Cactus and Succulent Soil | Sol Soils

Cactus and Succulent Soil: A Beginner’s Guide to the Essentials

succulent cactus mix
Cacti and succulents have become increasingly popular choices for plant enthusiasts and gardeners in recent years. Their popularity is due in large part to their resilience. These unique plants have evolved to flourish in dry and arid environments, with their biggest flex being their ability to store water in their fleshy leaves and stems in order to endure periods of drought. In other words, you don’t have to stress out about forgetting to water them! This makes them a great starter plant for those wanting to dip their toes into the plant world.


However, selecting the right cactus and succulent soil is a crucial step for the success of these plants. The best succulent cactus soil is specifically formulated to cater to the water retention and drainage requirements these plants demand. Read on to learn the specific needs of cacti and succulent potting mix, discovering similarities and differences, and discussing the optimal environment for these hardy plants. Let’s get our hands dirty, shall we?  

The Unique Demands of Succulent and Cacti Soil

Well Draining Soil: The Backbone of Success

Creating an optimal environment for cacti and succulents begins with understanding the pivotal role that well-draining soil plays in their overall health and vitality. As we mentioned earlier, cacti and succulents have adapted to thrive in areas where water quickly moves through the soil and evaporates from the surface. This aids in preventing their roots from becoming waterlogged and suffocating. The concept of well-draining soil becomes the cornerstone of successful cultivation.

In arid ecosystems, like the native habitats of many cacti and succulents, rainwater is scarce and often fleeting. To survive in these conditions, plants have evolved to absorb water rapidly when available and endure extended periods without it. This adaptation necessitates soil that allows water to pass through quickly, especially indoors, preventing the roots from taking in oxygen, which can lead to root rot—a common issue in improperly drained soil.

cactus root rot

Is Cactus and Succulent Soil the Same?

The terminology surrounding cactus succulent soil can be a source of confusion for some people. The terms "cactus soil" and "succlent soil" are frequently used interchangeably, but nuances do exist in their formulations. Cactus soil is typically crafted to be fast-draining and quite gritty. This composition mirrors the rocky, sandy environments where many cacti naturally thrive. Cactus soil also typically has a lower percentage of organic matter to prevent water retention, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot.

On the other hand, succulent mix is a broader category that encompasses various plant species with fleshy leaves or stems designed to store water. While succulent potting soil also tends to have lower organic content, ours contains a slightly higher proportion of organic matter compared to our cactus soil to help segment them a bit for the appropriate plant families.

cactus succulent potting mix

Finding the Ideal Succulent and Cactus Soil

In the quest for the perfect cactus and succulent potting mix, understanding the components and their roles is important. Crafting an environment that mimics their natural habitats involves a careful blend of materials. Let's dig deeper into the components that formulate an ideal cactus and succulent soil mix and explore the extra additions that can be incorporated for customization.

Main Players in Cactus Succulent Soil:

  • Pumice
    • Pumice is an extremely porous rock that is formed from volcanic activity. It plays a crucial role in aeration and drainage, allowing access water to pass through quickly. This rock’s main job is to prevent the plant from getting waterlogged – avoiding the dreaded root rot! 
  • Perlite
    • Perlite is another material created from volcanoes. It looks similar to pumice, but is much lighter weight. Perlites main contribution is to the soil’s aeration by creating small air pockets. It also improves the overall structure of the soil which promotes the growth of strong roots.
  • Calcined Clay
    • Calcined clay is commonly used in gardening and horticulture, particularly in soil mixes for plants like cacti and succulents. Along with many of these inorganic ingredients, it's considered a soil conditioner, which you can think of as pulling moisture or nutrients into the material when you water and slowly releases it back into the medium as it dries to keep moisture more evenly spread in the pot between watering sessions. Its porous nature helps prevent soil compaction and enhances water drainage, reducing the risk of overwatering and root rot. Additionally, it provides aeration to the soil, promoting healthy root development. Are you sensing a theme with these materials? Good! 
  • Pine Bark
    • Pine bark is just as it sounds. It is the bark of a pine tree; it is usually ground up or shredded, and it can be added to soil for several benefits. Besides its ability to aid in aeration and drainage of the soil, this organic material provides a slow release of nutrients to the plants and generally enhances the overall structure.
  • Coconut Coir
    • Coconut coir is made from the fibrous husk of coconuts. It is a popular and sustainable alternative to peat moss. Although it helps with water retention and aeration, our favorite contribution of coir is its sustainability efforts. By reducing the amount of peat harvesting we can lower our dependence on non-renewable resources.
peat in water
Peat moss is considered environmentally problematic for several reasons. Fortunately a large percentage of global bog territory is generally protected, but peat moss is considered a non-renewable resource harvested from peat bogs. Extraction disrupts sensitive ecosystems and releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. The slow regeneration rate of peat bogs is what makes their exploitation unsustainable. Additionally, peat extraction causes habitat loss, threatens biodiversity, and disrupts natural water filtration functions.


For a more customized approach to your cactus succulent soil, we suggest incorporating the following components:

  • LECA Balls
    • LECA balls, or lightweight expanded clay aggregate, being lightweight and porous, improve soil aeration and drainage by creating air pockets that prevent compaction and support root oxygenation. Despite their porous nature, they also retain moisture. This contributes to a stable soil moisture level without the risk of waterlogging, while maintaining a balanced water supply.
  • Lava Rocks
    • Lava rocks, similar to LECA balls, enhance soil drainage by being lightweight and porous. This prevents excess water retention and potential root rot. Additionally, they contribute to temperature regulation by absorbing and radiating heat, particularly beneficial for succulents and cacti thriving in warmer conditions, preventing soil overheating in intense sunlight.


Tailoring to Individual Needs

As you are starting to embark on your journey of nurturing cacti and succulents, it is important to understand the individual needs of each plant. In order for your cactus or succulent to flourish you’ll want to tailor the growing environment to accommodate the specific requirements of each species. Here are some things to consider:

Choose the right container

An important piece of advice is selecting a container with good drainage. The drainage holes act as the first line of defense against waterlogged soil. By now, we know that good drainage helps prevent root rot and other moisture-related issues.

succulent potting mix

Proper airflow

Adequate air circulation is crucial for the health of cacti and succulents. It helps prevent the buildup of excess humidity around the plants. Other notable benefits of proper airflow: reduces risk of fungal diseases, as well as helps maintain a more consistent soil moisture level. 

Watering practices

When it comes to watering techniques, you’ll want to try to mimic the natural rainfall patterns of arid regions. This means infrequent but deep watering when it is time. Deep waterings prompt the plants to send their roots deeper into the soil in search of water, promoting overall plant resilience. You might be asking yourself, “okay but how infrequent?” We’ve found it’s best to water every 1-2 weeks when the weather is warm (even if they're indoors as the intensity of the sun and length of days impact their growing seasons), and can be cut back to every 4-6 weeks from Fall through Winter when these unique plant varieties are typically dormant.

succulent plants potting soil

Don't be afraid to allow soil to dry out

We are all about preventing root rot, and a good way to do so is by allowing the soil of your cactus or succulent to dry out between waterings. Realistically, very few places on Earth have consistently damp conditions. If these plants are watered too frequently the root system has a hard time taking in oxygen and will likely begin to deteriorate.

Adapting to different species

There are over 2,000 recognized species of cacti and over a whopping 10,000 species of succulents. In order to provide the best care for your particular plant, doing research on its unique requirements regarding sunlight, water, and soil is important. Some species thrive in a grittier, fast-draining mix and others benefit from a slightly more moisture-retentive blend. This tailored approach enhances the overall health and well-being of your plants.

Final Thoughts

These hardy plants that have adapted to thrive in tough environments have earned their stripes when it comes to being low-maintenance and visually stunning plant additions. However, as we’ve learned throughout the blog, the key to unlocking their full potential lies in utilizing a better cactus or succulent soil than you'll find on most shelves. This means mixing your own or buying performance mixes like ours here at Sol Soils. 

As we've explored the importance of well-draining soil and the nuances between cactus and succulent soil formulations, it becomes clear that creating a more optimal environment is the linchpin for success. From the essential components like pumice, perlite, and pine bark, crafting the perfect soil mix is an artful (and fun!) science. Navigating through the individual needs of each plant, from choosing the right container to fine-tuning watering practices, guarantees a tailored approach that fosters growth and resilience. I want to highlight that it's easy to overthink all the plant care needs. Don't stress too much about it; we're all going to make some mistakes. In general, you can treat large groups of plants with relatively similar needs the same. I personally water all my cacti and euphorbia together on one timing schedule and all my succulents together on another timing schedule (I extend the schedules as we get deeper into Fall). With 100+ plants I'm not about to focus on each plant's individual demands, and I very rarely run into issues using this blanket watering process. So, as you embark on this adventure, armed with knowledge and your hands ready to get dirty, embrace the process of cultivating these desert wonders in your own space. Grow happy plants!

cactus succulent soil