Succulents In The Garden – How To Prepare Outdoor Succulent Soil

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Planting a succulent bed in your garden outside is a tricky chore in some areas. In some places, careful consideration is necessary about which plants to use, where to locate the garden, and how to protect the plants from the elements. One thing you can (and should) do first is to gather the proper ingredients and prepare the soil for succulents in the garden.

Succulent Soil Needs Outdoors

Outdoor succulent soil needs vary from area to area, but the best plant performance comes from soil with amended drainage. Learning how to prepare the soil for a succulent garden depends on how much moisture your climate gets and protecting succulent roots. Keeping roots dry is your goal, so whatever works best in your area is the best soil for your succulent garden.

You can use the soil you’ve dug from your garden bed as a base for outdoor succulent soil, then add amendments. Succulents in the garden do not need a fertile soil; in fact, they prefer lean ground without an abundance of nutrients. Remove rocks, sticks, and other debris. You may also purchase topsoil to use in the mix. Get the kind without fertilizer, additives, or moisture retention – just plain soil.

How to Prepare Soil for a Succulent Garden

As much as three-fourths of your soil for succulents in the garden can be amendments. Some tests are currently using pumice alone with good results, but this is in the Philippines, and daily watering is needed. Those of us in less perfect climates may need to experiment.

Coarse sand is often used, along with coconut coir, pumice, perlite, and Turface (a volcanic product sold as a soil conditioner). When using Turface for this project, get the medium sized pebbles. Expanded shale is used to amend soil for outdoor succulent beds.

And, an interesting product called Dry Stall Horse Bedding includes pumice. Some use this straight into the ground when preparing a succulent garden bed. Don’t confuse this with another product called Stall Dry.

River rock is sometimes combined into the soil but is more often used as a top dressing or ornamentation in your outdoor beds. Horticultural grit or some variation is used as an amendment or mulch, as is aquarium gravel.

When preparing a succulent garden bed, consider the layout and have a plan, but be flexible when you begin planting. Some sources recommend preparing the soil three inches (8 cm.) deep, but others say at least six inches to eight inches (15-20 cm.) down is necessary. The deeper, the better when adding the outdoor succulent soil to your bed.

Make slopes and hills in which to plant some specimens. Elevated planting gives your garden bed an unusual appearance and has the added benefit of further elevating the roots of your succulents and cacti.

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Read more about General Cactus Care

Key Succulent Soil Factors

Organic versus Mineral

Soil is made up of organic and mineral components. In this context, organic refers to things that were once alive. Minerals, however, are natural, inorganic substances (not derived from living organisms).

For example, tree bark and other plant debris are organic components, but gravel is mineral. Both types are necessary in soil. The organic materials provide nutrients and store water while mineral constituents improve drainage.

The right ratio of organic to mineral material will support growth and prevent rot. It will also allow you to water your succulents deeply, but infrequently. The mineral content can range from 40%-80% by volume depending on environmental conditions and the varieties being grown.

Sempervivum growing in sandy loam with a gravel top dressing

There are a lot of organic and mineral ingredients to choose from, and you can mix multiple types from each category. For organic matter, we recommend pine bark, coconut coir, compost, or potting soil. Good mineral options include coarse sand, perlite, volcanic rock, fine gravel, and chicken grit. Avoid minerals that store water, like vermiculite and non-calcined clays.

Texture and Porosity

The mineral portion of soil is further categorized into "texture types" based on grit size. The three types, from largest to smallest, are sand, silt, and clay. The proportions of each affects how much water a soil can hold and how long it will take to dry. With their large particles and pores, sandy soils dry out faster than clay soils. This is ideal for succulents.

There are simple feel tests and jar tests you can do at home to estimate the texture of your soil. When planting outdoors in the ground, aim for a sandy loam that is 50% to 80% coarse sand or fine gravel. For potted plants, select coarse grit minerals about 1 / 8" to 1 / 4" in diameter. This will ensure rapid drainage and keep your succulents from rotting in soggy soil.

How to Make a Driftwood Succulent Planter

Succulents are some of the decade’s most popular houseplants. Since these adorable plants are typically small enough to group into fun arrangements, more and more people are getting crafty to find new and unique ways to display their succulents. One of our favorite looks is the driftwood succulent planter. Whether you’ve collected some driftwood from Iowa ‘s lakes and rivers or brought some home from a trip to the coast, these planters are a great way to use driftwood as part of your home decor.

The dry and weathered wood is a perfect match for succulents. It’s very similar to the dry, natural surroundings that wild succulents thrive in. With a few supplies and a handsome chunk of driftwood, you can make your own DIY driftwood succulent planter .

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A large piece of driftwood (choose one that has gaps or grooves about ¼” in deep, or that is large enough that you can drill a hole in it to hold some soil)
  • Succulent or cactus soil
  • Sphagnum moss
  • E6000 or floral glue
  • Assortment of succulents
  • Optional: A drill and a Forstner or spade drill bit, or a Dremel with a cutting bit

How to Create a Driftwood Succulent Planter

  1. Clean up your driftwood. If it’s dirty, rinse off any dirt or sand. If you’re worried about bugs in your driftwood, you can bake it in the oven at 250º for 2 hours. If you line a baking tray with parchment paper, it makes cleanup a lot easier when you’ve finished baking the wood.
  2. Once your driftwood is at room temperature again, decide how you want to position it. Usually, its most stable resting position is best if you’re going to use it as a centerpiece or mantel ornament. If you want to hang it, you can choose whatever angle you like best.
  3. If your driftwood does not have any gaps or holes deeper than ¼”, you may need to make the gaps deeper and wider or drill holes with a spade or Forstner drill bit. Don’t drill all the way through, however. The holes for soil only need to be about ¼-½” deep.
  4. Once you’ve decided where you’re going to place your succulents, glue a thin layer of sphagnum moss into the bottom of those spots. This will help to keep the soil in, so it doesn’t wash away as soon as you water your plants.
  5. Then, fill your gaps or holes with a little bit of cactus potting soil. You don’t need much, but enough to give the succulents somewhere to develop a few roots.
  6. Clean off excess dirt on your succulents.

  1. Decide on your plant placement, but don’t put them in just yet.
  2. Once you’ve decided where you want your plants, glue some more sphagnum moss around the edges of those areas.
  3. Place one or two tiny dabs of glue on the underside of a couple of the leaves of your succulents, and press it into its new location, so the glue sticks to the sphagnum moss.
  4. Continue gluing in each of your succulents. Remember not to cover the base in glue completely, or the plant won’t be able to put out any roots and will die fairly quickly.
  5. Once all your gaps are full of succulents, let your finished driftwood planter set overnight.
  6. The next day, water your succulents with just a little bit of water—you may need a syringe or eye-dropper to get the water in the right place. Remember, succulents don’t need much water.

Congrats, your succulent planter is complete! When you water it in the future, you may want to set it in the sink or on a tray to make sure you catch any drips. If any of the plants die, simply pull them off and glue a new one in its place. If you’d like to hang your succulent planter, you can loop some strong twine, double-looped fishing line, or rope around the ends and hang it however you please.

Ready to make your own DIY driftwood succulent planter? Come on down to our garden center we’ve got everything you need to get started, including a large selection of fun and unique succulents!

Watch the video: Growing succulents in the ground or pot? Eng Subtitles

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