Cactus and Succulents forum→Soil for cacti and other succulents

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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Jun 19, 2020 5:55 PM CST

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The purpose of this thread is to share soil mixes for containers and discuss the ingredients that make them work. Various people have asked the same questions in separate threads, so I was hoping we might consolidate the best answers in one place. I would like to ask everyone to please stay on topic so this can be the most useful resource.

Please tell us what soil you use for your succulents, and what you would recommend to others. It would be ideal if long-time growers spoke up, because you have the years and experience to know what really works. I would like to make this thread a sticky so that it can be consulted by other folks who may be new to the forum.

My preferred mix at the moment is 50% pumice, 25% cocofiber, 25% bagged generic potting soil (mostly compost). The pumice is screened to a range of about 0.1-0.25 inches, and all three ingredients are moist when I mix them.

Thumb of 2020-06-20/Baja_Costero/d8698c

I grow a pretty wide range of cacti and succulents including lots of aloes, agaves, Euphorbias, Dudleyas, Echeverias, and Aeoniums. Our climate is mild and dry (10 inches of rainfall), with most of the rain coming during winter. I use this soil for both indoor and outdoor plants, and only a small fraction of them are in unglazed clay pots.

For new growers I would recommend any decent potting soil mixed with an equal volume of pumice, perlite, or gritty equivalent (eg. screened river sand or lava rock, not fine sand). The products on the market which are sold as "cactus and succulent soil" may represent an improvement over regular potting soil as a standalone product (and I have used them successfully in the past), but virtually all of them (with a few exceptions) would benefit from some rock added to a final amount of about 50% inorganic. You may need more inorganic in the mix if your plants experience regular rainfall, or if they are particularly susceptible to rot.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Jun 20, 2020 12:57 PM (+)]
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Jun 19, 2020 7:20 PM CST
I use Miracle Gro Cactus Palm and Citrus Potting Soil but, not stand alone. The fact that palms and citrus would do well in this soil tells me it needs a little "fluff". My fluff of choice is perlite because its cheap and readily available. I grow my cactus mostly indoors and this mix works perfectly for me. But, I will admit, I am not a good plant Mom. My succulents and cactus have to survive on neglect.

My Miracle Gro to perlite ratio depends upon what I'm planting. If its a palm or citrus, as is. But most succulents (Jades, Echeverias, Aeoniums, Aloes... ) about 1/4 to 1/3 perlite. If its a cactus, it may be up to 1/2 perlite. I have an old Euphorbia I was warned not to overwater so, I planted it in about 3/4 perlite and 1/4 cactus soil (Hey, I was worried!). It now fills a 15 inch pot.

If you choose to mix your own, remember, the cactus/succulent is not going to look at the price tag or how much time/effort you put into making the perfect soil mix. They just don't care.

No matter what you choose to use to plant your cactus and succulents, the important part is it be free draining and fast drying. I don't think there is a 'right' answer. If you have ever been to the desert to see where most of these plants live, you would realize they are survivors. Its not your crappy soil mix that's going to kill them. But your perfect soil mix won't save them either.

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

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Name: Bob
The Kau Desert, Hawaii (Zone 12a)
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OrchidBob
Jun 20, 2020 3:46 AM CST
Like Baja I like to use coconut "coir" instead of peat moss.
Peat moss repels water when totally dry.
Coir moistens easily, it attracts water like a magnet.
Peat moss is the source for green moss growing on the top of older plantings.
Peat moss requires hundreds of years to grow in bogs and is disappearing from the planet.
Coir is renewable. Coconuts grow throughout the tropics and are a major food crop.
All parts of the coconut tree are useable.
My base mix is 50% cinders. (porous lava rock)
25% coconut (small coco chips and coir)
25% plain potting soil ( not the fancy stuff with added fertilizer and wetting agents). Just inexpensive bagged potting soil.
For slow release minerals I add dolomite, Lonfosco, green sand and charcoal/ash.
For my cactus I add 30% pearlite to my basic mix.
Whatever mix you use you should plan on re-potting every three years or so.
Name: Stefan
SE europe(balkans) (Zone 6b)
Cactus and Succulents Orchids Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Procrastinator Bulbs Foliage Fan
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skopjecollection
Jun 20, 2020 5:27 AM CST
Well. Most of you have seen my mix.
Ill repost,
Variant A
Thumb of 2020-06-20/skopjecollection/0dfd13

Variant B
Thumb of 2020-06-20/skopjecollection/656e8b
They are based on gravel. Always, at least 40% of the potting media has to be gravel. I prefer it to be rough, but its not always the case.
The second ingredient I use is either peat, or humus(depending on what is available). Peat is the less dense of the 2 , so its upper limit is about 30-35% of the volume. If its humus(black top soil potted in bags), it ranges around 20% . Most of the soil im currently using has also sifted sand in it(larger particles, but nothing exceptionally large).
As an intermediate/additive, I add(and have added) perlite, baked clay, baked cat litter, crushed brick and etc. Sometime leca balls as topping, or additive if the plant is large.
That being said, plants are generally variable in their demands, so aloes and most crassulaceae are lenient towards more organic soils, thus have less gravel and more soil.
Epiphytic plants(cacti, hoyas, ceropegias, ) as well as orchids, tropicals( yuccas, dracaenas, plumeria), have also orchid bark added in their soils, to a varying degree. Same goes for the few bulbous plants ive own(but its yet to be fully tested).
[Last edited by skopjecollection - Jun 20, 2020 7:37 AM (+)]
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Name: Thijs van Soest
Tempe, AZ (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Enjoys or suffers hot summers Cactus and Succulents Xeriscape Adeniums Hybridizer
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mcvansoest
Jun 20, 2020 1:16 PM CST
My soil mix is pretty simple:

any cheap and bulk cactus soil (though I have used bags of Miracle Grow) mixed at home with pumice in 30-50-70 splits depending on what I think I know about the water sensitiveness of the plant.

I agree with the ~3 year rule on refreshing the soil generally by then (though a little dependent on the original starting soil/pumice fraction) the 'soil' has become ~90% pumice with some harder to break down components left from the cactus soil portion.

Plant growth can be fast enough that a plant has to be potted up before the 3 year period is up and obviously then I refresh the soil as well.

Recently my mixes have been more 70:30 cactus soil/pumice because at greater pumice fractions the soil dries out so fast when the weather is hot (which it is a lot here) that I need to water more than once a week, which I am trying to avoid just because of the time it takes to water all my plants potted or otherwise.
It is what it is!
Name: Connor
Boerne, TX
Smotzer
Jun 20, 2020 4:48 PM CST
Hey Baja, great idea with this thread!

So over a course of about 10yrs I have kinda figured out what works for me. Background I worked at a bonsai studio for 4-5 years as an apprentice when I was young and that weighed heavily on how I prefer to grow in relating to soil. I have grown everything from trees to caudiciforms and succulents in 100% stone aggregate and had amazing results but daily attention required.

This works very well for me but may. It for all, but this mix allows me to push growth a little faster through very regular fertilization and watering. The theory behind this is that if the soil drains extremely fast I can fertilize just about every time I water which may be a few times a week, without any excess build up happening by being tightly attached to organic matter that holds nutrients much better than my mix which is mostly aggregate. I've never had any fertilizer related problems in this mix!!

This mix is also so fast draining that I almost never have problems with root rot happening during the dormant months. So even if they get a little bit of water while they are shut down the soil doesn't stay wet for long and they don't develop any fungal issues.

I'll give My standard for succulents, cacti, and caudiciforms is about only 25% organics, this is just a jumping off point because depending on what particular species I am growing this 25% org. might go down lower, and sometimes be 0%.
the org. used to be filled up by pro-mix, I think BX formula, which was composed of peat and also perlite so technically probably less than 25% organic material. Now I am using peat and pre mixing some perlite in now that I don't have the discount of the greenhouse for pro-mix, which is crazy expensive for a bale (never realized cause I had a discount lol)

The next component is about 50% aggregate. If I am not low I will use 75% and skip the third part. So the aggregate component over the years has varied with what I currently had free up. But this for a very long time was straight lava rock in general medium particle size sometimes small, which is hard to come by, I had some imported.
If I'm low on that which currently I am I will use my bonsai soil, which is 25% lava, of mixed particle sizes.

The next part is about an additional 25% perlite or pumice, whatever I currently have,sifted to a medium and large particle size. I also prewash all my perlite and pumice when I get it in to remove all the insane amount of broken down perlite and dust (hate that stuff) This is an important step if you don't wash all the dust and stuff out of the perlite or pumice then it will clog up pore spaces in the soil and won't drain as fast. Which negates the purpose of using it if you don't wash it.

So I do want to add with this mix you will have to water more, and fertilize more often. But for me this is a huge bonus, not a downside like it may sound.

I use this same mix for starting seeds and extremely rarely have any problems with damping off or other related fungal issues with seedling failure. Huge plus!!

I wish I had photos of my mix but I never take photos of it, I'm still fairly new here and new to sharing my "secret" mix, and I usually only make enough to use each time.

75% aggregate mixes are also highly reusable you just have to sift it back out every time you repot, and wash it again.. Some breaks down a little bit but not enough to throw away.

One other big advantage to a mostly aggregate mix is the amazing root development you get. I've experimented with this root development compared to other mixes and it's always better. Roots in this mix love the extra air filing up the pore spaces.

And no fungal or soil related diseases with this mix! At least not yet.

Then once repotted I top dress everything in aggregate. This seems to also stop the perlite from raising up in the soil as much.

Sorry for the very lengthy response but I want to share what I have had amazing results growing in. I have never found a downside to growing in mostly stone aggregate, actually quite the opposite, everything about it is a plus in my books. If any one has any questions please feels free to ask me and I will answer everything I can.
[Last edited by Smotzer - Jun 20, 2020 4:50 PM (+)]
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Name: Steve
Stoke-on-Trent, UK
Region: United Kingdom Deer Birds Sedums Irises Lilies
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ketsui73
Jun 22, 2020 4:49 PM CST
Great idea for thread. Should make a great reference tool Thumbs up
i want to start off by saying i am not really a long time grower. i have been into succulents for less than 3 years. So you better take my expertise with a "pinch of soil" Green Grin! (terrible Sticking tongue out )
I think the mix i use is a consequence of where I live. I should explain a little about the weather here
Lets start off with temperatures 15 degrees average and a max of 20 degrees in the hottest month
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/5a7114

What about rainfall
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/08f036
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So it rains.. a lot...

sunshine? - nearly 6 hrs a day at best
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/99ac81

lets compare that to LA, so that more sun in the worse month compared to my best, nearly double the sunshine hrs in the summer
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/0c2071

What this all adds up to is an environment that is less than ideal . zero chance of outside growing, so my plants end up behind some form of glass most of the time, which cuts back my light intensity even further

my mix therefore is intentionally gritty / fast draining as after a watering (even at the best of times) i can quickly lose the light levels that promote good growth and the plants can sort of 'switch off' and the roots can rot or be compromised

like others have said, I don't think these plants are very demanding from a substrate point of view ( they just cannot do cold and wet)

My mix is an off the shelf cactus soil called 'cactus focus' https://www.amazon.co.uk/CACTU...

I mix this with 20-30% perlite until it looks like this
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/e21aeb
actually that pic is probably less perlite than i would typically add (as i have just added a bag of soil)

I then mix this off 50-50 with a gravel
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/bb90f4

90% of my plants go in clay pots because they are porous and dry out faster i. I am always buying them Smiling
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/6804fe

i put a mesh at the bottom of each pot to try to prevent soil loss (there isnt much there anyway right!)
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/1ab4ea
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/421e47

I always top off my plants with another gravel. Right now i am using a sand coloured one most of the time
Thumb of 2020-06-22/ketsui73/349e4b

I do try to fertilise a little more than recommended to compensate for the low nutrients in my mix. I am starting to think i might also need to repot every few years as well.

Thats about it. I don't want my post to sound too negative , I think we all have different environmental challenges. I am never short of rainwater for instance Smiling
I just wanted to make the rather obvious point that the soil that works for you might well be being influenced by the local weather.

As is watering ...buts that's other sticky topic Smiling

My plants look OK to me most of the time
https://garden.org/plants/brow...

I do get the occasional random 'rot out' and periods where the plants just don't want to seem to root or grow. I just have to wait it out Smiling
Steve



[Last edited by ketsui73 - Jun 23, 2020 3:08 AM (+)]
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Southwest U.S. (Zone 7a)
MsDoe
Jun 25, 2020 11:10 AM CST
A long time ago I read a lengthy article about container plant soil and perched water that was a great eye-opener for me. I can no longer locate the article, but the bottom line was a succulent soil called "Al's Gritty Mix".
Al, are you out there? Thanks for the information, it has really improved my container plants, especially cactus and succulents. I'd like to re-read the article, is there someplace I could find it?
Does anyone use that mix, or have any comments on it?
Thanks, great topic!
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Jun 25, 2020 5:43 PM CST
Is this it?
https://oregonstate.edu/dept/n....
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

President: Orchid Society of Northern Nevada
Webmaster: osnnv.org
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
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Baja_Costero
Jun 25, 2020 6:53 PM CST

Moderator

Al Tapla is not a participating member of garden.org as far as I know.
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
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Baja_Costero
Jun 26, 2020 6:25 PM CST

Moderator

I stand corrected... @tapla would you care to comment?
Houston, TX zone 9a
Peppers Cactus and Succulents Roses Adeniums Cat Lover
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Willinator
Jul 13, 2020 8:43 PM CST
I must definitely get some volcanic rock to add to my mix. So I need to find a source for pumice and perhaps mix into the soil some pea gravel
Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Name: TK
Ontario, Canada (Zone 6b)
Cactus and Succulents Sempervivums Bromeliad Tropicals Aroids Sedums
Container Gardener
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Macrocentra
Jul 23, 2020 11:52 AM CST
The majority of my plants are grown indoors due to my climate: cold most of the year, short growing season, loooots of heavy rain.

My current combination is 50% Fafard Cactus/Succulent soil*, and 50% perlite. My plants seem happy with the Fafard as a base soil. Only downside I have with it, is it takes a while for water to sink into it thoroughly, but once it goes through, I find it dries faster than some past soils I've used. As a reference, the Fafard is a mix of sphagnum peat moss, humus, sand, perlite and some lime.

*Side note: I wouldn't recommend using the Fafard on it's own. It's finer in texture and I'd be worried about it compacting. Definitely mix a gritty material into it!

All my succulent plants are in unglazed terra cotta pots with drainage (only exception being my larger outdoor mangaves, and a few cactuses that came in plastic pots when purchased and haven't needed a repot yet).

Most of my plants are in this combination, though I have a few that are a bit different. For example, I have a bowl of Graptopetalum paraguayense, and a bowl of mixed Sedums that I potted with the intention of keeping them outdoors as much as possible. I increased the quantity of perlite for these ones because as previously stated, I get a lot of heavy storms, and I wanted them to be able to drain and dry out faster. So far they've been happy.
I have some cactuses outdoors that are in the 50/50 mix currently, but I intend to increase the perlite content when they're repotted next (I have to bring those ones inside once in a while when the storms persist for several days).

I do have a couple exceptions where I went with slightly less perlite as well. I did this for my plants that like a bit more water than the rest of my succulents.

I use perlite as my inorganic component simply due to availability. I can always find perlite, but options like lava rock have been near impossible to find in my area. I found it once recently, and it was selling for $10 for a bag the size of a standard sandwich bag. Which is not cost effective when you have around 200 plants. Blinking
Arizona (Zone 10a)
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Idontknowwhatimdoing
Aug 2, 2020 5:27 PM CST
My cheap college student mix- standard potting soil, and plenty of gravel and pumice I found outside my apartment building. My succulents have been doing well for two years!
Port Chester, ny
kwpcreative72
Aug 4, 2020 2:52 PM CST
I'm confused about what I should be doing for my succulents. I used Miracle Grow cactus for a long time with success. But I wanted to try something different and put together Al's gritty mix. Gritty mix assumes you're going to be vigilant with fertilizing and watering very frequently. I'm not that type of person. Because of that, I think my plants aren't doing as well as they could. Gritty mix is pine bark, crushed granite, and calcined clay. If I mix that with coco coir and worm castings, do you think that would work?
Name: Thijs van Soest
Tempe, AZ (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Enjoys or suffers hot summers Cactus and Succulents Xeriscape Adeniums Hybridizer
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mcvansoest
Aug 4, 2020 4:17 PM CST
I am sure people can give you advice on that soil composition - I cannot because I do not use any of those components, but what I do not understand is why when you were having success with the simple cactus soil you felt the need to change things.

If it ain't broke...

It is what it is!
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
Cactus and Succulents Seed Starter Foliage Fan Xeriscape Container Gardener Hummingbirder
Native Plants and Wildflowers Garden Photography Region: Mexico Plant Identifier Forum moderator Plant Database Moderator
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Baja_Costero
Aug 4, 2020 5:28 PM CST

Moderator

The cocofiber will absorb a lot of water but it does not supply nutrients as the fibers are very long lasting. I use cocofiber in my mix at 25% of the total. I do like the way it performs, especially the lifespan.

I have no experience with worm castings but they should be helpful. Some people like to put slow release fertilizer granules in the soil. These ways of supplying nutrients are not going to last forever. If you're dead set against watering with nutrients, and still want to go soilless, then you might have to repot periodically to refresh the nutrient component of the soil.
Houston, TX zone 9a
Peppers Cactus and Succulents Roses Adeniums Cat Lover
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Willinator
Aug 4, 2020 8:32 PM CST
I am now considering repotting a bunch of my newer succulents using my mix of a cactus soil with additional perlite and pumice and maybe some
sand to add grit and I might add some worm castings to the mix too. I have about 6 newer succulents that I will probably repot.
Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Name: tropicofcancer
SW-PA (Zone 6b)
tropicofcancer
Aug 5, 2020 2:13 PM CST
MsDoe said: A long time ago I read a lengthy article about container plant soil and perched water that was a great eye-opener for me. I can no longer locate the article, but the bottom line was a succulent soil called "Al's Gritty Mix".
Al, are you out there? Thanks for the information, it has really improved my container plants, especially cactus and succulents. I'd like to re-read the article, is there someplace I could find it?
Does anyone use that mix, or have any comments on it?
Thanks, great topic!


I have known Al/tapla for over 10 years through another garden forum that is quite popular. I am a regular user of his famous Gritty Mix and his other bark based 511 mix. He has recently been active on this site again and I joined recently too. He has posted some of his very detailed articles on soil mixes, properties here too. I guess over time you will see more from him. I have learned an immense amount from him.

I do grow a bunch of succulents in the gritty mix. It is composed of granite grit (actually chicken grit grower size between 1/16 and 3/16 in size), turface (1/16 to 1/4) and pine bark (1/8-1/4). To do this epsom salt and gypsum is added at 1tbsp each per gallon to provide the initial Ca and Mg. This is the basic mix.
The mix is designed to provide ample air space, decent water retention and near zero perched water. In fact all bonsai mixes are designed based on the same criteria. The thing to note is that all bonsai mixes are designed to maximize the potential of the plant to grow robustly and healthy. And that may as well entail frequent watering and fertilizing. Growers convenience or inconvenience is secondary.
The ingredients changes from region to region and specific adaptation to a plant species. For most of US these three are easy to find but one also make use of lava rock, pumice, haydite, etc if they are cheaper and more readily available.
I use this mix for many different types of plants from junipers, maples, elms, azaleas, etc to tropicals like succulents, cacti, ficus, bougainvillea, serissa, and even citrus, plumeria, etc. I do adjust the ratios a bit depending on their water needs. It is a versatile mix but does require one to be on top of watering and fertilizing.
The mix is quite adjustable. For some succulents I use 2/3grit and 1/3 turface to reduce water retention. Similarly one can increase water retention by changing the grit to turface ratio.
Name: Thijs van Soest
Tempe, AZ (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Enjoys or suffers hot summers Cactus and Succulents Xeriscape Adeniums Hybridizer
Plant Identifier Plant and/or Seed Trader Cat Lover Dog Lover Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge)
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mcvansoest
Aug 17, 2020 9:13 PM CST
You are correct that most nurseries sell something called along the lines of cactus and/or succulent mix etc...

Most of us find that even that soil tends to be on the rich side and can stay wet longer than desired unless it is amended with something along the lines of pumice, which tends to be a component of these premade soils, but since it is relatively expensive it is rarely added in large enough proportions to be truly useful.

Due to the quarantine I have had to get some of the more expensive cactus and succulent soils because I also needed to get pumice at the same time and the Big Box stores here do not sell pumice, so I did a curbside pickup at my local nursery and this more expensive soil is definitely better, not sure if it was $21 vs. $6 better, but I did not feel the need to add 40-50% pumice, I only added maybe 20-30%, so at least the pumice I got now can be used to amend more soil...
It is what it is!

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