There is no doubt cacti plants are pretty and vibrant, but they can also be picky. Unlike your average houseplant, cacti are quite selective with soil, which is one of the reasons why they are so special. Whether you are a pro gardener or the new kid on the block, consider making your own cactus soil because it is cheaper than buying a commercial one and it is also super easy.
So, how do you make your own cactus soil? To make your own cactus soil, you will need a few ingredients: regular garden soil, perlite/pumice, coarse sand, gravel/lava rocks, and peat. You can purchase these ingredients at any home improvement store near you. Once you have the ingredients, measure and mix them appropriately.
For general cacti soil, you need to mix three cups of sand with three cups of regular soil and two cups of perlite or pumice. Combining the right amounts of ingredients is paramount to achieving desired compactness, aeration, and drainage.
In this post, we will take you through a step-by-step analysis of how to make your own cactus soil and how to achieve the best results. Read on to find out everything you need to know.
What Type of Soil Do Cacti Plants Need?
Before we dive into our DIY cacti soil recipe, you need to understand the type of soil ideal for these succulents.
Most cacti plants have thick, fleshy stems that are adapted to storing water. In other words, these plants are adapted to growing in hot and dry conditions. The plants are native to desert regions of North and South America, parts of Europe and parts of Africa.
Their unique ability to store water for prolonged times is one of their coveted adaptations to surviving in deserts. Since it rarely rains in deserts, these plants store water in their stems for use during the prolonged dry season.
Therefore, for cacti plants, their roots don’t absorb water regularly, which is backed up by the type of soil found in deserts. The soil is mostly sandy, and the dry conditions help water to drain quickly whenever it rains. These plants don’t sit on water for prolonged periods.
In a nutshell, cactus soil must be well-draining, non- compact and must have proper aeration. There is no alternative to this requirement. Keep in mind that cacti plants don’t love damp soil because it can lead to root rot, fungal diseases, and a host of other pests.
In fact, the biggest threat to cacti survival is root rot because it attacks the main channel for water absorption and can easily spread to the stem where water is stored. This leads to a weak and shriveled plant whose fate is almost sealed- death.
Therefore, if you are making your own cactus soil, you need to make sure you end up with good soil that will drain pretty quickly. Typically, loose and grainy soil is the perfect choice for growing cacti plants.
You should also ensure your soil has good aeration and is non-compact. The roots need to have sufficient space for breathing because it makes it easier for water and nutrient absorption. Non-compact soil doesn’t hold moisture for too long and aid the roots in breathing.
Lastly, avoid adding excessive nutrients to your cactus soil. Typically, cactus soil containing too many nutrients, especially nitrogen, may lead to brittle, lean, and unpleasant plants. We are pretty sure you don’t want such kind of goofy-looking plants near your home.
Soil texture is critical for cacti plants
Different types of cacti plants require different types of soil to thrive. Although the soil might be similar, there will be differences in soil mixes for epiphytic, desert, and lithophytic cacti.
Apart from the specific soil ingredients we mentioned in our introduction, cacti plants require a specific soil texture and composition. It is critical to ensure your cactus soil remains loose and airy even when watering.
Avoid adding manure to your cactus soil because it can lead to the growth of fungus that cactus roots can’t fight. You should also avoid using any organic fertilizers for cacti except for epiphytic plants.
Maintain proper pH Levels in your cactus soil
Almost all types of cacti require slightly acidic soil to thrive, although some plants require higher acidity potting mix than others. Generally, you need to make sure the pH level of your cactus soil ranges between five and six.
The only exception is for button cacti that tend to do well in much more alkaline soil with pH levels of 6.5-7.
Potting mix with pH levels of less than four or higher than seven will kill your plant. This type of soil is not ideal for the survival of your cactus plant. If you prepare your soil and realize that the pH is still too high, you can lower it by adding peat.
To determine the pH of your cactus soil, use a well-calibrated meter that measures moisture, light, and pH levels.
Benefits of Making Your Own Cactus Soil
Some of the most significant benefits of preparing your own cactus soil are that it is relatively cheaper than commercial soil, and you can control the ingredients. Since you are in charge of everything, you can modify your soil recipe in different ways to get the perfect result that your plant will love.
Before we start, here is a list of our favorite and recommended soil mix (Here)
How To Make Your Own Cactus Soil- Ingredients
To make your own cactus soil, you will need a few ingredients discussed below. You can purchase most of these ingredients from your local plant or home improvement store.
1. Regular potting soil
Any type of regular potting soil will work fine as the base to prepare your own cactus mix. Feel free to use whatever you have at hand as long as it is fresh and sterile potting soil.
If you can get light, porous soil to use as the base, it will be great because that will make your work pretty easy. Avoid using heavy garden soils or potting soils that contain vermiculite or any other moisture control elements that helps the soil retain moisture for prolonged periods.
Keep in mind that your cacti plants require well-draining soil, not one that retains moisture for too long. Therefore, you need to be careful when choosing a type of potting soil as the base because it will determine the outcome.
2. Coarse sand
Cacti plants thrive in a porous sandy potting mix. So, adding some coarse sand to your regular potting soil is critical. Feel free to use any type of sand but ensure you achieve good drainage at the end. Consider purchasing coarse sand other than the fine stuff you might come across in your compound.
Don’t use sand from your garden, beach, or a traditional sandbox. That type of sand is not good enough, and it won’t help you achieve better results.
If you prefer, you can use poultry grit or turface instead of sand. Either of those serves as an excellent alternative to coarse sand in this recipe.
Perlite is a lightweight organic soil addition. It is the white pieces that resemble Styrofoam that you see in commercial potting soils. The primary purpose of perlite is to prevent soil compaction and enhance the aeration. It also improves the drainage of your cactus soil.
In other words, perlite helps your soil drain faster, which is precisely what you are looking for in good soil. You can purchase perlite and pumice at your local plant/home improvement store. It is usually in the same section as commercial potting mix for sale.
If you cannot find it in your local home improvement store, buy it online.
You need to ensure your soil has the right pH level. Sometimes, you may prepare your cactus soil and discover that the pH level is pretty high. To lower the pH level, add a small portion of peat to your recipe. However, you should keep in mind that this component can make it difficult to re-wet the soil.
5. Gravel/lava rocks
Gravel and lava rocks are another decent addition to your cactus soil recipe. They are coarse and will help make the potting mix loose and airy.
6. Charcoal & coir
Charcoal is one of the best air conditioners you can use in your DIY cactus soil recipe. It helps prevent diseases by absorbing impurities and ensuring the harmful microorganisms don’t attack the roots of your plants.
Coir helps to retain small amounts of moisture in the soil and also provides a non-compact structure. Some people use coir to replace peat moss.
Apart from the ingredients, you will also need other supplies to make your own potting soil. They include:
- Measuring container/cup.
- A container for mixing (you can use a bucket or tabletop potting tray for this purpose).
- Trowel (a small shovel).
- Gardening gloves.
Let Us Get Started Making Our Own Cactus Soil
Now that you understand the basics of what is needed to make your own cactus soil, it is time to get down to business. You need the following to make your own cactus soil using this recipe:
- 3 parts regular potting soil
- 3 parts coarse sand/ turface/ poultry grit/gravel
- 2 parts perlite/pumice
In this recipe, the term “part” refers to a generic unit of measure that describes your potting mix ratio. Feel free to use any type of container to measure your ingredients as long as you use the same type of measure for each “part.”
For instance, if you use a scoop measure for “one part,” then be sure to use the same scoop twice for “two parts” and three times for “three parts.” So, if you are using a cup as a unit of measure, this recipe would convert to 3 cups regular potting soil, 3 cups coarse sand/ turface, and 2 cups perlite/pumice.
Mixing your cactus soil
Once you have measured the ingredients as required, you need to move on to the next stage of cactus soil preparation; mixing. So, put on your gardening gloves and let us get started.
Start by moistening the regular garden soil to prevent dust from coming out of the bucket or mixing container. The next thing you need to do is add sand to the regular garden soil and mix the two thoroughly.
Use hands to stir and mix the two ingredients to achieve better results. Mix for at least seven minutes.
Now scoop the already measured perlite or pumice and add it to the mixture. Stir and mix thoroughly the same way you did after adding sand. Mix for at least five minutes.
At this point, you have good cactus soil, but you need to measure its pH level. So, take a small sample of it and head to the pH measuring meter.
If the pH is below or beyond the recommended values, consider adding a small amount of peat to the mixture, stir thoroughly, and take another reading. Repeat the process until you achieve the desired pH level.
Good work! You have just prepared your first cactus soil. From the procedure described above, you must have realized how easy it is to prepare cactus soil. It is just a matter of understanding the right types of ingredients to use and getting the measurements right.
As long as you use the right ingredients and stick to the correct measurements, you can always make your own cactus soil that you can use for potting, propagating, repotting, or even store it for future use. You need to keep in mind that you need to leave the soil to dry out before you pot your plants.
Sterilizing the Cactus Soil before Use
Making your own cactus soil is a good idea, but you need to ensure you are not exposing your plants to bacterial or microorganism growth in the process.
Cacti plants are quite sensitive to microorganisms and bacterial growth in the potting mix. You need to be even more careful when you use ingredients from outdoors or have purchased them from a local home improvement store.
If the potting mix is contaminated, it can cause severe infections that can lead to the death of your plant. To avoid such scenarios, make sure you sterilize the soil before using it. One of the best ways of sterilizing cactus soil is by heating.
To do this, place the soil in a pot or glass container, then put it in another larger pot with hot water and keep it on slow cooking mode. This method is commonly referred to as the bain-marie sterilization method.
Keep heating the water inside the larger pot until it reaches the boiling point. This can take anything between 20-30 minutes, depending on the volume of water in the container. Once it has reached the boiling point, turn the heat off and leave the soil to cool down gradually.
Bonus Tip: Leave your newly prepared cactus soil outside for a few days before potting your cacti plants.
Storing Your Leftover Cactus Soil
One of the best things you will love about making your own cactus soil is that you can always mix a big batch and store the excess for future use. Fortunately, storing cactus soil isn’t a difficult thing to accomplish.
You can store your DIY cactus soil on a shelf in your garage, basement, or garden shed. This gives you a good option of preparing your cactus soil ahead of time and storing it for future use.
Just make sure you store your potting mix in an air-tight container to keep pesky bugs out. If you don’t have an air-tight container to use, ensure you purchase one from the nearest general store. A transparent plastic container is the best option because it allows you to monitor the soil’s general condition 24/7.
How Do I Know If I Need Different Soil?
Sometimes, the cactus soil you make may not be ideal for your plant. Keep in mind different types of cacti species thrive in different types of soil. Therefore, it is critical to understand your plant’s natural habitat and soil type before you start preparing your soil.
If you notice a decline in your plant’s health after potting it in your DIY soil, it could be a sign of problems. Unfortunately, by the time you start noticing signs of stress in your cactus, it could be too late.
The only way to avoid this is to ensure you have the right type of soil. For desert species, use a blend of fine sand, grit, perlite, and regular garden soil. However, if you have the tropical cacti species, add plenty of peat to your soil.
Making your own cactus soil can save you a lot of money and time. In fact, homemade soil is much better than a commercial potting mix because you can control the amount of ingredients you use. The process is also easy to follow.
Now that you know how to make your own cactus soil, it is time to go out there and enjoy gardening! If you are looking for the easy way, here is a list of our favorite and recommended soil mix (Here)