Cactus Potting Soil: How To Make The Best Soil For Succulents

Growing and propagating your own cactus and succulent plants is a very rewarding process. There’s a lot to love about cactus and succulents – they have an unusual and diverse range of growth forms.

First, you have the desert cactus, the most popular type that immediately springs to mind whenever anyone mentions “cactus.”

Then you have the jungle cactus, which is somewhat the opposite of their desert species in that they are without spines and are considered as epiphytes. They thrive in the rainforests and places where you’d expect them the least.

Top Bagged Cactus Potting Soil Mixes

In order to grow healthy cactus successfully, there are 3 major environmental factors to keep in mind – light, water and soil. Most new to growing cactus and succulents ask:

  • “What is the best type of soil to plant my cactus in?”
  • “How should I water my cactus plant?”
  • “How much light should my cacti get?”

In this article we’ll address the first question – “What is the best type of soil to plant my cactus in?”

Cactus and succulents should never be overwatered, a potting soil mixture provides good drainage to help solve that problem.

Cactus Soil Requirements

Optimal cactus potting soil shouldn’t be moist all the time or root rot will occur and ruin your cactus plant. A good soil mix for your cactus plant is one that drains easily. This is why you don’t use garden soil on your cactus or succulents.

It’s a must that your pots (I prefer clay pots) have working drain holes and that there’s no water sitting in the bottom. Mix in some organic material to keep the soil mix from quickly drying out. The roots love an airy, well-draining soil mixture like this one that dries and gets wet easily.

You must prepare for repotting as soon as you see the cactus’ root system begins exiting through the drainage holes in the bottom. Most species of cactus and succulents need repotting at least once in every 2 to 3 years.

Repot the slower-growing types every 3 to 4 years. Repot in the spring season when they begin actively growing. It’s recommended to water two days before to ensure the roots and root ball are moist.

Ready To Use Packaged Cactus or Succulent Potting Mix

Novice cactus enthusiasts with no knowledge about making their own cacti and succulent soil mix will often visit their local garden center or shop online for the needed materials as they prepare for repotting.

Most garden centers and nurseries carry cactus soil mixes, specifically made for cactus roots and stems.

Top Bagged Cactus or Succulent Potting Soils

Good soil mixtures will characteristically drain water well but won’t completely dry it out. The passing water will be absorbed quickly by the cacti or succulents and stored within its body, while the excess water will be drained out of the hole in the bottom.

Commercial potting mixes have the basic elements of good potting soil with the addition of peat moss, which is great for holding moisture needed by your cactus plant.

Most of the commercially available cactus potting mixes on the market will grow cactus and succulents plant from propagation to maturity.

It’s a one-size-fits-all approach though; if you want for your desert cactus or jungle cactus to thrive, you’ll have to come up with your very own special cactus potting mix.

Making Your Own Cactus or Succulent Potting Soil

It’s actually easy and cheaper to make your own cactus potting soil.

Prepare a suitable container big enough to hold all the ingredients with room to combine all of them without any spilling over the edge.

Some good examples include a large plastic tub or a wheel barrow.

Also, include a device for measuring consistency. A small shovel should be enough to bring them all together. I use an ash scoop like this for mixing soil.

Cactus Soil Potting Recipes

A sample recipe includes the following:

  • A pinch of rock dust
  • One part coarse sand – I use builder sand
  • Four parts bagged potting soil – like an African Violet mix
  • Five parts perlite

Dress the top of the container soil with small rocks, aquarium stones or fine-grade pea gravel in order to prevent your cactus’ crowns from rotting. Increase the soil acidity ever so slightly with a tablespoon of white vinegar for every 5 gallons of water.

For Desert Cactus

Cactus thriving in pure sand isn’t a good thing, despite most scenes you see in the movies. Desert cactus prefer a rocky, nutrient-rich soil held in a well-draining pot or container. Make sure to include nutrients such as peat moss, coconut coir, pumice and perlite to allow for a good combination of soil aeration and drainage properties.

Use a base of standard potting soil and avoid the forest products such as wood chips and bark pieces. Add in 2 parts pumice, which is a lightweight and porous volcanic rock. If unavailable, you can substitute with chicken grit, NAPA oil dry number 8822, aquatic plant soil, non-soluble cat litter or perlite. This element is important because it allows water to pass through your potting mix quickly while providing good aeration.

Finally, put in some coconut coir. This slowly decomposes and helps the cactus mix hold moisture while providing structure. It is also wettable as compared to peat and it doesn’t compact in the process.

For Jungle Cactus

Almost all jungle cactus are either lithophytic or epiphytic. Meaning, they can grow on rocks or depend on the surrounding trees to survive.

These cactus types – orchid cactus – have a special ability to get the essential nutrients from dead leaves or debris left in the cracks and crevasse, and even get its daily needs from the air!

So to imitate the natural growth environment for the jungle cactus, you’ll need a potting mix that includes oak leaf mold, pumice, coconut coir, peat moss and some orchid bark or fir bark.

Epiphytic cactus will need a potting soil somewhat similar to the desert cacti type. You’ll just need to change things up a bit.

  • 1 Part pumice
  • 2 parts coarse orchid bark

This lends more aeration properties than just throwing more standard potting soil into the mix. The bark breaks down over time and will eventually turn to soil, which means it is time for repotting.

These are just examples of good cactus potting soil that you can try out. The perfect mix depends on the cactus type you wish to grow, plus you’ll need to prepare the other two major growth environments, which are water and light. Part of the fun in making your own cactus potting soil is experimenting on what works best for your beloved cactus and succulent plants!

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