Let’s imagine you just bought your first succulent.
It’s a beautiful echeveria rosette and it’s just stunning – it was love at first sight. You’re no dummy, so you went to the home improvement store and bought a potting soil specifically formulated for succulents. You brought your plant home, potted it with the utmost care and attention, and placed it on a sunny windowsill. Perfect, right? Except a week later you were looking at a pile of succulent mush, which happens to be black, as if to even further enhance your sadness. What went wrong?
It’s entirely possible that your soil is the culprit. Here’s the thing about succulents (and a lot of houseplants, too): they like a fast-draining soil, one that drys relatively quickly. Letting their roots sit in water is a fast pass to black mush and yellow leaves. But shouldn’t the soil that says it’s for succulents work for succulents? No one told me it was opposite day.
Ideally, yes, the soil that says “succulents” on the package should work for your plants, but if we’re referring to a company whose products I otherwise enjoy and is widely available at home improvement stores across the land, then no, unfortunately, it’s not actually that awesome for your succulents.
What type of soil do I need to get?
In order to be fast-draining, the soil needs to be free of additives that are used to retain water and it needs to have lots of little “bits” added. This can be bark, perilite (the round white bits), small bits of rock, etc. You will note in the handy-dandy pictorial diagram above that these elements are missing from the widely-available version of succulent and cactus soil. My personal favorite, Dr. Earth Exotic Cactus & Succulent Soil (affiliate link), contains bits of bark and perilite, so absorption is more ideal for your plants – not too little and not too much. You can also get a super well-draining soil blend from Bonsai Jack. It looks like it’s all rock bits and you’ll wonder how anything could possibly grow in it, but they do and it drains really well. Maybe a little too well for some people – it does require slightly more frequent waterings because of its low absorption. I like to use it in glass containers, which if you didn’t know, do nothing to help the soil dry out and makes the soil retain water FOREVER. Or close to it.
Most small and independent garden centers carry brands that got the memo on drainage. You can also amend the soil yourself with perilite or pumice (the former is more widely available). There are plenty of DIY succulent mixes online if you want specific instructions – I prefer the eyeball-it method. #liveontheedge