Cactus plants are great since they grow easily and only need little effort and the right conditions.
Light, water, temperature, and good soil are the main elements to consider in order to grow them and help them thrive.
But how can one distinguish good soil from a bad one? And what is the difference between a cactus soil mix and a standard potting soil?
Actually, using a standard potting soil to grow your cactus plants can have a very negative impact on them, as it contains some added nutrients that can affect them badly.
Standard potting soils are also known to retain moisture, which is bad for cactus plants since they need very little water, and this can easily cause them to rot.
The best way to offer your cactus plants the best conditions is to make your own cactus soil mix, this way, you can control their growth and ensure proper drainage in order to avoid any overwatering problems and prevent harming them.
Plus, it is more affordable and super easy to make.
But cactus plants have more than 1750 known species, and each one needs slightly different conditions than the other.
In this article, we are going to focus on how to make the best cactus soil mix for the most popular cactus types, that people often grow on their own: desert cactus, and jungle cactus.
Desert Cactus and Jungle Cactus, What Is The Difference?
First, you need to know the difference between the two types, as it is the main factor that will determine your cactus soil mix ingredients and recipe.
The desert cactus is actually the most common type of cactus plants. And, as its name implies, it grows in deserts and other arid and extremely dry environments, unlike jungle cactus, which is known to grow in rain forests.
They barely look like the desert cactus, and some of them don’t even have spines.
How To Make Your Own Cactus Soil Mix
For Desert Cactus
First of all, and even though it says ‘Desert’ cactus, you want to avoid using sand to grow your cactus plants; desert cactus is known to thrive best in their rocky habitat, with a perfectly draining soil.
The idea is to start with a standard potting soil and add some extra nutrients to it, to ensure good drainage and aeration and help the cactus plants grow more quickly.
For this, you will need:
- Pumice (you can also replace it with perlite or vermiculite)
- Coconut coir
You can buy these ingredients online, at a garden center or a home improvement store.
You have to make sure that you are using a good potting soil.
If you are buying one, make sure that it is light and porous as these are the main qualities your cactus plant needs.
If you chose not to buy it, you probably need to clean it from any wood chips or other impurities.
Now that you have your potting soil base, you are going to add two parts of pumice.
Pumice is an organic soil amendment that is known to be porous and very lightweight.
Its benefits consist of improving your potting soil drainage and aeration and help the cactus plants grow with no difficulties.
If you can’t find pumice, you can always use chicken grit, cat litter as long as it is non-soluble, perlite or vermiculite as they have the same features.
The last step is to add some coconut coir to your cactus soil mix, which is also an organic soil amendment, perfect for growing cactus plants as it is very efficient in holding moisture and helps ensure proper drainage too.
For Jungle Cactus
Unlike desert cactus, jungle cactus plants are actually considered as epiphytes, which means that they take the nutrients and moisture they need to grow from their environment; the water, the rain, and even the air.
Just like desert cactus soil mix, you are going to use a standard potting soil as a base and improve its qualities by adding some extra nutrients.
This time, you are going to need:
- Orchid Bark
The steps are the same as the ones to make the desert cactus soil mix, with only some little changes.
For jungle cactus, you are going to add only 1 part of pumice. And instead of coconut coir, you will replace it with two parts of orchid bark.
Orchid bark is the key for jungle cactus to grow, as the plants will use it to feed themselves and get enough nutrients to grow and thrive.
Consider repotting once the orchid bark breaks down and becomes a part of the soil.
Tips For A Perfect Cactus Soil Mix
Experts have identified more than 50 soil types and more than 20 climatic zones in which cacti live. However, in our practice, you and I do not have to reproduce all soil mixtures for these outlandish plants.
Firstly, this is simply impossible, and secondly, it is absolutely unnecessary, since many generations of cacti grown in our conditions have adapted to them to some extent.
And yet, you cannot completely neglect some of the features of the soil. Here are the most important ones.
Most genera and species of cacti grow in the arid regions of the continent and are not used to the abundance of humus, which contains a large amount of nitrogen.
It inhibits flower buds, but promotes the rapid development of children. As a result, the plant takes on an ugly shape and does not bloom.
Therefore, the soil should be not very greasy and should not contain any non-rotten plant residues.
Our pets do not like stagnation of moisture in the substrate, because this inevitably leads to decay of the roots.
Good water permeability is achieved by introducing a large amount of river sand, gravel, broken red (non-silicate) bricks into the mixture.
If these conditions are not met, the root collar very often rots. And this is death for the plant. That is why among amateur cactus growers you will not find open ground in pots – the root collar sits in a layer of gravel with a diameter of 3-5 mm.
Like most plants, cacti prefer slightly acidic soils (pH 5.5-6.5). With an increase in alkalinity, plants feel bad, and at a pH of more than 8, their roots die off.
To maintain the required acidity, a little peat is added to the soil mixture. But there are cacti that prefer slightly alkaline and neutral mixtures.
These include all white-pubescent mammillaria, cephalocereus, oreocereus, as well as astrophytums, dolichoteles and others.
In contrast, some tropical plants require acidic and highly nutritious soils. These include the well-known zygocactus (Decembrist), as well as aporocactus, selenicereus and other plants.
Therefore, the pH value of the soil must correspond to the specific type of cactus.
These are the three main rules for composing earth mixtures (substrate). The task is difficult at first glance, but it is easily solved as follows.
An earthen mixture is made with a neutral pH value in the amount necessary for all available cacti. Then, for a specific cactus, the necessary additives are added to the portion of the substrate according to a special table.
It is large and covers over a hundred species. It can be purchased at the club or during city flower shows.
Universal composition: garden soil – 2 parts, coarse river sand (1-2 mm) – 2 parts, peat (not briquette) – 0.5 parts, charcoal – 1/8 part. The total volume of the main soil mixture is 4.62 parts.
Remember this figure or K = 4.5. It will be useful to us for the preparation of specific mixtures.
We hope that the information provided above will help you make your own cactus soil mix—one last advice: be careful to water your cactus plants only when the soil dries.
And avoid using any fertilizers unless they are cactus fertilizers; once every three to four months is largely enough!