Cacti have grown in popularity as a houseplant over the years, but someone new to the cactus may wonder about the soil that it grows in. That matters because if you pick the wrong soil with a cactus, you can inadvertently kill your plant before it ever starts to grow. Keep in mind that with nearly 2,000 cactus species, you will want to check each one for soil recommendations. However, generally speaking, does the cactus grow in sand?
Despite them loving well-drained and sandier soil, most cacti do not grow well in pure sand. The issue stems from how the plant’s roots won’t have time to drink the water in the soil before it drains. Usually, you will want to mix one part potting soil and one part sand for the best results.
Now that you’ve learned a bit about the cactus and how it won’t grow in straight sand, I’d like to talk more about the soil that cacti do grow in.
What Soil Does the Cactus Grow In?
Most desert species of cacti grow in a soil that consists of clay, pebbles, rocks and organic materials. It offers enough drainage to prevent root rot because standing water will kill your cactus. Pumice, chicken grit and gravel are also common with cactus soil.
Whatever you do, pick your soil—even for the cactus—carefully. You don’t want to choose washed river sand because of the fineness of the grains. Ocean sand gives you the same problem, but the issue with ocean sand comes from how the excess salt can damage your plant.
You want about 20 percent coarseness to the sand, 20 percent coarse perlite and 60 percent sifted regular garden soil. This would make the best cactus sand.
This shows you the ideal mixture because cacti still require minerals from the soil to grow properly. You might use cactus fertilizer to grow your cactus faster. In general, most cactus experts recommend that you fertilize it twice a year in its active growth stages in the spring and autumn.
I would recommend the Espoma Organic Cactus! Plant Food.
Just keep in mind that with this fertilizer and all fertilizers, you may want to wear gloves, safety goggles, a dust mask and long pants to protect your eyes, skin and lungs from the chemicals and bacteria.
Even with a natural fertilizer, you still want the protection because of the bacteria in the fertilizer.
Cactus Soil vs Coarse Sand: What to Know
Coarse sand by itself becomes a death sentence to the cactus, but the finer the sand, the worse it becomes. The issue, even when you mix this in with other soil, is that it packs the mix up and lacks airflow.
For a cactus, you want the water to stay properly drained and the air to stay around the roots. In an open bed, sand will dry fast, but when you put this in a pot, it becomes a straight disaster for your cacti since it lacks capillary action that will take the moisture away. It retains the moisture for longer.
Expert Note: Many cactus experts, when given the choice between sand and pure potting soil would consider the pure potting soil as the lesser of two evils.
Blow sand is particularly bad for cactus because of how it contains a range of particle sizes bad for drainage. If you want to use sand with your cactus, you want a uniform grain size for drainage and airflow purposes.
Recreate the Environment of the Desert
When many people think of the desert, they think of a dead place where nothing grows, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the desert is a rich ecosystem where tons of life lurks in the shadows. The only difference is that the weather is much harsher than other places, but it doesn’t mean that the soil there is pure sand.
Desert soils are downright unusual. The textures vary from one desert to the next, and while many will contain sands, it will also contain clay and rocky soil in many cases.
When you go to plant a cactus, you try to replicate the environment of the desert. Understand the habits of your individual plant. Now, keep in mind that you do have some tropical cactus species like the Christmas cactus or the coral cactus. Those types of cacti will require regular soil, but you’ll still want good drainage.
Coarse sand does the best because it allows for good drainage in your soil. It doesn’t become compacted in the same way as a finer sand, which will hold in the water better. I’ve even known people who would crush aquarium rock or granite to create the soil for the cactus.
Can You Plant a Cactus in Sand?
You can do anything you want, and while you can plant a cactus in sand, it will make it harder to grow. A cactus won’t grow in pure sand because it requires nutrients for it to prosper. It may adapt to a harsher environment than other plants, but it will still need some nutrients to succeed. Without a decent soil mixture, your cactus will either die, or it won’t grow properly.
Now, you can either choose to make the soil mixture yourself, or you can buy it. For beginners, I would recommend that you buy it because you increase your chances of success. Anyone interested may want to check out WONDER SOIL Organic Cactus and Succulent Mix. This soil will help your cactus to grow faster and build stronger roots from the rich nutrients in it.
To sum it up, cactus do grow in sand, but they don’t grow in pure sand. You want coarse sand over the finer sand because it doesn’t compact as much, and it allows for better drainage. Each cactus of the more than 2,000 species will have its own individual requirements that you can study to make a better environment for them. Tropical cacti will require a slightly different sand compared to those in the desert.
If you enjoyed this article, check out the article that I wrote here about the fascinating alligator cactus.