The 5 Best Soil for Cactus

Without the right soil, your cacti does not stand a fighting chance in flourishing. Too many owners either overwater or buy poor quality soil found in their local gardening stores. They end up spending hours (and tons of money) trying to troubleshoot issues. Prevent all of it by starting out with the best soil for your cactus.

Our top recommendation is…

Greenpinky’s top pick:
  • Drains well and excellent aeration
  • Pathogen free, pH balanced
  • Excellent price

Check Amazon for Best Price

If you have trouble growing cacti, then you are either watering too much or you have soil that is not conducive to growing a cactus. The potting mix needs to be well aerated and drain well. Many companies try to sell potting mixes with cheaper ingredients. As a result, they do not drain well and will lead to root disease (or root rot).

Use these reviews and the guide below to make sure you are watering properly and have the best potting mix possible. It will set you and your cactus up for success.

Comparing Our Top 3 Recommendations for Cactus Soil

The Best Cactus Potting Mixes

These are our top soil recommendations for cacti. They all have great organic to mineral components and provide great aeration to the roots of your cactus. Because they drain very well, they also will help prevent root rot. Your cactus will be thanking you and flourishing with these soils. Read more below.

Best Soil for Cacti

Bonsai Jack’s potting soil is our top pick for the best cactus soil. It is a very gritty mix which includes pine bark as the organic component. It is designed so that there is a consistent particle size. Because of its coarse pieces, it is excellent at draining and preventing root rot. Furthermore, it is ultra-lightweight and will ensure proper aeration to the roots. The soil itself is optimized to a pH of 5.5 and is pathogen free.

Bonsai Jack’s mix is made in the USA with quality ingredients. Many other brands use reclaimed organic matter that may still contain pathogens that can be damaging to your cactus. All of their soil is pre-washed and screened. The company itself also provides great support and is responsive to any issues. They provide a satisfaction guarantee or your money back.

Once your cacti are transplanted into this mix, you will see that they will flourish and thrive like you have never seen before. Not only will you see amazing growth of your cactus itself, your cactus will also have exception root growth. Other potting mixes simply cannot compete.

Fat Plant’s potting mix uses premium quality soil that is pH balanced. It uses a super fine coco coir with small pumice added in that drains exceptionally well. Unlike many of the other good cactus potting mixes, it does NOT contain coarse sand or grit. Rather, it almost feels like a cotton-like material, which is how it has such great aeration and also drains lightning fast.

This potting mix is packaged in San Diego. The company is responsive and also adds a personal touch of a handwritten message when you open up the package.

xGarden’s potting mix is a great mix for good drainage and is pH controlled. It contains a blend of peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite. It is relatively light weight and provides good aeration to the roots. It comes ready to use and will help your cacti grow healthy. If you want to make it drain even better, you can consider adding orchid bark or coco coir chips, which will also make the soil more porous. Nonetheless, it will work very well regardless.

Perfect Plant’s soil is a good mix for cactus. It is formulated to provide good aeration to the roots and retaining nutrients. The mix itself is composed of garden coir, composed pine bark, perlite, and sand. I will say that it can be slightly faster draining than it is. After watering, water seems to sit on top of the soil for a while before slowly being absorbed. It is still a good mix, but there are other mixes, such as those above that provide better drainage, and thereby minimize the chances of root rot.

Hoffman’s organic cactus mix is a premade mix that comes ready to use. The mix itself is relatively light weight and provides decent aeration to the roots. The only downside is that it contains peat moss, which actually will retain some moisture. This means that you can wait longer periods of time between watering. I personally find it harder to predict and think that it can make your cacti more prone to root rot. I still think it is a good potting mix, but with so many other options available I suggest you pick one of our top 3 choices instead. If you do end up using it, you can add more perlite to increase aeration and drainage.

What Kind of Soil Do Cacti Need?

Think about a cactus’s natural habitat. It is dry and hot. It gets water infrequently, but when it does, it gets flooded with water for a short period of time.

This is exactly what you want to simulate when finding potting mix for your cactus. It should contain some organic material, but be very sandy, or porous. This will allow the potting mix to drain well and provide good aeration to your cactus’s roots.

The most common reason cacti die is because of excessive watering or poor potting mix. In both of these scenarios, excess water sits at the cactus’s roots. This leads to root rot which ultimately will slowly cause your cactus deteriorate.

Once root rot sets in, it is difficult to reverse. So it is best to just start with great soil and good watering habits.

If you only have one or a few cacti, then I highly recommend that you buy one of the pre-made mixes above. Not only are they the best pre-made mixes available, they are also very affordable. They use quality soil and tend to have coarse gritty inorganic materials, which allows for optimal drainage.

You can also make your own mix, but if you do not have many cacti, you end up having a lot of extra soil mix laying around. If you want to keep some for future cacti or succulents, this may make sense, but generally it is easier just to buy the pre-made mixes.

What is Root Rot?

Root rot is a condition, that if left untreated will destroy your cactus. Because the root rot first starts within the soil, most gardeners are not aware of the problem until it is advanced, and too late. Symptoms that may start to appear include stunted growth or dead leaves.

Once you notice root rot, you need to take action immediately. You likely will need to repot your plant to give it a fighting chance.

The best way to prevent headaches associated with root rot is to just get soil that drains well. Soil that is too dense will retain water and allow your plant’s roots to soak in water. This is a breeding source for bacteria and diseases. Cacti, in particular, are prone to root rot. Their natural habitats do not expose them to a lot of water, so they do not have some of the defense mechanisms that other plants may have.

Good Potting Mix Contains a Balance of Organic and Mineral Components

Good potting mix will contain both organic and inorganic (or mineral) components. Organic components refers to things that contains compounds that used to be alive. Mineral components, on the other hand, refers to things that are not made of living substances.

Organic components include things such as general all purpose soil, pine bark, coconut coir, and compost.

Mineral options include coarse sand, perlite, fine gravel, and chicken grit. You’ll want to avoid mineral components that store water; steer clear of vermiculite and clays.

In all of the pre-made mixes above, there is a good balance of organic to inorganic material. In a similar manner, if you want to create your own potting mix, you will use a mix of organic and inorganic material

Making Your Own Potting Mix

As I said earlier, I encourage you to buy pre-made cactus potting mixes. They are very affordable and the ones above use quality materials. This results in a potting mix that drains incredibly fast and has good aeration that will allow your cactus to grow healthy and without root diseases.

If you are set on making your own potting mix, then you can use the mix below. Just realize that you may be creating more work for yourself and it will likely yield a lot more mix than you will need. You can always keep the excess in storage for when you need it again.

Suggested soil mix:

Simply mix these three at a 1:1:1 ratio in a large bowl or container.

Use Pots with Draining Holes

If at all possible, plant your cactus in a pot with a draining hole at the bottom. Without a draining hold, still water will just sit at the bottom of your potting mix. Again, this puts your succulent at a high risk of developing root rot.

Unfortunately, nowadays, many pots and terrariums do not have draining holes. It is undeniable, a glass bowl terrarium is spectacular to look at. However, without the draining hole, your cactus will have difficulty thriving. Furthermore, bowl terrariums tend to create a greenhouse type of effect where a lot of humidity accumulates in the bowl. This is, again, not an ideal environment for your cactus.

If you cannot resist using a pot or terrarium without a draining hole (I get it), then make sure to water your cactus very sparingly. It will be difficult to water just the right amount, but try to err on the side of less water.

Soak and Dry Watering Method

The best way to water your cacti is to use a method called “soak and dry”.

It’s rather simple. Just soak the cactus’s soil completely and then let it dry out completely before watering it.

When you are doing this method, try your best not to let water get onto the cactus itself. Also, try to water in the morning so that any water that does land on the cactus can evaporate after exposure to the afternoon sun. This will also give your soil time to drain and dry out because of the sun.

You can check out this Youtube video (not created by GreenPinky) for a quick visual guide on how to water your succulent appropriately.

Bottom Line

Again, I recommend buying the Bonsai Jack mix. Don’t make the mistake of buying a cactus mix at your local gardening store that does not drain well and will lead to root rot. Save yourself the headache and buy any of the mixes above (take a particularly close look at our top 2 recommendations which drain the best).


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About the author: Carley Miller is a horticultural expert at TheGreenPinky. She previously owned a landscaping business for 25 years and worked at a local garden center for 10 years.

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