Well draining soil for succulent container gardens

Having well draining soil is crucial for succulents. This post has the perfect succulent soil mix recipe and tells you where to buy the components!


As you likely know, most of my succulent gardening is done in containers indoors. I’m able to bring them outside in the summer, but for at least 2/3 of the year my plants are inside. I’ve done a lot of research about the best type of soil for succulent container gardens and I’ve tried several things, some of which work much better than others. 

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I wanted to tell you today about the best soil I’ve used for my succulents. You’ve heard me talk about the Garden Web Forum before and I want to make sure I give proper credit to Al from the forum. He is the one (as far as I know) that came up with the soil that I use for my containers. If you want to read his post about why this is such a great soil for succulents, you can check out that post here.

How to choose the right soil for succulent container gardens

If you don’t want to read through the whole thing I’ll sum up what he says here. The first thing you need to know is that succulent roots do not get water from direct contact. Rather, they absorb the water molecules in the air. This is why having a succulent sitting is sopping wet water is so problematic and just makes the plant rot. Everywhere you read about succulent soils they talk about having well draining soil. Usually though people just recommend using regular soil and mixing in something like pearlite, which is what I did originally. You can also buy a pre-made cactus and succulent mix like this one.

Well Draining Soil for a Succulent Container Gardens - Turface, Crushed Granite, Pine Bark www.succulentsandsunshine.com

While the soil mixed with pearlite worked pretty well I have a tendency to over water and I didn’t do a very good job of letting the soil dry out enough between waterings. That is when I started researching the best soils for succulents. Al’s Gritty Mix (as the soil mixture is called) is very well draining but retains just enough water for the succulents to get what they need. You need to make sure you use the soil in a pot that has a drainage hole otherwise there isn’t any point in having well draining soil as the water will just sit in the bottom of the pot.

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Here is the succulent soil mix recipe:

The pine bark provides an organic element and holds water but has air pockets in it and doesn’t break down very quickly. The Turface absorbs some of the water and slowly releases it. The granite doesn’t absorb water but allows the water to flow through the pot between all the particles. The mix is very porous so water flows easily and doesn’t really break down. There is plenty of air so the roots are never sitting in water.

Well Draining Soil for Succulent Container Gardens - Turface, Crushed Granite, Pine Bark www.succulentsandsunshine.com

There is one other important thing you need to know about this or any other soil and that is particle size. Because of the way water travels and flows, having particles of different sizes will prevent water from flowing very well. When you are preparing each of the ingredients for the soil mixture you’ll want to screen them so the particles are about 1/8 – ¼” in size. This can be a long process but I thought it was worth it in the end. As a person who like to nurture my plants this soil allows me to water more frequently without worrying about overwatering. If you are having a hard time finding the ingredients in your area, you can take a look at this page that lists where to find the ingredients by state.

Also, if you’d rather purchase a pre-made soil, this soil mix is a great option.

74 Responses to Well draining soil for succulent container gardens

    • I had a hard time finding the supplies in my area because “box” stores don’t carry them. I found Turface at a farming/agricultural store. The pine bark and crushed rock I found at a nursery.

  1. I love succulents and terrariums but much of what I have done has been trial and error. It’s so nice to have someone to document all of this, so the rest of us can learn.
    I love your blog and discovered it at the perfect time as I am creating terrarium centerpieces for my wedding in August.

  2. I’ve been using the miracle grow cactus soil in my indoor succulent containers. At this point I’ve given up on growing them indoors and have decided to keep all my succulents outdoors. Would you suggest this same soil mixture for outside succs? I’ve read that peat moss is a great option?

    • All of my succulents are planted in this soil whether they are in pots indoors or out. You could use a soil that has more of an organic element in it, but for the most part I would stay away from peat moss. When it dries out, and succulent soils should be allowed to dry out, it almost repels water. This makes it hard to water the plants again and get a thorough watering. I would look for a soil that has very little peat when you are looking for soil for pots.

  3. I have a quick question! Currently most of my succulents are in pots that do NOT have holes in them. A lot of them I bring inside almost every night, and during the winter I keep them inside. I only am using that pre-made succulent mix (I dont understand how they even consider this stuff succulent kind) and I was wondering if you think its worth it for me to mix up this soil recipe of yours for my plants. I feel like I will have stagnant water sitting in the bottom of a lot of the pots because it will run through so fast. I usually just spray them heavily in the hot sun and let them completely dry out again to water.

    I guess short story is, is potting my plants in this extreme fast draining mix a good idea without holes in my pots?

    • If your pots don’t drain the soil isn’t going to help much. I would say to just be careful with how much water you give the plants so you don’t get a build up of soaking wet soil at the bottom of the pot.

      • I jam my finger to the bottom of the pots and check almost daily haha. I am always so worried of overwatering my plants. I actually noticed that most of my plants were getting underwatered actually too! I will definitely use that soil recipe though for future pots that have holes in the bottom thank you again!

  4. http://www.etsy.com/listing/129866426/sedum-succulent-cactus-soil-eco-friendly?ref=usr_faveitems

    Love your blog and im currently obsessed with propagation, thanks to your book. I found your blog just in time! Anyway, wondering what your thoughts are on this medium. I already bought some but haven’t actually tried it yet because I still have soil to go through. Plus I’m planning on using it for an vertical garden, but I’m waiting on my cuttings. :) Thanks.

    • Thanks! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the eBook. As far as the link you sent, I think it will probably be fine. You’ll just want to make sure you allow time for the soil to dry out in between waterings, but I’m guessing it will work pretty well for a vertical garden. I wouldn’t use it in a pot, but it should be fine vertically. I’d love to see what you end up doing!

    • Wow, that is cool. I’ve never seen it before. It’s probably good for arrangements and gifts, too. Cacti soil & gritty mix is much cheaper in the long run though.

  5. Thanks for the info. I am going crazy trying to find something to grow my plants in. I too have lost plants to commercial mixes with lots of peat.

    Do you need to fertilize more by using this mix? I was thinking of using coir because I can’t find the pine bark and someone commented that it doesn’t provide nutrients. It’s not really any trouble to add plant food, but now I wonder how often.

  6. I am so in love with everything about this blog! The design, the photography, the information! It is all presented in such a lovely way! Props to you! I am beyond inspired to begin designing my own “soil” and succulent display!

  7. i have my succulents in the same soil i bought them in. I have lost two of my succulents due to rotting. I really need help! What should i do? Im a beginner and have 4 succulents and 1 cactus (not including the two that died)

    • Generally the soil the plants come in is not good for succulents. It retains too much water which succulents do not like. While succulents do need adequate water, sitting in a damp soil is going to rot them really quickly. I would try mixing something like pearlite or pumice into your soil so it drains better and doesn’t stay soaking wet as long.

    • It’s up to you. The gritty mix does take some effort to make but I love it. On the other hand, adding in pearlite or pumice will still dramatically help out your soil.

  8. This is very eye-opening: none of the ingredients in this soil are actually soil (in the traditional sense) if I’m not mistaken. I would never have guessed that there didn’t need to be soil in the mix!

  9. Hi, I’ve been reading your blog eversince I purchased my first succulent plant last month. Your blog is informative and inspirational for first time garderner like me.
    I have prepared a soil mix for propogation. This is potting soil and perlite in equal measures and my cuttings are faring pretty well. I was wondering if the same mix can be used for repotting store-bought adult succulent plants which came in normal potting soil. By the way I live in Inda and its warm climate with humidity below 50%.

    Thanks
    Maya

    • Thanks for stopping by! It sounds like your soil mixture should be just fine. I would just say to make sure you are careful not to over water. It sounds like you should be good though!

  10. Thanks for the helpful info!

    I live in Melbourne, Australia and can’t seem to find Turface readily available anywhere. What will be a good substitute?

    Also, instead of crushed granite, can I use course sand (they are about 3mm large)?

    • Course sand would work well for the granite. The turface is basically diatomaceous earth. I know some people have used kitty litter or something like this oil dri from a local automotive store. I would make sure there aren’t any chemicals added that might hurt the plants, but otherwise you should be good with either of those!

  11. Hello Cassidy,
    My Grandfather recently passed away and since I was a child I always remember the hens n chicks in his garden and have loved them. He was a 102 when he passed and he was a wonderful gardener. I wanted to preserve this memory and with the permission of my dad I was able to take some hens n chicks home with me to keep. I am desperately trying to find the best information to preserve this memory. I am a little confused because your mix does not have any potting soil or peat moss in it….it seems like everywhere else I look for mix recipes there is some sort of “soil” component. I would love some direction, I am feeling lost.
    Thanks!

  12. Question:
    I am 72 years old and just now learning about succulents and having a love for them. I know so little except not to water too much. I have tried different soils recommended but am interested in the formula of Als Gritty Mix and do not know where to purchase it. the two questions I have in mixing is: What is Turface? and Is Pine Bark Fines the same as pine bark mulch? We live in Tyler Texas and will have to call around to nurseries but first wanted to know the answers. I probably could find crushed granite. Would appreciate information that would incourage me. to start. I was going to plant in a mix of my own until I read yours. I want the best results. Thank you

    • Great question! At the end of the post is a link to a list of where to buy supplies for the gritty mix by state, which may be helpful for you.

      Turface is a brand of diatomaceous earth. I currently use a brand called Axis, but you can use oil-dry or kitty litter as well. I’ve found the axis and turface work a little better than the others as the particles are a little bigger, but they are harder to find. I found them locally at an agricultural supply store called Steve Regan Company.

      The pine bark fines are different than mulch, although they are in mulch. Mulch will have much smaller particles and be more dirt like whereas the fines will be about 1/4″ pieces of bark.

      Hopefully that helps! Best of luck to you.

  13. Hi Cassidy,

    I’m considering switching over from my current cactus soil + perlite mix since I tend to get fungus gnats in the spring + summer time. Do you think this soil-less mix will help the issue?

    What is the best way to screen the particles? I’d like to avoid having to buy sifting tools to screen them. and finally, would this mix also be suitable for cacti?

    Thanks for all the thorough information so far!

    • I definitely think switching the soil could help. I’ve since decided that sifting isn’t worth the effort. When I did it though I used window screening. It wore out pretty quickly so if avoid using an actual window screen that you need :)

      This soil will work for cactus as well.

  14. Hi Cassidy,

    First off I wanted to say I purchased your indoor succulent growing ebook and it has been immensely helpful!

    I’ve successfully transferred my plants to a bonsai mix (hoffman’s bonsai mix) which contains turface, bark fines, crushed sand and expanded shale.. This was a lot easier than finding those inorganic soils on their own. So far, I think my succulents like it, as the cuttings are growing lots more fuzzy white roots than before. (this could also be co-incidentally bc the weather is getting a bit nice too :p)

    I was wondering tho, how to differentiate healthy roots from unhealthy succulent roots? I find that some of the roots are a brown and dry vs. white vs. fuzzy and white. If they are brown, does that mean they have dried up due to lack of water or damage?

    Also, although my plants seem to like the new mix, its really difficult to get them to stand upright and plant them without fear of damaging the roots.. do u have any tips for this?

    Thanks so much!

    • Glad you’ve found the ebook helpful! Healthy roots will be plump and white or pink. If you are seeing dry brown roots they are probably under watered. If they are blackish and soggy then they are over watered. Fuzzy and white, I’m not quite sure, but I would guess healthy unless it looks like a fungus or something growing on it.

      Once it has established roots the plants should stand up better in the mix. I would say you could lean the plant up against just about anything, such as a rock or stick. You could also use pebbles around the base of the plant to give it more support. I would avoid anything that sticks down into the soil.

  15. Omgosh- thank you!! This is soooo what I need!!! Over watering is my main problem, even when I am light handed w/it, it’s still too much!!! I’ve always over wintered my pots in the garage because they never do well inside. I would love to be able to have a few inside….I have enough available light & this seems like the answer. I can’t wait to try this soil recipe both outside & in!!!! Thanks so much!!!! Now I’m off to buy your ebooks!!! ;))

  16. Hello Cassidy,
    Thank you very much for your informative blog! Wish I found it earlier.
    I’ve decided to repot my succulents after reading this. But there is absolutely no Turface where I live (Vietnam). Neither pumice nor DE. :(
    Is there anything else I can use in place of Turface? Oh, and we have perlite though.
    Many thanks!

    • I would say to give the pearlite a try. From my experience it tends to break down pretty quickly, but I think if you mix about half soil and half pumice you should be good. You could also try coconut coir if that is available in your area!

  17. […] When I purchased Matt and Jenna I also bought a pot and some regular potting soil. This was my first mistake. The thing is that Succulents and Cacti need the ability to drain water much more than regular plants need, or they will rot. The sand and perlite/wood chips help with this. You can purchase potting soils specifically for cacti and succulent, or easily find a recipe online and mix up your own. […]

  18. Hi Cassidy, I spent all day yesterday looking for the 3 soil components I needed for the succulents we purchased a couple weeks ago. We looked everywhere! ( Calloway,Loews,Home Depot…etc
    So, after many questions, Employees/Gardeners advice and lack of what we needed, we came home with expanded shale, verticulate, lava sand and Black Gold Cactus mix. Each person saying these would work great for my succulents. Do you have any advice for me? Can I use any combination of these products to achieve the result needed to grow my succulents? I live in Texas, its always so hot, little rain, and if it aint a hardy plant it will die! …. my black thumb doesn’t help matters… Thank you for any help, Lais

    • You’ve been diligent! I think the Cacuts mix, lava sand and shale would be a great combination. I would do equal parts of all three. I have heard that vermiculite isn’t great as it tends to get soggy and decompose pretty quickly. You could give it a try though! I’m always experimenting. I currently have my succulents in a combination of oil-dry (a type of diatomaceous earth, like Turface) and coconut coir and it’s worked pretty well. I would say to make sure you keep your succulents in the shade initially. They don’t tend to tolerate really hot unless they’ve been acclimated to it first. Once you’ve had them in the shade for a while, gradually move them out into the sun for a couple hours a day. Since it doesn’t rain often, I would make sure you really soak your succulents well before letting them dry out (assuming they’re in a pot that drains). This will help them establish strong roots and allow them to go longer between watering. In the really hot season though you’ll want to water at least once a week. Hopefully that helps!

      • Hi Cassidy!
        Thank you for the advice! I will mix equal parts and take back the verticulate. They are in a pot that drains well, I am hoping the soil mix will help too. We bought the plant from Loews, the sales associate said they had been in the sun for a couple weeks, so it took well to full sun so far ( no blushing yet ). Thank you for the watering tips I have had a heavy hand in the past…. Think after killing numerous plants I learned my lesson!
        It’s a well established grouping of 5 or 6 succulents. They are so beautiful. We bought your ebook on how to Propagate Succulents, and my girlfriends and I are planning on having a leaf trading party at some point. I will keep you posted about the new soil mix we are testing out. I love your Blog, Thank you!!

  19. I switched to this mix, and now I have drying, shriveling leaves on the lower parts of branches on my jade plant. Am I not watering often enough now?

    • It’s possible your plant needs a little more water after switching to this soil, however, the lower leaves of succulents will die eventually. If your new growth is dying then there is definitely a problem.

  20. May I ask what nursery you got your crushed granite and pine bark fines from? I’m in SLC as well and have called a couple places with no luck. Thanks in advance!

  21. I noticed that you live in Utah. I also live in Utah. I love all your ideas and information, especially knowing that we live in the same climate. I was wondering where you get your ingredients for your soil mix?

  22. Cassidy,
    I am currently using the miracle gro cactus miX mixed with sand and perlite. About 1/3 of it is the soil. When I shopped for soil I couldn’t find any without peat . Some of my succulents are growing well but some not so much. Should I re-pot in the gritty mix ? Most of them are fairly new. I don’t know if re-potting so soon again will hurt them ?

    • That is tricky since the plants are new. If your sand isn’t a large grit that could actually be part of the problem as it’s pretty heavy and small. Maybe take the succulents that aren’t doing well and repot those, then see how the rest do in their current mix. A lot of succulent care is trial and error unfortunately.

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I'm Cassidy, a professional photographer turned succulent addict and the author and photographer here at Succulents and Sunshine. This is me with my wonderful husband and super cute baby!

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