How to Prepare Soil for Cacti

How To Prepare Soil For Cacti

All plant parents want to provide the optimum conditions for their plant babies to grow into healthy, large plants.

Cacti, unlike many plants, are pretty low-maintenance. They are tough and extremely unfussy. Not to mention, absolutely beautiful.

Because of these reasons, cacti are generally favored extensively as indoor plants. Cacti and succulents have also gained a lot of popularity during the past decade as décor pieces in Scandinavian inspired homes.

But, at the end of the day, cacti are still plants and have some needs. Though they do not demand to be watered every day or have trouble adjusting to humidity levels and sunlight, they do need the right mix of soil to grow properly and stay healthy.

If given the right soil to thrive in, cacti require very little care from you otherwise.

Understanding Cacti

Understanding Cacti

Most of us know that cacti come from the desert. Belonging to the plant family of Cactaceae, the cactus has almost 2000 different species today.

While they hail from the desert, they have adapted to temperatures and conditions of all sorts and are now found all over the world, from the tropical regions of Asia to the icy areas of Northern Europe.

Among the thousands of cacti species, some of the most popular varieties kept as indoor plants are

  • Moon Cactus
  • Bunny Eared Cactus
  • Star Cactus
  • Saguaro Cactus
  • Christmas Cactus
  • Barrel Cactus

Many other types exist and are kept in homes all over the world. Some varieties of cacti flower while others don’t.

Some grow large while others stay comfortable in their little pots all their lives. All of the different species also have unique needs of their own, and their water and light requirements fluctuate specie to specie.

Most cacti hold out for so long without water because they have a water storage system. Their leaves have a waxy coating that prevents water loss from the surface of their leaves.

More importantly, the roots can hold in water for a very long time and are spread out horizontally across the surface to take up even the little bit of moisture they get. Their roots can suck up water quickly and adapt as well by shooting out new roots during the rainy season.

Cacti might look basic, but they have an intricate system of keeping themselves alive despite the conations they are put in. Their resilience makes them even more beautiful!

Why Do Cacti Need Different Soil?

Why Do Cacti Need Different Soil?

Every plant is different. They need different mixes of nutrients, different types of potting soil, and different temperatures and conditions to survive. The same goes for cacti.         

To understand why cacti need different soil, we have to understand what cacti are, where they come from, and how they had adapted to their environments.

Naturally, cacti do not need or are not used to excessive moisture. They have the mechanism to store water naturally inside their bodies, to use as and when needed, and thus can go a long, long time without being watered.

So under watering is really not a problem with cacti. But overwatering can easily and quickly kill them.

To survive in colder, wetter environments, cacti need the right kind of soil to thrive. Soil that allows them to drain excess water quickly, and keep the root aerated.

If the soil is flooded with water for too long, the roots of the cacti rot and die. Thus, the right mix of soil needs to be provided that enables excellent drainage and air circulation.

What Kind Of Soil Do Cacti Need?

The most important characteristic of potting soil to keep in mind for cacti are

  • Well-draining
  • Well aerated

 The soil must not get waterlogged and soggy, or else the cactus will die.

Keeping these characteristics in mind, a special kind of potting soil is formulated exclusively for cacti and succulents known as cacti soil. It is a popular type of potting soil that is recommended to be used in indoor cacti plants.

Cacti soil has the regular sphagnum peat moss as a base but is also littered with generous amounts of course material that is meant to provide aeration. This includes perlite, pumice, poultry grit, or coconut coir.

Some potting mixes also have fine sand in their cacti mix because that is the closest to the kind of soil deserts have, and also, this soil is very well-draining too. Stones work well too, as they allow quick water drainage and lots of are to breathe.

How to Prepare the Soil?

If you are preparing the potting mix for your cacti yourself, you can.

The ingredients are readily available, and you can make your own mix with carrying proportions of each ingredient as long as you are careful and account for the two most important things: Drainage and irrigation.

Cacti do well in gritty, sandy or pebbly soil, mixed with some nutrients and fertilizers. The Ingredients are readily available at your local nurseries and gardens.

Here is a rundown of all the ingredients that you can choose, and what purpose it serves for a cactus if you are learning how to prepare the soil for cacti.

Sphagnum Peat Moss

Sphagnum peat moss is the base of all potting soil. It’s decayed plant and animal matter that has lived in the bog and is then extracted from them.

It is very nutritious for soil, and also is a natural soil conditioner and amender. It is the most abundantly used ingredient in potting mixes of any kind.


Sand is a personal favorite for cacti. Sand is the first home the cacti ancestors have known, and they still seem to love it because of how well the soil drains and how porous it can be.

Soil is mixed into many potting mixes to give them more weight and drainage, but for cacti mixes, the proportions are significantly increased.


Pebbles are another easy to acquire ingredient that you can put in your personal cacti mix. Though it provides no nutritious value to the soil, it does give aeration.

In fact, aerating the soil is the only purpose of pebbles in the cacti mix. Small pebbles can create air pockets in the soil, which allow the cacti root to breathe better.


Perlite is a popular ingredient in many potting mixes. It is essentially a volcanic glass that is mined and heated, so it becomes more rounded.

It is then added to potting mixes of all kinds so it can create better air circulation, lighten the mix, and retain water in quickly draining soil so that even if the soil is dry, the perlite can provide some moisture when needed by the plant’s root.


Limestone is a soft, sedimentary rock that is also added to cacti mixes. Limestone can be beneficial to many plants as it is alkaline in nature and can help neutralize the pH of the very acidic peat moss.

Limestone chunks also help aerate the soil and also provide some precious nutrients for the cacti to enjoy.

Lava rocks, such as pumice

Volcanic rocks such as pumice are formed when lava cools down. It carries many nutrients and minerals that the lava brought up from the ground. These rocks, thus, are rich in micronutrients that can benefit the cactus.

More importantly, they also improve the drainage of soil, much like perlite. Pumice also retains water, so if your cactus is thirsty in between watering, it can drink from the stone. However, too much pumice will make the soil full of moisture, which is not good for cacti roots.

There are many other ingredients that are added to cacti potting soil, but these basics are enough to let your cactus grow healthily.

A well taken care of cactus not only survives but thrives in the ideal conditions. It will gain inches in height, and those that can flower will bloom, making the cactus look all the more beautiful with their colorful blossoms and funky shapes.

Whether they sit on your work desk or your kitchen counter, cacti are precious plants that lush up any space they are introduced to without wanting much in return.

About The Author

Gina Harper grew up dreaming about farms and growing her own food. She began an urban garden to feed herself and turned it into an incredible hobby. Gina is here to teach you everything from raised beds to container gardening, how to keep plants alive and well in a smoggy city, and the works. It’s time that we carve our own piece of green earth and reap what we sow—she’s here to help you with that.