Everyone knows that cacti and succulents both like dry soil and a little bit of desert heat.
Some stores even have cacti and succulents listed as “assorted succulent”.
Does this mean you can use cactus soil for succulents?
No, it is not advised that you use cactus soil for succulents. Despite their similarities, cacti and succulents have very different needs, and they need very different soil.
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Are Cacti and Succulents The Same Thing
Let’s clear things up a little bit because there is a difference between a cactus and a succulent.
All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. Cacti are a type of succulent that can store moisture, but doesn’t have leaves and instead has spines.
Cactus comes from the Greek work kaktos, literally meaning spiny plant.
Succulents are a category of plants.
This category encompasses plants that store water in leaves, stems, or roots to prepare for a drought.
Therefore, all cacti belong to the succulent category, but some succulents are not cacti.
What Is Cactus Soil
Cactus soil very closely resembles soil in the desert.
It is very dry and brittle, drains very quickly, and has very little organic matter in it.
Think of those Western movies where everything is so dry you see tumbleweed blowing across the dry, compact dirt that the cacti are thriving in.
This is what cactus soil is trying to be.
Cacti have very weak roots, and water is damaging to them. Deserts don’t get a lot of rain, and the rain they do get drains very quickly.
Cacti adapted to the heat by quickly absorbing any water available before it drained, and storing it to be used as needed.
When there is too much water in the soil, it leads to root rot very quickly.
Did You Know? Even watering small amounts frequently can kill a cactus because there might be too much moisture in the soil.
How Is Succulent Soil Different?
There are several ways that succulent soil is different.
Cacti can’t have any moisture left in the soil or it can kill entire plants from the root rot the water causes.
Succulents, on the other hand, need well-draining soil that has plenty of water reserves so there is moisture available when needed.
In succulent soil, there are additives like perlite that hold onto the water while the rest of the water drains through the soil.
The desert is pretty barren, and there aren’t any leaves, or trees, or grass decomposing and adding organic matter to the soil.
Succulents need more organic matter. They feed on the nutrients to grow bigger and fuller, and a lack of nutrients can starve the plants.
In succulent soil, you will find plenty of organic matter like coco coir, peat, and mulch.
Can You Make Your Own Succulent Soil
There are a couple of different ways you can make succulent soil.
Amending Cactus Soil
The first way to make succulent soil is by amending cactus soil.
It already has really good drainage, but it needs organic matter, and perlite to retain some moisture.
To add organic matter, you can add regular potting soil, as long as it contains plenty of peat, coir, or mulch.
These organic materials will give off the nutrients succulents need as they break down and decay.
You can also make a succulent soil blend by combining:
- regular potting soil
- coarse sand
- and perlite
This will not only be cheaper, but it may also be easier than amending cactus soil or finding a soil specifically for succulents.
Combine three parts potting soil, two parts coarse sand, and one part perlite for the best blend ratio.
Using regular potting soil as a base gives the soil a strong organic material base.
Choosing something with peat, coir, or mulch will give your succulents the nutrients they need as the organic material decays.
Using coarse sand gives the soil good drainage.
The large particles allow for more space for the water to drain through and won’t lead to compaction.
Perlite is important in a succulent soil blend. To make perlite, glass from cooled lava is heated to extreme temperatures. The moisture in the glass expands until the glass explodes, almost “popping” like popcorn.
This popped perlite has microscopic grooves that hold moisture when it’s watered, and the rest of the water is free to drain out of the soil.
When a plant needs water, it takes the available moisture from the perlite.
There you have it. You shouldn’t plant succulents in cactus soil, unless you are amending the soil to better suit the needs of succulents.
As strange as it is that cacti are types of succulents, but they need very different things, using the right type of soil will help your plants grow better and fuller.