Well draining soil for succulent container gardens

Soil with good drainage is crucial for succulents. This post gives you the perfect succulent soil mix recipe, and even tells you where to buy the components!

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I do most of my succulent gardening in containers, both indoors and outdoors. The warm climate in my area means I can bring my succulents outside in the summer, but for about two thirds of the year, I have to keep many of my plants inside–although I also have several containers of cold hardy succulents that I leave outdoors year-round.

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research about the best type of soil for succulent container gardens, I’ve tried quite a few approaches, and found that some of them work much better than others. 

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

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

That’s because succulents absorb water from the air around them, not through direct contact. Constantly sitting in wet soil causes their roots to rot, because they get too much water–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!

Several environmental factors can cause soil to dry out, so different types of soil will be best-suited for different growing areas. The area where you live, as well as the location where you keep your succulents, will play a role in determining what type of soil your succulents need.

The Perfect Indoor Succulent Soil

As I mentioned earlier, I grow a lot of succulents indoors. Since indoor environments don’t offer 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 taught myself all about particle size, and the role it plays in well-draining soils, by reading the Garden Web Forum, specifically from this post by Al. Take a look!

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

Let’s talk a little about why this mix works for succulents.

The pine bark provides an organic element and holds water–but it has air pockets for ventilation. As a bonus, it takes a long time to break down. The Turface absorbs some of the water and slowly releases it.

The granite allows the water to flow among all the particles in the pot. Since the mix is very porous, water flows easily and doesn’t really break down. Plus there’s plenty of air, which means the roots are never left sitting in water.

The really crucial part of the recipe, though, is to make sure all the particles are roughly 1/4″ in size. It’s a lot of work to screen gallons of soil to get uniform-sized particles!

Mixing this soil myself was quite a challenge–but you’re in luck, because you can now buy a ready-to-go bag of this soil from Bonsai Jack. He’s an expert when it comes to soil, andthis mix in particular is amazing for succulents. 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 of the Bonsai Jack mix are exactly right for indoor succulents.  For example, 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.

But if you’d rather not purchase this “gritty mix” online, it is possible to make it yourself.  You should be able to find the ingredients at most nurseries. Turface is also found at most auto parts stores as a product called “Oil-dri,” which is used to clean up oil spills.

If you don’t have access to these exact materials, you can substitute other ingredients. Just keep in mind the ratio of in-organic to organic material needs to stay the same. For example, if you use another type of bark, make sure you mixed in another type of rock (such as pumice) as well. The really critical piece, as I said above, is to ensure that the particle size is always roughly 1/4″ or 6mm.

Soil for Outdoor, Potted Succulents

If you’re growing succulents outdoors, on the other hand, 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 worked fairly well outdoors, but it required me to water my succulents every other day.

I’m not great at remembering to water, so this mix 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 your pots of succulents will be a bit lighter.

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

I wouldn’t use coir indoors, as I discovered it didn’t dry out fast enough for most of my succulents. However, it’s almost perfect for outdoors, where it’s all right to use a soil that retains water a little longer.

You could also try adding pumice, which is also lightweight, and allows the excess water to drain off a little faster without causing 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 pick up a bag of “succulent and cactus mix” at your local Lowes, Home Depot or Wal-Mart.

This soil works fairly well for succulents. However, it doesn’t drain very well, and it 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’re in, don’t repot just yet. As I said in the beginning, the right soil for your succulents depends on your climate, as well as the location in which you keep your plants.

In other words, if it’s working… stick with it.

On the other hand, if you’ve 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 replacing your soil mix 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

As soon as you bring home a new succulent, repot it in new soil as soon as possible, removing most of the soil from the store pot. Many of the most common problems come from keeping succulents in their original store-pot soil.

Remove as much soil as possible before potting your succulent

Soil from the store poses two man 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 in which succulents are sold are not designed for long-term growth.

This is because large nurseries and growers generally use the same soil for all their plants. They want a soil mix 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.

But leaving succulents in this soil for too long can quickly cause a succulent to rot–or in some cases, prevent it 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 succulent is as important as the frequency of your watering.

Take a moment to examine the soil you’re using for your succulent, and see if you a change might be in order.

Thanks for reading this article!

I’d love to help you more in your succulent adventures! Here are some great ways to interact and learn more about succulents: