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!

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Most of my succulent gardening is done in containers, whether indoors or outdoors. I’m able to bring my succulents outside in the summer, but for about 2/3 of the year many plants are inside. I do also have several containers of cold hardy succulents that I leave outdoors year round.

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. 

In fact, I’ve discovered that while improper watering of succulents is a major cause of succulent deaths (learn how to water properly here), using the correct soil is a much larger contributing factor than most people realize.

Succulent soil is so important to keeping them alive! Find out the best soil for succulents in this post!
Crassula ovata ‘Gollum’

Let’s start with what you should be looking for in a succulent soil. Succulents need to be in soil that holds enough water for them to absorb what they need, but also one that dries out quickly so the roots don’t rot.

Succulents absorb water from the air around them, not through direct contact. Constantly sitting in wet soil causes the roots to rot because they get too much water and eventually the cells in the roots and leaves fall apart, causing the plant to die.

An example of an over watered and rotting succulent

Not a pretty sight!

There are several factors that cause soil to dry out, so the same soil won’t be exactly right for every growing area. Where you live, or where you are keeping your succulents, will play a role in determining what soil your succulents need.

The Perfect Indoor Succulent Soil

As I mentioned earlier, I grow a lot of succulents indoors. Since there isn’t as much air circulation around indoor pots, I’ve found that using the right soil is extremely important for the health of indoor succulents.

I highly recommend using a soil with a large particle size, roughly 1/4″ or 6mm. I found out all about particle size and the role it plays in well draining soils from the Garden Web Forum, specifically from this post by Al. It’s extremely informative if you have the time to read through it.

In the article, Al gives a recipe for soil that works extremely well for indoor succulents. I used to make the soil myself (since it was not available pre-mixed). The recipe combines:

  • 1 Part Pine Bark Fines
  • 1 Part Turface (an absorptive rock)
  • 1 Part Crushed Granite

The best soil for succulents is one with large particles that drains well

Now, a little about why this mix works for succulents.

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.

The crucial part of the recipe was to have all the particles roughly 1/4″ in size. It’s a lot of work to screen gallons of soil to get uniform sized particles!

Thankfully, you can now by a ready-to-go bag of this soil from Bonsai Jack. He is an expert when it comes to soil and I can’t tell you how amazing this mix is. I’ve been working with Jack since 2015 to perfect and improve this soil mix.

Having the right soil is a cruicial part of keeping your succulents healthy

The particle size and consistency in the Bonsai Jack mix is incredible. He has a very high quality standard. While Turface is usually only available in 1/8″ particles, Jack has been able to get a 1/4″ size, specifically to use in this mix.

I highly recommend using this Bonsai Jack Succulent Soil for your indoor succulents. Especially if you tend to over water, this soil will help your succulents thrive! Click here to get some.

This “gritty mix” can be made on your own if you’d rather not purchase it online. You should be able to find the ingredients at most nurseries. Turface is also found at most auto parts stores as a product used to clean up oil spills, Oil-dri.

If you don’t have access to these exact materials, you can substitute other ingredients. Ideally you want to maintain the ratio of in-organic to organic material. For example, using another type of bark mixed with another type of rock (such as pumice). The critical piece is to ensure the particle size is roughly 1/4″ or 6mm.

Soil for Outdoor, Potted Succulents

If you’re growing succulents outdoors, the Bonsai Jack Succulent Soil may or may not be the right fit for you.

Since most of my succulent experience has been in Utah, where the weather is generally quite dry and hot in the summers, I found that using the Bonsai Jack mix required watering my succulents every other day.

I’m not great at remembering to water, so this required too much maintenance for me. Instead, I’ve been using a mix of Coconut Coir and pumice (or Turface, or crushed granite, depending on what I have most easily available).

Mountain Crest Gardens plants their succulents in coconut coir and have been very happy with the results. The coir absorbs water easily, yet still drains well. Plus, it’s lightweight so pots of succulents aren’t as heavy.

How cute is this little rosette succulent! And it's part of an advent calendar which is so fun!

I found that using the coir indoors it didn’t dry out fast enough for most of my succulents. However, it was almost perfect for outdoors since I needed something that retained water a little longer.

Adding pumice (which is also lightweight) allows the excess water to drain off a little faster, but doesn’t cause the soil to dry out too quickly.

What about the bagged succulent mixes at big box stores?

If you aren’t able to find any of the soil components listed in the recipes above, the next best solution is to get a bag of “succulent and cactus mix” at your local Lowes, Home Depot or Wal-Mart.

This soil is ok for succulents, but doesn’t actually drain very well and tends to repel water when it’s completely dry. I highly recommend adding in a rock material such as pumice, crushed granite or even perlite.

Do I need to repot my succulents right now?

If your succulents are currently doing well in the soil they are in, don’t repot just yet. As I said in the beginning, each climate affects how well a particular soil will work for succulents.

So, if it’s working… stick with it.

On the other hand, if you have found that your succulents are frequently dying and you can’t quite figure out what’s going wrong, soil is a great place to start.

While it may not solve all your problems, your succulents will be much happier in a soil that drains well and has plenty of air flow around the roots.

Repot new succulents in new succulent soil

Newly purchased succulents should be repotted in new soil, and have most of the soil from the original pot removed. One of the most common problems I’ve seen with new succulent growers is keeping their succulent in the original soil.

Remove as much soil as possible before potting your succulent

This poses two problems. First, succulents purchased locally tend to be root bound (meaning the roots are filling up most of the pot). If you simply remove the succulent and place it in a new pot, the roots will have a hard time spreading.

Second, most soils succulents are sold in is not great for long term growing. Surprising, right?

Large nurseries and growers generally use the same soil for all their plants. They want something that will work for most anything. When succulents are small, they need more water so a dense soil (like regular potting soil) works at that stage.

Leaving succulents in this soil for too long can quickly cause a succulent to rot, or in some cases, prevent the succulent from getting the water it needs.

Most potting soils are made up of peat moss. When peat moss dries out completely it tends to repel water. If you don’t let the water soak on top of the soil and start to penetrate the peat, the succulent won’t get any water. The water simply runs down the sides of the pot and out the bottom.

So please, for the health of your succulent, replant them as soon as you can after purchasing. They will greatly appreciate the healthy new soil and room for their roots to spread.

I love this heart shaped pot of succulents

Are you convinced?

The soil you use for your succulents is as important as the frequency of your watering.

So, take a moment to look at the soil you are using for your succulents and see if you need to make a change.

274 Responses to Well draining soil for succulent container gardens

  1. I strongly recommend Bonsai Jack soil also, I live in Florida and with the frequent daily rain showers you really need a well draining soil and this really fits the bill! Thanks so much for recommending it ! I started with two plants and now have about 30, I’m so hooked on succulents and watching them grow and bloom…maybe because it’s the first type of plant I’ve never killed!!!

  2. I love Bonsai Jack’s soil. It’s great!! I live in Pennsylvania and the summer has been rainy, hot and humid. My succulents are doing really well, especially given those conditions.

  3. Totally agree with your explanation on soil requirements. I used cocopeat indoors and the mix would not dry. I would water the mix on Tuesday and it is still wet by Friday. In the end, I made my own mix using Pumice, bark and a little cocopeat. I also added a very small amount of worm compost (since i had them). Glad to see I was along the right track.

  4. Hi! I’m trying to make my oil soil as cheap as possible. I was trying to compare the price of pumice, turface, and OilDri. OilDri seems to be the cheapest option, but is OilDri as good of quality as purchasing turface from a landscaping store? Thank you!

  5. I purchased your A1440.001! Do you also have bagged Cactus and succulent soils? If so, send me a bag- 5 or 10 Pounds!

    • I’m not sure what the A1440.001 is – do you have a product description? Thanks!

    • OilDri works great in soil mixtures. The most important thing is the particle size. You want the particles in your soil to be about 1/4″ (6 mm).

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Wondering who I am?

Let me introduce myself... My name is Cassidy Tuttle and I’m a professional photographer turned succulent addict. These are my two sweet children and wonderful husband in the photo with me!

My adventure with succulents started with three small plants on the window sill of my basement apartment. Within a year I had propagated them and purchased more, totaling over 100 plants!

It’s been a fun adventure since then as I’ve drowned, burned, frozen, and starved my collection of succulents. This site is where I teach you how to avoid all those mistakes I made or help you recover from them.

While I’ve killed plenty of succulents in the last few years, I’ve also kept hundreds alive and thriving, and I know you can do the same!

Did I mention I wrote the book on succulents?

It’s true! I’m the author of Idiot’s Guides: Succulents which is designed to help those of us who love succulents (but are limited to growing on our window sills and porches) keep our succulents looking great.

You can purchase my book through my Amazon affiliate link here or pick it up at your local Barnes and Noble.

If printed books aren’t your thing, I’ve also written several ebooks about succulents on various topics including indoor growing, watering and propagating. You can check those out on this page.

My goal is to help you not just keep your succulents alive, but help them thrive no matter where you live.

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff!

I’m impressed you’ve made it this far down. You should probably be rewarded for that…

How about some bite sized succulent tips delivered daily to your inbox?

I’m sure you’ll love my 30 Days of Quick Succulent Tips email series. Each day I’ll send you a 2-3 sentence tip about growing succulents along with a photo and link to learn more.

Sound good?

 

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