Succulents are known for being attractive, low-maintenance houseplants that anyone can keep alive indoors. The truth is, unless you provide the perfect conditions for your succulents, they can actually be pretty easy to kill. This is because most succulents are native to desert conditions, which are naturally pretty different from your standard household environment - so you need to ensure that you adapt your care accordingly. One of the top mistakes that people make is providing their succulents with the wrong type of soil (hint: traditional houseplant soil is not going to cut it!).
Pre-made soil mixes that are designed for succulents are easy to find and purchase both online and at your local nursery or garden center. However, succulent soil is also easy (and cheaper) to make yourself. Understanding how succulent soil differs from regular indoor potting mixes will help you create (or find) the perfect mixture for your indoor succulents.
What is a Succulent?
Succulents are plants that have thick, water-storing leaves and/or stems which helps them grow in arid climates or soil. They are drought-tolerant and extremely easy to overwater. Along with cacti, other popular succulents include Echeveria, aloe vera, jade plants, Sempervivum, Haworthia, and more.
Succulent Soil Characteristics
All soil mixtures are made up of a combination of organic and mineral matter. Organic matter, such as humus and decaying plant tissue, helps to retain moisture in the soil and deliver nutrients to the plant, whereas mineral matter; such as clay, silt, and sand help to support soil drainage.
Because succulents are drought-tolerant plants that do not require consistent moisture, their potting soil should be porous and well-draining and have a lower percentage of organic matter than traditional indoor soil mixes. A loose, grainy soil mixture with plenty of sand and perlite or pumice is ideal.
Potting Soil for Succulents
There are three main components of any succulent soil mixture: sand, potting soil, and perlite or pumice. The exact ratio of these three ingredients can vary depending on the type of succulent that you have, as well as personal preference. However, a good starting point for most succulents is two parts sand, two parts potting soil, and one part perlite or pumice. As you get more comfortable with your succulent and its unique needs, you can experiment with this ratio as desired.
Sand is a super important part of any succulent soil mix. It helps to improve drainage and aeration, and provide that grainy texture that succulents love. Avoid fine sands for your succulent soil and opt for the medium to coarse grit for optimal drainage.
While you won’t be using as much potting soil as you would for other houseplants, potting soil is still an important part of any succulent soil mixture as it provides the organic matter and nutrients the plant needs. You will want to choose a potting soil that is well-draining to use for your succulent soil, and since you will be mixing it with additional sand and perlite/pumice, you can opt for standard houseplant mixes here. Just avoid using any heavy black gardening soils or soil that is specifically formulated for water retention (any soil with vermiculite added is a no-go).
Perlite or Pumice
Perlite and pumice are porous aggregates that are added to succulent soil to help improve aeration and drainage. You can choose to use either one for your succulent soil, although some people prefer to use pumice over perlite because it is slightly heavier and is less likely to float during watering. On the other hand, perlite is usually more readily available and can be found at nearly all nurseries, garden centers, and superstores while pumice can be a bit harder to come across.
Common Succulent Soil Problems
Generally, you should not run into very many issues when it comes to succulent soil as long as it is formulated correctly. The following problems may be an indication that your succulent soil mix needs to be amended.
If you go to water your succulent and the water drains straight through the pot without the soil absorbing any of it, you may be dealing with compacted soil. Soil compaction is relatively rare in succulent soil if the mixture is made correctly, however, it can occur if the plant hasn’t been watered in a long time or if the amount of organic matter in the soil is too high.
In this case, it’s usually best to repot your succulent with new soil. Try adding additional perlite/pumice or sand to the mix to help prevent compaction in the future, and water your newly repotted plant right away.
Too High in Nutrients
If your succulent is displaying signs of leggy, unbalanced growth, this could be a sign that your soil is too nutrient-rich. This may sound like a strange problem to encounter, but succulents do not require a lot of nutrients in their soil (remember they don’t need very much organic matter). Excess nitrogen is the biggest culprit. If you encounter this problem, try amending the soil with additional sand and perlite to help reduce the percentage of organic matter in the mixture.