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.
It is important to note that 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.
|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?
Succulents are plants that have adapted to tolerating drought-like conditions in their native environments with infrequent (although often heavy) rainfall.
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 much nutrients, so it should be noted that when grown indoors succulents grow relatively slowly compared to other houseplants and 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.
(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).
If you do not have any specific succulent or cacti soil (available for garden centers and online), 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 they have a larger particle size that accurately mimics the succulent’s natural soil conditions and creates an aerated, porous structure that ensures good drainage.
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.
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.
(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 to their potting soil to dry out between each bout of watering as this mimics the -deluge of rainfall followed by a period of drought- cycle of moisture that succulents typically experience in their native environment.
However when peat soil is dried completely, 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 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 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 but to also 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, recreates the watering conditions of the succulent’s natural habitat and keeps the leaves thick and healthy.
To assess whether or not the soil is dry, feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole in the base. If the soil is still damp then delay watering. If the soil feels dry, this is the best time to water with a good soak.
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 delay watering until you repeat the test and it feels dry.
I recommend lifting the succulents pot occasionally to assess it 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.
(Read my article on choosing the best pots for aloe vera plants).
- The best potting soil for indoor succulents is a specially made ‘succulent and cacti soil’ mix which replicates 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 normal potting soil as it retains too much moisture for the drought-resistant succulent to tolerate. Normal 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.