Different plants have different needs. These range from sunlight, water, and temperature, to the soil they grow best in and fertilizer needs. When you grow plants directly in the ground, you will often find that certain plants need specific amendments. When you grow plants in containers or raised beds, you can choose suitable commercial potting soil or potting mix off the shelf.
In a natural environment, most cacti grow best in well-drained sandy soil, but they are certainly not the only plants to thrive in these conditions. Succulents thrive in the same kind of sandy soil, as do many water-wise plants. There are also shrubs, bulbs, root crops, and vegetables that grow well in sandy soil.
What is in cactus soil?
When we talk about cactus soil, it is generally soil that we use when we grow cactus plants in pots and other containers. Regular potting soil retains moisture, while the soil cactus thrive in drains quickly.
You will find the commercially prepared cactus mix at garden centers and plant nurseries. While they don’t all follow the same recipe, the end result has the desired effect.
Deborah L. Brown from the University of Minnesota Extension has a sensible and very obvious approach. Because most cacti and succulents grow in well-drained sandy soil, all you need to do is duplicate these conditions indoors.
She recommends mixing equal quantities of regular potting soil with coarse sand.
To test whether it is sufficiently porous, moisten the mixture and squeeze it in your hand. When you release your grip, the soil mix should fall apart.
She also advises that the pots and growing medium should be sterile. Additionally, make sure there are lots of drainage holes to prevent water from getting trapped in the soil, very quickly causing rot and decay.
But, when people make special cactus potting soil mix, they often use additional ingredients including gravel or grit instead of sand, plus perlite or pumice. A cactus succulent mix that works well is made with 3 parts of regular potting soil and the same quantity of sand, gravel, or grit, to which you add 2 parts of very light perlite or pumice.
When growers specialize in different cactus species, they often have their own special mixes. For example, desert cacti and tropical succulents might thrive in relatively different soil conditions.
Difference between cactus soil from other garden soil
Now here’s an amazing revelation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service, there are more than 20,000 different types of soil in the U.S.
So, what is garden soil? The fact is that every plot of ground has soil with its own blend of organic and inorganic matter plus minerals.
But, for most of us, it’s sufficient to know that there are six main types of garden soil:
There are a few simple tests you can do to try and determine your own garden soil type.
For example, if you pour water on the soil and it drains quickly, it’s likely to be sandy. Water will take a very long time to soak into clay soil.
Different garden soil types feel different too. Sandy soil feels gritty, while peat feels spongy, and clay feels sticky. Loamy and silty soils hold their shape for a while and they have a smooth texture.
Another test is to take a handful of your garden soil, put it into a clear container, add water, and shake well. If it is sandy soil that most cacti like, after 12 hours, the soil will form a layer on the base of the container and the water will be clear.
Peaty soil will make the water a bit cloudy and the soil layer on the bottom will be thin. There will also be lots of particles floating around.
If it is loamy, the water will be clear but the particles will look layered with the finest at the top.
Why not work with the garden soil you’ve got?
The North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook offers some sound advice along with loads of information about soil and plant nutrients. Ultimately, you need to recognize the key characteristics of different garden soil types.
You also need to understand the importance of the organic matter in the soil. But, at the end of the day, they say that the best approach is to select plants that do well in the soil that you have rather than trying to alter and amend the soil you have.
As mentioned in the introduction to this post, when you grow plants in containers or raised beds, you can choose suitable commercial potting soil or potting mix off the shelf. So, if you want to grow cacti and succulents, but don’t have the dry, well-draining soil cactus-like, it’s not too much of a problem.
If you find you need to amend your garden soil for plants other than cacti, adding peat (not peat moss), compost, or any other organic matter may be all you need to do.
What Soil do Regular Plants like?
Most plants like soil that is well-drained but, unlike the soil that cacti prefer, it contains a lot of organic matter. However, there are many potting soil mixes that ironically don’t contain any soil at all.
Soilless mixes, designed specifically for growing potted plants, are generally lightweight and they retain moisture. They also provide lots of air space around the roots of plants.
Can I use cactus mix for regular plants?
You can only use sandy soil and cactus mix for plants that will thrive in this type of soil. Most plants prefer soil that has lots of organic matter mixed into it.
Cactus soil will work for plants that have the same soil needs as cacti. It really is that simple.
The issue is that most plants thrive in rich soils to which compost and other organic matter have been added. Cacti and succulents don’t like this type of soil.