You’ve probably gone to a wedding or went to a plant nursery and succulents displayed creatively. From teacups and birdcages to eggshells and books to anywhere in between: succulents seem to draw out creativity in a lot of people.
It makes you wonder whether succulents can survive or even thrive in just about any substrate, including rocks.
Can you plant succulents in just rocks?
Yes you can plants succulents in just rocks but they cannot thrive or even survive there for long without necessary nutrients and humidity.
There’s a big difference between surviving and thriving. True, a succulent planted, in say, a book, can survive for weeks or even months if you care for it properly.
Apart from the diversity of colors, shapes, and textures, part of the allure of owning succulents is that these plants are relatively easy to care for and maintain. In the wild, succulents can grow in harsh environments, environments that have barely enough to support plant life.
So does that mean that your succulent can survive if you plant it in a container filled with rocks? Survive, yes. But if you want your plant to reach its full potential, or if you hope to propagate it, you will need to transfer it to a container filled with the right type of soil.
Some people, especially newbies, mistake succulents for epiphytes. Epiphytes are plants that can survive even without soil. This is because epiphytes have the ability to gather the nutrients they need from the air. Like most plants, succulents need soil and water for nutrients and structural support of the roots.
The importance of soil
Soil is vital for plant life, including succulents, although such may not be readily apparent. You see, rocks do not contain the necessary nutrients that plants, including succulents, need to survive for an extended period of time.
The best type of soil for succulents contains the right ratio of organic and inorganic materials. Organic materials provide plants with the nutrients they need while inorganic materials provide support.
Rocks and similar substrates may provide support and drainage for succulents. However, these are not enough to provide the nutritional needs of plants.
Planting succulents in gravel
Experts caution against planting succulents in gravel or rocks because these substrates provide little to no plant nutrition.
However, you can amend the gravel, allowing it to provide for the needs of your succulent.
The first thing that you need to do is to find a suitable container for your succulent around three to five inches deep. Here, succulent growers are divided. Some prefer containers with no drainage holes while others use those with drainage holes. The chief advantage of using containers with drainage holes is that you have an extra layer of protection against overwatering.
Once you have found a suitable container for your plant, add about a layer of gravel about an inch deep. After that, add activated charcoal. All you need to do is to top the gravel with the activated charcoal which helps prevent bad odor. This is particularly helpful if you are keeping your succulent indoors.
On top of the activated charcoal, add a soil mix containing peat. You can either buy one from the plant nursery or create your own mix. If you are mixing your own soil, use one part compost and two parts peat.
Sprinkle water to your soil mix before putting your succulent inside the container.
But what if you do not have access to the materials needed to amend the gravel to make it suitable for your plant?
It cannot be overstated that succulents need soil in order to survive for a long time. In the absence of a suitable potting mix for your plant, there are a few things that you can do.
First, provide your succulent with nutrients in the form of fertilizers. All you have to do is to mix the fertilizer to the water you are going to use for your plant. Be sure to follow closely the instructions printed on the packaging.
Second, add organic material to the gravel. Organic materials like coconut coir and sphagnum moss provide succulents with something to attach to.
The great thing about these materials is that they are fairly easy to secure. You can buy these online or offline.
A better approach
Any time you receive or buy a succulent that is planted in a substrate other than the appropriate type of soil, you should repot your plant.
There are two main reasons for this advice. First, your new succulent may have outgrown its original container and the roots may not have adequate room to stretch.
Second, it is highly likely that the soil your succulent is currently planted in is not appropriate.
If you bought your succulent from a nursery, it is likely planted in soil without adequate drainage. This is alright for young plants that need more moisture compared to more mature succulents.
On the other hand, if you got a succulent planted in a substrate consisting mainly of inorganic material, your plant may be deprived of nutrients that are important to support growth.
Better than rocks
The type of soil you should use for your succulent will depend on a few key factors, including the place where you intend to grow your plant and its species.
Essentially, that means there is not a specific best soil for all types of succulents. However, the best soil mixes for succulents do share two key qualities.
First, these soil mixes contain the right balance between organic and inorganic materials. Organic materials like coconut coir provide succulents with nutrients while at the same time, help the soil store water.
Inorganic materials, like gravel, on the other hand, provide drainage to the soil. Drainage is crucial in preventing overwatering which can kill succulents.
Ideally, your soil mix should contain between 40% to 80% inorganic material.
Another vital consideration is the texture or grit size of the mineral component of the soil. Succulents thrive in soil mixes that have large mineral components like sand. Conversely, succulents fair poorly in soil rich in clay. This is because sandy soil drains water faster.
Indoor vs. outdoor
If you want to plant succulents in your yard, you can do so with minimal amendments to the soil. This is because drainage isn’t much of an issue. After all, you are working with a larger volume of soil. Plus, outdoor environments provide more sunlight and air circulation which facilitate faster drying of the soil.
However, if you want to cover all your bases, you can implement a few things. First, plant your succulents in mounds. Planting succulents this way increases the surface area exposed to the elements. Additionally, this allows you to use gravity to your advantage in terms of drainage.
Next, check the soil quality in your yard. If there is too much clay in the soil, you can either amend it using coarse sand or simply find another area in the yard with less clay.
Growing succulents indoors is different from growing these plants outdoors. For starters, the amount of sunlight indoors is typically lower. The same thing applies for air circulation.
These factors underscore the importance of using the right soil mix for succulents.
Fortunately, you can either buy a soil mix from the local nursery or buy materials and mix your own soil for succulents.
Store-bought soil mixes are handy for most beginners because of their availability and the minimal amount of preparation. These mixes work for most succulents. Their main drawback is some of the components repel water which can be bad for your plants.
With some time and effort, you can mix your own soil mix with a handful of ingredients that you can buy online or offline. These include potting soil, coarse sand (or a similar substrate like turface), and either pumice or perlite.
For your potting soil, choose one that does not contain vermiculite. Vermiculite is known to retain a high amount of moisture, making it less than ideal for succulents.
Coarse sand adds drainage to the soil. As much as possible, avoid taking sand from the beach or your garden as it may contain harmful components.
Perlite and pumice add more drainage while helping minimize soil compaction.
The soil mix for your succulent should contain three parts soil, 2 parts sand, and 1 part pumice or perlite.
Creating your succulent soil mix is as easy as combining all of these in a container. Continue mixing until all components are combined evenly.
You can keep your succulent in a container filled with gravel, but only for a short period. If you want to keep your succulent for a long time, you should transfer your plant into a container with the right mix of soil.
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