Cactus Soil vs. Succulent Soil: Which Do You Need?

Written by Nikita Ross
Updated: August 4, 2023
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Cacti and succulents are popular choices for indoor gardeners due to their versatility and low maintenance. Despite being easy to care for, choosing the right soil can make all the difference in how your cacti and succulents grow.

Here’s what you need to know about the differences between cactus and succulent soil to determine which is best for your plants.

Various cacti and succulents in small ceramic pots.

Choosing the right soil can make all the difference in how your cacti and succulents grow.

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Cactus Soil vs. Succulent Soil: Key Differences

Cactus soil and succulent soil are similar but not the same. Both types of soil are known to be well-draining and support plants from warm climates, but there are key differences:

Texture

Cactus soil tends to be grittier and coarser than succulent soil, which is typically finer and more porous. 

Composition

Cactus soil tends to have more inorganic materials and sediment, like perlite or sand. Succulent soil has a higher ratio of organic materials, like compost, coco coir (coconut fiber), and peat.

Water Retention

Cactus soil drains faster than succulent soil, protecting sensitive cactus roots. This feature isn’t ideal for most succulents, as the draining speed doesn’t allow significant time for absorption. 

Cactus Soil vs. Succulent Soil: Are They Interchangeable?

Despite their similarities, cactus soil and succulent soil are not interchangeable. However, many brands of prepackaged soil use the terms interchangeably.

Both cacti and succulents require well-draining soil to prevent root rot. However, cacti are more susceptible to this issue than most succulents.

A cactus will typically survive in succulent soil, though it may not thrive — as long as the pot has suitable drainage holes. Similarly, succulents will likely survive but struggle in cactus soil as the water drains too quickly.

However, both options are better than basic potting soil for either cacti or succulents, which is too porous and unideal for their drought-tolerant nature.

What to Look for in Cactus Soil

Cactus soil should have a healthy blend of soil, sand, and large particulate matter for aeration. Cacti grow in desert environments and require soil that reflects their natural habitat.

Look for soil with a ratio of 3:3:2 of potting soil, coarse sand, and perlite, gravel, or pumice. Some avid gardeners like to work in one part of organic matter, such as mulch or coco coir. 

Cacti need slightly acidic soil, ideally on the higher end of pH 5-7. The soil should also be sterilized to prevent bacterial or fungal growth. Always maintain a clean work area and wash your hands before mixing cactus soil.

A well-draining cactus soil

Cactus soil should have a healthy blend of soil, sand, and large particulate matter for aeration.

©iStock.com/naramit

What to Look for in Succulent Soil

Succulent soil should also be well-draining, with a higher ratio of organic matter than cactus soil. While many succulents come from desert regions, some originate from semi-desert areas with higher amounts of rainfall. 

Look for soil with a ratio of 2:2:1 of potting soil, sand, and particulate matter like perlite, gravel, or pumice. You can also add extra organic matter to this blend.

Succulents also lean toward more acidic soil, thriving in a pH of 4-6.5. The soil should also be sterile to protect the sensitive plant from bacteria and fungi. Maintain a clean work area, and always wash your hands before mixing your own soil blends.

Potting succulents in soil

Succulent soil should be well-draining with a higher ratio of organic matter than cactus soil.

©iStock.com/evgenyb

Can You Mix Cactus and Succulent Soil?

If you’re struggling to balance porosity and drainage, you can mix cactus and succulent soil. Aim for a 1:1 ratio when taking this approach.

It’s always best to research the specific needs of your plant type to ensure that you are providing the right growing conditions.

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About the Author

Nikita Ross is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering plants, gardening, and yard care. Nikita has been writing for over seven years and holds a Marketing diploma from NSCC, which she earned in 2010. A resident of Canada, Nikita enjoys reading in her library, epic beach naps, and waiting for her Coffea arabica plant to produce coffee beans (no luck yet).

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