Growing and propagating your cactus and succulent plants is a gratifying process. There’s a lot to love about potted plants of cactus and succulents – they have a unique and diverse range of growth forms.
First, you have the desert cactus, the most popular type that immediately springs to mind whenever anyone mentions “cactus.”
Then you have the jungle cactus (think Christmas Cactus and Easter Cactus), which is somewhat the opposite of their desert species in that they are without spines and are considered epiphytes. They thrive in the rainforests and places where you’d expect them the least.
Top Bagged Cactus Potting Soil Mixes
To grow healthy cactus successfully as houseplants or outdoors, there are 3 major environmental factors to keep in mind – light, water, and soil. Most new to growing cactus and succulents ask:
- “What is the best type of soil to plant my cactus in?”
- “How should I water my cactus plant?”
- “How much light should my cacti get?”
In this article, we’ll address the first question – “What is the best type of soil to plant my cactus in?”
Cactus and succulents should never be overwatered. The potting soil mixture needs to provide good drainage to help solve any overwatering problem.
Cactus Soil Requirements
The best soil for cactus shouldn’t be moist all the time, or root rot will occur and ruin your cactus plant. Also, a good cactus soil mix for your plant is fast-draining. This is why you don’t use garden soil on your cactus or succulents.
It’s a must that your pots (I prefer clay pots) have working drain holes and that there’s no water sitting in the bottom. Next, mix in some organic material to keep the soil from quickly drying out. The roots love an airy, well-draining soil mixture like this one that will dry out completely and gets wet quickly.
It would be best if you prepared for repotting as soon as you see the cactus’ root system begins exiting through the drainage holes in the bottom. Most species of cactus and succulents need repotting at least once every 2 to 3 years.
Repot the slower-growing types every 3 to 4 years. Then, repot in the spring season when they begin actively growing. It’s recommended to water two days before to ensure the roots and root ball are moist.
Ready To Use Packaged Cactus Potting Mix
Novice cactus enthusiasts with no knowledge about making their cacti and succulent soil mix will often visit their local garden center or shop online for the needed materials as they prepare for repotting.
Most garden centers and nurseries carry cactus soil mixes like Miracle-Gro made explicitly for cactus roots and stems.
Top Bagged Cactus or Succulent Potting Soils
Good soil mixtures will characteristically drain water well yet have a water-holding capacity but won’t completely dry it out. The passing water is absorbed quickly by the cacti or succulents and stored within its body. The excess water in the soil drains out of the hole in the bottom.
Commercial potting medium has the basic elements of good potting soil with peat moss, which is great for holding moisture needed by your cactus plant.
Most of the commercially available cactus potting soils on the market will grow cactus and succulents plant from propagation to maturity.
It’s a one-size-fits-all approach, though. If you want your desert cactus or jungle cactus to thrive, you’ll have to come up with your very own special cactus soil mix.
Best Potting Soil For Cactus – Making Your Own
It’s easy and cheaper to make your cactus soil.
Prepare a suitable container big enough to hold all the ingredients with room to combine them without any spilling over the edge.
Some good examples include a large plastic tub or a wheelbarrow.
Also, include a device for measuring consistency. A small shovel should be enough to bring them all together. I use an ash scoop like this for mixing soil.
How To Make Cactus Soil A Potted DIY Recipe
A sample cactus soil recipe for plants to grow in includes the following:
- A pinch of rock dust
- One part coarse sand – I use builder sand
- Four parts bagged potting soil – like an African Violet mix
- Five parts perlite
Dress the top of the container soil with small rocks, aquarium stones, or fine-grade pea gravel to prevent your cactus’ crowns from rotting. Increase the soil acidity ever so slightly with a tablespoon of white vinegar for every 5 gallons of water.
Related: Tips on Lowering pH of Soil with Vinegar
Cactus Dirt For Desert Cactus
Cactus thriving in pure sand isn’t a good thing, despite most scenes you see in the movies. Instead, desert cactus (aka Opuntia cactus or hairy old man cactus) prefer a rocky, nutrient-rich soil held in a well-draining pot or container. Ensure that nutrients such as peat moss, coconut coir, pumice, perlite, or vermiculite allow for a good combination of soil aeration and drainage properties.
Use a base of standard potting soil and avoid forest products such as wood chips and pine bark pieces. Add in 2 parts pumice, which is a lightweight and porous volcanic rock. If unavailable, you can substitute with chicken grit, NAPA oil dry number 8822, aquatic plant soil, non-soluble cat litter, vermiculite, or perlite. This element is vital because it allows water to pass through your potting mix quickly while providing good aeration.
Finally, put in some coconut coir. This slowly decomposes and helps the cactus mix hold moisture while providing structure. It is also wettable as compared to peat, and it doesn’t compact in the process.
Cacti Soil For Jungle Cactus
Almost all jungle cactus are either lithophytic or epiphytic. Meaning they can grow on rocks or depend on the surrounding trees to survive.
These cactus types – orchid cactus – have a unique ability to get the essential nutrients from dead leaves or debris left in the cracks and crevasse and even get their daily needs from the air!
So to imitate the natural growing environment for the jungle cactus, you’ll need a potting mix that includes oak leaf mold, pumice, coconut coir, peat moss, bat guano, and some orchid bark or fir bark.
Epiphytic cactus will need a potting soil somewhat similar to the desert cacti type. After that, you’ll need to change things up a bit.
- 1 Part pumice to reduce soil compaction
- 2 parts coarse orchid bark
This lends more aeration properties than just throwing more regular potting soil into the mix. However, the bark breaks down over time and will eventually turn to soil, which means it is time for repotting.
These are just examples of good cactus potting soil that you can try out. But, of course, the perfect blend depends on the cactus type you wish to grow, plus you’ll need to prepare the other two major growth environments, which are water and light.
Part of the fun in making your own cactus soil mix is experimenting on what works best for your beloved cactus and succulent plants!