every 2 to 3 years.
Repot the slower-growing types every 3 to 4 years. Repot in the spring season when they begin actively growing. It’s recommended to water two days before to ensure the roots and root ball are moist.
Ready To Use Packaged Cactus Potting Mix
Novice cactus enthusiasts with no knowledge about making their own cacti and succulent soil mix will often visit their local garden center or shop online for the needed materials as they prepare for repotting.
Most garden centers and nurseries carry cactus soil mixes, specifically made for cactus roots and stems.
Top Bagged Cactus or Succulent Potting Soils
- Espoma Organic Cactus Mix
- Hoffman Organic Cactus and Succulent Mix
- Cactus Mix with Mycorrhizae from Green Planet Naturals
Good soil mixtures will characteristically drain water well yet have a water-holding capacity but won’t completely dry it out. The passing water will be absorbed quickly by the cacti or succulents and stored within its body, while the excess water will be drained out of the hole in the bottom.
Commercial potting mixes have the basic elements of good potting soil with the addition of peat moss, which is great for holding moisture needed by your cactus plant.
Most of the commercially available cactus potting soils on the market will grow cactus and succulents plant from propagation to maturity.
It’s a one-size-fits-all approach though; if you want for your desert cactus or jungle cactus to thrive, you’ll have to come up with your very own special cactus soil mix.
Best Potting Soil For Cactus – Making Your Own
It’s actually easy and cheaper to make your own cactus soil.
Prepare a suitable container big enough to hold all the ingredients with room to combine all of them without any spilling over the edge.
Some good examples include a large plastic tub or a wheelbarrow.
Also, include a device for measuring consistency. A small shovel should be enough to bring them all together. I use an ash scoop like this for mixing soil.
Potted DIY Cactus Soil Recipe
A sample cactus soil recipe for plants to grow in includes the following:
- A pinch of rock dust
- One part coarse sand – I use builder sand
- Four parts bagged potting soil – like an African Violet mix
- Five parts perlite
Dress the top of the container soil with small rocks, aquarium stones or fine-grade pea gravel in order to prevent your cactus’ crowns from rotting. Increase the soil acidity ever so slightly with a tablespoon of white vinegar for every 5 gallons of water.
Cactus Dirt For Desert Cactus
Cactus thriving in pure sand isn’t a good thing, despite most scenes you see in the movies. Desert cactus, (aka Opuntia cactus or hairy old man cactus) prefer a rocky, nutrient-rich soil held in a well-draining pot or container. Make sure to include nutrients such as peat moss, coconut coir, pumice, perlite or vermiculite to allow for a good combination of soil aeration and drainage properties.
Use a base of standard potting soil and avoid forest products such as wood chips and pine bark pieces. Add in 2 parts pumice, which is a lightweight and porous volcanic rock. If unavailable, you can substitute with chicken grit, NAPA oil dry number 8822, aquatic plant soil, non-soluble cat litter, vermiculite or perlite. This element is important because it allows water to pass through your potting mix quickly while providing good aeration.
Finally, put in some coconut coir. This slowly decomposes and helps the cactus mix hold moisture while providing structure. It is also wettable as compared to peat and it doesn’t compact in the process.
Cacti Soil For Jungle Cactus
Almost all jungle cactus are either lithophytic or epiphytic. Meaning, they can grow on rocks or depend on the surrounding trees to survive.
These cactus types – orchid cactus – have a special ability to get the essential nutrients from dead leaves or debris left in the cracks and crevasse, and even get its daily needs from the air!
So to imitate the natural growth environment for the jungle cactus, you’ll need a potting mix that includes oak leaf mold, pumice, coconut coir, peat moss, bat guano and some orchid bark or fir bark.
Epiphytic cactus will need a potting soil somewhat similar to the desert cacti type. You’ll just need to change things up a bit.
- 1 Part pumice
- 2 parts coarse orchid bark
This lends more aeration properties than just throwing more standard potting soil into the mix. The bark breaks down over time and will eventually turn to soil, which means it is time for repotting.
These are just examples of good cactus potting soil that you can try out. The perfect mix depends on the cactus type you wish to grow, plus you’ll need to prepare the other two major growth environments, which are water and light.
Part of the fun in making your own cactus soil mix is experimenting on what works best for your beloved cactus and succulent plants!
With their bold forms and textures and their brightly colored flowers, cacti make great houseplants because they are well suited to typically warm, dry indoor conditions and don’t require a lot of attention. It’s easy to grow cactus plants indoors, especially if you start out by using the right kind of potting soil.
What soil do cactus need? Cacti require a porous, sandy or pebbly potting soil that provides plenty of aeration and excellent drainage. A good cactus potting mixture will also consist of some organic material that makes moisture available to the plant roots when watered but then dries out quickly.
In this article, we will take a look at how cactus roots collect and preserve moisture in arid environments and identify the components of a good cactus potting soil, followed by a FAQ section that addresses a few common questions related to indoor potted cacti.
Cactus Roots And Desert Environments
You are probably familiar with some of the moisture-preserving strategies of cacti, such as their succulent tissues and waxy coatings; but what about strategies developed by their root systems?
Knowing how desert cactus roots have adapted themselves to arid environments will help you understand why it is so important to use a potting mixture that will dry out quickly after being watered.
Cactus roots collect and hold water in several different ways. One way is with a cork-like outer layer that helps prevent water loss to the soil. Another way is with an extensive system of shallow roots that spread laterally away from the plant, allowing it to maximize water intake from a large area when only a few inches of surface soil is wetted by brief desert rains.
The roots of cacti are also able to quickly adapt to fluctuations in the plant’s water supply. After a rainfall, the plant shoots out new roots while the existing roots become more conductive of water.
But when there is no water available, these roots dehydrate, with the newly formed ones shriveling up and breaking away. This root shrinkage creates an air pocket that helps prevent any moisture collected by the roots from being drawn back into the soil.
The ability of cactus roots to rapidly suck up water is vital to the plants’ survival because any moisture that makes its way into desert soil is fleeting. Torrential monsoon rains often only last a few minutes, and most of the moisture that does soak into the upper layer of the ground, rather than swiftly running off, will soon evaporate into the dry air.
So, because of the way cactus roots are designed to act quickly and efficiently to collect water when it becomes available and then shrink back, they are very susceptible to rotting when they are constricted in a pot and not allowed to dry out properly between waterings.
And it’s not only the roots – storage cells throughout the plant will become dangerously oversaturated if the roots are continually soaking up water from the soil.
Characteristics Of A Good Cactus Potting Soil
To create a good cactus potting mixture, you need to ensure that the soil is fast draining to prevent problems caused by root rot, oversaturation of plant cells, and any local humidity, which would not be present in a desert environment.
However, the potting medium should be able to retain the water you provide for the plant to use before drying out. And of course, your potting mixture should also meet the nutritional needs of these light feeders.
The best cactus potting soil will therefore be a nutrient-rich blend containing porous inorganic material, to ensure good drainage, along with a lesser amount of fast-drying organic media that delivers water and nutrients to the roots when they need it.
There isn’t one single cactus potting soil recipe that is perfect for everyone, as the best one for you depends on your own situation and preferences. But there are certain ingredients that work better than others.
Inorganic Media For Cactus Potting Mixtures
- Pumice, other types of lava rock
- Perlite, vermiculite
- Crushed granite or limestone
- Coarse sand
Sand is often used in cactus potting mixtures to ensure good drainage, but larger-grained materials such as perlite and pumice are actually better for avoiding compaction of the soil and facilitating fast air and water exchange. While perlite and vermiculite are inexpensive and widely available at gardening centers, pumice (along with other types of lava rock) is longer lasting and rich in micronutrients.
Grit, gravel, and crushed granite or limestone are other inorganic materials that can be mixed into cactus soils for drainage and nutrients.
If you choose to use sand, don’t use just any sand. For example, sandbox sand is too fine, while some types of paving sands have polymer additives. Cleaned construction-grade sand (used to make cement) is a popular choice, since it’s coarse as well as inexpensive.
Regardless of which inorganic media you decide to use, be sure to rinse it well before blending it into your cactus potting mixture.
Organic Media For Cactus Potting Mixtures
- Coco coir
- Composted rice husks
- Peat moss
Coco coir and composted rice husks top the list of best organic media to include in a cactus potting mix. They are both long-fiber materials that provide good structure and absorb moisture well but then dry out quickly. They’re also rot resistant and long lasting, and they have good nutrient bonding qualities.
Peat moss is commonly found in potting soils of all kinds, and it is often listed as an ingredient for cactus potting soil. However, you have to be careful when using it for cacti because its water retention is so great that it may take too long to dry out, especially if you live in a humid climate or have it packed too tightly in the pot.
Commercial Cactus Potting Soils
There are plenty of commercial cactus and succulent soils available, including some high-quality custom blends provided by nurseries that specialize in succulents that are very good.
But the cactus and succulent blends you will find in the gardening section of your local box store are not the best options for indoor potted cacti – at least not on their own, as they tend to contain less coarse inorganic material than they should for proper draining of cactus root zones.
Your cactus plants will be happier if you mix in some pumice or other pebbly material to improve the mineral content and porosity of these soils.
Can I Use Regular Potting Soil For Cactus?
Yes, you can use regular potting soil or African violet soil for your cactus plants. But again, don’t use these on their own, as they have too much moisture-holding organic matter and may contain fertilizer additives that are not geared for slow-growing cacti. Rather, use them as a one ingredient of your own DIY cactus potting soil.
How Do I Make Good Cactus Soil?
As previously mentioned, there is no single perfect cactus soil recipe. But in general, your mixture should consist of *at least* 1/3 part by volume pebbly material or coarse sand, if you are using potting soil as a base, and about 1/2 part inorganic material for mixing with fibrous organic media on its own. I like to use several inorganic materials with different particle sizes for my indoor potted cacti.
You can check the texture of your cactus soil mixture by wetting some and squeezing it with your hand. If it clumps together rather than feeling coarse and falling apart, add more inorganic matter.
How Do You Know When To Water A Cactus?
Since cactus roots need to dry completely between waterings, you need to know how to check the dryness of your plant’s potting soil.
A good way to do this is to weigh the potted plant when you know it is totally dry either using a scale or just by feel, and you can use that as a reference later. Or, just insert a wooden stick through to the base of the pot, leave it for a few minutes, and then remove it and look for signs of dampness.Read my article about how to water cacti for more information.
Should I Repot My Cactus?
Only repot a cactus if you realize that the potting soil is remaining too wet and causing rotting, the roots have begun showing through the drainage holes of its pot, or the plant has reached the edge of the pot.
It’s always best to repot plants in the springtime, if possible. And use just the next pot size up for a cactus that has outgrown its current pot, since the larger the pot, the longer it takes the potting mixture to dry out.
What Is The Best Soil For Jungle Cacti?
In this article, we’ve been talking about desert cacti, but there’s another type of cactus – the holiday cacti – that are native to Brazilian rainforests, where they are found growing attached to rocks and trees.
These cacti also require a growing medium that is well draining, but their roots don’t need to dry out completely like their desert cousins do. Potting mixture for these plants should be composed of mostly organic matter, so simply add a good portion of peat moss to your cactus soil mixture for these popular houseplants.
If you’d like to learn more about about looking after cacti, check out some of my other articles, which provide great information about looking after these wonderful plants.
- How Fast Do Cacti Grow?
- How Much Water Do Cacti Need?
- How Long Do Cacti Live?
- What’s The Difference Between Cacti And Succulents?
- Resources For Indoor Gardeners
Struggled with succulents and not known what the problem was? The answer could be in the soil.
Succulents need different soil from most plants in order to really thrive. Indoors or out, there are a lot of factors that determine the right soil for healthy, beautiful plants. Use the wrong type of soil and you’ll find yourself endlessly troubleshooting care issues.
But fear not! This comprehensive guide explains everything you’ve ever wondered about succulent soil. It covers the key factors for different growing conditions, reviews top commercial succulent soils, and shares a simple recipe to help you mix your own soil at home.
- What is the perfect succulent soil?
- Key Succulent Soil Factors
- Soil Reviews and Recommendations
- DIY Succulent Soil Recipe
- Outdoor Soil for Succulent Landscaping
- Peat Moss vs. Coconut Coir
What Is the Perfect Succulent Soil?
The short answer: a well-draining one. There are a lot of conflicting ideas about soil, but when it comes to succulents, drainage is key. That’s because succulents’ ability to tolerate drought makes them prone to rot if left in wet soil.
Aloe brevifolia growing from cracks in a boulder
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 main drainage factors are soil type, watering frequency, container choice, sun and, airflow
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.
With all these factors at play, what works for one gardener may not work well for another. For instance, indoor growers with less airflow might prefer a grittier soil to prevent pests. Conversely, an outdoor grower in a hot, windy climate could use a less porous soil to avoid having to water too frequently.
For long-term growing, use pots with drainage holes.
You can drill your own holes in non-draining pots, but a layer of rocks at the bottom does not add drainage. In fact, it creates large pockets in which water collects and breeds bacteria. The best succulent soil in the world can’t prevent rot in a non-draining container if you aren’t careful with watering. You can find more information on this in our Guide to Pots for Succulents.
SHOP POTS FOR SUCCULENTS
Key Succulent Soil Factors
Organic versus Mineral
Soil is made up of organic and mineral components. In this context, organic refers to things that were once alive. Minerals, however, are natural, inorganic substances (not derived from living organisms).
For example, tree bark and other plant debris are organic components, but gravel is mineral. Both types are necessary in soil. The organic materials provide nutrients and store water while mineral constituents improve drainage.
The right ratio of organic to mineral material will support growth and prevent rot. It will also allow you to water your succulents deeply, but infrequently. The mineral content can range from 40%-80% by volume depending on environmental conditions and the varieties being grown.
Sempervivum growing in sandy loam with a gravel top dressing
There are a lot of organic and mineral ingredients to choose from, and you can mix multiple types from each category. For organic matter, we recommend pine bark, coconut coir, compost, or potting soil. Good mineral options include coarse sand, perlite, volcanic rock, fine gravel, and chicken grit. Avoid minerals that store water, like vermiculite and non-calcined clays.
Texture and Porosity
The mineral portion of soil is further categorized into “texture types” based on grit size. The three types, from largest to smallest, are sand, silt, and clay. The proportions of each affects how much water a soil can hold and how long it will take to dry. With their large particles and pores, sandy soils dry out faster than clay soils. This is ideal for succulents.
There are simple feel tests and jar tests you can do at home to estimate the texture of your soil. When planting outdoors in the ground, aim for a sandy loam that is 50% to 80% coarse sand or fine gravel. For potted plants, select coarse grit minerals about 1/8″ to 1/4″ in diameter. This will ensure rapid drainage and keep your succulents from rotting in soggy soil.
Soil Reviews and Recommendations
Here you’ll find a side by side comparison of some commercial succulent soils. We tested each for field capacity (i.e. how much water they hold when saturated) and drying time. All were in plastic pots with drainage holes under the same indoor light conditions with moderate airflow. There’s no one right soil for every grower and each of these options can be amended to fit your needs.
Drainage Grade: B
Price: $4.89 – $5.47 per 8 qt.
Sources: Any garden center
Regular potting soil isn’t the best choice for easy succulent cultivation, but with a couple of precautions you can make it work. Potting soil is mostly organic materials like bark, peat moss, and compost. It has a dense structure and it takes a while for it to dry. But if regular potting soil is all that’s available, here’s how to make it work for succulents.
First, pick the lightest mixture you can find and avoid any with vermiculite or moisture retaining crystals. Also, be sure to use a container with a drainage hole…or three. And lastly, water less frequently so the mix has time to dry.
And if you really want to turn standard potting soil into a rapidly-draining succulent soil, mix a 1:1 or even 1:2 ratio of potting soil to mineral grit.
Drainage Grade: C
Price: $5.99 per 8 qt.
Source: Ace Hardware, Walmart
With a name like “Cactus Mix”, I expected better drainage from this soil. While it drained excess water well initially, it took the most time to dry of all the samples tested. It has some pumice for drainage, but mostly it’s comprised of forest products, compost, and worm casings. Even amending the mixture to be 50% perlite only decreased the drying time by one day.
That said, Black Gold Cactus Mix is not a bad soil. It could be the right soil for pots in hot climates, for thinner leaved succulents like hardy Sedum, or for growers who rarely remember to water. Those looking for truly rapid drainage, however, might want to look elsewhere.
Cactus Palm, & Citrus
Drainage Grade: B
Price: $4.58 – $4.78 per 8 qt.
Sources: Lowe’s, Home Depot, Target
This mix has an organic base of forest products and peat moss with both sand and perlite added. It drains well and has a bit of added Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorous—enough to encourage growth, but not enough to burn vulnerable plants. The peat does make it somewhat difficult to rehydrate after the soil has completely dried (more on that below).
This is a nice, standard mix for growers who know how to gauge when a container of succulents needs water. Those who tend to over-water or are tying to grow extra low-water plants like cacti should amend it. You can turn this into a grade A soil by mixing it with an equal volume of mineral materials.
Succulent & Cactus Soil
Drainage Grade: A+
Price: $29.49 per 8 qt.
Sources: Bonsai Jack, Amazon
This soil is in a whole different league in terms of price and performance. It is only available online and the price includes the cost of shipping. It has a radically different makeup than the other products analyzed, namely calcined clay and fine particles of pine bark. This super light, gritty mix has giant pores that keep it from ever retaining too much water. When used in a pot with drainage holes, it is nearly impossible to over-water your plants.
For succulent newcomers, cactus growers, or loving plant parents who sometimes water too often, Bonsai Jack soil is worth the price. I tried this mix one winter when low airflow in my apartment turned my succulents into breeding grounds for fungus gnats. Now I use it year-round. Water the entire top surface of the soil to ensure maximum absorption. Some lovers of xerophytes don’t appreciate having to water more frequently, but for many indoor growers, it’s the crème de la crème.
Just try to over-water Bonsai Jack soil
DIY Succulent Soil Recipe
True, mixing your own succulent soil is a little more involved. But, it’s a great way to save money and get the perfect soil blend for your particular varieties and growing conditions. Think of this as a general, all-purpose recipe. It will work indoors or outdoors, in containers or in the ground, and can be adapted based on your environment and the materials available.
To make a balanced succulent soil, mix one part organic materials from the left column with two parts mineral materials from the right. You can pick one from each side or mix and match multiple ingredients. Just be sure the total volume is 1/3 organic matter and 2/3 mineral materials.
A couple notes on some of the soil options listed:
There are seemingly endless varieties of potting soil on the market. Check the ingredients so you know exactly what you’re getting and whether it contributes to moisture retention or drainage. Avoid peat-based potting mixes (more on that below).
For a well-draining soil, it’s important to use a coarse grit like builder’s sand. Additionally, do not use beach sand as it can desiccate succulents with salt.
This natural, volcanic glass makes a soil light and airy. Just don’t confused it with vermiculite, which retains moisture instead of draining it.
Look for particle sizes between 1/8″ and ¼” in diameter. Rinsing removes fine dust particles that can clog soil pores and reduce drainage. Gravel should be mixed into your soil, not layered at the bottom of a non-draining pot where it can lead to rot.
Other Mineral Possibilities
Diotamaceous earth, chicken grit, decomposed granite, and non-soluble cat litter or oil dry (both are calcined moler clay) can be substituted in equal volumes.
Outdoor Soil for Succulent Landscaping
Soil requirements for succulents planted in the ground are less strict than those for container plantings. Ideally, even landscape succulents would be in a gritty, sandy loam with a gravel mulch. The nature of outdoor conditions, however, means you can get away with a less than perfectly draining soil.
The main reason is that outdoor plants are in a greater volume of soil and get more sunlight and airflow than indoor plants. This draws water out of the soil through evaporation, helping them dry faster, and reducing the incidence of rot and disease.
The easiest way to improve drainage without changing the soil structure is by mounding it into berms or raised beds. By building a sloping topography, you increase the surface area exposed to sun and wind and let gravity do some of the drainage work. It also adds visual interest. For more details on the process, check out our guide How to Build a Rock Garden.
Mounding soil into berms helps it drain faster and adds levels to a rock garden
Most raised, outdoor soils can support succulents if watered at the correct frequency (see Watering Succulents: A Complete Guide). The one exception is heavy clay soils. Clay easily saturates with standing water and is not recommended for succulent cultivation. It takes massive quantities of sand to amend clay soil. Often, it’s easier to pick a different location for your succulents or grow them in containers.
SHOP ROCK GARDEN SUCCULENTS
Peat Moss versus Coconut Coir
Succulents from Mountain Crest Gardens are never grown in peat, nor do we recommend it. We use a medium of coconut coir (pronounced COY-er), sometimes with added perlite. This mix is tailored to young plants in greenhouse conditions, and it can work for outdoor succulents in hot climates. Indoor growers, however, should use about one part coir for every two parts mineral ingredients.
Watering coconut coir (left) and hydrophobic peat moss (right)
Why not use peat moss in succulent soil? 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.
When watering dry coconut coir (left) and peat moss (right), water soaks into the coir but runs off the hydrophobic peat
On top of being poorly suited to a succulent’s watering regimen, peat is a less sustainable option than coconut coir. Peat is harvested from wetlands of Sphagnum moss that slowly decompose over hundreds to thousands of years. Peat does not develop quickly and the destruction of peat bogs is a loss of a major global carbon sink.
Coir, on the other hand, is the fibrous byproduct left over after husking coconuts. Coconuts regenerate far faster than peat bogs, so coir is a more sustainable product and puts to use the massive quantities of what would otherwise be a waste product. For even more reasons to choose coir over peat, check out “Coir is Sustainable Alternative to Peat” (Oregon State University).
Is Coir Right for You?
While coir is an ideal choice for young plants in a nursery setting, it isn’t perfect for all situations. Because it’s light and stores a lot of moisture, it can be a decent choice for succulents growing outdoors in hot climates. To improve coir drainage for indoor growing or humid climates, we recommend amending with coarse sand or perlite. A 2:1 mineral to coir soil has a drying time close to that of Miracle-Gro Cactus, Palm & Succulent Potting Mix.
There is no one perfect succulent soil and most can be adapted to suit a variety of growing conditions. A few differences stood out in our comparison of commonly available succulent soils.
APPROX. PRICE (8 QT.)
Sempervivum ‘Quintessence’ and S. ‘Pacific Shadows’ in a well-draining rock garden soil
Don’t feel like getting into the nitty gritty of succulent soil? Keep it simple by using a gritty, well-draining soil that is at least 50% mineral materials by volume. Pay attention to the amount of time it takes the soil to dry after a thorough drenching and adjust the mineral to organic ratio as necessary. 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:
- Watering Succulents: A Complete Guide
- Full Guide to Pots for Succulents
- Top Dressings for Sophisticated Succulents
SHOP ALL SUCCULENTS