What soil to use for succulents – expert tips for helping these popular plants thrive

Succulents are easy to look after, but using the right potting mix is essential

potting succulents into a ceramic bowl
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Q: I have just bought a few small succulents, including aloes, echeveria, and a jade plant. I plan to plant them together in a large, bowl-shaped container to brighten up my desk. What soil would you recommend I use?

A: Perhaps the most important thing to remember when caring for succulents is that too much water can quickly lead to problems – and even be fatal for the plants. This means, as well as turning your watering regime down to a minimum, you’ll need to select a potting soil that doesn’t become waterlogged easily.

potting up succulents

Succulents can be potted up together to create beautiful arrangements

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The best potting soil for your succulents

Succulents don’t need moisture-retaining soil because they naturally grow in arid environments, and have adapted to store water in their leaves and tissue, explains plant expert Autumn Hilliard-Knapp. What's more, wet soil prevents air from reaching their delicate roots, and will cause them to rot, adds Kiersten Rankel of houseplant-care app, Greg.

Conveniently, there are many well-draining commercial mixes available that are specially formulated for growing succulents and cacti. These usually contain a combination of materials like peat moss, pine bark, coarse sand, and perlite, Autumn says.

Paris Lalicata from The Sill agrees that using a succulent- or cactus-specific potting mix is the way forward. ‘You definitely want to avoid potting your succulents with standard potting mixes,’ she adds, as this would be a succulent mistake. Most standard potting mixes for indoor plants are designed for tropical houseplants, and retain a lot of moisture, she explains.

Top tip: If you’re planting your succulents in a terrarium, a ‘drainage layer’ of gravel or small rocks beneath your layer of potting mix can be beneficial. 

Autumn Hilliard-Knapp
Autumn Hilliard-Knapp

Autumn is a horticulture specialist and marketing professional at Perfect Plants Nursery. With four years of experience in the horticulture industry, she has developed a passion for helping people create beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy. Her expertise in horticulture encompasses a broad range of activities, including plant care and selection, landscape design, and maintenance.

Paris Lalicata
Paris Lalicata

Paris has been with The Sill for almost five years and heads up Plant Education and Community. A self-taught plant expert with over ten years of experience growing houseplants, she currently maintains an indoor garden of more than 200 plants in the northeast. Her passion is making plant care more digestible for budding plant parents and sharing the many benefits of having plants indoors.

Shop cactus and succulent potting mixes:

potting up a succulent

Ensure you use a well-draining mix for your succulents

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How to make your own potting mix for succulents

You can make your own mix by combining equal parts of regular potting soil and perlite, sand, or gravel, says Kiersten Rankel. This creates lots of air pockets to help with drainage, while still providing plenty of nutrients, she explains.

'Make sure your pot has a drainage hole so any extra water can escape,' she adds.

Top tip: Perlite is a lightweight material made from volcanic glass or rock. It is beneficial for improving the drainage and aeration of potting mixes. You can buy organic perlite from Perfect Plants Nursery.

Kiersten Rankel
Kiersten Rankel

Kiersten Rankel is a certified Louisiana Master Naturalist and regularly volunteers with local community gardens and nonprofits to help restore critical ecosystems along the Gulf Coast. She earned her master's degree from Tulane University in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology after her undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology, also from Tulane. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and tending to her 150+ houseplants and vegetable garden.

succulents in pots

Potting soil can be combined with materials that aid drainage

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Can you grow succulents in water?

It may come as a surprise, but stem cuttings from some types of succulents can be propagated in water as opposed to soil. Ensure you change the water frequently to keep it clean and avoid getting the stems and leaves wet, as this may cause them to rot.

Can you grow succulents in sand?

Some succulents can survive in just sand, providing it is coarse enough to drain well. However, you may need to add a little fertilizer to provide enough nutrients for them. Combining sand with potting soil is generally a better approach to help your plants flourish.

Aside from getting the soil right, there are a few other important aspects of successful succulent care. These include repotting and pruning them when needed. 

Remember, too, that succulents can be propagated from cuttings. So, if you love tending to your collection, it’s easy to make more for free.

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.