While there are commercially made succulent soils out there it is much cheaper to make it on your own, especially if you need it in bulk. Making your own succulent soil also gives you more control over things like providing drainage, which may or may not be more necessary in your area.
This is one of the easier things you can do to improve the health of your succulents. By using the right materials in the right ratios you will have fantastic, quick-draining soil to pot your succulents. Read on to learn how you can make your own succulent soil.
Decide on Your Recipe
You will need to decide on a specific succulent soil recipe to follow before you get started. Although most succulents benefit from a simple recipe, researching the specific needs of your plant will give you a better chance at keeping it alive.
These recipes use three different parts to accomplish these basic succulent needs:
Without balancing these elements your succulent will easily succumb to issues like root rot or excessive nitrogen.
The Generic Succulent Soil Recipe
The generic recipe for succulent soil involves:
- 2 parts sand
- 2 parts potting soil
- 1 part aeration
If you are not sure what specific needs your succulent has (or if it has any special needs) you should be able to get away with this. The sand will prevent the mix from compacting, working with your aeration material to keep the soil dry.
Potting soil is essential to providing key nutrients for your succulent plant.
For Desert Aesthetics
As long as your plant can get away with it, you can use pumice on its own to fit in with a dirt-free, desert look.
Pumice is a volcanic material that is capable of holding both moisture and nutrients, but its clunky size and shape will provide enough aeration for your plant.
If you do decide to use pumice on its own you will need to water more frequently.
For Succulent Babies
Because babies need a bit of a boost to get started we suggest a succulent soil mix containing:
- 1 part soil
- 1 part sand
- 1 part coconut coir
This will provide increased nutrients that help your offset take root and grow gloriously.
For Cactus or Hardier Succulent Types
If you are working with cactus or another hardy succulent type then your recipe should be a bit sand heavy. This usually looks like:
- 2 parts sand
- 1 part soil
- 1 part aeration
The sand will be an important part of avoiding overwatering any plants that seem to abhor water.
Can You Modify Succulent Soil Recipes?
Not only can you modify succulent soil recipes, but it is recommended.
When you start out you should pick a specific recipe to keep things simple. As your plant grows you will take note of any issues it has. These will tell you how to modify the recipe in the future.
For overwatering, you should add more aeration. You might even want to change your aeration material.
On the other hand, a plant that needs more water will require less aeration. This is a common issue when planting succulents outdoors or in climates that are both dry and hot. Watering more often is not always a convenient solution.
Another common issue you will see is excessive nitrogen. This either means you are using too much potting soil, or the potting soil you are using is too rich.
If this is a problem you can cut back on the garden soil content of your succulent soil mix or look for an option that has lower nitrogen levels. If you are fertilizing your soil you may want to look into what your fertilizer or compost contain, or just skip the succulents.
Gather Your Materials
Once you have decided on a recipe that will be most beneficial to your succulent soil you need to gather all the materials you will need. Taking the time to make sure you have all these items will prevent you from needing to run to the store to complete your task or skipping out on essential items.
There is no true one size fits all solution. You can use the bare bones of the recipe as a guideline, but depending on your location and what is available to you you may prefer one material over another.
Start with what you already have available to you then look at specific materials to fit your situation.
Basic Tools and Materials
When you are mixing any type of soil you will want items to:
- Protect your hands
- Measure your materials
- Break up the soil
- Mix everything in
When you protect your hands, you will find that the rest of the steps are simple and relaxing.
To protect your hands, skin, and nails we suggest using a quality pair of gloves when mixing your soil.
Look for ones that go well past your wrist to prevent the soil from getting into the gloves. They should also fit well, be flexible enough that you can move freely, and thick enough to protect from sticks, rocks, and wood chips.
All out recipes are written using a parts system, so you do not need to measure specific units (unless you want to).
Pick something that is sized well that can help you measure out the parts of your soil mix. Choosing a cup, bowl, or bin that is too small can result in unnecessary extra work, but choosing one too large may not be effective for the amount of soil you need.
A garden trowel is not necessary if you have loose materials, but it can definitely speed things up.
If you have soil that is tightly packed or you want to limit the strain on your hands then having a sturdy trowel will be essential.
Something to Mix Your Soil In
Having a designated container for mixing your soil in will help you keep the area clean. A potting tray will give you ample room to work in, and it works well for immediate transfer while you are working outside.
If you are making succulent soil in bulk or you plan on storing any portion of it you can also mix it in that container, whether it is a bucket or a large storage bin.
While succulents do not need as many nutrients as other plants, you will still need to include proper material to provide some. You will have better luck with colorful varieties when they are well fed.
For the most part, you can use whatever you already have, but make sure it is still fresh and sterile. Avoid heavy soils or potting mixes that contain vermiculite. This will retain too much moisture for your succulents.
The most common source of nutrients for succulent soil comes in your everyday gardening soil.
You do not need to purchase a special succulent or cactus soil; that is what you are making right now. Just choose something that will be easy to work with and fits in your budget.
Coconut coir is made up of the shredded husks of coconuts. While it should still be used in conjunction with gardening soil, coconut coir boosts nutrients, making it a great choice for nurseries or rescued succulents.
It can be difficult to find in stores but check out garden centers and home improvement stores. While it is easy to find online, you may not get a great deal on shipping.
As mentioned before, pumice has enough nutritional value that you can use it on its own to root succulents.
Just make sure you keep any plants in the pumice hydrated. There is not much water retention going on here, so you will need to gauge how often everything needs to be watered.
Adding material that will resist compaction and take up space without soaking up moisture is essential to the root health of your succulents.
Because anything that soaks up moisture can lead to root rot, pests, and fungal diseases, diluting the mix with any one of these drainable fillers is essential to ward off potential problems.
The most common filler you are going to find is coarse sand. This needs to be the chunkier kind, not sand you would usually find in your yard or at the beach. Even play sand is too fine to avoid compaction.
This should work for you because it will be easy to obtain, whether you need to go to your local garden center or order it online. Make sure to opt for a bit more for cacti.
Turface both holds moisture and allows for drainage, so it may be a better choice for thirstier succulents.
It is mostly known as a soil conditioner, but its ability to improve aeration and increase oxygen makes it a fantastic choice for succulent soil.
Poultry grit is really just crushed oyster shells, but there is a reason this works well for succulent soil.
Succulents benefit from the increased Calcium, and the oyster shells work great at regulating the pH of the soil. If you struggle with acidity in your soils then using poultry grit will be a useful tool.
Your aeration materials have one job: promoting aeration and drainage.
While these options also have other benefits, they do this job well. If you already have one on hand or you want multiple benefits you can mix your aeration materials.
As we have already discussed, pumice is great for holding both nutrients and moisture, but it is also quick to let that moisture get away.
Its rocky appearance and resistance to compaction make it a great choice for aerating your succulent soil. Because it does hold on to some moisture, it can be a great booster for dry areas without risking root rot.
If you have seen little white balls of styrofoam in your regular potting mix then you already know what perlite looks like. It is actually volcanic glass that is heated at such a high temperature that it puffs up.
This lightweight aeration material will allow root growth with minimal obstructions. Just be careful when working with it that it does not fly away.
While it is nutrient-rich, coconut coir is also great at facilitating the movement of moisture through your succulent soil. It is a bit too stringy to be considered for filler material, but the sizable shreds are effective at increasing the drainage of your mix.
If you decide to use coconut coir as part of your mixture we still suggest you use pumice or perlite to aerate your soil.
Measure Everything Out
Once you have gathered the materials you need you can begin to measure them out using the recipes we have listed or a modified one of your own creation.
We explain the measurements in the soil recipes using a part system, so you just need to use your measuring cup, bowl, or bucket as a unit.
Using the generic succulent soil recipe as an example, you will measure out:
- 2 scoops of coarse sand
- 2 scoops of gardening soil
- 1 scoop of perlite.
If you want to double this recipe you can use 4 scoops of sand, 4 scoops of soil, and 2 scoops of perlite.
You can also split the parts to add variety to your succulent soil. Instead of using only perlite, you can mix half a scoop of perlite with half a scoop of pumice to accomplish one whole scoop of aeration material.
This is not baking; you will not see much penalization if your scoops are not precise. Just do your best to keep the ratios as close as you can.
How Much Succulent Soil Do You Need?
The amount of soil you need to mix depends on the space you are working in, whether that is in an outside garden bed or filling containers for your plants.
If you are planting succulents outside you will need to make sure you mix enough to give them a few inches of depth to root into. If you lay the mix too shallow they can root into your regular ground, which may be too dense to prevent root rot or overwatering.
In this case, you should add a layer of aerating material before putting down your succulent soil. You can also add landscaping cloth underneath to block the roots, but you will need to be mindful of how much you water your plants.
If you are working in a pot you need to make sure the pot will be large enough to give your succulent 3 to 8 inches to root into, and you should have enough soil mixture to fill it to that depth.
Overall your pot should be at least 4 inches deep and ½ inch larger than the base of the plant. Spreading or trailing plants need a pot 1 inch larger than the one they are coming out of.
Mix It All Together
Before you start mixing all your materials together you should add the gardening soil to your container and slightly moisten it. This will help your other materials grab on, and it will prevent any dust from coming up into your face.
Add in your filler material next, whether it is sand, turface, or poultry grip. You can use the trowel if you need to, but you might find your hands would easier to tear things up and manipulate the material.
Once you are satisfied with that mixture you can add in your aeration materials. Again, mix using your hands or a garden tool.
You will know that you are done mixing when the succulent soil has a uniform appearance. There should not be any parts that stand out as being mostly one material. Address these unmixed areas as you find them until you reach your desired end result.
Properly Store Your Succulent Soil
When you buy succulent soil from the store it will usually come in a resealable bag to keep everything fresh and bug-free, but you do not get that option when making your own succulent soil.
If you are making succulent soil in a large batch or you know you will end up with more than you need then you will need to find an airtight container. This will prevent the nutrients in the garden soil from oxidizing, but it will also keep bugs out of your mixture.
The cheapest and most effective option is buying an airtight lid for a bucket. Five-gallon buckets can be found for free almost anywhere, but your local home improvement store probably has them stacked at every aisle. The lid will make the container easier to open, and it improves airtightness.
How Long Can Homemade Succulent Soil Be Stored?
Like most soils, you can store your homemade succulent soil for a year or two before tossing it out.
You may still need to rejuvenate it by mixing it with a fresher batch, but when stored correctly it can last you a length of time.