Soils and Pots for Cactus Plants and Succulents


It does not matter much what sort of soil is used for cactus and succulents so long as it is a well-draining soil. That is the essential part in growing these kinds of plants. One successful grower uses equal parts sandy loam, sand, and coal ashes, and advises the improvement of a clay soil by adding to it a little air-slacked lime. Another equally successful mix is equal parts fibrous loam and clean gravel, with a little fine sand mixed in.

The succulent plants other than cactuses can be grown in much richer soil, but great care must be exercised in not overwatering, which may cause stems and roots to rot. Seedling succulents may be grown in pots—one to a pot—or in flats with a large number in each one. It is handy to have the plants in large pots. Even the smallest seedlings need drainage. A good rule to follow is to fill one-quarter to one-third of the pot with coarse drainage, like gravel, over which you put a little sphagnum moss to keep the soil from sifting down into the gravel.

When potting up a cactus select a pot just a little larger than the body of the plant. Many people crowd the plant into as small a pot as possible, but I believe this is not a good practice, because the plant needs some space to grow, and if the pot is small it is also very difficult to water properly. When potting, put the coarsest part of the soil next to the drainage, with the finer part above it and around the plant so that the plant is only a very little below the surface of the soil.

After potting, give a little water to settle the soil. Don’t give more water until the plant begins to grow. Lightly water the plant with a syringe on bright, sunny days. If the potting is done in early summer and the plants are placed outdoors, the water which they receive will be sufficient until growth begins.

Too much water or too rich and heavy soil may cause rotting of the plant at the soil line. This is the most common cause of plant loss among novice gardeners. This problem can only be avoided by watching the plants and soil closely and watering only when the plant becomes dry. When you water, give enough to thoroughly dampen all soil in the pot.

A properly potted cactus or succulent plant will not need shifting for several years, and will do all the better for not having the roots disturbed. If the soil becomes water-logged or starts to grow moss, repot the plant at once. Mealy bugs sometimes attach to the roots of succulents and cactus. As soon as this problem is detected, shake the soil from the roots and thoroughly wash them in clean water, repotting the plant with a clean pot and new, clean soil.

Cactuses are not helped much by fertilizers and high quantities of organic material in the soil. The only exceptions to this rule are older specimens of night-blooming cereus, and the crab cactus (Epiphyllum). Occasional watering with compost tea will benefit these plants.

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