If you’ve just purchased a new succulent (or a bunch) or you’ve had a plant around for a while that’s overgrown its container, it’s probably time for repotting.
If it’s the first time you’ve done it or you’ve had bad luck in the past, this can be a really intimidating process.
Here, we’ll go into the process of planting & repotting succulents so you can see just how easy it can be!
What You’ll Learn in This Guide
In this guide, you will become an expert in:
- Selecting a Pot
- Different Types of Succulent Soil
- Sand & Grit (Perlite, Lava Rock, etc.)
- Mixing Succulent Soils (with several different recipes!)
- Things to Consider Before Repotting Succulents
- Our Step-by-Step Potting Process
- Planting Succulent Cuttings & Leaves
- Watering Your Newly Repotted Succulents
Selecting a Pot
First, you’ll want to pick out your new pot (especially if your plant came in a black plastic container). Black containers, especially placed in the window or outside, are more likely to retain heat and can burn your plants.
When selecting a new planter, it’s best to avoid moving right back into a dark container.
Other than that, there are only a few simple things to keep in mind. Primarily, drainage. Very few succulents want to stay moist.
When looking at containers for succulents, they don’t generally need too much room. They will thrive most with a pot slightly larger than their base.
Some rules of thumb say ½”-1” larger than the base, some say 5-10%. The main idea is, just a little bigger.
If your plant is in too large of a pot with too much room, it may keep sending out spindly roots instead of strengthening and establishing primary roots. Less space encourages your plant to form a more effective root system that allows your plant to grow properly.
If you know your succulent is a particularly quick grower or you are hoping to create an arrangement, you can choose a larger pot.
In this case, decide if you want your plants tightly packed or if you want them to have a little more space.
Tightly packed, they will grow more slowly, stay damp longer, and are more difficult to water. However, they make a more full and interesting display and will probably handle it OK.
Are you hoping for a shallow planter? Look for planters at least 2-3” high, which will help keep moisture moving and give your plants a bit of space to grow.
Pots under 2” may give your roots too little space as well as holding any moisture against their roots.
Drainage, Drainage, Drainage!
Always check for a drainage hole before buying a pot.
Confident succulent keepers can get away without having a hole, once you get used to how much to water and how often.
As a beginner and an expert, holes definitely make things easier. They allow you to drench without the risk of drowning your plant.
If you are head over heels in love with a pot without a hole, it isn’t a death sentence, and there are tricks to help offset the missing drainage!
Not a hanging pot? For outdoor plants especially, look for feet!
If your pot has a hole, keep an eye out for or look for something to raise it off flat surfaces. This enables air flow to help it keep from drying out. This could be a specialized product just as much as a simple wire plant stand.
If you’re just hoping to repot a plant you just picked up, just ensure it is at least as large as your new plant’s base, and don’t be afraid to add just a little bit of space.
Other than that, enjoy the process!
You can try to match shapes, colors, and patterns with your succulents, reuse a pot in the garage, or even choose a pot celebrating something you love.
Whatever it is, your succulent will be happy with its new home.
An Introduction to Succulent Soil
One of the most crucial elements in successfully planting succulents is the soil – obviously!
It’s easy to walk into a gardening center and find “succulent soil”. On further inspection, many of these soils simply aren’t up to snuff.
Some of them carry large, damp chunks of wood that holds onto moisture. Some are almost entirely moisture-retaining organic matter, packed with nutrients. Others carry a striking resemblance to simple potting soil.
Drought hardy succulents don’t do well with “wet feet” and prefer substrate that drains quickly, has little nutritional content, and carries something extra gritty to bury their feet into.
If have access to high quality succulent soil clearly packed with well-draining grit, it’s a great choice. You can skip mixing your own.
For many others, this isn’t always available, and it may just be safer to make it or amend what is available.
Let’s cover what this entails.
Of course, these ingredient lists aren’t comprehensive. What is available in your area can vary from the norm, so we’ll also look at why gardeners consistently choose these options and what to avoid in substitutions.
As much as many succulents love well-draining soil, not too many are suited for soils that completely lack organic material.
They still need some nutrients and some water retention. They can’t always be too dry.
There are several choices for “organic matter.” This is, in general, decaying plant or animal material.
This option can be packed with nutrients and brings up a variety of discussion and debate.
Gardeners are constantly looking for the right mixture of nutrition and drainage, and there’s a myriad of options.
In this guide, high-quality potting soil without any fertilizers or added chemicals is used, since this is available in many areas. It usually contains perlite and, potentially, other materials already.
With a potting soil with lots of visible perlite, you can skimp a little on adding some of your grit. You’ll still want more, since perlite is a great aid in drainage.
If your potting soil of choice is locally made in a gardening center, they may not put their ingredients on the label.
A reputable garden center should have someone who can let you know if there are added chemicals (such as fertilizers), vermiculite, or other water-retaining materials – all of which you’re best avoiding for this purpose.
For name brand options, it may take some label hunting or, if it’s not clear and you can’t see the soil, you can try contacting the company.
There are a lot of choices in addition to potting soil. Here’s how you can substitute with potting soil.
This substrate is made of the fibers coating the shell of a coconut! It’s an interesting material that combines water retention with great drainage.
Whether or not it’s easily found really depends on your area, but if this is your substrate of choice and you can’t find it in a gardening center, check with a pet store.
This is a common substrate for reptiles and amphibians. It’s also lacking in nutrients and will do well with a bit of compost.
This is a nutrient-rich substrate made of decomposing materials and is one of the main things people mean when they say “organic material” for gardening.
While plenty of people don’t have a composter at home, most gardening centers will have a high-quality compost of some kind available.
Use compost sparingly, many succulents don’t need much (if any) additional nutrients.
Commonly chosen because it is light, cheap, easily found, very poor in nutrients, and slightly acidic.
Many gardeners are shying away from peat moss in recent years since it is harvested from swamps and isn’t considered a sustainable resource. It can also hold water really well.
However, if it’s what you have, it’s what you have.
It’s generally recommended for making soil because it really is a great choice for substrate.
You can add a touch of compost to your mix if you’re using peat moss.
This should be a plain, loamy mixture with poor water retention. It’s usually used for exactly its name, top soil.
This mix need to have good drainage to help move water to the roots of plants and as few additives as possible so it can be used in a variety of areas in the garden.
Look for weed-free top soils without added chemicals or fertilizers.
When using top soil, you can add a small amount of compost to add nutrients to your mix.
Anything with organic material
If it doesn’t already have added fertilizers or excessive water retention habits, it might be a good choice.
Just keep an eye out for moisture retaining additions such as vermiculite or fertilizers that might overfeed your succulents.
Sand, Grit & Porous
Sand and grit add additional draining to your soil.
There are a lot of options to choose from here! Mixing a couple in your soil varies their contributions, limits some of their downsides, and creates an attractive soil.
This term refers to cheap, nutrient poor sand meant to be combined with cement mix.
Unlike cement and paver sands, it shouldn’t have additives that will harden when it’s wetted and dried.
It isn’t play sand, which is too thin and clumpy. It also shouldn’t contain any lime or additional salts.
Ideally, it should be fairly cheap, coarse, and additive-free. Builder’s sand availability depends on your region and can be found in home improvement and garden centers, building supply outlets, and landscaping outlets.
This is used as a coarse sand with visible sharp chunks that will aid in drainage.
This refers to pebbles that are offered to chickens to aide with digestion and help move food along.
There are two kinds of grit (flint grit and oyster) – you’ll want flint.
Crushed oyster shells are often what this term refers to, and these offer the chicken a valuable source of calcium, which can be too much for succulents. These mixes are white with flatter pieces.
Flint is a more appropriate option for succulent mixes and offers great drainage for your soil mix. It’s rounder and sharper without flat pieces or excess nutrients.
You can find chicken grit in most agricultural pet supply stores. Flint chicken grit is used for a coarse sand.
This is a porous, sharp material formed from lava.
Technically speaking, horticultural products labeled “lava rock” are actually “scoria,” a cindery rock with a frothy, bubble-packed texture.
It is much denser than its igneous friend, pumice, and will usually sink in water.
This addition helps increase drainage in your soil while adding small amount of nutrients every time you water your succulents.
Lava rock is a fantastic option to add to any soil mixture. The uniformity of lava rock does, however, vary.
Look for similarly sized pebbles that are ideally 3/8” to ¼” in size. If you can only find mixed bags, you can always sieve them to filter out the larger pieces.
Here, you can see the difference between a lava rock best used for soil mixes versus one better used for mulching.
The larger pieces will hinder water retention as the large size actually aids water cohesion, which will hold moisture in the soil instead of draining.
The small pieces are just large enough to prevent creating a thick, clay soil, but small enough to avoid trapping water inside the soil.
Dusty lava rock should always be rinsed in a bucket with the dirty water rinsed off.
You can find lava rock in gardening centers, construction stores, and landscape outlets. Lava rock is used for grit.
Another volcanic substance, perlite is a volcanic glass. When it’s heated, it will soften up and moisture caught inside of it can expand and escape. This creates a light, airy material.
Perlite is used in nearly any potting mixture to create better drainage and prevent roots from getting water logged.
Often sold next to and sometimes mixed up with vermiculite, this is a fantastic choice for grit.
However, ensure you get perlite, as vermiculite is lauded (and here, avoided) for its water retention.
Simply put, pumice is a porous material formed from lava; while it is a lava rock, you’ll get a different product if you ask for “lava rock.”
When pumice forms, it releases incredible amounts of tiny air bubbles. Placed on water, it should float!
Since it encourages water to drain rather than grabbing it, pumice is a great choice for extra drainage.
This resource can be found at gardening centers and landscape outlets. Pumice is often used for grit.
Mixing Succulent Soil
Every experienced succulent gardener seems to have their own recipe.
This isn’t just a sign that different succulents, climates, and keepers have different needs; it also speaks of a succulent’s hardiness and adaptability.
If you don’t seem to have it quite right, you can keep adjusting it to your preference. If your succulent has different needs, you can simply tweak the recipe in that direction.
Is your succulent staying too wet? Add more grit and sand. It’ll help it drain more quickly.
Is your succulent drying out in a matter of hours and suffering? Add more organic material. If it’s outside, try mulching it to offset evaporation.
The following is a common recipe for succulent mixes:
- 1-part organic matter (potting mix, peat moss, etc.)
- 1-part coarse sand (builder’s sand or chicken grit)
- 1-part grit (lava rock, perlite, pumice, etc.)
This guide uses another common recipe as follows:
- 3-parts organic matter (potting soil, peat moss, etc.)
- 4-parts coarse sand (builder’s sand or chicken grit)
- 2-parts grit (lava rock, perlite, pumice, etc.)
Combining the Soil
Choose a container to measure your ingredients in. You can use specialized materials, measuring cups, or even just a clean plastic bowl you found in the garage.
As long as you’re measuring each ingredient the same way, you’ll be able to produce a good mix.
Simply treat your container like a measuring cup, filling it up 3 times to get 3 parts, and pour your ingredients in your mixing container.
You might want to wear gloves, but that’s up to you. Just stir it up until all ingredients are well mixed in and not clumped up anywhere and now it’s ready for planting. It’s really that quick and easy!
The following is a mixture of 3-parts potting soil, 4-parts chicken grit, and a shy 2-parts lava rock due to the perlite.
Of course, there are a couple common tweaks to the recipe!
For propagating a new plant, more organic mix helps it stay damp enough to set roots.
Some gardeners simply use regular potting soil for this stage until it’s well established. Other gardeners simply add a tad more potting soil to their regular mix.
Whatever recipe you use, you would simply add and additional 1-part organic matter.
Here’s what the recipe used here would look like:
- 4-parts organic matter (potting soil, peat moss, etc.)
- 4-parts coarse sand (builder’s sand or chicken grit)
- 2-parts grit (lava rock, perlite, pumice, etc.)
It won’t visibly look very different, but it will hold moisture a little better. If you aren’t having success with this, try sprouting the plant in pure potting soil and moving it over once it sets roots.
There’s a lot of debate on how to treat an epiphytic succulent.
Epiphytes grow roots that aren’t always the best at handling wet or packed conditions, so they normally do best with substrates that allow more air around their roots and keep them from staying damp.
While it varies from species to species, epiphytes often do better in situations where they are watered more frequently but dry out more quickly as well.
Here’s a comparison of an epiphytic cactus plug (Mistletoe cactus, left) compared to an average succulent plug (Kalanchoe, right) where you can see a clear difference.
When we cater to most cactus, we’re catering to a strong tap root that hunts down moisture deep in the soil and weaker, supplementary shallow roots that help hold the cactus in place.
However, epiphytes grow on trees and collect moisture from the air and use their roots to ground themselves in place.
These roots may be more numerous, but they are specialized for low to no soil and can easily drown with too much moisture.
Some gardeners recommend simply using orchid mix, while others recommend simple cacti mixes, and others just amend their mix.
If you want to amend your mix, you can increase your porous materials by using larger perlite pieces; more lava rock; peat moss or other acidic organic material; more coarse sand; or even adding orchid bark.
Do keep in mind that orchid bark will break down over time, and you should plan to replant anything planted in it within a year in some cases.
Here is an orchid mix for epiphytes, primarily made of orchid bark and large pieces of perlite. It is designed to create air pockets and excellent drainage.
It will do a fantastic job in a larger container, but it won’t fit into a smaller container for young plants.
For epiphytes, you can also use this recipe on its own or add amendments:
- 3-parts potting soil
- 2-parts perlite
In a pinch?
You can simply use the epiphyte base recipe!
- 3-parts potting soil
- 2-parts perlite
It uses two easy-to-find materials that mix into a lush, draining mix. If you have other gritty options you can add a touch of, it’ll add more drainage, but this will still do a great job over plain potting soil!
Things to Consider Before You Start Repotting Succulents
Here are some things to keep in mind before you start planting succulents:
Is Anything Too Dusty?
If you’re using gritty materials such as lava rock and they are covered in a lot of dust, it can end up clogging your soil. It’s easy to rinse it off before you begin!
Pour the amount you’d like into a container at least twice its size (or do this more than once).
Add water to your container. You can see here how much dust is really on there.
Pour off the water – ideally, not down your drain, if you can. Most gardeners find a rocky spot in the garden to pour it into.
Keep filling it up and pouring it off until the water comes out clear!
This dusty bowl took about six tries, but now it’s ready to mix in.
Large Drainage Hole?
If your drainage hole is too big, you might notice your soil slips right through the hole. This is an easy fix.
Window screen or mesh tape over the hole is all you need. Window screen will be secured by the pressure of your soil, though mesh tape will stay in place on its own. Both of these can be picked up for fairly cheap at a hardware store.
If you’re hoping to keep anything in a basket or form drainage layers, window screen will be more a multi-purpose purchase.
You can also use landscaping fabric, as well, if you have a sturdy and well-draining option available.
No Drainage Hole or a Pot That’s Too Deep?
If you’ve purchased a pot without a drainage hole and you’d rather your soil doesn’t retain all that moisture, a drainage layer is your best friend.
You can also use this solution if you’ve got a pot that’s really deep and you’re filling it with succulents that won’t need that space.
First, choose your drainage option. This could be drainage layer specific materials (sold in pet stores and gardening centers), extra gravel or grit, or whatever is large and airy you have on hand.
If you just made your soil, lava rock and perlite are very common choices for a drainage layer.
Fill your container with as much of a drainage layer as you’d like. In containers without a hole, at least enough to take excess watering from your substrate. In pots that are too deep, fill your pot to the level you’d like to start adding substrate.
Now, a layer of window screen or weed barrier will prevent your substrate from mixing with your drainage layer.
This doesn’t have to be a perfect cut, and it may take a few tries with a graduated container, but the goal is to get the screen as flat as possible and covering as much as possible.
It’s not a big deal if it misses a corner here and there.
When you add soil to the top of this, it will press the screen into the drainage layer and minimize your soil mixing with it!
You can now follow regular potting steps to fill the container!
Succulents may not mind too much, but if you ever pull a plant out and see the roots are densely packed, you can loosen them up a bit to encourage them to grow out into their new soil.
Just rub them very gently and massage them out….
… and they’ll be ready to spread their roots in their new pot!
The Potting Process
If you don’t have much experience planting succulents, it sounds more intimidating than it is.
Here’s how quick it is once you have everything together!
First, add a little substrate to the bottom of your pot. It should be just enough to elevate your height of your succulent to slightly above the soil or at least level with your new soil level.
Succulents shouldn’t be mounded over their stems like the occasional plant such as tomatoes.
It’s normal for it to look like a small amount of soil for many succulents since their pots are small upgrades, and many of them have shallow roots.
For other plants, this layer is a little more generous. This layer gives your plant a little space to “spread its feet” at the bottom and helps in the planting process.
Once you’ve layered the bottom, place your succulent(s) in the soil and fill it in.
If you’re planting a whole bunch and they won’t stay in place, it’s usually too much to do at once by hand.
You can fill the rest of the soil in, nudge them into their proper spots, and pack the soil in around them!
You can also add a little bit of soil around them as you place the plants in, using the soil as a prop to keep the plant in place.
In this case, an outdoor pot that will be kept low to the ground is used. It will get heavily drenched, so it’s given a little more space than usual at the top to ensure soil doesn’t drain off.
Another common issue with succulents is tiny, tiny containers. In these very small containers you can use a spoon to scoop substrate in.
Starter succulents and small succulents are often at home in just very tiny containers that won’t allow larger tools or hands to get into without making a big mess, so save yourself the hassle and grab a spoon.
Your container is full once it’s got all the soil you’d like in it or with just enough space to water your plant.
If it’s too full, water will easily overflow the container and drenching your plant will be difficult.
Now, you’re done! That’s the core process of repotting your succulent.
For Cuttings and Propagation
Did you find a loose stem or a leaf? Many succulents can be propagated by simply placing the cuttings in soil.
Here’s what it looks like as they sprout.
These echeveria leaves will do great placed flat like this in soil. Otherwise, tuck a stem into the soil.
With moisture and time, a new plant will emerge!
It’s not just fun to touch up your succulent with some rocks or sand, it can be very practical!
As nice as mulching looks, it can help ward off evaporation in outdoor heat. Indoors, it can help hold down light, airy soil and encourage water to go into the soil.
The only thing to consider with mulching a succulent is if the mulch holds moisture.
If your mulch holds moisture against the base of the succulent, it can keep it too damp and lead to rot. Choose mulches that encourage draining.
Also consider if your mulch will inhibit your plant’s growth.
Small, creeping varieties may not do as well with mulching in their way. Gritty options used in the soil such as lava rock (especially large lava rock), chicken grit, and any other sharp rocks without chemicals are great, attractive ways to finish off your repotting process!
When to Water After Repotting Succulents
Should you water them as soon as they’re in their new, luxurious pot and soil?
If it’s a species that likes to be damp all the time, make sure it’s damp.
Similarly, If it’s an average succulent that does best drying out before a watering, it depends on how it went in.
If the soil was dry and your mixture is dry, go ahead and water them.
If it went in damp or you got it from a nursery and it’s sold wet enough to drip, let it dry out.
That’s it! All that’s left now is to decide where to put your plant, if you haven’t already!