Best Potting Soil for Succulent Plants Indoors

Best potting soil for succulent plants

Beleive me, the most important aspect of growing succulents is getting the watering right and using the right potting soil. I have seen many a succulent perish necessarily because they were in potting soil that retains too much moisture. So, what is the best potting soil for succulents?

The best potting soil for indoor succulents is specially made ‘succulent and cacti’ potting soil, which contains a high proportion of inorganic material with varying particle sizes to ensure excess water drains easily. Succulent and cacti soil mimics the preferred soil conditions of the succulent’s natural habitat.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the right soil should be cohesive with good watering practices, and all succulents should be planted in pots with drainage holes in the base to allow the soil to dry.

Here is a quick summary of the most important characteristics for succulent soil…

Succulent Potting Soil Requirments:Optimal Soil Characteristics:
Good drainage:Gritty or sandy, well-draining soil replicates the dry soil conditions of the succulent’s hot and dry native environment. Succulents are vulnerable to root rot, so good drainage is imperative.
Aeration:Succulents need soil with a high proportion of inorganic material, ideally with a large particle size, to help air circulate around the roots and to improve drainage.
Low to medium fertility:Succulents grow in sandy soils that do not retain much nutrients. Normal potting soil is often too nutrient-dense for succulents, which can cause drooping leaves,
Soil pH:Succulents can tolerate growing in slightly acidic, neutral, and slightly alkaline soils without any problems.

What Kind of Potting Soil Do Succulents Need?

A gritty 'succulent and cacti' potting mix is the best soil for growing succulents,
This is the gritty ‘succulent and cacti’ potting mix that I find is the best soil for growing succulents.

Succulents are plants that have adapted to tolerating drought-like conditions in their native environments with infrequent (although often heavy) rainfall.

To understand why gritty soil is best, it is important that we understand the type of soil that succulents grow in when in their natural habitat and replicate this for our potting soil.

In their natural habitat, succulents and cacti grow in gritty or sandy well-draining soils that do not hold much moisture for very long with a porous structure that allows excess water to drain away, so the roots are not sat in boggy soil.

As succulents are adapted to arid environments, they are particularly susceptible to diseases such as root rot, which is caused by overwatering and planting the succulent in a potting mix that retains too much moisture around the roots.

To grow succulents in pots indoors, it is essential to emulate the soil conditions of the succulent’s natural habitat with more inorganic material (sand or grit) than organic material (compost).

The optimal succulent soil mix has a good porous, aerated structure that allows water to infiltrate and reach the roots yet also drain away efficiently, significantly mitigating the risk of root rot and reducing a lot of the problems associated with overwatering.

The sandy or gritty soil that succulents grow in naturally does not retain many nutrients, so it should be noted that when grown indoors, succulents grow relatively slowly compared to other houseplants, so do not fertilize them as they actually thrive in relatively low-fertility soil.

Can you Use Regular Potting Soil for Succulents?

Succulents are specifically adapted to growing in gritty or sandy soils, therefore regular potting soil is not appropriate for growing any type of succulent. Normal potting soil retains too much moisture for succulents and takes too long to dry out for the succulent roots to tolerate.

When a succulent is planted in conventional, unamended potting soil, the succulent starts to turn brown, yellow, or black with a mushy texture, indicating either root rot, stem rot, or basal stem rot.

This is one of the most common mistakes I see people make when potting up their succulents!

A snake plant with a rotting brown leaf due to overwatering and slow draining soils.
A snake plant with a rotting brown leaf due to overwatering and slow-draining soils.

(If you succulent is turning, brown, yellow or black it is imperative to repot it in new soil. I recommend reading my article, how to revive a dying succulent plant for the solution).

Suppose you do not have any specific succulent or cacti soil (available for garden centers and online). In that case, the best solution is to use normal peat-free potting soil and amend it with perlite, horticultural grit, or sharp sand.

I personally recommend horticultural grit or perlite rather than the sand (from experimenting with my own succulents) as grit has a larger particle size that accurately mimics the succulent’s natural soil conditions and creates an aerated, porous structure that ensures good drainage.

Sand can work as well, in my experience, but I must caution it is essential to use cortical sand or builders’ sand as they have a larger particle size.

If you are one of those people who have trouble growing succulents (Like a lot of us do!) Then I advise you to plant your succulents with grit as this is better at preventing root rot.

To provide the right drainage conditions for succulents (to prevent root rot), ensure that the mix is at the very least 1 part potting soil to 1 part grit or perlite. I typically prefer to have 60% grit or perlite to 40% potting soil.

Use a mix of grit and potting soil to create the optimal soil structure for growing succulents,
Use a mix of grit and potting soil to create the optimal soil structure for growing succulents,

Potting soil with these proportions is key to avoiding the most common reason for dying succulents as it drains so well that even if the succulent is watered more often than it should be, the drainage is good enough to avoid root rot.

This is the soil mix that I personally use for succulents and cacti, and since using this potting mix, all my succulents have thrived without one suffering root rot. The reason I love grit so much is because it makes the drainage so good that you can overwater your succulents, and they are still likely to survive. I always recommend it for novice succulent growers.

(To learn how often to water succulents at different times of the year, read my article, how often to water succulents).

Avoid Planting Succulents in Peat Soil

I strongly recommend avoiding planting succulents in any potting soil that contains peat moss.

Succulents need their potting soil to dry out between each bout of watering as this mimics the -deluge of rainfall followed by a period of drought- the cycle of moisture that succulents typically experience in their native environment.

However, when peat soil is dried completely, in my experience, it can bake hard and become hydrophobic (which means it repels water from the soil’s surface) and the water runs off the surface of the soil and down the side of the pot and out of the drainage hole in the base, without infiltrating properly and reaching the roots.

This prevents the roots from drawing up any moisture despite watering and can cause a succulent to suffer stress from drought. This causes the succulent leaves to turn thin and curl or droop as it draws upon the moisture reserves in the leaves.

The specially amended succulent and cacti soil that I use maintains a porous open structure, even when it has dried out, completely due to the large particle size of the grit and perlite. This allows water to reach the roots so it can replenish the moisture reserves in the thick, fleshy leaves.

Potting Soil, Drainage and Watering

The three most important criteria for keeping succulents healthy and for avoiding root rot:

  • The optimal potting soil.
  • Planting the succulent in pots with drainage holes.
  • How often do you water the succulent?

The right potting soil for indoor succulents is imperative to ensure the plant is healthy and should be cohesive with good watering practices by planting the succulent in a pot with drainage holes.

The best way to avoid the most common problems for succulents associated with overwatering is to use the right potting soil and only water when the succulent’s soil has dried out completely due to its preference for dry conditions.

Allowing the soil to dry out before watering thoroughly helps us to recreate the watering conditions of the succulent’s natural habitat in our homes and keeps the leaves thick and healthy.

To assess whether or not the soil is dry, I feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole in the base. If the soil is still damp, then I delay watering. If the soil feels dry, then I find this is the best time to water with a good soak.

Useful tip: You can also use a wooden skewer to push into the soil and then remove it to see if the skewer feels moist still, in which case, I would delay watering until you repeat the test, and if it feels dry give the soil a good soak.

Use a wooden skewer to test whether the soil has dried.
This is me testing the soil of my succulent to tell whether it has dried.

I recommend lifting the succulent pot occasionally to assess its weight, which can help you judge when the soil has dried out, as the pot should feel much lighter.

A pot with drainage holes allows the excess water to drain through the potting soil and escape out the bottom so that the soil around the roots can dry effectively between each bout of watering.

(I recommend reading my article on choosing the best pots for aloe vera plants).

Key Takeaways:

  • The best potting soil for indoor succulents is a specially made ‘succulent and cacti soil’ mix, replicating the succulent’s naturally preferred soil conditions, allowing for aeration around the roots, good drainage, and ensuring the right balance of nutrients.
  • Avoid planting succulents in ordinary potting soil as it retains too much moisture for the drought-resistant succulent to tolerate. Regular potting soil does not drain efficiently enough for the succulent, which is susceptible to root rot if the soil is too damp around the roots.
  • Avoid planting succulents in peat-based soil, as this bakes hard when it is hot and dry, which causes water to run off the surface without infiltrating and reaching the roots where it is needed.
  • Plant succulents in well-draining, gritty potting soil that emulates their native soil allow the soil to dry between each bout of watering, and always plant succulents in pots with drainage holes in their base.

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