While many other houseplants are content with commercially available potting soil, succulents want excellent drainage, better than you’ll find in any pre-mixed product from the store. Making your own potting mix is easy, saves you money, and grows robust succulents quickly, free from pests and disease.
Beyond providing the basics (sun and water), there is nothing you can do to give your succulent a better chance of success than making your own potting mix.
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DIY Succulent Soil Recipes
Our recipes all use ratios rather than quantities, so you can make as much or as little as you want.
When a recipe says “one part,” it can be a scoop of any size, just make sure you use the same size of scoop for all ingredients in the recipe. Also, remember that making your own potting mix is not like baking French pastry, you don’t have to be precise. Just eyeball it. Your plants won’t care.
Keep reading past the recipes for a full description of each ingredient and a comprehensive guide.
Our Favorite Succulent Mix
- 1 part compost
- 1 part coconut coir
- 1 part coarse sand
- 1 part perlite
Shortcut Succulent Mix
- 2 parts commercially available cactus-specific potting mix
- 1 part coarse sand
- 1 part perlite
Seed Starting & Propagation Mix
- 4 parts coconut coir
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
Ingredients You Need to Make Succulent Potting Mix
There are many potential combinations of ingredients you could use to make your own potting mix for succulents.
In general, you will need ingredients from two overarching categories of ingredients:
- Organic matter
- Gritty amendments
There are also some things you might think of as potential ingredients that we recommend you avoid.
Keep in mind that the ingredients of a DIY succulent potting mix can also be used to make potting mix for other houseplants. You’ll get plenty of use out of the leftovers of whatever ingredients you buy.
Organic Matter Options
Compost is decayed organic matter (plant or animal matter) that looks somewhat like garden soil. Gardeners call it “black gold” because it is black or very dark brown, with a crumbly texture.
It may be made deliberately (for example by adding your household vegetable waste to a plastic bin to decompose) or may occur naturally (for example when leaves fall from trees and biodegrade until they become part of the soil).
Compost is a beneficial addition to potting mix for several reasons:
- It contains slow-release nutrients that provide good nutrition to your plants, reducing the need for additional fertilizer
- It introduces beneficial microorganisms into the potting mix and feeds them
- It retains water in the pot for your succulent to consume over time.
Note: The ideal compost is made from decomposed yard waste or vegetable waste from your kitchen.
Purchased compost often includes a substantial percentage of composted wood chips. This isn’t necessarily a problem if the wood input is balanced with nitrogen sources, but some commercially prepared composts take shortcuts so that the finished product still contains un-decomposed wood chips.
If your compost has visible bits of wood in it, it’s best to strain them out using a mesh screen, and then add only the fine, totally decomposed part of the compost into your potting mix.
Coconut coir or “coco coir” is a lightweight soil amendment. It is made from the hulls of coconuts, which take the place of peat moss. It is a renewable resource without any of the environmental downsides of peat moss.
Coconut coir is an ideal ingredient to add to succulent potting mix for several reasons:
- Although it is non-hydrophobic, meaning it does absorb water, coconut coir provides outstanding aeration, which helps a lot with drainage.
- It has a suitable pH.
- It provides some nutritional value to plants.
- It has anti-fungal properties.
Coconut coir can be purchased in two forms: large bags of loose coconut coir, similar to a bag of peat moss, or compressed into a brick.
We recommend getting it in brick form because it is easier to transport and less expensive. To reconstitute it:
- Simply put the brick in a wheelbarrow, large plastic tub, or other large container.
- Add water.
- As the brick absorbs water it will expand dramatically and can be broken up easily, resulting in a large quantity of loose, lightweight product.
Note: We recommend using coconut coir instead of peat moss whenever possible. It can be harder to find than peat moss, but you can often find it at gardening stores or hydroponic stores, and of course it can be ordered online.
Peat moss is available on its own or as a common ingredient in commercial potting mixes and seed starting mixes. It is a lightweight material harvested from peat bogs that helps aerate soil and absorb moisture.
However, peat moss has downsides beyond the environmental destruction caused by harvesting it.
If it is watered and then allowed to fully dry out, it becomes hydrophobic (meaning that it hardens and will no longer easily absorb water). This is a big problem with succulents, which prefer to dry out between waterings.
Peat moss is also quite acidic. This is not necessarily a problem when it is combined with other less acidic ingredients, as many succulents enjoy a slightly acidic soil. However, if you want to be able to use your big bag of peat moss to make potting soil for other houseplants, you may need to amend the soil with an alkaline material such as lime.
Cactus-Blend Potting Mix
If you are willing to make your own potting mix but don’t want to have to start from scratch, one cheat code is to start with a potting mix formulated for cactuses and add some additional gritty amendment.
The most readily available option (found at most big-box home and garden stores, hardware stores, etc.) is a cactus/palm/citrus blend made by Miracle-Gro. This mix contains peat moss, perlite, sand and fertilizer.
While we don’t exactly recommend this blend (both because of the use of peat moss and the inclusion of chemical fertilizer), it is a widely-available option. Plus, it does provide a nice lightweight base material to which you can add a gritty amendment.
Since succulents prefer for their soil to dry out completely between waterings, the peat moss will eventually become hard and hydrophobic.
Note: If you use this mix, we recommend repotting more frequently if the texture of the potting mix changes noticeably over time.
There is no need to fertilize succulents the first year after repotting — they will get plenty of nutrients from the fresh compost in your mix.
In subsequent years, or if you want to give them an extra boost, it’s generally sufficient to fertilize every couple of months during the growing season. The less compost you use in your potting mix, the more need your succulents will have for fertilizer.
We recommend sticking with a succulent-specific organic liquid fertilizer. One personal favorite is the succulent fertilizer made by Dr. Earth, which is available online but is also for sale at some big-box home and garden stores.
Gritty Amendment Options
Perlite is a small, white, extremely lightweight rocky substance made of volcanic glass (typically obsidian). It is heated until it expands into an airy, low-density form, a bit like chunks of hard dry sponge.
Perlite is a key ingredient in almost any potting mix. It breaks up the soil substructure, creating a light, well-draining mixture. It also does not retain water. These qualities make it perfectly suited for succulent potting mix. Plus, it is inexpensive and widely available.
Much like Perlite, pumice is a lightweight, porous, volcanic rock derived material that makes a great addition to potting mix. Like perlite, it is great for drainage.
One additional benefit of pumice is that it absorbs some moisture. This can be a benefit if you have a succulent planted in a pot without a drainage hole. In that situation, if you over-water, the pumice can soak up some of the excess water, reducing the likelihood of drowning your plant’s roots.
Pumice tends to be more expensive than perlite. It is also more difficult to find in stores, but it is readily available online. You can substitute pumice for the perlite in any of our recipes.
Coarse sand is just what it sounds like, a gritty material made out of crushed quartz, sandstone, or granite. It is also known as “sharp sand,” “horticultural sand,” or “builders sand,” and at my local hardware store it is called “all purpose sand,” but the bag describes it as coarse.
This product differs from beach sand and sandbox sand in that it is a larger and rougher grit. If standard sand is similar in texture to salt, coarse sand is more like crushed peppercorns.
It provides excellent drainage in potting mix. It can also be mixed in with your garden soil if you are planting succulents outdoors.
Coarse sand is inexpensive and widely available at any home improvement or garden store. Since it is very heavy, we suggest buying from your nearest hardware store to save on shipping costs.
Ingredients To Avoid
One of the worst mistakes you can make with a succulent (or most houseplants) is filling your pot with ordinary garden soil.
Garden soil is a mixture of three primary mineral components (clay, sand, and silt), organic matter, air, and water. The ratio of clay, sand, and silt largely determines the texture of your soil.
Note: Even outdoor garden soil is far too high in clay and organic matter for succulents. High levels of clay, in particular, makes soil hard and poorly-draining. This ratio will lead to root rot and other problems for your succulents.
If you plant succulents in your yard, you will likely want to amend the soil with sand, rocks, or other gritty amendments first.
Ordinary Potting Mix
Standard potting mix from your local garden store is not a great choice for your succulents. It is not as bad as garden soil, but is not ideally suited for succulents.
One problem is that it has too high a percentage of organic matter. This creates three potential problems:
- The excess organic matter retains water, which can cause succulents to develop root rot.
- The mix may contain large amounts of chemical fertilizers that are not suitable for succulents (such as high-nitrogen fertilizers).
- Commercial potting mixes may not specify their pH, and may not be sufficiently acidic for your succulent.
If you’re desperate to pot a succulent and can’t access any better options, you can use ordinary potting mix in place of the cacti-specific potting mix in the Shortcut Succulent Mix recipe below. However, you should modify the recipe by decreasing the amount of potting mix relative to the sand and pumice (try a ratio of 1:1:1 instead of 2:1:1).
Vermiculite is a common ingredient in potting mixes, and is sometimes confused with perlite. Like perlite, vermiculite is created by taking a mineral substance and exposing it to extreme heat, transforming it into a useful product for aerating potting mix.
Note: The key difference between vermiculite and perlite is that vermiculite retains water and nutrients, while perlite does not. That means it is not as good for succulents as it is for other plants.
However, vermiculite is a great product to use in one of our recipes, a mix meant for succulent seed starting and propagation. This is because newly propagated leaf and stem cuttings get most of their water and nutritional needs by drawing them from the cutting itself, rather than the soil.
Including some vermiculite in the mix allows you to propagate the cuttings into already-damp soil and then avoid watering them for the first couple of weeks. The soil will retain enough moisture to encourage root growth without the addition of water. More water can interfere with the formation of a callus or otherwise damage your cuttings.
You might think that if coarse sand is good for potting mix, fine sand would also be… well… fine. But fine sand is not actually a great substitute for coarse sand.
Coarse sand is not just larger than its more refined cousin, it is more irregular in shape. This irregularity prevents the individual pieces of sand from nestling up close to each other.
In other words, grains of coarse sand create air gaps in the soil, whereas grains of fine sand tend to fill gaps in the soil. These gaps are beneficial in terms of both aeration and creating drainage, so stick with coarse sand.
Bark Chips (And Other Wood Products)
Wood chips in the potting mix is also a bad idea. They retain water, but there’s another problem. As it decomposes the wood uses up the nitrogen in your potting mix, necessitating the use of more fertilizer.
Note: Don’t deliberately add wood chips to your potted succulents. If you are using compost with chunks of wood still visible in it, we recommend straining them out before adding the sieved compost to your potting mix.
Rocks or Pieces of Broken Flower Pots
For centuries gardeners have been putting gravel or chunks of broken terra cotta flower pots inside the bottom of their planters under the potting mix.
The theory was that this layer would create better drainage, by opening up space around the drainage hole. However, modern research shows that adding them has the opposite effect.
Essentially, the coarse texture in the bottom layer created by rocks or pottery pieces disrupts the vertical flow of water through the pot, trapping water that would otherwise drain out.
One other reason some people use this strategy is to prevent potting mix from falling out of the drainage hole. This shouldn’t be a problem with most pots, as the hole is small enough that a minimal amount of soil will escape.
However, if your pot has a particularly large drainage hole you would be much better off blocking it with a coffee filter or a layer or two of paper towels, which will allow water to drain more freely, rather than a piece of broken pottery.
Useful Tools for Making Succulent Potting Mix
Making your own potting mix is easy and does not require you to buy any special tools. You really only need three things.
You can use any bucket for this purpose. I like to use large opaque plastic storage bins, so that I can mix up a big batch, pop a lid on, and easily store the leftovers for the next time I need some potting mix.
However, you could also use a large bowl or cooking pot (dedicated to gardening, not for reuse in the kitchen), or even a heavy-duty plastic garbage bag.
Mixing potting soil is not a strict process — there is no need to be precise in your measurements.
All of our recipes use a ratio of ingredients (rather than measuring specifically by volume or weight) so that you can easily make as much or as little as you want at any given time. That means you can use almost anything to measure.
My personal favorite is to use the plastic containers left over from a takeout order. These are great because they are free and come in a variety of sizes, and using them keeps them out of a landfill.
They are also multi-purpose. You can use them for measuring out and adding your potting mix ingredients. Then, if you have some extra potting mix leftover, you can pop a lid on and use the same container for storing your overage.
Another way to use them is to make a gentle watering can.
Most indoor watering cans have a nozzle like a large straw, which delivers a steady stream of water that can disrupt loose soil. This is an especially big problem for watering seedlings.
You can make a watering can that delivers a gentle trickle of water by:
- Poke a handful of holes in the lid of the container using a medium sized nail.
- Then, fill the container with water and attach the lid securely.
Keep in mind that larger nails will produce thin trickles or streams of water, while smaller nails may release droplets only when you shake the container.
Finally, you can use the containers as little planters:
- Use a large nail (perhaps the diameter of your pinky) to make several holes in the bottom.
- Fill the planter with potting soil.
While they aren’t the most attractive flowerpots, these work well for temporary propagation containers, and they can also be used for the “pot in a pot” method of creating drainage in a decorative pot with no drainage hole.
Of course, you can use your hands to stir your potting mix. You can also repurpose all kinds of objects as stirrers.
- A gardening hand tool (a narrow spade or a weeder, for example)
- A wooden stick (a paint can stir-stick or a stick made of a small but sturdy tree branch)
- Kitchen utensils (a serving spoon or spatula, for example, just don’t return them to the kitchen, make them permanent gardening tools)
What Is The Best Soil For Succulents?
There are countless varieties of succulent species and hybrids, so you might assume the question of what soil succulents prefer is complicated to answer.
The truth is that although some succulents are idiosyncratic, they mostly come from the same kinds of ecosystems. So, when it comes to potting mix, they all need more or less the same thing.
Succulents Have Adapted to The Environments They Grow In
Succulents come from arid and semi-arid regions of the planet, mostly in subtropical regions, especially including Mexico, Central America and northern South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Asia.
While many succulents (especially cacti) are adapted to live in deserts, some (such as sempervivum) are from dry alpine regions that are quite cold. What they all have in common is that they are adapted to store lots of water in their leaves.
The type of climate naturally affects the type of soil in these regions.
Infrequent rainfall means an environment that is inhospitable for heavily foliaged trees and other plants. Without those leafy trees, there is less plant debris falling down to the ground. The result is soil that is mainly rocky, rather than full of humus from decomposing leaves.
Growing in this ecosystem means succulents are adapted to thrive in loose, rocky, well-draining soil. Unlike plants from more temperate environments, they need minimal organic matter to survive. In fact, some can survive growing outdoors in the crack between two rocks.
Note: The best soil for succulents is radically different from the sort of soil you would use for your other houseplants.
Succulent Nutritional Needs
Succulents have low nutritional needs, because they are adapted to living in soil that is mostly rock and without much organic matter. That is why they need fertilizing only infrequently.
It is unnecessary to fertilize most succulents the first year after repotting them. The fresh potting mix will provide plenty of nutrients.
In particular, succulents do not need much nitrogen.
They tend to need more phosphorus. It is best to only use fertilizers designed for succulents because generic chemical (non-organic) fertilizers have too much nitrogen. it is also inorganic, meaning the nitrogen is immediately bioavailable.
Since the succulent can’t consume that much nitrogen, it stays in the soil and can damage your succulent’s roots.
This is why we do not recommend using any commercially available potting mix for your succulents, unless it is specifically advertised as being designed for succulents or cacti. But even then, it’s safer making your own.
Succulent pH Needs
Another big factor in choosing or making suitable potting mix for succulents is soil pH (how acid or alkaline the soil is).
Generally, succulents prefer a pH around 5.5 (slightly acidic), and most will tolerate anything in the 5-6.5 range (with 7 being neutral).
Peat moss (a primary ingredient in most commercial potting mixes) has a very acidic pH of 3-4. You can compensate for this by adding lime or other alkaline amendments, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Most commercial potting mixes, and specially well draining mixes designed for cacti or succulents, are very high in peat moss content. Unfortunately, the package may or may not specify what has been added to balance it or how balanced the final product is.
Note: If the low pH of the peat moss is too balanced out (i.e., neutral) that isn’t good for succulents either.
Coconut coir (a key ingredient in Our Favorite Succulent Mix recipe) has a pH ranging from 5.5-6.8, while compost is fairly neutral. That means that without adding any acidifying or base amendments, our recipe is on the neutral side of the acceptable range for succulents.
If you are worried your soil is not acidic enough for your succulents, you can always use a simple home soil test. If you think the problem might be that your water is alkaline, you can do a water pH test at home as well.
There are several soil amendments you can add to lower pH, and top-dressing the pot with peat moss is another option. However, in our experience Our Favorite Succulent Mix recipe produces pH level that grows thriving succulents.
Why You Should Make Your Own Succulent Potting Mix
Homemade Potting Mix is Better For Succulents
There are readily available potting mixes such as this blend from Miracle Grow that are advertised as being designed for succulents, cacti, palms, and citrus. We’ve used this product in our Shortcut Soil Mix recipe, but we’ve slightly modified it because:
- Contains chemical fertilizer: There is no good reason to use chemical fertilizers on succulents. They should be able to get whatever nutrients they need from the fresh potting mix itself in the first year after being repotted, and from occasional use of an organic liquid fertilizer in subsequent years.
- Peat can become hard: This peat-heavy mix tends to be loose and well draining at the outset, but less so over time. If you water your succulents correctly, letting them dry out each time, the peat can become hard and hydrophobic, compressing, and eliminating the air pockets in the soil that your succulent needs.
- High peat ratio: This product (and other succulent mixes like it) have a very large ratio of peat to gritty amendment. Gritty amendments are essential to maintaining good drainage, especially as your plant becomes increasingly root-bound.
Note: The more you can imitate a plant’s natural environment the better it will grow, and succulents grow naturally in rocky soil, not peat bogs.
Homemade Potting Mix is Better For The Environment
Harvesting peat moss is terrible for the environment. It also has a massive effect on climate change. Peat bogs absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it. When the peat moss is harvested, it releases that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.
A great alternative is to use coconut coir, which does not have the harmful environmental impacts of peat moss.
Mixing your own also means you can entirely avoid chemical fertilizers. It is true that your potted houseplants are not going to cause environmental destruction through runoff.
However, when you water your houseplants, the excess fertilizer drains out with the water. In many cities, wastewater is recycled, becoming drinking water again. So, keeping unnecessary chemicals out of it isn’t a bad idea.
Homemade Potting Mix is Adjustable
As all gardeners know, growing healthy plants is often about trial and error. If you are attentive to your plant’s needs, you can make adjustments to the soil when you re-pot your succulents.
For example, if your heaviest Coppertone sedum stems keep falling out of the pot, you can add more organic matter to give its shallow roots a slightly denser substrate to grab onto.
You can also make adjustments based on the specific plant.
For example, hens and chicks are a succulent that requires virtually no soil to thrive. If you are planting a hens and chicks in an outdoor planter, you might want to increase the ratio of rocky material to organic matter even more dramatically than you do for your typical succulents.
Homemade Potting Mix is Inexpensive
If you go to a specialty store or order online, you can find some nice-looking options for succulent mix, such as this mix from Wonder Soil made with coconut coir, pumice, and earthworm castings. However, options like these are often quite expensive.
For example, this Wonder Soil product is three pounds dry (12 quarts reconstituted) for $32.00, or more $2.50 per quart.
In contrast, you can mix up a batch of my favorite succulent mix with four inexpensive ingredients (coconut coir, compost, coarse sand, and perlite). I calculated the cost of our DIY succulent soil mix at approximately $0.35 per quart.
It requires a bit of up-front investment to make your own mix. The ingredients are inexpensive, but most of them have to be purchased in fairly large quantities.
Note: The leftovers can be stored indefinitely. So, as long as you have a shed or basement or somewhere else you can protect them from weather, you can hold onto the ingredients until the next time you need to repot.
Commercial Soil Options
We are unaware of any product on the market that will be as healthy for your succulent as homemade potting mix.
If you must purchase your potting mix (and not amend it using our Easiest Succulent Mix recipe) the following questions will help you find the best options:
- Is the product marketed as being specifically suitable for cactuses or succulents?
- Does the label list coconut coir or peat moss as the first (most prevalent) ingredient?
- Does the label describe the product as a “soilless mix”?
- If the product contains fertilizers, are they organic fertilizers such as compost, earthworm castings, manure, or kelp-based fertilizer, for example (as opposed to chemical fertilizers)?
- When you lift the bag of dry potting mix, is it lighter than you would expect given the size?
- Looking at the mix, can you see that it contains a substantial amount of perlite?
- Looking at the mix, does it appear fluffy (rather than dense)?
- If you pick up a handful of damp potting mix and squeeze it in your fist, then release your hand, is the potting mix still spongy and crumbly (rather than forming a compacted ball)?
An answer of “yes” to any of these questions generally means it is a more acceptable option, while a “no” means it is not suitable for succulents.
Succulent Soil FAQ
How can I store extra potting mix?
Place your extra potting mix in a plastic storage bin with a lid. Store it out of direct sunlight and other weather, ideally in a place that doesn’t experience extremes of temperature, but a shed is fine.
Can I use my extra succulent potting mix for other houseplants?
Yes, there is nothing in Our Favorite Succulent Mix that will negatively impact your non-succulent plants. However, it has a low proportion of organic matter. This means you will need to water and fertilize the plants more than if you used a traditional potting mix.
One easy solution is to simply add additional organic matter to the mix. You can just throw some in, no need to fuss too much about how much.
If you’re making a batch from scratch, try doubling the compost and coconut coir (two parts each), while keeping the amount of sand and perlite the same (one part each). That will produce an excellent general-purpose potting mix.
What other strategies can I try if my succulents aren’t thriving?
Even though succulents are generally low maintenance, there are a variety of things you can do to help them grow happy and healthy.
- Research the particular type of succulent you’re growing, to see if it has unusual needs (such as a lower pH level than typical succulents).
- Make sure you are putting your homemade potting mix in a pot that is suitable for succulents.
- Keep better track of your water and fertilizer routine and how your succulents respond to it using our Watering Tracking Card.
- Use our What’s Wrong With My Succulent Decision Tree, and follow our suggestions for diagnosis and treatment of your succulent’s symptoms.
- For more succulent care tips, check our comprehensive guide to succulent care.
The Dirty Truth About Succulent Soil
Succulents are adorable, but for enthusiastic gardeners growing succulents can be… well… a little boring. Sometimes it’s about making your plants happy, but the truth is sometimes you really want to dig your fingers into the dirt, just for the fun of it.
Making your own potting mix for your succulents solves both problems, and saves you money to boot. With a few simple ingredients, you can make soil that your succulents will really want to sink their roots into, and that will produce leafy dividends for years to come.