Succulents are a group of plants with fleshy leaves, stems, or roots designed to store water that allows them to survive periods of drought. Whether your succulents grow in containers on a patio, as groundcovers between the pavers in a garden path, or as colorful accents in a garden bed, they need a growing medium suited to their capacity for retaining water.
Although succulents retain moisture well, they still need moderate to regular watering, at least once a week or a deep soaking every few weeks during the growing season. But too much water will cause the roots to develop black stem rot, so the trick is finding a growing medium that drains quickly and dries out completely between watering. Succulents do best with soil typically considered poor, filled with inorganic elements instead of one rich in organic material.
Organic and Inorganic Elements
Despite their need for well-draining soil, succulents need some nutrients that organic elements provide. Some gardeners recommend a mix of 1 part garden soil, 1 part sand, and 1 part peat moss or a mixture of 1 part potting soil and 1 part perlite. Other gardeners avoid potting mixes containing peat, remove any wood and twigs from the mix and add a coarse, gritty type of sand to potting soil.
Testing the Soil
Using sand, pumice, decomposed granite, or perlite as the inorganic element in your succulent growing medium is less important than ensuring the soil crumbles easily and lets water flow quickly through. If your soil falls apart after you wet and squeezes it, it has the right components. However, if it remains formed into a lump, it needs more inorganic elements added.
Other Growing Medium Needs
The best soil for succulents is slightly acidic with a high lime content. If a soil test kit determines that your soil is highly acidic, your plants will benefit from some horticultural lime added to the soil. If your soil is overly alkaline, change the balance by watering with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar added to 5 gallons of water. Top off your growing medium with a layer of gravel or small river rock to keep the tops of the plants dry.
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