Succulents are in general quite less needy plants however they are quite picky about their soil mix. This is their only fundamental need for growth. Even though they can survive in a variety of soil conditions, they have a better likeness for some particular soil components than others. So,
Is Perlite good for Succulents? Perlite has a low water retention ability and facilitates superior drainage. They are extremely porous in nature so helps in promoting aeration. Succulents love well-drained lighter soil with suitable aeration. So perlites are one of the best components you can have in the soil while growing succulents.
What is Perlite in the first place?
Perlite is a naturally occurring volcanic mineral that has been used for agriculture and gardening for thousands of years. It is rich in Magnesium oxide, sodium oxide, potassium oxide, silicon dioxide, and a variety of other components including water. It is regarded as a cheap nonrenewable mineral that has many uses in the construction as well as in the gardening industry.
It is heated after being mined which further enhances its ability to expand and retain water.
Why You Should Use Perlite for Growing Succulents
Benefits of using Perlite
- Retains water in the soil for a short period of time. So the succulent roots get enough time to absorb the needed water before the soil starts drying up.
- Perlite supports aeration in the soil which is an important growth factor for the succulents. Better air circulation means better availability of oxygen for the roots to absorb which helps in better growth of the plant. Also, the chances of fungal infection also decrease owing to this.
- Perlite has a neutral pH so does not contribute to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Also, it is quite inexpensive.
- It is extremely light in nature so will help in making the soil mixture less heavy, perfect for being used as a soil substrate.
- As Perlites are porous they help in aiding better drainage as well. Along with this, they are known to be resistant to decomposition.
- Helps in better root development as roots can penetrate much deeper into the soil without stress and hence develops a stronger network.
Should you rinse perlite before using them?
Rinsing and cleaning the Perlites before using them in the soil mixture is a good habit to abide by.
- Well, Perlites in general are extremely dusty in nature. So the rinsing helps in getting the excess dust off the particles.
- Perlites contain a fair amount of fluoride so rinsing and washing them before using in the soil mix can be a good precautionary measure to take. Succulents have no need for fluoride and in fact, excess fluoride in the soil halts their growth (Source).
How much perlite do you add to the soil for succulents?
As succulents love drainage friendly soil, an ideal soil mix should contain less than 30% of potting soil,30% of Perlite, and rest 40% of coarse sand and other volcanic rocks, pebbles, etc.
So you can aim to use 1/2 or 1/3 part of perlite with potting soil, coarse sand, and other volcanic rocks and pebbles.
Can you add too much perlite?
Even though succulents won’t have any problem in the short term while growing on perlite dominant soil, there can be some issues in the longer run. Succulents require well-draining and well-aerated soil however they also need to acquire sufficient nutrition from the soil.
- Also, the soil needs to be moderately heavy as only then proper root development will occur. Perlite alone is extremely light and without sufficient amounts of sand or soil, it will become disruptive after every dose of watering.
Potting soil provides needed nutrition to the succulent for its optimal growth. So if you enhance the quantity of perlite in the soil mixture,
- The nutrition level of the soil can decrease enormously if you increase the perlite % of the soil.
- The drainage level of the soil will be extremely high so you will need to water more frequently as the soil will dry up pretty soon.
- Every time you water you will find the perlite floating as the soil lacks the optimum amount of heavy soil components that can hold everything together.
- Too much Perlite can cause clogging issues where the root development can get hampered owing to small gaps as the perlite particles are itself small.
There have been instances where people have successfully grown plants in (75%-90%) perlite but that’s pretty rare and it’s not at all good for the plant health in the longer run.
So ideally you should aim to keep the perlite quantity less than 50% of the total soil mixture. Anything more than that then you are into experimentation territory.
What are the disadvantages of using perlite?
- Perlites are extremely lightweight and are buoyant friendly. This means every time you water your succulents you can find them floating at the top of the potting soil. This must never be the case as it disrupts the stability of the soil.
- Hence it is important to mix sufficient quantities of other key soil ingredients along with perlite in the potting soil mix which will help in properly anchoring and supporting the plant roots.
- Perlites are dusty in general. You need to wash them properly to get rid of the excess dust and chemicals. Otherwise, this can hamper the soil health severely owing to clogging. So always wash them thoroughly before putting them in the soil mix.
How do you make homemade perlite potting mix? How do you use perlite for growing succulents?
- Have a big container for mixing all the ingredients in. Use a trough for mixing the items.
- Mix (25%-35%) of Perlite with (25%-30%) of coarse sand.
- Now add 25% of potting soil.
- Fill up the rest with other volcanic rocks, granites, and pebbles.
This is a great soil mixture for growing potted succulents. Try having drainage holes at the bottom of the pots as it helps in drying the soil up sooner. In case you are growing your succulents in containers without drainage holes refer:
- Can you plant Succulents in Mason jars or Glass Containers?
- How to Water Succulents Without Drainage
What is an alternative to perlite?
Common alternatives to perlite include styrofoam and rice hulls. They share a lot of structural properties with perlite. However, the best alternative to perlite is pumice. It serves all the functions of perlite along with which it does not float up like perlite when watered. So this is a bonus.
Also, the particle size of the perlite is much smaller than the pumice. So roots can develop more freely when you use pumice.
Can You use sand instead of perlite?
Sand should be used to prepare a well-draining soil for succulents by default. However, if you dont wanna use perlite you can use more of coarse sand.
It is heavier than perlite but it’s much lighter than other soil components and provides stability to the soil mixture and does not retain water and aids drainage.
Can you grow plants in just perlite?
Yes, you can. However, it is not recommended as it can cause toom any headaches down the line. Firstly the plant won’t get proper nutrition as perlite itself is not highly nutritious. So the plant will be stunted and malnourished. Secondly every time you water you will find several of the perlite particles floating up at the base of the stem as the soil is not heavy and less densely packed. Thirdly, you will need to water the plant more often as it will dry up easily.
Is perlite good for cactus?
Perlite helps in enhancing the drainage of the soil. Cactuses love drainage friendly soil rich in organic components. So cactuses will thrive magnificently in soil mix rich in perlite. Besides drainage perlite will help in better air circulation in the soil which means better availability of oxygen for the roots. So using perlite with potting soil and other inorganic components like coarse sand, pebbles, other volcanic rocks is a good option.
Is perlite toxic to humans and pets?
Making a succulent soil mix is no rocket science and is pretty simple. There is no one recipe you can always tweak it a bit for your own convenience. The soil should be drainage friendly and have sufficient amounts of nutrients in it. Perlite is one of the components that helps in lightening up the soil texture and improves the all over drainage of the soil. So in case you are thinking about using it, go ahead and try it as soon as possible.