I don't want to spend money on store bought cactus soil. What is in it so I can mix my own?
Cactus soil is simply any potting soil plus a coarse material to aid drainage. Commercial cactus soils are often peat or composted bark, but I would not recommend this. I recommend starting with a sandy loam and adding an equal quantity of a material like grit or perlite. Some people base their mix on coir. A small amount of peat is OK, but if you use too much it will tend to cake into a solid mass that is very soggy when wet and impossible to get wet once it dries out.
I agree with s_n_b, DO NOT USE PEAT!!!!
Mix some decent garden soil from your yard with perlite 50-50, that's about as inexpensive as you can get unless you have access to chicken grit or fine gravel in bulk for cheap, instead of perlite.
The only thing that I don't like about perlite is that it will float to the top of the soil, if this bothers you, use something heavier like gravel.
I recommend that you bite the bullet and buy the cactus soil. By the time you buy enough ammendments to sufficiently lighten garden soil you may as well. Unless your garden soil is naturally light and fluffy and you have free access to grit, sharp sand or pea gravel. Your plants will do so much better it will be worth it. I buy the cactus soil AND perlite to further increase drainage. In my opinion cactus soil, even though marketed to use straight from the bag still isnt light enough if you are growing cacti. Some folks will probably have different experiences.
The main problem with buying the cactus soil is that most of the ones on the market are C*R*A*P, with or without extra perlite, and I wouldn't put any of my plants in it. If you can recommend a specific brand that isn't made from peat then we'd all love to hear it, but just picking a random one off the shelf is going to cause you grief down the road.
I use Schultz brand cactus and succulent mix mixed 50/50 with perlite. Dont know whether it contains peat or not, only that my plants thrive, grow and bloom. On rot prone species like my Sulcorebutia I use 1/3 schultz, 1/3 perlite and 1/3 aquarium gravel. I wouldn't use garden soil under any circumstances, even if it is sandy loam. No matter how good the garden soil in my opinion it always presents drainage issues when placed in a pot. Not to mention it being a potential source of plant pests. I would think even a bit of peat would be a better alternative.
Schultz brand is made from a mix of sphagnum and sedge peat (varying by region, I think) with sand and perlite. Some growers seem to prefer this, it is not so "spongy" as some peat products, a little more like a loam soil. But it is still peat. And sedge peat in particular breaks down quickly into a clogging sludge.
I used a standard, storebought cacti soil mix and its been a disaster. Its made of peat and sand and when I attempt to water the plants, the water just runs right off without being absorbed. Did I, as someone suggested above, let the soil get too dry? SHould I repot with new soil? Perlite seems to be a popular component, maybe I should try that...thanks.
That seems to be another of the problems associated with a peaty mix, once it does dry out its almost impervious to water. One trick I have used with nursery stock is to place just a couple small drops of dishwashing liquid on the surface of the soil before watering. Sounds bizarre but the water will soak right in and I haven't had it harm the plants. I use lots of perlite. Its very light. It will eventually break down but by then you're ready to repot anyway. I dont have any problem with floating because I top dress my cacti with gravel. We all have our pet receipes and what one says to never do is routinely done with great success by others...
Heres a good for instance; one of my prettiest cactus is a Ferocactus latispinus potted up in (are you ready for this?) Miracle Grow Moisture Control! No added perlite, grit, gravel or anything. The cactus has quadrupled in size this summer and is absolutely pristine. Show quality. Of course it is potted into unglazed clay which is all I ever use and top dressed with gravel which I find very beneficial in many ways. Your potting mix will not crust over with this gravel mulch for instance.
Commercial wholesale cactus growers, the places that produce all those plants for the big box stores, grow almost exclusively in peat, the cheapest they can find and usually without any added perlite or grit. They keep the plants moist 24/7 and fertilise heavily. They also use fungicides and insecticides in their daily overhead sprays. The plants grow extremely fast and are generally pristine when they hit the stores, they are also extremely light for shipping once the peat is dry. So it can be done. You can grow a cactus in anything including a glass of water (seriously, you can) but that doesn't mean you should. Everyone who tries it eventually learns that there is something better.
Yes Shrubs the root balls on those little box store cacti are always caked in a heavy ball of soggy peat. Sometimes with moss growing on the surface. I pick as much of it as possible off as soon as I get home and repot.
You mentioned that you planted a Ferocactus into Miracle-Gro mix and it is growing beautifully - as well it should, there is fertilizer in there and it probably has excellent qualities, but I would bet that if you kept the plant in that pot without changing the soil, you will see the plant decline or stall after a few years.
There is some great info I read once about the poor chemistry of peat moss after it degrades, I will look for it and post it.
I have been using garden soil mixed with gravel for over 10 years - drainage is not an issue, and the clay in the soil holds nutrients better than peat ever would. Not to mention there is minimal breakdown because there is minimal organic matter, I have some dwarf varieties that haven't been repotted for 10 years and they are healthy and flowering.
Yes out of 50 cacti and 20 or so succulents I have ONE potted in miracle grow moisture control because it was all I had at the time. I kept meaning to repot but the cactus was doing beautifully so I never did. It now needs a larger pot and when I give it one (probably next spring) it will go into my usual mix. Which is 1/2 Schultz and 1/2 perlite with a gravel top dressing. If I am dealing with a rot prone species I add lots of gravel to the mix. As shrubs has pointed out Schultz cactus mix is made from peat. I am well aware of what happens to peat when it breaks down and of the dangers involved with using a mix that contains too much peat. I get excellent long term results with the mix that I use. My cacti thrive, grow beautifully and bloom well. So obviously a small amount of peat is not necessarily a guaranteed disaster.I plan to continue using it because IT WORKS FOR ME. And that is my whole point. Im not saying my way is right and everyone elses is wrong, Im relating what works for me. Isn't that what a discussion board is for?
When you say "gravel top dressing" I'm assuming you mean that literally, that is, gravel covering the soil at the top of the pot. I bought a sedum morganianum with this arrangement and wound up taking off all the gravel because I couln't tell when the soil was overly dry. Should I put some gravel back? What is the purpose? HOw do you tell what the status of the soil is with the gravel on top? SOrry for all the questions, but as you can tell I'm a newbie to succulents and plants in general for that matter. I have recieved a lot of help at this website, for which I (and my plants!) am very grateful.
Fred - If it ain't broke, don't fix!
eileen - make sure the gravel you use is light-colored, dark rock can get hot! you can always keep an empty pot with the same soil mix nearby the pot with plants + gravel, and water them all the same and check the moisture level in the "empty" pot - it's just an idea, but you really are better off at first without gravel. Once you learn your plants' growing and water needs, you can add gravel, and then you water based on how the plant looks and not on the actual moisture content. With succulents, always underwater if not sure.
You should absolutely positively put the gravel back. IF you want it to be there.LOL! Actually That is the big complaint with top dressing--which is just a fancy name for rock mulch. Its hard to tell when the soil has dried. And the soil will be slower to dry out with it on. Which aint necessarily a good thing. I use it because it keeps the soil from washing out or splashing up on to the plant when it rains. It also keeps your perlite from "floating" if you use perlite. It helps to support newly set plants and allows water to drain quickly away from the base of the plant. It also keeps the top of your soil from crusting and presents a nice finished look to the planting. You can get creative with contrasting colored or go art-deco with pink or blue gravel if that sort of thing appeals to you. But alot of people want to be able to see and feel the soil to judge moisture content. Its another of those personal preference things. You can have stunning plantings with or without it. If you use it you will learn to judge by the weight of the pot whether it needs water or not, or you can brush the gravel aside, feel and then replace it.
well im seeing different things going on here i assume were talking about growing regular cactus, and not so much epiphyllums right? i used regular cactus soil from the store when i did mine and put gravel on top and my cactuses are doing very well growing like weeds. i dont even check to see if they need watering as there under a porch i just automatically water them once every 7-10 days and their thriving great. actually their ougrowing their pots after 1 year. lol.
I agree that it is not going to save you money to mix your own....atleast not if you want to have a decent media mixed up. I have been using orchid bark, potting soil, perlite and vermiculite. all at roughly equal parts....I am actually curious about making a mix in which orchid bark is the predominant ingredient because it seems that perlite and garden soil eventually end up caking up and hardening....has anyone ever done this?
I have been using perlite +/- fine gravel with garden soil successfully for many years. For me, it works better for most cactus and succulents than anything else. If totally dry, it does harden superficially but breaks apart easily with gentle poking.
I just came into a large quantity of pumice at a great price and decided to mix up a batch of soil. Previously I had been using Black Gold Cactus Soil cut with equal parts pumice for most of my plants. This had worked for me for the most part. But I was curious to try something a little different, so.....I mixed appx. 5 parts sifted garden soil, 5 parts pumice and 3 parts coarse sand. My garden soil is on the clay side and it had been sifted to remove all the big pieces of gravel and such (for another project). Anyway, I tested the drainage of this mix and it was not very good. Water sat on the soil for a minute or so before draining out and the soil really hardened up when it dried. What can I do here... mix in more pumice and/or sand? Is this soil salvagable?
many of the south african mesembs, like lithops, thrive in this type of heavy mix. you just need to be careful with watering.
i use a similar 50-50 mix of garden soil and drainage, but garden soil as you can imagine is extremely variable.
i would avoid adding more sand otherwise you end up making cement. try adding more pumice until the drainage suits your needs. the good thing about garden soil is that it breaks down very slowly and will last many years.
In this case you need to ignore the advice to use coarse sand because it will only make your clay-ey loam stiffer as the sand grains lock together and not really improve the drainage enough for planting succulents.
Either use sufficient pumice without sand to get the results you need.
Or mix your garden soil with a finer soft sand until you have a sandy loam. You might need as much or more sand than the soil you start with, a sandy loam is up to 80% sand and only about 10% clay. This isn't easy and often you just end up with balls of your original soil coated in sand, it is easiest if you mix completely dry ingredients so that the clay loam can be crumbled. Two parts sandy loam, if you can get it, plus one part pumice works for most cacti, more pumice for the really sensitive ones. Heavier loams like yours can be used but you have to adapt your watering and they work best in hot dry climates.
Well I am certainly in a hot and dry climate! THanks for the tips, I will give another mix a try this weekend.
I just potted my cacti up in a mix of 1 part cactus soil, 1 part aquarium rocks/gravel, and one part orchid mix. Will they die? I've read so many different recipes here I became very confused.
Also, when trying to get the soil that they come in (from Walmart/Home Depot) off the roots - don't wet it thinking it will make it come off easier. It becomes like concrete!
I am a specialty commercial grower of Apocynaceae which includes Adenium, Pachypodium and Plumeria. We also grow other succulent types such as Euphorbia melii and Stapelia gigantia and an assortment of Cacti and Cycad specimens. This is a informational post only and I wish it not to become a rift among the many Garden Web members. This issue of soil mix seems to be a very hotly debated subject with many having very rigid feelings about certain ingredients and how long they last in a container over several years. I have been commercially growing in Southern California for over fifty years. And that was before plastic containers and flats were invented. Much of this time was spent designing soil mixes and as the technology developed soilless mixes for commercial growing. All mixes were continually analyzed by "Soil and Plant Laboratory Inc." a International Lab. (http://www.soilandplantlaboratory.com/) that provides soil, plant, and water analysis, consulting and diagnostic services to the agricultural, horticultural and landscaping industries.
I have observed both criticism and some excellent scientific explanations for many of the issues repeatably with little consideration for some regional conditions which may effect the science. However I only see a few photos of members results.
We have been using a particular mix for the last eight years for everything we grow after propagation. This includes mother plants for cuttings and many specimens which we only re-pot every five years. Also, this includes some container grown specimen plumeria trees that are thirty seven years of age. The mix we use is made-up of regional materials on the West Coast. The mix consists of plus or minus 2-3% of the following ingredients:
Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss 30%
Coarse Redwood and Fir mulch 30%
Nursery Sand 10%
Horticulture Pumice 1/2 -3/8", 1/2-5/16" 30%
(Check out this link for Horticultural pumice info; http://www.clppumice.com/horticultural.html
This link for more general info; http://www.clppumice.com/index.html)
The following is a few photos of living and growing proof this mix works!
I'll take two of the Pachypodiums, Jack. Do you think they'll go in the post to England without anyone noticing?
Many plants would of course die very quickly in your mix, if it was used in England. Likewise, your big succulents would quickly die of thirst in my mix for Lithops, Copiapoas, and North American cacti, especially in your climate.
Greetings from So Cal,
We could say the package is a antique street lamp post lol and ship. Bet it would be more than a few quid lol.
This is one of the points I wish to make. I continually see "facts" from persons with out the background knowledge of growing conditions in a specific climate or environment. I must admit I have never grown a plant outside my area so I could only give an opinion on how to grow in the UK or most anywhere else. Even growing in a greenhouse would be different in the UK than So. Cal.
I like this quote from many years ago from Bernard M. Baruch an economist in the US: "Every man/woman has a right to be wrong in his opinions. But no man has a right to be wrong in his facts."
I was given an aloe vera this winter which got a bit of frostbite, and I'm a newbie to succulents other than Christmas cactus. It seems to have recovered from the shock, but I'm concerned about the medium in which it's planted. It appears to be just plain ol' local garden dirt, which is very sandy with not much nutrition in it. Pretty acid, as we're in a mixed hardwood/pine forest location.
The water sits on top of the soil for a minute or two before seeming to run right through to the catch tray. Takes awhile for it to then be absorbed up into the plant. I've been very frugal with the watering.
I'm thinking that repotting it and using one of the mixes described in this forum might be a better environment for it. But without any experience with aloe vera, I'm hesitant to just forge ahead without a bit of direction.
Aloes and cactus do not need nitrogen. If it is native soil, mix it with grit ( perlite, gravel, decomposed granite). At least 50/ 50. maybe more of the grit. That should get the water moving.
I have heard 50% regular soil and add in hummus(sp) You can get it at Tac stores and its used in horse stalls. What is your alls opinion on that?
I think you are talking about DRY STALL. It is not available in Central Texas or at least in my haunts..
It's called pumice. I think it's like those stones you use on the bottom of your feet?