Potting soil for succulents

mariateresaFebruary 10, 2007


I know, there is a lot of information on this subject, and believe me I've read it all. But there is a problem, there are some materials that I can't find where I live - perlite, vermiculite, pumice,...

So, I'll tell you what I can find and I'm asking for your help for the mix and the proportions.

I can find cactus and succulents potting soil (made of turf, pumice and quartz sand); houseplants potting soil (very rich in organic matter); builder's sand (doesn't seem to be that coarse!), gravel and products for bonsai (akadama,...)

My plants are almost all in the crassulaceae family, 2 are mesembs, one aloe and one schlumbergera.

I live in South Europe, Portugal, near Lisbon. It's a zone 10. Summers here are hot and dry and winters are mild but humid.

Could you give me some advice, please?

Thank you in advance.

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The cactus and succulent soil sold in my area is still too peaty and I mix it 50/50 with perlite. Small (we call it pea gravel) would be a good substitute for the perlite. I don't use sand but many others do.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2007 at 8:07PM
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I would use 2 parts houseplant soil to 1 part gravel.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2007 at 8:11PM
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Hi Mariateresa and Fred Grow :
I use sand but not the the fine mortar sand.(it compacts)
Fred you probably saw this in one of my posts.
Concrete sand is coarse and doesn't compact.
In Portugal they probably have masonary; building supply companies, that supply contractors,like in the USA.
If you find the coarse concrete sand , put it in a macaroni
strainer and wash it out with a hose.That will remove the finer sand. Then mix it like Fred said in the last message.
If you do find a supply company, ask them about Perlite.
They use that in 1st coat plaster also.
Asta La Vista , LOU Said That.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2007 at 10:54PM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Portugal has a climate similar to coastal southern California. Growers there often use mixes with higher organic content and avoid clay pots, all because the environment is so hot and dry. The ordinary houseplant soil is still probably too sticky.

The cactus and succulent soil that you describe sounds perfect, it might need added grit or coarse sand for some plants that are very sensitive to overwatering. By "turf" do you mean "loam", composted turf which is now a rich soil. This is what I use, but I mix it with a lot of coarse material to get good drainage in my wet climate.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 6:40AM
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Shrubs n bulbs, I've made a mistake translating from portuguese to english - by 'turf' I meant 'peat'.

Ok, mixing everything you said do you think this mix will work in my climate - 1 part cacti and suc mix, 1 part houseplant mix, 1 part drainage material?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 11:06AM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

I'd wait and see what someone from a similar climate says, but I wouldn't add any more organic matter to a cactus and succulent mix based on peat. If anything, just add more sand or gravel. Akadama would be good but I suspect it is expensive.

In my climate, the commercial C&S mixes based on peat are death, they hold too much water but maybe would be OK for you.

Can you find coir (coconut fibres)? What is the soil in your garden like? Ordinary garden soil, maybe mixed with some gravel, from semi-arid areas is often quite useful for growing succulents.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 12:44PM
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webkat5(Z6a MO)

The Schlumbergera will appreciate a bit more moisture...I believe you could use standard potting soil for these.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 1:12PM
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I live in northern Italy in an area with hot, dry summers and chilly, wetter winters: zone 8 in U.S. terms. I keep a few dozen succulents in pots, most of them outdoors year round, in an unheated greenhouse against a south-facing wall when it gets cold. I have a bit of everything except cactuses and euphorbias (I don't like thorns), so: crassulas, haworthias, aloes, sedums, agaves, echeverias, etc.: anything that can handle these conditions. Anyway, I'm not terribly precise about their potting mix, and they do reasonably well. My standard mixture is about half regular potting soil (peat-based), one-fourth coarse builder's sand, one fourth expanded clay ('argilla espansa' in Italian), also used in construction, then a small amount of slow-release fertilizer for succulents. I don't claim this is optimum, or that it works equally well for all succulents, but I lose very few plants, and most of mine grow and look fairly good. I keep most of my plants in clay pots with a pebble mulch, and look them over and repot them in spring. In the summer they live under a wisteria pergola and get watered fairly often (every two or three days). I also water them a bit in winter if they look like they'd appreciate it.

None of this is optimum, probably, and I don't know much about succulents, but that's the point: a lot of them aren't fussy plants. I gather that a lot of cactus are more sensitive, and these methods might not work for them. I think you can relax about your succulents, especially since you're in a mild climate.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 1:49PM
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Mi Caro Melissa , come sta : How did I do?
I'm glad to see some of you are using coarse (Concrete)
sand for drainage. I mentioned it in many Posts but I thought no one was being "attento". What is the expanded clay you mentioned. Is it a grit ?
Grazie! - LOU

    Bookmark   February 11, 2007 at 4:30PM
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hawk307: Not bad; pay attention to gender. Generally one says something like
Ciao Melissa! Come stai?
That's the familiar form ('stai' instead of 'sta').

I wonder what you think of my comments. They reflect my own experience with succulents (also Sansevierias), namely that many of them don't require super-specialized potting or soil recipes, but get along quite well with sensible mixtures of what's available where the gardener lives. I imagine there are some prima donnas in the succulent world as well.

'Argilla espansa' is something like the clay equivalent of puffed cereal. Little pellets of clay are heated and puff up, becoming light, rigid, and unreactive. It's used in construction. I employ them in the bottom of my pots for drainage and in my succulent mix, sometimes also when I make potting soil for cuttings. I don't recall ever seeing it in the U.S.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 2:37AM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Some Crassulas are prima donnas, some are not. Most mesembs are picky about soil, but a few like Lampranthus and Delosperma don't care.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 8:59AM
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Ciao Melissa ! Come Stai ? I was going to word it like that
but what can I say, my older family is from southern Italy,
Badolato,in Calabria, that's my last name.
I'm new to succulents and I am like you , I use judgement, no recipe. I have started a few debates about the prima donna's. They seemed to have mellowed.
I have had good luck growing trees and plants. Tried to get across the different types of building sands. I use the coarse sand and had no problems.I don't know why there is no Perlite in Europe ? It may be around but you have to know where. If you are having "buono fortuna" with your
mixtures , why change. I agree with your comments. Don't get carried away with technical things and enjoy.
I try different things all the time.Check out Rooting Jade
Plants, Post. I put in some Photo's
Thanks , LOU

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 11:21AM
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Thank you all. Concrete sand is easily available, so is gravel. I can even find housepotting soil with no peat. So,for the crassulaceae I guess I'll try mixing 1 part cacti and suc potting soil, 1 part houseplant soil with no peat and 1 part drainage material, wait and see.
I think it all comes to not overwatering. My sanseveria, for instance, is potted in a peat based potting soil (very high in peat!)with some coarse sand and it has been growing very well.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 12:10PM
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pirate_girl(Zone7 NYC)

Hi MariaTeresa,

Ola e seja bemvida.

On your Sans, I'd re-think that peat & sand mix, peat can stay too wet for them & cause them to rot. Then again if it's working for you ....

As to the best mixes for you, I don't know how these terms translate into Portuguese (eu falo Portugues).

But I have an idea, pls. go visit your local botanic gardens & speak to them about the mixes they use for succulents. In particular there's a succulent called Aeonium (it's in the same family of Crassulacae), I believe it's native to the Canary Islands. If you can find out what mix is used for them, you can likely use it for the rest of your succulents (or at least those in family of Crassulacae).

Your Xmas cactus would do fine in a mix of 1/2 houseplant mix with peat, 1/2 drainage material like perlite (but NO SAND). It should be a light & fluffy mix like one would use for African Violets (AV). Also needs to be very fast-draining.

Boa sorte com suas plantas!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 11:39PM
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milwdave(Zone5 Milwaukee)

Ola e Bom dia, Maria,

I agree with Pirategirl. Check with your local botanical garden. They would know best what is available, and is most useful for you. If you are in a rural area you might try a feed store for chicken grit.

Milwaukee, WI, USA
Lisboa em Abril!

    Bookmark   February 13, 2007 at 8:30AM
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Hi Again Mariateresa : You can use sand if it is the course sand, like you said (concrete sand) but I would ask around for Perlite.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2007 at 10:53AM
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My several Sansevierias are all in the same mix of peat-based potting soil, coarse sand, and 'argilla espansa' that I use for my succulents, and they're doing pretty well. I haven't had any problems with rot. Perhaps the clay pots and dry summer climate help.

Ciao hawk307. Sono qui in provincia di Piacenza; non sono mai stata nell'Italia meridionale. La vita qui mi piace: abbiamo una vecchia fattoria e posso avere un grande giardino e mia figlia può correre quanto vuole. Sono americana di antenati tedeschi e inglesi; mio marito è italiano. (Just a little practice if you're interested.)


    Bookmark   February 13, 2007 at 1:51PM
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Hello Mellisa : I see your doing a "no no " like me .
Peat based soil and coarse sand but everything is growing well ?????? Must be the clay pots.
So you are in the Province of Piacensa, in an old farm house with a a very large garden that your daughter can run as much as she wants. You are American with German and English ancestry ( that's Italian )and your husband is Italian. I couldn't read the Italian in your last message, so I guess I'm psychic.
How did I do??? Have to use English from now on,or this will turn into an International Forum and I can just about understand English. Ciao
Mariateresa : Have all your questions been answered . Hope you do well.
Happy Gardening,to everyone, LOU

    Bookmark   February 13, 2007 at 11:03PM
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My questions have all been answered...for the moment!

I'd like to say that I find it fascinating that in talking about plants we get to interact with people from another continent who can speak our mother language.

Pirate Girl, your hint on schlumbergera - no sand - means I'll have to use more expensive materials, like expanded clay or akadama.

Lou, I have asked about perlite. I have friends who are civil engineers and I know many people in the construction business, and they no nothing about perlite.

As for my sanseverias , there are 3 of them growing in the same pot - 1 Trisfasciata Laurentii and 2 Futura Simplex. To be honest, I'm afraid to mess with them. IÂll just wait until they let me know something is not right. I have posted a picture.

Mellisa, I wish I had a garden, but I am a town girl. I'll have to do with my balconies.

Thank you all.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 10:05AM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

Which mesembs are you growing? Some are likely to die in peat even in your climate. Others I add extra peat even in my climate. Some I grow in the garden!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 11:31AM
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Mariateresa: I also said you can use Coarse Sand eg
( Concrete Sand ).Wash it first in a strainer.If 10 people say they use it with success and 2 say they don't use it, why wouldn't you at least try some in one plant. The only problem I"ve had is overwatering.
There is Mellisa in Italy with probaby a climate close to your's, Why don't you reread her first message.
I would reread all of them . Maybe something didn't register in your minds computer. You asked for Advice and you got lots of it.
" Perlite is available in Portugal" Go to Google and put in "Find Perlite for plants in Portugal" See what happens
and let us know. If you do try one plant using " Coarse "
could send send me a comparison picture please.
Thanks LOU - Now you have something to keep you busy for a while!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 11:51AM
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Hawk 307,
There must have been a problem in communication. I do use coarse sand in my mixes. I have used it for dracaenas,Cordylines, Aglaonemas, Yucca, Sanseverias, Jade plant, even begonias. Today, I repotted an Aloe, which I bought 2 weeks ago, because I suspected root problems. And I was right, some were already rotten. I washed away the soil and left the roots to dry a couple of days. Today I repotted using 1 part cacti and succ mix, 1 part peat-free houseplant mix and 1 part coarse sand which had been washed in a strainer. So you see, I was listening. I got the Advice and I registered it in my mind.
But there are 'Prima Donas' (I don't know if the spelling is correct, Mellisa). Although I have had plants for some years now, I'm new to succulents. So when Pirate Girl told me not to use sand , I assumed schlumbergera might be one of those.

About perlite, I had already gone to google. There is information, but I can't find the stuff. You have no idea how many shops I have visited in seach for it. I even had to explain to the sellers what kind of material it was. On my regular visits to nurseries, I got the idea that most plants they sell are imported and these come with perlite in the mix. The plants that we can see are locally grown, have none, just plain housepotting mix. I have seen sanseverias potted in these mixes.

Shrubs n bulbs, I have recently bought a lampranthus and a faucaria (the Faucaria with the pink straw flowers, remember?). The Lampranthus needs repotting badly.

Here is a photo of Crassula Ovata growing in a sandy soil.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 2:59PM
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an odd coarse grit for soil is "turkey grit", if you go to an area selling feed or ag supplies (in the city?). It is used for turkeys (as the name suggests) to aid their digestion. Fair sized particle and not expensive.

Another option to consider is styrofoam packing peanuts, cups, and to go containers. These are light weight, cheap, and aerate the soil very well, they do float though. Break the (food grade) cups and containers up to proper size mix with the rest of your soil. If you are using peanuts, soak them in water to make sure they do not disintegrate (biodegradable)

Happy growing,

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 6:20PM
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Mariateresa : You forgot to say "Gotcha Lou "
I guess " my minds " computer isn't working to good.
I had to go back and read the messages again. I had no way of knowing that you did all these things. I'm not really Phychic, I was just kidding. When your plants are triving send a photo. I will try to locate Perlite for you.

Red Sea Me - mentioned Turkey Grits, sounds good , I know that is available.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2007 at 7:42PM
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