Succulents are the gem of indoor plant culture. There are more succulents in kitchens, bathrooms, offices, and nooks than any other plant in the world, fueled by the idea that they’re maintenance-free.
However, if you’ve ever had any number of succulents in the past, you know this to be (at least somewhat) untrue. Succulents need care, even if it’s considerably less than the other plants in your windowsill. Good succulent care starts in the pot, where roots make or break a plant.
Healthy roots are a product of proper watering and, more importantly, the right soil. Using the wrong soil for succulents can cause them to dry out or stay soggy for too long, which is usually because standard potting mix isn’t ideal for these types of plants.
Succulents are inherently desert plants; at least, the ones most commonly sold in cute little pots in supermarkets are. Others are native to subtropical desert regions, but all of them typically prefer the same types of soil, albeit in different ratios.
Succulent Origins and Their Natural Habitats
To really understand what needs to go into a soil mix for succulent plants, we need to think about where they come from. There are tons of different places in the world where different types of succulents originate, all of them unique in some way.
To drastically over-summarize, most succulents come from regions like South Africa and Central and South America. Some are endemic to the United States. We don’t have time to talk about the outliers, but you can imagine that these places tend to run pretty hot, dry, and a little on the inhospitable side.
For this reason, the soil where succulents grow in their natural habitats is, on average, fairly well-draining, and consists of lots of rocky substrate, sand, and outright grit. There aren’t many nutrients in soil like this, so succulents aren’t used to having access to tons of food.
Instead, they store their water and nutrients in their exceptionally fleshy leaves in order to photosynthesize without running low on the core necessities of plant life. Succulent roots aren’t very robust, either, considering how dry their soil generally is.
During rainy seasons, or monsoons depending on the region, most succulents can gather enough water and nutrients to last them until the next rain. This can be a wait as long as weeks to months, and their frequency varies by region. Some deserts don’t see rain but once per year!
As you can imagine, life in a pot full of soil is drastically different from living in these extreme conditions. While your succulents are adapted to living on the edge in the wild, they have far less control over their success in your home.
That’s why it’s so incredibly important to ensure that you’re using the right soil to pot your succulents. The soil inside succulent pots will look a bit different from natural soil, but again, the environment in your space is likely very different from where succulents are used to surviving!
DIY Succulent Soil Mix
To make your own succulent soil, you’ll need some basic materials and some that you may have to look a little harder for, though it’s worth it in the end! In essence, you’ll need soil components and supplies to mix them with. Here’s what to gather up.
Ideally, it’s best to stick with the bare ingredients to make the best succulent soil. When searching for your soil components, try to avoid anything that’s fortified with fertilizers or that contains other components.
Perlite or large-granule pumice
The number one necessity with any succulent or cactus soil mixture is perlite. Ideally, perlite pieces are intended to replicate the rocky, porous nature of desert soil, which isn’t particularly absorbent. Perlite can help allow air to move through the soil to prevent it from staying soggy.
We all know there’s sand in deserts, and so there must be sand in succulent potting mix. Sand is the primary ingredient that makes a potting mix ideal for succulents. It doesn’t hold any minerals and nutrients, the same way that desert soil is generally void of nutrients..
Basic potting mix or seed starter mix
This is where we can use some of what we know well: potting mix. Although seed starter mix is better for succulents, being primarily coco husk mixed with some peat (which is acidic like desert soil), potting mix without fertilizer works well for this application, too.
Aside from the soil itself, you’ll need some very basic supplies to mix it up in. Don’t worry; these things are fairly common and cheap, if you don’t have them already. You can substitute some supplies for others if they’re about the same size or shape!
You don’t need a brand-new fancy five-gallon bucket to get the job done; any clean, hole-free bucket will do! If you prefer, you can mix your succulent soil in a plastic tote or other container to keep it from becoming messy and for storage.
Trowel or scoop
Your trowel (or scoop, or measuring cup) will be your measuring vessel. We will use “parts” as our unit of measurement, and each part will be one scoop of this measurement of a component. You can double or triple the recipe by multiplying each part by two or three with your scoop!
DIY Succulent Soil Component Ratios: How Much To Mix
Now, we can get down to exactly how much of each ingredient to add to your succulent soil mix. These measurements don’t need to be exact or perfect by any means; a heaping scoop can be your “part”, or you can take it to the next level and measure things out with a cup or trowel.
Succulent Soil Recipe
For this soil recipe, add the following ingredients, one by one, into your bucket. If your bucket has a lid, you can close it tightly and shake it up to thoroughly mix the components together. If not, use your trowel or a spoon to fold all of the ingredients together until they’re mixed well.
- 2 parts sand or coarse grit
- 1 parts perlite or pumice
- 3 parts potting or seed starting mix
Once you have all of your ingredients in the bucket, mix them together until the ingredients are indiscernible from one another. Store this mixture in an airtight container to avoid letting any bacteria or fungus spores in. That’s it!
Make sure to give your succulent soil a good stir-around before you use it if it sits for any extended period of time without being used. This ensures that the soil stays evenly mixed and that moisture doesn’t get trapped in the bottom of the container.
How to Use DIY Succulent Soil Mix
To put your succulent soil to use, you’ll need succulents to repot. If your succulent’s roots are breaking through the bottom or top of their pot, it’s time to give them a bigger home to live in. Start by removing it from its current pot.
Then, remove any soil that’s loose from the root ball. Gently use your fingers to rake along the bottom of the roots to loosen them up, and then do the same on the sides. Try not to tear any roots; only break away loose soil.
Then, fill the new, slightly larger pot half full of succulent soil. Make an indent in the middle to allow another inch of depth into the soil from here. Set your succulent in the indent, shift it around until it’s deep enough to keep the roots under where the soil line will be, and fill in the rest!
Be sure to water it thoroughly and allow any excess water to drain freely. The succulent soil should allow water to drain quickly, so be sure to let it run from the bottom of the pot.
Succulents generally only need to be repotted once per year or less, depending on their size. Some succulents grow faster than others, however, which bumps up that time frame for specific species.
When to Repot Succulents in Broken Down Soil
Succulent soil, like all soil, breaks down slowly over time. As this happens, the soil becomes more acidic, and the particles become smaller and smaller. Without larger pieces to break them up, these particles restrict air and stay waterlogged for longer.
This is a recipe for disaster for succulent plants, especially those that need to dry well between watering. Once the soil starts to break down, it’s time to change out the potting soil and replace it with your succulent soil mix.
To determine how broken down the soil is, try looking at the edges of the pot first. You should be able to see a line where the soil used to sit when it was fresh, and if there’s a marked distance between that line and the current soil level, it’s time for a repot.
You can also tell if a succulent’s soil is broken down by getting your hands dirty. Gently scoop up some of the top layer of soil from the pot; if you have to dig for it to break it loose to grab even a few granules, it’s broken down and needs to be replaced.
Watch for runaway roots, as well, which serve as a good indicator that your succulent needs a bigger home and fresh soil. Another telltale sign of broken down soil to look out for is waterlogged soil. If it takes over a week for the soil to dry, dial back watering; if the problem persists, it’s time to repot!
Plants That Need Succulent Soil
Some plants that either don’t look like succulents or that really aren’t succulents can prefer succulent soil, too! Of course, some species of succulent plants themselves prefer slightly different soil compositions, but this mix works well for a very wide variety.
Any succulent you have will do well in this mix. However, if you’re not sure how to determine if your plant is a succulent or not, there are some features in every plant that can be tapped to see if they prefer standard potting mix, or a sandier soil like the one we made!
Look for any of the following features:
- Thick, succulent leaves or petioles
- Cactus thorns, or very pointed, spiky leaves
- Smaller, less robust roots
- Rosette leaf pattern
- Signature cactus flower-shaped blooms
- Thick or fluid-filled leaves on vining plants
If you’re still not sure if your plant should be planted in succulent soil, try to identify it and where it originated from. If your plant comes from a dry, arid region, then it’s safe to say it will do well potted in succulent soil.
You can also use plant identification tools like ours to find out what type of plant you have, which will help you find out if it fits the bill as a succulent. Cacti can also be planted in this mix, such as those along the lines of prickly pear, orchid cacti, and agave.
A Quick Note on Commercial Succulent Soil Mixes
While there are options on the market for pre-made mixtures of soil that’s formulated for succulents, it’s still a good idea to mix your own so that you know what’s in it is best for your succulents. Some mixtures aren’t a one-size-fits-all fix.
The majority of the succulent soil available for purchase in bags at the store are composed of the same general stuff. The issue is that most of these components are also used for other soil mixes, such as those for tropical houseplants and orchids.
Most companies produce all of their soil mixes using the same ingredients, which doesn’t always work out for us, the consumer. Some common components, such as perlite granules, aren’t big enough to work well in succulent soil, but are great for houseplants.
You can certainly find mixtures for succulents that are made well from companies that focus on the individual needs of different plant types, but it’s still best for you to make your own according to your climate and types of succulents. It’s also typically more cost-effective!