charcoal for succulents

6 Reasons Why You Should Use Charcoal for Succulents

Succulents love drainage friendly soil to survive. They are highly prone to overwatering and simply hates damp soil. So to prevent that from happening you need to make sure your succulent soil is of top-notch quality in terms of drainage.
However, its nutritional aspect also needs to be fulfilled properly. Charcoal is being used for a variety of purposes mainly involving combustion and there even exists horticultural charcoal just for the purpose of gardening!
Can you use charcoal for succulents? Activated & Horticultural charcoals help in promoting drainage, reduces chances of root rot, encourages better root development, and repel insects. It also plays a significant role in diminishing the fungal infections and soil odor.
Using charcoals can be very beneficial for your succulents especially if you grow them indoors in pots.

Can you add Charcoal to the Soil? Why you should do it in the first place?

As per Apartment Therapy, using charcoal in the soil helps in absorbing the excess water off from the soil. This means the soil won’t remain damp for long. The most common reason succulents die is because of overwatering. Their roots are sensitive to moist soil and catch root rot easily. So using charcoal becomes extremely important while growing such plants indoors as houseplants cannot enjoy all the resources outdoor plants can.
This benefit of using charcoal really becomes important while growing succulents in closed terrariums and in other containers with no drainage holes. In such cases, you need to take extra precautions so that your plant does not remain in waterlogged soil for long. So combining charcoal with rock layers is a must to encourage fast drainage of water from the soil.
  • However, if you keep up with continuous overwatering even charcoal in the soil won’t be able to save your plant from root rot. You need to only water your succulents when the soil is dry. When in doubt hold back. They can put up with underwatering but not overwatering.
Aside from aiding in drainage charcoal also helps in a number of added benefits. So Yes, it is totally okay to use horticulturist based charcoal in the succulent soil.

What kind of Charcoal is used for Plants?

In the plant soil, activated charcoal, and horticulture charcoal are used. These charcoals are highly porous so they do not retain water for long. They absorb the excess water from the soil and help in better drainage.
This is particularly beneficial for succulents that love drainage friendly soil and for plants growing in a terrarium. Horticultural charcoal also helps in drainage but not as good as activated ones. But both of them enhance the soil quality by many folds. The charcoal  used for growing succulents needs to tick off certain criteria:
  • The charcoal needs to be free of added chemicals. Generally, charcoal used for burning is treated with chemicals. The charcoal you need to use for growing succulents needs to be completely untreated.
  • The charcoal needs to have 100% of carbon and no trace of any unburned wood.
  • Also, it must not affect the soil pH by any means.

Is Horticultural and Activated Charcoal Good for Succulents?

Activated Charcoal helps in removing bad smell and toxins from the soil. These charcoals are highly porous in nature so they help in better drainage. So yes activated charcoal or horticultural charcoals are one of the best soil components you can use. Activated charcoal is better than a horticultural one as it is more porous and removes gas, toxins better from the soil.

6 Benefits of using charcoal for growing succulents

Charcoal facilitates better root development and better uptake of nutrients

Charcoal layers can absorb nutrition from the soil and hence roots near the charcoal layer grows up to be healthier and as they remain nourished.

Charcoal act as a neutralizer & removes toxins

It helps in balancing out the harmful chemical composition of the soil. In case you regularly use tap water for watering your succulents, charcoals can come in handy. Activated charcoals help in absorbing the excess of Nickel, Copper, Iron, Cobalt from the soil commonly and makes the soil healthier for the succulent to thrive (source).

Charcoal absorbs excess water and prevents root rot

As they are highly porous they can hardly retain water for long. However, when placed at the bottom of the pot, they help in quickly absorbing the excess water from the upper part of the soil and hence helps in quicker drainage. This can especially important if you live in hot and humid climates to balance out the soil moisture levels after watering.

charcoal for succulents soil

Activated charcoal is also known to have antifungal properties

It helps in keeping molds at bay and also minimizes the bad odor in the soil. This is one of the reasons why it is used in many products including deodorants, toothpaste, soaps, etc (source).

Keeps insects and other pests away

Providing a layer of charcoal helps in keeping pests and other insects away. This is a very important aspect as indoor plants are highly prone to pest manifestations. Succulents dislike damp soil so if you have a habit of overwatering your plants, it can facilitate the growth of insects and other pests. However, using charcoal in the soil helps in reducing it”s chances.

Prevents foul smell coming from the soil

The organic components of the soil can decay with time and produces a foul smell. Charcoal helps in removing the odor. This comes handy especially while growing succulent indoors.

Can you use Normal Charcoal instead of Activated Charcoal?

Normal charcoal or grilling charcoal is not the right kind of charcoal you should use for growing plants. They are rich in added chemicals that are totally unrequired for the plants. Moreover, these chemicals will accumulate in the soil and hamper the plant growth.

In case you use organic grilled charcoals you can still go ahead and try however for being on the safer side you should use activated charcoal. Plants are highly picky about their soil components as they absorb water, minerals, and all kinds of nutrition from the soil itself. So improper soil health will get reflected upon the plant growth.

  • Also, they can in turn affect the soil pH as well. They can in turn make it more alkaline in nature which is not good news for succulents which prefers soil of slightly acidic pH.

What’s the difference between regular charcoal and activated charcoal?

Both regular charcoal and activated charcoal is obtained by burning organic materials at a high temperature. However, they have got some significant differences:

  • When ordinary charcoal is put under extreme temperatures than its surface area increases and it becomes a lot more porous. This is how activated charcoals are formed and this is the reason they can better absorb water than regular charcoals and hence can help protect the plant against root rot.
  • When the ordinary charcoal is heated at so much high temperature, its binding sites become free so the activated charcoal can easily bind with chemicals and toxins in the soil and hence prevent them from aggregation.

regular charcoal

  • Regular charcoal is not as porous as activated ones and hence do not absorb water as smoothly as the activated ones.
  • Horticultural or activated charcoals are made keeping in mind the health of the humans and plants so they are devoid of any harmful chemicals. Grilling charcoals contain many chemicals that help in better burning. So activated charcoals are healthier than regular charcoals (source).

Do you need Activated charcoal for a succulent terrarium?

Succulents grow best when grown in a drainage friendly soil within pots having drainage holes at the bottom. For growing succulents without drainage holes, you need to have certain other precautions that will ensure that the soil does not remain damp for days.
  • One of the precautionary measures includes the use of activated or horticultural charcoal in the soil.
You can create a layer of gravels and pebbles at the base of the pot and over that layer, add about a 1-inch layer of charcoal, and then put the soil mix in place. The charcoal will help in absorbing water faster from the soil and hence will help in drainage. It also has antifungal properties so will keep the roots healthy.
Charcoal also traps the foul gas and odor produced with time in the soil which becomes more important in case you are growing the succulents in closed terrain. Along with this they also trap harmful microbes and contaminants. So having them is a must especially indoors.

Things to Remember while using Charcoal for growing succulents

  • Activated charcoal does not remain activated forever. Its abilities start to degrade with time. This is why one of the best practices is to repot your succulents once every two years. how long the charcoal in your pot soil will remain activated is hard to predict however you can aim to provide a new layer once a year.
  • If instead of putting on a layer of charcoal in the potting soil you are aiming to add charcoal directly into the soil mix then add 1 part of charcoal with 9 parts of the soil mix containing potting soil, sand, pebbles, pumice, etc and not more than that.
  • Charcoals can be a little bit alkaline in nature. Succulents love acidic soil pH. So if you use too much charcoal in the soil it can cause problems. So always use small amounts of charcoal for preparing succulent soil mix.


Can you put charcoal in compost?

You should only put activated or horticultural charcoal into your compost. They can be used in preparing compost for the plants provided you use small portions. Never put grilling or regular charcoals into compost as it contains harmful chemicals. You can put one cup of activated charcoal per square foot of compost (source).


Charcoals are not a must for making succulent soil however using them will have a lot of added benefits. This is very important for growing plants indoors or growing succulents in designer glass containers and even in pots with no drainage holes.
Often time succulents growing in these containers suffer from drainage issues and suffer from root rot. To prevent that from happening it is essential to water your succulent carefully and to make its soil as drainage friendly as possible without compromising its nutritional quality.
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