Homemade Succulent Soil – Cheaper? Better?

I don’t know about you but I love to find a bargain and get the most for my money!

In this post, we talked about the best succulent potting soils we could buy (within certain criteria), today, we are going to find out if homemade succulent soil is cheaper and/or better for our plants!

Ingredients

We know from the soil review article that succulents need more inorganic material, great drainage, slightly acid to neutral soil, and the soil needs to be porous (or light) so the roots can breathe (but also heavy enough to hold the plant in place).

Since we are making our own, we are going to start with the best soil we can make and see how much it is.

The Best of the BestBonsai Jack Succulent Potting Soil

What would the best of the best have in it? One of the best soils that you can purchase from Amazon is Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil, (picture to the right) this soil has rave reviews and a lot of testimonies…and it is expensive (2 quarts for $13.87).

What makes it so great? Well, the best thing about this soil is the particle size. Yes, the size of the particles that make up the “soil”.

There is a great article on Houzz.com concerning particle size, I’m going to give you a very short summary but if you would like to read the entire post (it is really good), it is here, and was written by “Al”.

“Mixing large particles with small is often very ineffective because the smaller particles fit between the large, increasing surface area which increases the capillary attraction and thus the water holding potential” – Al

He explains the science in the article (as you can tell) but to put it in layman’s terms, mixing different particle sizes retains more water and retaining water is bad because it can lead to root rot.

The concept (from Al) is that you can’t plant a succulent in pudding, water it and expect it to drain well. If you add BB’s to the pudding, it still will not drain well. If the base ingredient does not drain well, adding something else won’t help. If you have poor ingredients, you have poor soil.

I love this line from him:

“A 2-bit plant in a $10 soil has a future full of potential, where a $10 plant in a 2-bit soil has only a future filled with limitations.” ~ Al

I think I would really like this guy!

Is It Cheaper?

We need a recipe! Since Al knows really knows the science behind soil, we are going with his basic recipe which contains everything succulents need and nothing they do not (he offers a few alternatives to these ingredients, I randomly chose these).

1 part pine bark – 4 quarts for $16.99

1 part lava rock – 2 quarts for $13.85

1 part crushed granite which was not available via Amazon Prime (I’m not that patient) and was pricey.

Chick grit, insoluble crushed granite (not crushed oysters) can be used in its place – 5 pounds for $14.18 – Also, the chick grit is probably available for less at your local (if you live in the country) farm supply store.

This recipe calls for equal parts of the three ingredients or 2 and 2/3 cups each, to get a bag equal to Bonsai Jack (2 quarts).

Now for the math:Chick Grit, Quart Jar, & Scale

  • Pine Bark – $16.99/4 = $4.25 per quart, 4 cups in a quart, $4.25/4 – $1.06 per cup so $2.82 for 2 and 2/3 cups
  • Lava Rock – $13.85/2 = $6.92 per quart, 4 cups in a quart, $6.92/4 = $1.73 per cup so $4.62 for 2 and 2/3 cups

Since the chick grit came in a 5 pound bag, I weighed a quart, to see the cost per quart. One quart is about 2 pounds 8 ounces which equals 2 quarts per 5 pound bag.

Okay, a little more math, I’m not happy about it either.

Chick Grit – $14.18/2 = $7.09 per quart, 4 cups in a quart, $7.09/4 = $1.77 per cup so $4.72 for 2 and 2/3 cups.

One more addition problem, we are almost there…$2.82 + $4.62 + $4.72 = $12.16 for 2 quarts which is about $1.70 cheaper than the Bonsai Jack ready-made.

Of course time plays a big factor in this equation too. Sometimes it is just easier to buy it pre-done than making it yourself.

We have answered the question, is homemade succulent source cheaper with a YES…barely!

Is It Better?

Great question!

As I have mentioned before, I use Miracle Grow Cactus, Palm, and Citrus Potting Soil and it has worked great for me over the years but it doesn’t the particle size criteria of the homemade potting soil or Bonsai Jack.

Is the uniformed particle size going to make that much of a difference? Is the homemade succulent soil really better than the Miracle Grow? Are either or both better than the very popular Bonsai Jack?

How do we answer this question?

  • If the plant grows bigger?
  • If the plant looks healthier?
  • If the plant lives longer?
  • Al suggests in the article mentioned above that a better soil means it would also drain better to prevent root rot

I think the only way to answer this question is to do a test. Because I have Crassula ovata (pictured) coming out of my ears and other orifices, we are going to use it for the experiment.

The ExperimentCrassula ovata

Will my experiment pass scientists strict standards? Probably not. Will help us answer the burning question that keeps us up at night of which soil is better? Hopefully!

The steps for the experiment are:

  • Take three leaf cuttings from the same plant
  • Plant them in the same type of pot
  • Plant them at the same time, one in each soil (homemade, Bonsai Jack, Miracle Grow)
  • Place them in the same window so they get the same amount of sun
  • Water them the same exact amount at the same time
  • Measure the amount of water that drains out
  • Monitor weekly to note changes in growth and health
  • Keep a log of dates, times, amounts, etc.

We know the Miracle Grow comes with some added nutrients in the soil, I don’t want to muddy the experiment by fertilizing the homemade or Bonsai Jack soils since we can’t match the Miracle Grow fertilizer exact. Instead, we will monitor all three plants for one year to give the fertilizer in the Miracle Grow time to “run out” so to speak.

If the Miracle Grow plant does better for the first 3 months, it could be attributed to the fertilizer and not the soil. By monitoring longer, we can see if it does better faster but then evens out, declines, or continues to outgrow the others.

Stay Tuned

Okay, we have everything we need for our experiment. Check out our Facebook page for a video of the set-up, soils, pots, cuttings, and more!

Then stay tuned for our once a month update. I will monitor weekly and then give a monthly update, unless something crazy happens in which case I’ll update immediately!

In the meantime, if you have questions about this article or want to share your favorite soil, leave a comment below. I love to hear from you!

34 Responses

  1. I love plants. It’s very interesting to me that you can make soil for succulent plants. I like the way you break everything down. You give the ingredients than the recipe and the breakdown of the cost. Very informative. Then there’s the experiment. Please let me know the outcome. Love it Great work.

  2. Hello,

    This is an interesting article. My flatmate always explained to me these things but I never understood her that much. I wanted to know more and here I am in your blog. It is great to find this amount of information about succulent soil and how is that an important rule in their life.

    Personally, I thought that I just put it in any soil I find and water it regularly and that’s it. But after I read the article, it is a big no no. I wouldn’t want the root to rot.

    Also, I loved the experiments you are doing. I would love to check the results when they are ready! I checked the soil Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil you suggested and I showed it to my flatmate. She knew it and said it is one of the best soil she used.

    • Hi Mohammad,
      Thank you! I am very curious about which soil will win too. It should be an interesting experiment of “do you really get what you pay for”. Sounds like your flatmate really knows her stuff!
      Thanks for your comments!
      Lisa

  3. Hi Lisa,
    Now I understand why my aloe plants aren’t growing well! I had no idea that they needed a different soil from my other house plants, I just thought that you watered them less. I will be trying the recipe that you have given here and maybe mine will actually start growing. I’m looking forward to learning how you experiments work out and which soil seems to work the best.

    • Hi Stevie,
      That is great, glad you will be trying the recipe! Yes, I’m looking forward to the ongoing experiment too, should be interesting! If I can answer any other questions about your aloe plants, please let me know!
      Thanks,
      Lisa

  4. This is great!
    I am pretty sure I killed my daughters succulent plant by first under watering and then over watering. I am not good with succulents even though they are such cute plants.

    I will watch your website for updates on the soil experiments. Maybe the information can help me with my other plants. I do have a dish of succulents that I bought at a charity event. 2 of the three plants are doing well, but the 3rd is dead. Sigh.

    • Hi Irma,
      Ahhh, that is frustrating, at least it was for charity though. I have found that if I buy a dish garden of succulents, the garden was put together for the look and not always the practicality of succulents that like the same thing. It may help if you replant each succulent in its own container.
      Let me know if I can help!
      Thanks,
      Lisa

  5. I’m all about saving money and DIY, but I’ve never thought of making soil for succulents on my own. Thanks for opening my eyes to this. BTW, great article! Karen

  6. Wow, you really go about this scientifically!! Very interesting, I have never heard of anyone taking the time to do that so thank you very much, I will follow the ongoing experiment on facebook and have to say that I hope that there is not too much difference. With similar price and similar outcome I definetely would love to save me trouble with math and the time πŸ˜‰
    Maybe this helps me justifying my laziness?
    Thank you so much!

    • Hi Jana,
      I am right there with you! I have been using the less expensive Miracle Grow for years, I’m going to be a bit bummed if it doesn’t win. LOL
      That is one of the reasons I did it as scientifically as I could, I didn’t want to force the outcome. Should be interesting!
      Thanks for commenting!
      Lisa

  7. Great article about homemade succulent soil. It definitely is good. I have been growing hemp and cannabis +15 years and it is very fragile for small changes and I have been researching several strains by growing 100 plants as one soil quality, 1×100 as some exclusive cactus soil, 1x hydro system and I have to say that cactus soil mixed with rocks, crushed granite or something like that is the ONLY that compares on hydro systems without actual water/hydro systems. Thanks for reviewing this, I will order some of these to test them out.

    • Hi,

      Oh, that is interesting! I did not realize that hemp and cannabis were fragile! Interesting that a cactus soil base worked so well for you.

      Let me know how your tests go!

      Thanks,

      Lisa

  8. Very interesting that you can find absolutely anything on Amazon, even from soils, I never imagined having small stones in a packaging and going for a price at  Amazon. Thank you I really enjoyed this and hope to get to see the results of this experience and see which soil wins and is most suitable for succulent plants this really is fun, and shows real passion about the topic and thank you for being so informative and giving such valuable and helpful information.

    • Hi Donny,

      I know, it is unbelievable what you can find on Amazon! I try to review only things found on Amazon so anyone can have access to them.

      You are welcome, so glad you enjoyed the post!

      Lisa

  9. Very interesting! I am eager to find out the outcome, although with most people’s busy lives do you think it would just be easier to buy the already pre-made soil? Thank you for doing the math, just reading over the numbers hurt my head! Have you used other more traditional soil in the past? Do you like this better? Is this good for all kinds of different plants? Thank you for the help!

    • Hi Travis,

      LOL, I know, doing the math hurt my head too!

      I do think it is easier to buy the premade soil, I have bought Miracle Grow for years and it has worked fine. For the number of succulents I have, buy (or receive as gifts), and re-pot, I can’t afford to buy the higher end premade soil.

      Regular potting soil does not work for succulents, it drains slower and does not dry out as fast as the succulents need. So if you have a peace lily, it would use a different soil (just regular potting soil) than succulents.

      Let me know if I can answer more questions.

      Thanks,

      Lisa

  10. Hi! I’m actually really interested in your experiment. I love cacti. I use the same potting soil you have. I also use this potting soil for my succulents. However, I have a harder time keeping the succulents alive for some reason. Now, I also have a bonsai tree. The soil looks just like the Bonsai Jack soil and my tree does fine. I’m wondering if that soil will help me keep my succulents alive. I can’t wait to hear you results! 

    • Hi Bonnie,

      Thanks for commenting!

      The Bonsai or homemade soil may be better for your succulents or maybe water them less. Most succulents die because of overwatering and in Miracle Grow type soil, I think they need watering less often because the soil dries a little slower. 

      Stay tuned, I’ll do a monthly update on the experiment!

      Thanks,

      Lisa

  11. HI Lisa,
    I am hopeless with any type of plant, whether they are indoor or outside, I am the called the plant reaper by my family!!
    But reading this article that you have written, you really go about this scientifically!! has made it very interesting, I have
    never heard of anyone taking the time to do that so thank you very much,I will be following the ongoing experiment on FB and have to say that I hope that there is not too much difference. With similar price and similar outcome I definitely would love to nice indoor plants and maybe even a few that are in the garden,
    So maybe this will help me be a plant person and lose the reaper tag.. LOL
    Keep up the great work, will also check back in let you know how I go!!

    Thanks
    Jan

    • Hi Jan,

      Ohhhh, the plant reaper…you have a creative family!

      I believe in you!  You can grow a succulent, I know it!  There are a few that are extra hardy – a jade plant or mother in law’s tongue. The scientific names are Crassula ovata and Sansevieria trifasciata. They are user friendly and thrive on neglect!

      I hope there isn’t a lot of difference in the soil too!

      Please do, I look forward to hearing from you!

      Thanks,

      Lisa

  12. Hi! Yeah, well prepared soil is expensive. But I honestly didn’t know it could be so expensive, 2 quarts for $13.87

    I agree with you, if we can prepare it at home, we should also give it a try and see what we get.

    I like that you not only showed it’s a bit cheaper, but also planned this experiment to evaluate which is better! This is a very nice post! Thank you very much!

    • Hi Henry,

      I know, the cost blows my mind!!  I recently re-potted some succulents in the Miracle Grow (which I have used for years) and I got about 18 pots of varying size out of the one bag. I couldn’t afford to re-pot them all in more expensive soil! Whew!

      Thank you,

      Lisa

  13. Hi Lisa.

    I have learned a lot from your article on succulents.  I did not realise the preferred soil is so porous.  I am also trying to grow orchids.  I have heard that orchids like porous soil.  Do you recommend the Bonsai Jack Succulent and Cactus Soil for orchids?  I am not sure from your article exactly how often and how much to water the succulents.  I will try your suggestions on keeping an eye on the water that drains out.

    • Hi Aaron,

      Yes, Bonsai Jack makes a soil specifically for orchids, I would recommend that. I would go with the orchid soil over the succulent and cactus soil mix. 

      Great question on watering, succulents need to be watered until the water starts coming out of the drainage hole, then allowed to completely dry, wait, then water again. Depending on the time of year and your climate, they need watering about every 7-10 days. It is better to under water than over water. If the leaves start looking wrinkled, water more frequently. Overwatering can cause root rot and it is hard to save a plant once that happens.

      Let me know if you have more questions.

      Thanks,

      Lisa

  14. I have had various success and outcomes from my plants over the years. Sometimes when I attend to them well I get great results and sometimes not. Some of my efforts have resulted in dried arrangements instead of lush plants. I am thinking that succulents might be more user friendly for my style of gardening. 

     I am impressed that you have taken a good amount of time to test the various soil mixes, and it will be interesting to see the result.. Once you have it all set up I suppose it is just a matter of watching and waiting for the outcome. 

    I will follow the results on your Facebook page. It may also give me some tips on potting up the plants which is maybe where i have gone wrong in the past. Thanks for the tips and advice. 

    • Hi Karen,

      We have all had dried arrangments happen! 

      Yes, succulents are user-friendly, hardy, and forgiving since they grow naturally in harsh environments.

      I plan to post an update once per month on the soil experiment, I’m excited to see if there is a clear winner!

      Please let me know if I can help in any way.

      Thanks,

      Lisa

  15. I like this experiment. I initially thought that making our own soil at home would not pay the effort. But after you have described all the process of preparing our own soil, I know we could reap some benefit, after doing some tests. It may take time to do these tests but that’s the only way we can come up with something superior. I’ll continue tuned to see your results. Thank you very much!

    • Hi Henry,

      Thanks for commenting. I agree the only way to know which is best is to take the time and do the tests. Let me know if you make your own soil or have any questions.
      Thanks,

      Lisa

  16. Great concept Lisa, I really enjoyed this article πŸ™‚

    I personally have quite a few succulents in and around my house so I find this information to be super helpful. I love a bargain too!

    I will keep any eye out for your updates πŸ™‚

  17. What an interesting experiment! I didn’t think I could make my own soil. Thank you for the advice. I will follow you because I really want to know what conclusion will you make from the experiment. I am also happy that you post all the tutorials on Facebook because I am not the best with flowers, and it really helps me to understand. Thank you.
    Have a nice day

    • Hi Katja,
      So glad you found the experiment interesting! I think it will be fascinating to watch over the coming months!
      Please let me know if you have any questions.
      Thanks,
      Lisa

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