Cactus Soil: Everything You Need to Know

Ed Wike
Written by
Last update:

What Cacti Need

If you want to grow a cactus successfully at home, you have to understand its needs. Fortunately, cactus care doesn’t need to be complicated, and following a few simple steps you can grow a happy and healthy cactus. However, it is important that you understand what the plant needs.

So, what do cacti need? The answer is: Cactus soil. Most cacti are desert plants, and as such they need warm and dry conditions to thrive. Essentially, this means that you must provide your cactus with a soil mixture that is very porous and allows the air to circulate freely.

If you use soil from your garden, you will have to put a lot of effort into it. First of all, make sure that it is draining. Then, add organic fertilizers to the soil, including, but not limited to, manure and compost. This will enrich the soil, and will prevent the soil from becoming compact.

Alternatively, you could use a specific germinating soil for cacti that is pre-fertilized. This will save you time and a lot of effort. However, it is important to understand that you have to use this soil once you have germinated your cactus cutting. You should not use it to grow mature cacti. It is too rich for them, and will kill them.

Making Your Mix From Scratch

If you really enjoy the growing experience of a cactus or succulent, consider making a soil mix from scratch.

Many cactus mix formulas exist.

Here you will find one you can try for yourself.

You can tailor this formula toward your specific needs when it comes to water requirements.

Also, you can tailor your mix to favor drainage or retention as necessary for your specific collection.

There is a great deal of information on the internet about cactus mixes and there are several different cactus mixes floating around.

Some of them are for indoor succulents while others are for outdoor species.

The internet is full of choices but this one is a versatile mix that can be used for many species.

It can be used to help cacti and succulents that prefer to have plenty of drainage or for those that live in habitat with more retained water.

With so many choices out there, if you are a beginner consider beginning by using a cactus mix similar to this. Once you feel confident in your cactus growing skills you can try something new!

One of the advantages to having your own soil mix is that you can control the water retention of your mix.

Different soil mixes can behave differently in regard to water retention.

Many soil mixes cannot retain enough water for succulents in habitat with wetter winters.

Base

You can give your cactus soil a few different base roots. If you want to go with a good old-fashioned look, then you’ll want to go with a soil mix that’s got about half peat and half sand in it. Another good option is to use a larger-grade coarse-textured potting soil. You can use regular garden soil, but you’ll have to change it out very often as the nutrients will tend to drain out of it very quickly.

However, if you really want to get the best results for your cactus, you’re going to have to go for a mix that’s got a little more heavy-duty material to it. The mix should be one-third each of sand, peat, and coarse-textured soil. The sand will help the soil drain well, the soil and peat give it extra nutrients, and the soil acts as a kind of mulch to keep the roots healthy.

Coarse Materials

Cacti and succulents require very porous soil for proper drainage. The roots of these plants are spread wide, allowing little water to cling to them. The soil allows the roots to absorb the majority of the water.

Cacti grow all over the world in a variety of soil types, so it's safe to assume they are very hardy. In order to ensure proper drainage, never use potting soil for your cacti. Potting soils are too dense and do not allow water or oxygen to reach the roots. Instead, purchase coarse materials. Every year, add a few inches to the top of the pot to ensure the coarse materials stay fresh.

Cacti and succulents require very porous soil for proper drainage. The roots of these plants are spread wide, allowing little water to cling to them. The soil allows the roots to absorb the majority of the water.

Cacti grow all over the world in a variety of soil types, so it's safe to assume they are very hardy. In order to ensure proper drainage, never use potting soils for your cacti. Potting soils are too dense and do not allow water or oxygen to reach the roots. Instead, purchase coarse materials. Every year, add a few inches to the top of the pot to ensure the coarse materials stay fresh.

Supplements

If you love cats, you should take them to your nearest vet to make sure they don't have hyperthyroidism.

A hyperthyroid cat is not a happy camper. The cat’s thyroid gland becomes overactive. The symptoms for hyperthyroidism include:

  • vomiting and diarrhea
  • hair loss
  • weight loss
  • constipation
  • tremors, or shakiness

If the cat has only one hyperthyroid eye, hyperthyroidism is the most likely cause.

When a thyroid gland is underactive, the symptoms are completely opposite. The cat becomes lethargic, the coat seems poorly, there is a typical weight gain of the face, the appetite decreases and the thyroid gland enlarges.

A cat afflicted with hyperthyroidism might develop a bulging of the eyes, difficulty breathing, and its tongue might protrude when it's excited.

When the signs of hyperthyroidism appear, the veterinarian might consider giving the cat a course of carbimazole. If you decide not to treat your kitty, the cat might feel better over the next few days and the symptoms will disappear.

However, you must closely monitor your precious capxC3xA9t for changes in the condition. If the symptoms worsen, or new ones appear, you must see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Mix It Up!

The most important thing you should consider when choosing a cactus soil is the ratio of sand and organic material to clay. Up to a point, the lighter the soil is, the better it will be for your cactus, but you don’t want the mix to be so light that it will drain out.

Most cactus soil mixes do not contain any organic material, so you will have to supplement it with peat moss or compost. Make sure that those organic materials are finely chopped up so that there are plenty of air pockets in the soil mix.

Another important thing is that you’ll want to mix the cactus soil with other pots, or you should use a grower pot. The better the drainage is, the more water your cacti will be able to store.

If you want to make sure that the mixture is nutrient-free, you can add a chemical-free slow release fertilizer, although that is not really necessary.

Lastly, you should use a commercial potting mix. You can make a basement potting mix, or if you like make your own cactus soil, but this tends to be a rather painstaking process.

Again, your local nursery will have commercial brands of cactus soil that you can get.

What About Fertilizer And Cactus Compost?

Fertilization in the right way can lead to a beautiful, thriving plant. But done improperly, fertilization can have a negative effect on your plant or even induce its death.

Some people try to fertilize their cacti with plant emulsion, but it just doesn’t work. It will just rot each time it rains, unless it’s kept bone dry.

For a cactus, through, you need a more straightforward approach. Cactus soil is generally brown. It’s designed to help the plant receive the right amount of nutrients and keep it well-hydrated.

But cactus soil costs more than regular gardening soil per bag, because it is formulated to be low in nutrients.

Best Cactus Soil Mixes

There are two types of commercial cactus potting soil mixes – complete vermiculite mix and simple vermiculite mix.

Complete vermiculite mixes are the most common – they consist of a base mix and addition of an organic material called coir. Instead of adding an organic material, simple vermiculite mixes substitute a sand for coir and other inert material.

While these mixes are a cheap and practical solution, they have one major drawback – they dry out extremely fast and can kill your cactus if they do.

A normal soil mix is 60 to 75 percent air and can hold water and oxygen for a long period of time. On the other hand, a vermiculite mix is up to 95 percent air, so it's great for the plant to the time coming up in water. Unfortunately, it dries out extremely fast, much faster than a normal soil mix.

For example, a cactus pot with a 14-ounce capacity prepared with growing potting soil dries out in about 10 days. So, you have to water the plant every 10 days (not counting the soil that the plant used).

The same cactus tree in a 14-ounce canister prepared with cactus soil mix dries out in only 3 days. That means you need to water it only 3 days out of the 10 that you watered it in the previous example.

Espoma Organic Cactus Mix

Espoma Organic Cactus Mix is a good organic mix for cactus (specifically, the varieties that don’t like to have their roots sitting in water). It’s formulated to be sterile so it doesn’t trap beneficial bacteria that can harm the cactus roots.

This is important because poinsettia is highly susceptible to a bacteria named Erwinia carotovora. If you plant it in waterlogged potting soil, the bacteria can enter its roots through the damaged tissue. Erwinia carotovora attacks the tissue (cells) within a plant that produces a food called carotene. In poinsettia and similar flowering cactuses, this is the white tissue under the red flower petals. The bacteria cells are protected from exposure to high salt levels by a coating of lipids and sugars. As a result, infection usually occurs at the ends of the roots where damage occurs (when the plant is moved, for example).

Poinsettia can survive in waterlogged soil, but the less time it spends there the better.

If your patio gets a lot of water, or if you're growing your plant in a container and watering it with a watering can, you'll have to make sure that the soil remains above the water.

Hoffman Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix

When shopping for potting soil, the various mixes can be overwhelming. You might be wondering where to even begin finding the best soil for your cactus and succulent plants.

The Hoffman Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix was assembled by a world-renowned expert on succulents. The soil is mixed with perlite, which allows the soil to drain well and helps keep your plants stress-free. The vitamin-rich mix will also have your succulents growing well.

The general rule of thumb is that you should choose a soil with the right weight for your needs. Planting a cactus and succulent in a container for instance, especially from the store, is going to need a lot more soil than one planted in the ground. Potting soils also have different textured particles, helping them drain differently. When deciding on which one is right for you, just look at what others are using and make a decision on what you are comfortable with.