Soil mix and fertilizers are two important ingredients in a recipe for beautiful and healthy succulents. We should know that soil mix for succulents has to be different from regular garden soil mix. Well-drained and porous soil is crucial in preventing root rotting in succulents. And despite receiving some necessary nutrients from the soil, succulents will also need fertilizers every now and then to help them grow bigger and create vibrant colors. Read on to find out the best soil mix and fertilizers we recommend for your succulents.
Having the growing medium or soil mix for your succulents is very crucial! This does not only promote better airflow for easy root growth but also helps prevent excess sogginess, which may lead to overwatering your plants, which is the number one reason for their death.
For beginners, you can start by getting a cactus and succulent soil mix, which is readily available for purchase at a local garden center near you. The safest and popular choices for succulents, especially for beginners, is either the Miracle-Gro potting mix or Black Gold cactus mix. Then just add some sort of soil conditioner into the mix (such as perlite or pumice) to loosen its density, allowing them to be more porous and have better drainage.
You also have the option to blend your own potting for your succulents by mixing an organic substance with an inorganic one.
Photo via DIY Network
1. Organic substance
The main ingredient in most soil mixes is peat moss, a lightweight substance that doesn’t break down easily. It is usually hard to wet and can dry out rapidly. Coconut coir, which is a natural fiber that comes from shredded coconut husks, can also be substituted for peat moss. Coir is easier to wet but also won’t break down quickly. Compost is another good alternative for peat moss and coir, although keep in mind that compost can decompose very easily. Additionally, blend some bark fines into your soil mix to allow water and air to penetrate more quickly for better drainage.
Organic soil is a high-quality medium created through the decomposition of plants and animal manures. In addition to that, this kind of soil is chemical-free and contains more nutrients and minerals compared to ordinary soil, helping your succulents grow healthy.
Here are some organic ingredients you can use with your soil.
- Peat moss is a lightweight substance that doesn’t break down easily as it is usually hard to wet and can dry out rapidly
- Coconut Coir is a natural fiber that comes from shredded coconut husks, can also be substituted for peat moss. They are easier to wet but won’t break down quickly.
- Mulchis an organic material that helps enrich the soil and retain its moisture, and gradually releases nutrients into the soil as it decays. This material can be made at home using scraps, tree debris, and other plants. Many kinds of mulch vary in texture, smell, and color. It can be a decaying leaf, bark, wood chips, and many others.
- Compostis just like mulch that consists of a lot of decaying organic substances like food scraps, grass clippings, and other kitchen waste that slowly decays, releasing enough nutrients. In addition to that, using compost for your soil is not only a good alternative for peat moss and coir but also a wonderful way to recycle and reduce waste while enhancing the medium at the same time.
- Manureis an ingredient that can be added to your compost to improve texture with the bonus of adding some nutrients to it as well. Plus, it also helps amends deficient soil by helping facilitate sufficient drainage, and turn sandy soil into enriched ones.
- Worm castings are another organic matter, which can withstand water erosion and compaction, and at the same time increase water retention of the soil.
2. Inorganic substance
Our soil mix needs an inorganic matter that lets water soak into and then drain out of soil quickly, keeping the soil dry, crumbly, and airy. You can choose from a wide variety of options: perlite, pumice, calcined clay, chicken grit, crushed granite, aquarium or pea gravel, and non-soluble cat litter.
If you want to improve your potting medium, you need to consider adding inorganic matter to your soil. It helps allow water to soak into and then drain out of the soil quickly, keeping the soil dry, crumbly, and airy, providing adequate drainage for your succulents.
Some inorganic ingredients you can use to improve your soil mixes.
- Perlite is an inorganic mineral commonly used in horticulture, which has a spacious surface that can retain moisture. Moreover, this substance is non-toxic with a neutral pH.
- Pumice is a natural, unprocessed organic ingredient that comes from mines, which helps enhance the drainage of the soil and at the same time keeping it from getting mucky, so the roots of your succulents don't get rot easily.
- Calcined Clay is another great inorganic ingredient to be used in your soil mix. It helps improve drainage like perlite. The only difference is Calcine clay hold and releases nutrients to plant roots with its high cation-exchange capacity. Plus, the air passage between the clay is enough for roots to get oxygen while preventing rotting.
- Chicken Grit is crushed granite, which is suitable for mixing with your soil. It's coarse that allows water to pass through, so it's great for drainage.
- Pea Gravel is another inorganic ingredient. It doesn't decompose but sinks into the soil, improving drainage if you have clay soil. So you may need to replenish the gravel every four years or so.
- Insoluble Cat Litter is great for succulent soil as it provides the conditions the plants need to thrive. It has well-draining soil that allows excess water to exit but holds enough to keep them from drying out and sufficient air pockets for oxygen.
- Sandy soil is light, warm, dry, acidic, and low in nutrients. It has good drainage that allows the water to quickly pass through and at the same time warms up faster in Spring.
3. Soil mix ratio
Getting the right soil mix could be daunting to any succulent beginner, so here's our recommendation for basic succulent soil mix that promotes airflow, root growth, and drainage:
3:2:1 potting soil + bark fines + perlite/pumice
After mixing your organic and inorganic matters together, it's time to test your mixture:
✔ Wet a portion of the soil mix thoroughly
✔ Squeeze it into a ball
✔ If it crumbles, your soil mix is well-drained
✔ If it doesn't, add more perlite/pumice
You can experiment with different ratios and ingredients to find the best soil mix for your succulents, but keep in mind that the wrong potting mix can most likely hold too much moisture, which may cause the roots of your plants to rot and eventually die. So it is still best to follow the basic approach, especially for beginner gardeners.
When you use soil for your potting mix, fertilizers are not an immediate need because your succulents can still get nutrients from the soil. But they will definitely benefit from being fertilized once or twice a year. The best time to fertilize is in the spring when your succulents are actively approaching their growing season and are ready to receive some extra nutrients. But if your plants are winter growing succulents, fertilizing in the fall would be more effective.
There are succulent fertilizers available on the market—one popular option is Miracle-Gro Succulent Plant Food. If you can’t find succulent fertilizers, regular water-soluble fertilizer diluted by at least 50% works fine as well. Highly potent fertilizers are never recommended because they will most likely burn your succulents rather than delivering them any nutrients.
Certain types of homemade fertilizers have been working well for many gardeners—banana peels, coffee grounds, or finely crushed eggshells for example. You can mix one or all of these ingredients with water and place the mixture on top of the soil. Take it off after a few days before it gets moldy and does harm to your succulents. Some people find it helpful to save their fish tank water as a homemade fish emulsion to feed their succulents.
Remember to give your succulents a lot of sunlight if you decide to fertilize them. The boost of nutrients will help them grow quickly but might lead to a lot of stretching if they lack sunlight. If you keep your plants indoors where they don’t receive enough sun, consider buying a grow light to keep them happy and thriving.
Now you’re ready to start creating your own soil mix and have a better understanding of how/when to use fertilizers. Feel free to share with us the tips that you swear by to grow wonderful succulent gardens.
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