Cactus and Tender Succulents forum: Cactus "mix" - which type is better?

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Name: Darcy
Reno, NV (Zone 6b)
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djinnevada
Apr 1, 2017 1:07 AM CST
I was repotting some new succulents, and the man at the nursery said to use "cactus potting mix", so I bought some. When I got home, I started using the mix I had (can't remember the name, and of course I threw it out already) but it was very light and dry and held pretty much no moisture at all. When I ran out of that one, I started with the new bag (yes, it is "Miracle Grow" but in my defense, it was all they had in the "cactus" arena). Anyway, this new bag seems to hold a lot more moisture, and with such a big difference between the two, I am wondering which would be better for succulents. I'm really new at succulents, and would hate to kill them before they ever got a fair chance!
Name: Steve Claggett
Portland Orygun (Zone 8a)
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madcratebuilder
Apr 1, 2017 7:59 AM CST
Some brands of "Cactus & Succulent" mix has more peat than others and they tend to hold more water. When they become completely dry it's hard to get them to take in water.

I use "Black Gold" brand C&S mix that I add about 50% perlite to make it a faster draining mix. You can add chicken or turkey grit to increase drainage,

If you Google "Succulent gritty mix" you'll find several recipes for DIY soil mix.
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Spectamur agendo
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Apr 1, 2017 9:11 AM CST

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Changing from one mix to another mid-stream can be problematic for watering. I like to keep all my potted succulents in roughly the same kind of mix (usually the exact same one) so that I know how often to water them. The issue that comes up when you use radically different mixes from one pot to the next is that one will consistently go dry before the other one, and unless the plant in it has a preference for extra dry conditions, it will suffer on a regular basis. So perhaps more important than what brand or type of potting mix you use is whether you are consistent about it.

My own preferred mix is 25% potting soil (mostly compost), 25% cocofiber (coir, a more eco-friendly alternative to peat), and 50% pumice. If the mix you bought already comes with a lot of rock in it, you can cut back on how much you add. Each ingredient serves a purpose. The compost will gradually turn to dust as it breaks down in the pot and releases its nutrients. Within a year it's mostly gone. The cocofiber lasts a really long time in comparison, and has fantastic water absorbing abilities. The pumice makes sure that water exits the container in a regular and orderly fashion.

More important than the actual mix you use (per se) is how it performs when you water. You can make almost anything work if you are able to understand through experience how it wets and dries, specifically the time frame involved. The ideal substrate for most succulents wets thoroughly and well when you water (good water-absorbing fiber in there) and then dries out relatively quickly, compared to a purely organic mix. When in doubt a gritty mix is best (not a lot of very small particles) because it leaves a lot of air in and around the roots, and tends to compact less dramatically over time.
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Apr 1, 2017 9:15 AM (+)]
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Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Apr 1, 2017 9:54 AM CST
I use Miracle Gro Cactus, Palm and Citrus soil for my cactus and succulents. I like it because it can go bone dry and when I water, it absorbs moisture. A lot of potting soil won't absorb moisture after it gets too dry without 'working' it. But... I mix perlite into it - the amount depends upon the plant.
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Name: Darcy
Reno, NV (Zone 6b)
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djinnevada
Apr 1, 2017 12:06 PM CST
Thanks all! I guess I'll be re-re-potting this weekend!
Name: Steve Claggett
Portland Orygun (Zone 8a)
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madcratebuilder
Apr 2, 2017 8:37 AM CST
Baja made a very important point imho.

" The ideal substrate for most succulents wets thoroughly and well when you water (good water-absorbing fiber in there) and then dries out relatively quickly, compared to a purely organic mix."

Follow this and you'll be fine.
Spectamur agendo
Name: James
Tucson, Arizona (Zone 9b)
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jamesicus
Apr 2, 2017 11:35 AM CST
Much of my approach in growing arid land plants is based on that espoused by Dr. Franz Buxbaum in his book CACTUS CULTURE BASED ON BIOLOGY (translated by Vera Higgins), Blandford Press, 1958. He was a pioneer in the use of mineral rich coarse textured growing media to insure superior drainage and root aeration -- acidifying water and soil by testing and modifying the pH -- using complete, balanced fertilizers incorporating micronutrients -- and using non-porous pots in order to maintain healthy root systems.

It is important that you follow your own path in cultivating your plants based on your own physical capabilities, the requirements of the plants that you grow, your growing environment, your climate, and the type of containers you use.

Soil mix:
I have always experimented with soil mixes -- I think I have used about every one that has been devised during my growing lifetime -- and I have found all those that were of coarse and gritty texture, thus providing excellent drainage and root aeration, consistently produced healthy and robust plants.

My current soil mix consists of 80% Bach's Cactus Nursery mix plus 20% raw pumice (+/- ΒΌ"/6.35mm).

Dan Bach's Cactus Nursery mix:

60% screened coarse and uniform (3/8"/9.53mm) horticultural pumice
20% high quality Canadian sphagnum peat moss
20% well composted shredded pine tree forest bark


Thumb of 2017-04-02/jamesicus/be95eb
Cactus growing in above mix showing root system


I think any commercial high quality bagged potting soil (low in peat) mixed equal parts with a porous ceramic (fired clay) soil conditioner such as Turface - or coarse perlite - will work just fine.

James
[Last edited by jamesicus - Apr 2, 2017 12:04 PM (+)]
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Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Region: Arizona Cactus and Succulents Greenhouse Sempervivums Bromeliad
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plantmanager
Apr 2, 2017 1:11 PM CST
I have usually used the Miracle Grow cactus mix with more perlite added. I will try the Bach's mix. Thanks for posting it, James.
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Name: Bob
The Kau Desert, Hawaii (Zone 12a)
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OrchidBob
Apr 2, 2017 1:14 PM CST
Drainage is the key and coarse materials are the answer.
Whether it is Turface, coarse Pearlite, or lava rock 'cinders' (pumice)
At least half of your mix should be a coarse materiel for good drainage and air.
Then like Baja says: 25% potting soil (no peat or other additives)
and 25% cocofiber (coir and coconut chips).
The coconut wets much easier than peat and retains moisture in the pot.
Trace minerals added to the mix helps to grow strong plants.

Always use the same mix for all your plants
and your watering schedules will make more sense.
Water twice. First one starts the wetting process
and the second one ensures full wetting of the entire root mass.
Or water from below, which is best but labor intensive.
Name: James
Tucson, Arizona (Zone 9b)
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jamesicus
Apr 2, 2017 1:32 PM CST
plantmanager said:I have usually used the Miracle Grow cactus mix with more perlite added. I will try the Bach's mix. Thanks for posting it, James.

If you are adventuresome, Karen, you might try this:

Cultivating Cacti semi-hydroponically using drain to waste methodology

James
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
Always count your blessings in life
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tarev
Apr 3, 2017 2:43 PM CST
For my use, I stay away from Miracle Gro cactus mix, it is not good in my area when the cold rainy season is around, seems to hold too much moisture. I much prefer Black Gold or Supersoil Palm and Cactus soil. Then I always add more pumice and perlite. If I have kanuma and akadama, I add it as well. I have learned to use top dressing of chicken grit (insoluble crushed granite) which my succulents loves as well.
Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Region: Arizona Cactus and Succulents Greenhouse Sempervivums Bromeliad
Adeniums Garden Ideas: Level 1 Tropicals Xeriscape Garden Art Plumerias
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plantmanager
Apr 3, 2017 5:04 PM CST
I can't make that link work, James. Does it work for others?
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Name: Deborah
midstate South Carolina (Zone 8a)
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!
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Deebie
Apr 3, 2017 5:10 PM CST
Yes, it worked for me last night. When I went there, I thought to myself, this website looks strangely familiar. The NGA member's name was James. And then I came back to this thread and saw the poster. D'Oh! D'Oh! Welcome! back James. Hurray! Hurray! I've missed seeing your posts, and wondered how you were doing. Did you move to Florida recently?
Name: James
Tucson, Arizona (Zone 9b)
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jamesicus
Apr 3, 2017 5:18 PM CST
plantmanager said:I can't make that link work, James. Does it work for others?

It is working OK for me Karen.

James

Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Region: Arizona Cactus and Succulents Greenhouse Sempervivums Bromeliad
Adeniums Garden Ideas: Level 1 Tropicals Xeriscape Garden Art Plumerias
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plantmanager
Apr 3, 2017 5:19 PM CST
I tried again, and it did work, James. Thanks. It looks like it would be a good way to experiment.
Handcrafted Coastal Inspired Art SeaMosaics!
Name: James
Tucson, Arizona (Zone 9b)
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jamesicus
Apr 3, 2017 5:24 PM CST
Deebie said:Yes, it worked for me last night. When I went there, I thought to myself, this website looks strangely familiar. The NGA member's name was James. And then I came back to this thread and saw the poster. D'Oh! D'Oh! Welcome! back James. Hurray! Hurray! I've missed seeing your posts, and wondered how you were doing. Did you move to Florida recently?

Thank you Deebie -- I am doing pretty good these days -- I didn't move to Florida -- still here in Tucson, alive and kicking!

James
Name: Deborah
midstate South Carolina (Zone 8a)
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!
Charter ATP Member Amaryllis Region: United States of America Tropicals Seed Starter Plumerias
Plant and/or Seed Trader Peonies Lilies Irises Hummingbirder Echinacea
Deebie
Apr 3, 2017 5:30 PM CST
That's great to hear. Thumbs up
Name: Darcy
Reno, NV (Zone 6b)
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djinnevada
Apr 4, 2017 5:34 PM CST
For the additives (not pearlite or sphagnum peat moss - I found those) like the pumice and chicken grit and cocofiber etc. ... where do you get those? Do they come in small amounts (I only have about 4 little pots on the windowsill) or are we talking a huge bag?
Name: tarev
San Joaquin County, CA (Zone 9b)
Always count your blessings in life
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tarev
Apr 4, 2017 5:43 PM CST
I get my chicken grit from our local Ace hardware, the one I find is packed by Manna and the label on the bag is Poultry grit, just be sure it is insoluble crushed granite; pumice from some small nurseries. Both in bags. Or u can get them too thru Amazon.
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
Apr 4, 2017 6:01 PM CST

Moderator

The cocofiber (coir) I buy comes in a 10 pound brick of compressed dry product, which I break apart and re-wet for use. It's supposed to make something like 17 gallons of moist fiber but is much more compact in the dry pressed form.

There are different grades sold for different purposes. I would avoid any very fine, dust-like ground coir and the extra-large, super chunky grade which is sold for use as mulch. If the product is sold for horticultural use then it should be labeled as such, which means it is well-rinsed and salt-free. Avoid any kind of coir that is not labeled this way as it may contain salt and need extra rinsing.

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