Can You Use Regular Potting Soil For Succulents? (How To Modify Soil)

By Paul Smart •  Updated: 01/02/22 •  7 min read

Can You Use Regular Potting Soil For Succulents? When you go down to your local garden center you’ll often there are lots of different types of potting soil which include things like mixtures for seed raising, general potting mixes, mixtures for orchids, and mixtures for succulents. So do you really need all these different potting mixes or can you just buy the regular one and use it for all plants including things like succulents? 

Using regular potting mix for succulents is generally not recommended as these mixes retain too much moisture for too long which can cause problems with many succulents. The reason for this is that succulents are specifically adapted to dry conditions in which the supply of water is infrequent. Too much water for too long can cause them to rot.

Succulents require fast-draining soil with a limited water holding capacity which is the exact opposite of what potting soil is designed to do. Any gardener with pot plants will tell you that one of the biggest problems for normal plants is that they dry out really quickly in pots. Potting soil mix is, as a result, designed specifically to help the plants survive by retaining water for longer. 

This means that many of the mixtures contain specific additives designed to increase the water holding capacity by adding things like hydrogels. In a study that we did ourselves some time ago, we found that hydrogels were extremely useful for increasing moisture in soil levels for an extended period of time. To read more about this click here.

What Is The Difference Between Regular Potting Mix And Cactus Mixture?

There are several major differences between regular potting mix and mixtures suitable for succulents or cacti. The first and most obvious thing is at the level of moisture within the mixture is generally significantly lower for succulent mixtures. This is normally achieved by having additional materials in the mixture such as sand which does not retain any moisture.

The second key difference is that these mixtures usually do not contain much in the way of nutrients compared to a regular potting mixture simply because the cactus and succulents have evolved in conditions where the soils are relatively poor and there are very few nutrients. Too high a level of nutrients can cause the roots to be burnt in succulents. 

The third significant difference is that the mixtures are generally more aerated which is largely a byproduct of making the mixture free-draining. 

Can You Modify Regular Potting Mix To Suit A Succulent Plant?

If you have a succulent plant lying around and just a regular potting mix you can modify that mixture to suit the succulent better. Making this adjustment is fairly straightforward. The ingredients you will need is the potting soil itself, sand, and something to aerate the mixture such as perlite or pumice.

However, it is important to note that when selecting the sand to not use construction sand or builders sand. The reason for this is that these particular sands are designed to be used in mortars and have a clay content which will increase the rate of water retention which is not ideal for a succulent.

Once you have gathered all the ingredients that you require blend them together in the following ratio;

Can You Make A Succulent Mixture Out Of Regular Soil?

It is possible also to make a succulent mixture out of your regular garden soil as well. However, like the regular potting mix most garden soils will need to be modified to suit succulents in much the same way as the potting mix.

However, unlike the potting mix which generally has similar properties no matter what brand you purchase, garden soil can vary widely. This means that the ratio of ingredients will vary depending upon how free training your soil is.

To assess this there is a simple test that can be done that will help guide you as to the extent of modification required to make the soil suitable for a succulent. 

The test assesses the drainage of the soil and needs to be done on a dry day. To do the test you need to dig a hole that is approximately 15 inches deep. Once the hole is dug fill it with water and leave it for an hour and then check it.

If the hole remains full of water then it is likely that you have poor draining soil that has a high clay content. If there are a few inches of water in the base of the hole that is an indication that you have moderately draining soil and if there is no water at all sitting in the hole that means that the soil you have is relatively free training. 

Once you have identified the type of soil you can then make up a succulent mixture based on the formulas below. However, it is important to note that this test is hardly definitive so you may need to adjust these mixes somewhat depending upon your specific soil to get the best possible result. 

Poor Draining Soil

Moderate Draining Soil

Free Draining Soil

If need to purchase perlite or pumice that can be found online at Amazon. Click on the links to see the latest price.

Can You Use Orchid Mixture For Growing Succulents?

The other commonly asked question is can you use orchid mixtures for growing succulents as they are also plants that like a free-draining growing medium. 

Generally, an orchid mixture is not something I would recommend for succulents because the mixture is extremely coarse and often contains large chunks of bark which are not ideally suited for anchoring succulents into the ground.  

Additionally, as the mixtures are made up of large chunks of bark there is a long-term risk if you live in a relatively moist environment that the properties of the mixture can change over an extended period of time which will cause problems for your succulent.

In wet environments over a long period of time, the bark within the mixture can start to rot which can result in the mixture becoming increasingly fine and more capable of retaining moisture. However, this is relatively rare and does require the same succulent to be in the same pot for several years.

Can You Modify Orchid Potting Mixture To Suit Succulents?

Like other types of soil mixtures orchid potting mixtures can be modified to suit succulents however I generally would not recommend it. The reason for this is that you would also need to add either potting mix soil and other modifiers such sand and perlite to create a mixture that is suitable.  

Given that you can use a simpler formula and use your garden soil as mentioned above there isn’t a lot of benefit in undertaking this process so I would suggest just modifying garden soil or commercial potting mix.

Good luck with your gardening endeavors. I hope you enjoyed the blog please put any questions in the comments section below.

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Paul Smart