The Best Soil for Succulents: Nutrients, Drainage, and Texture

two hands cup succulent in terracotta container surrounded by other succulents and spilled soil

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

Succulents may be one of the easiest plants to care for, but that doesn’t mean they’re entirely fool-proof. These sun-loving plants are known for their drought-resistant qualities thanks to their leaves, which have adapted to retain more water than similar species. Plus, there are over 20,000 varieties of succulents to choose from, so you’re bound to find one to match your gardening style and decor.

If you’ve found yourself struggling to keep your succulent plants happy and thriving, your choice of soil may be to blame.

What Makes a Good Soil for Succulents?

Soil is meant to provide the plant with necessary nutrients, but it also acts as an anchor for roots, giving them something substantial and stable to hold onto as they continue to grow. It also contributes moisture to the plant, and since different soil types hold water in different ways (and different lengths of time), matching your plant with the correct soil is important for its well-being and longevity.

Nutrients

Soil is made up of a combination of organic matter and inorganic (mineral) matter. Organic refers to matter that was once alive and is now in the process of decomposing, such as compost, manure, tree bark, coconut coir, or peat moss. On the other hand, mineral components are made up of natural substances that are not derived from living organisms, such as gravel, perlite, silt, or sand.

Soil needs both types to thrive; organic matter provides the nutrients while mineral matter helps improve drainage (the more organic matter in the soil, the more water it holds, which means less drainage). The right ratio creates the perfect environment to both support plant growth through the contribution of nutrients and supply enough drainage to prevent root rot.

The ideal organic to inorganic ratio depends on the variety of succulent and the growing conditions, but generally the soil should contain 50-75% inorganic matter.

pH Balance

The term pH refers to the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the soil, measured on a scale from 1 to 14. Succulents typically prefer a neutral soil (7) or even slightly acidic (6 to 6.5) pH.

Proper Drainage

multiple varieties of succulents in pots with spilled soil and garden trowel

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

When it comes to succulents, well-draining soil is the name of the game. If we go by the organic to inorganic principle, that means succulents prefer soil with less organic matter.

Many common houseplants are actually tropical plants that originate from regions with more rain and humidity, giving the soil higher levels of nutrients due to other decomposing plants. Succulents are more skilled at tolerating drought, as their wild habitats are more rocky, sandy, and gritty than tropical houseplants.

In addition, their native environments are prone to periods of heavy rain followed by extremely dry periods, causing the soil to dry out completely. As a result, succulents are more likely to rot when they’re overwatered or left in low-draining soil (soil that drains slower).

If you’re growing your succulents outdoors, consider mixing materials like sand or gravel into your native soil if it isn’t already well-draining (hint: most of the natural soil from your garden will be too dense for succulents on its own). You can test this by digging a hole one foot wide, one foot deep, and one foot long and filling it with water to the top. Allow it to drain and refill it 12 hours later; if the water is gone in two to three hours, you already have well-draining soil.

For containers, you’ll have more flexibility in your soil composition since you can essentially create the ratio yourself. Choose a porous container, such as a terracotta pot, with a drainage hole in the bottom center. As a general rule of thumb, start with a combination of one part organic matter with one part mineral.

You can also find soil that is specifically designed for succulents at your local gardening store. Succulents should be watered only after the soil has dried out completely.

Seasons Matter

Keep in mind that optimum soil conditions for succulents will also depend on the time of year, especially if you are growing them indoors. For instance, some succulents become dormant as the days grow shorter in the winter, so if you continue to water on your regular schedule, the soil may get too soggy and rot out the roots.

Consider moving those plants outdoors in the spring so they can take advantage of the natural sunlight.

Texture Type

Gardeners can categorize inorganic or mineral matter based on its texture type. This refers to the grit or pore size, which dictates how much water the material can hold as well as how long it takes to dry out.

While sand has the largest grit size, clay has the smallest, so soils that contain more sand will dry out faster than clay (which is what we want for our succulents).