Since you’re here, chances are that a bigger part of the native soil around your home is clay. Is it ideal for succulents?
The short answer is no. And that isn’t only about succulents. Clay soil is generally a bad option for any kind of gardening work. It doesn’t drain so easily and hardens up if you leave it dry for long enough. These aren’t very ideal qualities for succulents.
That being said, there are a few tweaks that you can use to make the clay soil a bit more suitable for your succulents. It’ll take time but you can pull it off if you’re a bit patient.
Before we look at that, here’s some deep dive on why succulents and clay soil are a bad match.
Why Succulents Don’t Do Well in Clay Soil
Clay soil particles are extremely small (about 1,000 times smaller than the teeniest sand particle) and closely packed. The two cause slow drainage and poor aeration; two conditions that succulents hate.
If you didn’t know yet, most succulents grow in drier areas of the world. These parts aren’t necessarily devoid of rain/precipitation but the amount wouldn’t be sufficient for a majority of plants.
What that means is that succulents have adapted to going for long periods without water and their roots remain dry for the most part.
So the slow-draining soil property in clay will be introducing your plant to uncharted territory. It wouldn’t be long before you lose your plant to rot.
Aeration has an impact on the health of the roots and the whole plant in general. Good aeration, of course, is always desirable. And that’s something that’s simply not possible with clay soil.
All the shortcomings of clay aside, it’s not entirely impossible to get it to a level where it can actually support succulent growth.
Improving Clay Soil for Growing Succulents
To improve clay soil, you’ll essentially be looking at changing both the drainage and aeration so that they’re at a level that’s favorable for growing succulents.
Most people use sand in a bid to improve clay soil but it might not be the best of ideas.
Improving Clay Soil Using Sand
A combination of sand and clay is even worse for plants and harder for you to handle.
But how can using sand be a problem if loam – the best soil for planting – is a mix of clay and sandy soil?
Well, the difference is in the organic content. While it’s true that loamy soils contain a bit of sand and clay, it has a good deal of organic material that offsets any would-be effects of the sand-clay combination.
With that, the only logical conclusion for improving clay soil is using organic material – and a few other additions in the case of succulents.
Using Organic Material to Improve Clay Soil
Amending clay soil using organic material is simple, really. You just take a measured amount and work it into the patch you want to improve – for instance, 6-8 inches of organic matter is ideal for the top 6-12 inches.
You wouldn’t be done yet but it’s good for a start.
What organic material does is introduce microorganisms into the clay that multiply rapidly and aerate the soil as a result. Again, the soil isn’t ready yet. Most of the available nutrients will be spent by the multiplying microorganisms.
That’s why the clay amendment is usually over some period. You have to keep adding the organic material at regular intervals until the texture is slightly different from the initial one.
Besides the microorganisms, the organic material also serves as food for other animals such as insects, fungi, and earthworms that decompose nutrients to humus which is plant food. Earthworms also make and keep the soil both aerated and well-drained – the two most important factors for succulents and any plant.
Organic Materials You Can Use to Amend Clay Soil
So much talk about fixing clay soil using organic material. But what exactly is this organic material that you can apply? Here are some examples.
The old animal droppings will always be a great source of both organic matter and important plant nutrients.
While it can purely be droppings, sometimes it also includes straw bedding.
The use of peat moss in soil amendment is a bit touchy for environmentalists. It takes ages (hundreds of years) for it to form so it’s a bit unsustainable in the long run.
Plus, it only improves the drainage as opposed to, say, manure that improves both the drainage and mineral and nutrient content.
But you can try it out if you can get a hold of it. In that case, be sure to watch out for the PH of your soil as peat moss is quite acidic.
This is essentially worm poop – released by the worms as they feed. Worm castings are pretty close to manure but even better. They’re richer in various important nutrients and minerals.
Compost, in its simplest form, is pretty straightforward to make. You just need two main types of ingredients, namely greens and browns.
Greens include grass, leaves, and kitchen waste. Browns, on the other hand, is more carbon-based and can include particularly woody ingredients like wood chips, dry leaves, and sawdust.
You can use any of these to amend your clay soil. You’ll have to factor in cost and availability before settling on the most convenient organic material.
Steps for Amending Clay Soil for Succulents
So far we’ve looked at how you can improve both the aeration and drainage. But to make it even more suitable for succulents, you’ll need a few more tweaks.
How to amend clay soil for succulents:
- Consider the succulent you want to plant and whether your chosen spot receives partial or full sunlight.
- Next up, you’ll want to boost the soil’s drainage further. To do this, you’ll need to work a coarse-grained medium into your clay. Some common ones include pumice, perlite, crushed rock, decomposed granite, and gravel.
- Create a mound for planting your succulent – a six-inch height is quite okay. Just how wide your mound can be will be determined by the size of your succulent. Naturally, the bigger the succulent, the wider the mound. Mounds further increase drainage in clay soils.
- Before planting, water the mound to firm it and to test its drainage. A well-drained mound shouldn’t have puddles on it after watering. If puddles form, try adding some more coarse-grained medium.
- You can now plant your succulent. Remember to maintain a watering schedule that’s agreeable to succulents. Always check to see if the topsoil is still wet. If not, it’s time to fetch the watering can.
Clay soil is bad news for most plants, not just succulents. It retains water for too long and is also poorly aerated which means succulents will have a hard time growing at all.
But you don’t have to give up just yet. You can amend clay soil to make it more supportive of plant growth. Adding organic matter is a great way of doing this.
And if you want to make succulent friendly, then perlite, gravel, granite, and any other of the coarse-grained additives you can find are a must. Sand isn’t a very good option in this case. It’ll only worsen the situation.
Hello! I’m Oscar, a freelance writer from Kenya. Among other topics, I also love writing about houseplants – succulents to be specific. I prefer them because they’re so much easier to care compared to other plants and they also offer so much variety in terms of shape, size, and color.