Best Succulent Soil? What Your Succulent Needs

Best Soil for Succulents

The single most important question for succulent care is how to water your succulents. And absolutely vital to proper watering is using the right soil. Whether they grow indoors or out, in containers or in the ground, succulents require a fast draining soil. There are a number of ways to achieve great succulent soil. Whether you purchase succulent potting mix or do a custom blend of your own, it is important to understand what succulents need from their soil.

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

Why Do Succulents Need Soil?

Lithops planted in gritty fast draining succulent soil

The vast majority of plants, including succulents, live in soil, which provides several benefits:

  • Soil works with the roots to anchor the plant in place, securing it from the buffeting forces of wind, rainfall and mudflow. This maintains its position relative to sun exposure, shade and other plants.
  • Soil also holds onto water, making it available to the plant’s roots.
  • Equally important, good soil has tiny pockets of space that hold air, which is essential for photosynthesis, making it available to the roots.
  • It also insulates the plants’ roots from dramatic temperature shifts.
  • And soil supplies roots with nutrients for the plant’s development.

You can see the importance of soil as the importance of the plants’ roots. A healthy, vigorous root system is the foundation for a healthy and vigorous plant. Succulents share these needs, with some specific adjustments.

Succulent Soil Specifics

plant succulents in gritty fast draining succulent soil

Succulents need all the benefits soil provides. But their specific needs are a bit different from most plants’, particularly with regard to water and nutrients. Succulents do need water, but their specific adaptations to store water mean they cannot tolerate saturated soil. It is important that succulent soil drains quickly. For this reason, using a generic potting soil will be a problem for succulents. Most plants want more water-retentive soils than succulents do. So, if you are selecting a pre-packaged potting soil, be certain it is labeled for succulents or cactus. Otherwise, it will hold too much water for the succulents and will lead to rot.

Succulents also thrive with nutritionally lean soils. Too much nitrogen – a common nutrient in most potting mixes – will cause rapid, weak growth, as well as burning and rotting of both leaf and root for your succulents. So take care to avoid using straight generic potting soil, or one with plant food added when potting your succulent plants. Instead, provide a gritty mix for your succulents with fast drainage and plenty of air pockets.

Best Soil for Succulents May Need Adjustments

echeveria planted in gritty fast draining succulent soil

Succulents can quickly become a bit of an obsession! That is why it is so great that you do not need any specific, expensive soil for great results. Most brands’ commercial succulent potting mix is gritty, fast draining and will work fine if you take a little care with them.

The best soil for succulents in my garden may not be the same for your garden. I live in southern California, where rainfall is rare in spring and summer, and not too plentiful in fall or winter. So a commercial mix with a large amount of water-retentive peat moss works just fine for me. If you are in Florida, or another location with frequent rain, it is important to look for greater drainage from your soil. Then, too, some succulents will thrive with the soil right out of the bag, while others, like cactus, may need even faster drainage.

Let’s look at enhancing your soil to suit your succulents and your climate.

Pumice for Gardening with Succulents

barrel cactus planted in gritty fast draining succulent soil

Pumice is a very lightweight, volcanic rock that is mined for use in farms and gardens. As a natural, unprocessed soil additive, It has many specific properties that make it valuable for growing succulents. Pumice actually absorbs moisture, and releases it slowly as the surrounding soil dries. Tiny pores in the rock also hold air pockets, helping to aerate the soil. Pumice is naturally rich in micronutrients that are exceptional for healthy succulents. Unlike the feather-weight, lookalike perlite, pumice will not float up through the potting soil with each watering. To improve the drainage of your succulent soil, simply add pumice!

You can purchase pumice online, or at the local nursery labeled as pumice. Or look for a product called Dry Stall (but NOT Stall Dry!) at the local feed store – it is pumice, too!

Coco Coir for Succulents

coco coir is excellent amendment for succulent soil

Coco coir is a natural by-product of harvesting coconuts. It is the coarse fibers removed from the coconut husk. It is a wonderful organic soil amendment for gardening, it holds moisture well, while releasing it easily and draining well. Most important, it accepts water well once it is dry. Peat moss, a more commonly used additive, is far more difficult to wet when it is dry, making it difficult to water succulents. Coco coir also lasts longer than does peat moss, which breaks down more rapidly.

DIY Succulent Soil

DIY succulent soil recipe with pumice and coco coir

Like the celebrated garden photojournalist, Debra Lee Baldwin, I typically plant my succulents in a commercial succulent soil or I make a roughly 50/50 blend of pumice and general potting mix. If you garden where there is a lot of rain, but want the ease of a pre-made succulent potting mix, try one like this, and add pumice for greater drainage. Figure 2 parts succulent soil to 1 part pumice for a great, fast-draining succulent soil mix! This is also a good blend for use with cactus.

Another simple DIY succulent soil recipe is this one, made from pre-packaged succulent soil, pumice and coco coir. I use about 3 parts succulent soil to 2 parts pumice and 1 part coco coir. The result is a nicely gritty mix which drains rapidly and well, while providing great support for growing my succulents.

Succulent Soil

crassula ovata in DIY succulent soil recipe

There are many succulent soil mixes on the market, and they will all do a great job for you if you take your own climate into account. Further, every succulent grower I know has their own favorite recipe for their own soil. Don’t let this intimidate you! You don’t need to spend a fortune on a specific “best” soil for your succulents. Nor do you need a specific recipe. Understand the needs of your succulents when it comes to soil. Make adjustments as necessary by adding pumice to improve the drainage. And pay attention to your plants! Soon you will have a feel for what soil you and your succulents are happy with. And that is the very best succulent soil!

Happy gardening!

P.S. Please subscribe and enjoy my FREE course, 7 Steps to Succulent Success. Thanks so much!

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18 thoughts on “Best Succulent Soil? What Your Succulent Needs”

  1. I love your succulent site as you give such useful information and in a way every gardener can understand. I complement you.

    1. Hi Sharon,
      This is a great question! I need to update my post to make this clear.
      The succulent soil you buy pre-packaged is intended for use with succulents and cactus indoors or out. The same with the recipe I provided. The main difference will be how often you water. Plants outdoors tend to go through water more quickly than do those indoors. So use the same, fast-draining, nutritionally lean soil both indoors and out, and adjust the watering. For a detailed review of how to water your succulents, look here: The bottom line is to water only when the soil is really dry.

  2. Once again, you’ve written a wonderful article that explains very clearly and simply how to care for succulents. I’m not dumb by any means, lol, but I’ve never actually thought about the exact PURPOSE of succulent soil and why it needs to be a specialized “formula”. I’m lucky enough to live on the edge of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. Because there is no salt content in the water I scoop up buckets of gravely sand which contains tons of little agates, then I strain it through my kitchen colander which give me lots and lots of 1/8th” to 1/4th” sized beautiful little Lake Superior agates to mix into my succulent soil, the bigger ones I use for top dressing!
    I look forward to every new email from you. You ROCK! (Pun intended lol)

    1. Hi Tawny,
      Thanks SO much!
      I am one of those people who is always trying to find a “better way” to do something. if I don’t clearly understand why it is always done a certain way – I will find a new and interesting twist to try – and often fail spectacularly because I failed to account for that important point I was unaware of. That’s one of the reasons the WHY always matters so much to me, and why I like to explain it to you.
      Your home harvested soil and top dressing sound marvelous! Your succulents should thrive in that soil – and look fabulous with the agate top dressing!
      Rock on! 🙂

  3. The frustration of Succulent Soil for me is that when a succulent comes in the mail rooted in a lush, professional loamy cactus soil then I plant it in succulent soil I find at Walmart or the local farm implement shop, I can actually feel the little guys going “oh sh-t”. They eventually fit in, but it seems to take longer for their adjustment then if I just pop a cutting in. My studio is full of all kinds of exotic plants, but the succulents get the stage with showcased grow lights. For each plant, I research, worry, fuss, and finally adjust.

    1. Hi Annie,
      Isn’t it weird how different this can be? I am often frustrated by the poor soil succulents are grown in professionally. But what seems like we are getting different soil may just be a reflection of our different climates. Often succulents are grown in soil better suited to a wetter, more humid climate than mine, so I have to remove as much of it as possible before re-potting it. You experience might be a bit the reverse. Although succulents can be made happy in a wide range of climates, they often need different soil depending upon those climates. Perhaps you need to enrich your succulent soil a bit with more coir to get the results you really want. That is why I included the basic recipe, but encourage you to adjust it to suit your climate. But you can always add just 1 ingredient to the store bought mix to work better for you. For richer soil, try the coir, but also consider the worm castings – great fertilizer and it keeps the insects away! 🙂

  4. Dear Kat,
    I recently bought a bag of worm castings but I don’t know what to do with it! Do I incorporate it into my succulent mix, sprinkle some on top of the mix for each potted plant, etc? And how much should I use, no matter how it’s applied? Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us! I know my succulents thank you, as well!

    1. Hi Tawny,
      You and your succulents will really love those worm castings!
      When you are potting up a succulent, add 1-2 tablespoons worm castings to your succulent soil for a 4-inch pot. 3T for a 6-inch pot, and a 1/2 cup for a gallon pot. It does not need to be this precise, but this is a good guide.
      For plants that are already growing in pots or in the ground, apply a top dressing of worm castings on top of the soil. Scratch it into the very top layer of soil, or add a top dressing of pebbles on top, to keep the worm castings from floating away. Now, every time you water, your plants will get a good drink of worm casting infused “tea”! 🙂

  5. Hi! Your blog is so helpful, first off. Second, commercial succulent/cactus potting mixes. I recently purchased one for the first time, it lists ingredients as pumice, perlite, “decomposed softwood and forest products”, composted worm castings. It feels nice and gritty, and is very dark and moist. I’m used to perlite-heavy mixes rather than pumice, so the texture/particle size is unfamiliar, of course, but it feels nice and gritty. The only issue is that I’ve put out several wee echeverias in it two, three days ago, and the soil on the surface of the pot is still just as moist as it was when I opened the bag. I know that commercial mixes contain wetting agents to overcome the hydrophobic properties of peat moss and other ingredients, but even with very wet outdoor container potting mixes, I’ve never encountered moisture hanging around for this long. Is this as bad as it seems? Am I killing my succulents as we speak? I’m probably going to give in to my anxiety and re-pot them in my cheap, sandy, perlite-y peat moss mix, but I’m curious as to whether this is common, or I just got a wonky bag?
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Hi Misty,
      If it were me, I would replant them, too! Does your pot have good drainage, and there is decent air circulation around it?
      While I have had this happen with some regular potting mixes, I have not encountered it with a succulent / cactus / palms mix!
      I know this might sound a bit weird, but how does the mix smell? Is it a rich, earthy, woodsy smell, or is there a foul odor to it? If it smells bad, I would be concerned about mold or mildew, with such moisture retaining properties.
      Let me know how it goes!

      1. Not a weird question at all; I’m an embalmer, and you’d be surprised how quick you learn pathology by scent, you lift the sheet and it’s “oh boy, kidney failure again.”
        There was certainly no mildew scent, and really, barely any smell to it at all.
        The soil has *finally* begun to dry out, although I did go ahead and repot my buddies. I’m going to let it dry completely, which shouldn’t take long with the heat running, then saturate a pot of it with nothing planted and see how it does after “curing” in this way.
        Most of these guys were in little plastic nursery pots because they fit so well into a few cute containers that don’t have drainage, a few had their own terra cotta pots. I’ve got them all in a big shallow terra cotta dish at the moment. That and unglazed pottery are my go-to materials for everything but hanging baskets and “inserts” for the aforementioned decorative containers. They’re all perched on a bookcase that overlooks the entry stairwell (house is a split-level), where a ceiling fan is on 24/7.
        I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to reply to a comment on such an old post! Again, this site is nine kinds of awesome, I’ve successfully lobbied to get it included it in our Extension Master Gardener list of helpful sites 🙂

        1. Hi Misty,
          An embalmer! How cool!
          And I just love that you are doing the experiment you describe. That is exactly what I would do, fully dry the soil, then wet it to see what it does. 🙂
          When in doubt, re-pot. Healthy succulents really don’t mind being re-potted every day, though that would get old for the gardener! But I think it is always best to re-pot when you are unsure of the soil they are in, especially if it remains too wet.
          I love unglazed pottery and terracotta for exactly that reason, that they can lose some moisture through the walls.
          Be sure to consider adding drainage to impossibly cute containers whenever you can:
          Thanks SO much for talking up this blog among your Master Gardeners group! I hugely appreciate it!
          And please be sure to ask any other questions that come up!

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