Can succulents and cacti be grown together in the same pot?
This is a question I find myself being asked at least once a month – can succulents and cacti be successfully grown together in a single pot or container?
The simple answer is YES – they certainly can. But you’ll need to know what you’re doing.
Given the confusion that seems to surround this topic, I’ve decided it’s time to write a full guide on exactly how to do it properly.
The keys to successfully pairing succulents and cacti together are as follows;
- Select appropriate species based on compatible growth requirements
- Use a proper cacti planting mix with the correct drainage properties
- Use one of several methods (discussed in this article) to ensure you’re able to deliver water and fertiliser in a selective manner to individual plants within your arrangement, allowing each species to thrive in optimal conditions
- Understanding the principles of arrangement, in order to avoid over-crowding and poor aesthetic results
Easy as that. Or not so easy if you haven’t had experience with this before. But that’s why you’re here. Let’s get stuck into the nitty gritty.
What’s the difference between succulents and cacti – and why does it matter?
While I’m acutely aware that many of my readers will probably skip this part – it’s important to understand the difference between succulents and cacti.
The name “succulent” comes from the Latin word sucus – which means “sap” or “juice”. It therefore comes as no surprise then that succulents are plants which characteristically have thick fleshy parts designed to store water, in order to be able to survive in hot, dry climates.
However, while the majority of succulents grow in such dry and desert like conditions, others – such as epiphyllum – grow in rainforests, and prefer semi-shade and humid conditions. More on this in a moment.
So how are cacti different to succulents?
You might be surprised to learn that all cacti are in fact succulents. The feature which distinguishes a cacti from a succulent is the presence of aeroles – from which their sharp spines emerge. Succulents do not have these spikes.
This is good news.
As all cacti are a type of succulent, it would make sense that cacti and succulents can be grown together successfully.
However, as mentioned before – not all succulents (and cacti) are found in the same habitat, and as such – mixing plants native to different climate types will lead to problems.
Which leads us to our next topic.
Which succulents and cacti can you plant together in a single pot or arrangement?
As mentioned above, succulents and cacti are native to a variety of different climates – meaning they will vary in their need for – and tolerance of – sunlight and water.
Therefore, the golden rule for pairing succulents and cacti for a single container arrangement is ensuring you’ve selected species with compatible (or reasonably compatible) growth requirements.
Growth requirements can be complex, but there are really only two major factors you need to consider in order to avoid trouble – how much sun and water each plant requires for optimal growth.
Choosing succulents and cacti with similar sunlight requirements
As a rule of thumb, cacti normally do best in bright light to full sun for the majority of the day.
Non cacti succulents for the most part prefer bright light also, but many do perfectly fine in the shade – and some will even burn if placed in full sunlight.
Therefore, if you’re planning on placing your arrangement somewhere that gets less than 5 hours of bright indirect light daily, you may be better sticking to a shade tolerant succulent arrangement and leave the cacti outside.
Unless you’re supplementing light with grow lights, you’re going to struggle to keep the majority of cacti happy in a shade dominant location.
If you’re planning on placing your container in a semi shaded locatio with 5 or more hours of bright indirect light, you’ll likely be able to maintain a thriving mix of succulents and cacti – if you choose shade tolerant species.
For locations with bright indirect light all day – you’ll pretty much be able to choose whatever you want to plant.
For direct sun locations outdoors or on a windowsill, you’ll get away with most species as well – but will need to avoid shade dominant succulents that may burn on direct sun exposure.
Below, I’ve made a list of both cacti and succulent species which can tolerate lower light conditions – this list is not exhaustive, but is a good place to start.
Your humidity and temperature variance makes a difference also – so you’ll need to consider these factors also when selecting your species.
One of our favourite websites – www.succulentsandsunshine.com – is a great resource to find out more regarding the particular growth requirements of your succulent and cacti species.
- When planning your arrangement, determine what duration and instensity of light exposure at the location you’re planning on placing your pot or container.
- Then do some research to find species of succulent and cacti which are compatible with your sun levels
- We recommend avoiding cacti species if your intended location within the home has low-moderate indirect light, or has less than 5 hours of moderate-bright indoor light on a daily basis
Watering succulents and cacti planted together in the same pot or container
The second growth requirement that must be considered for each of your plants is water need.
One of the most common reasons planters containing both succulents and cacti may fail is due to universal watering for a range of plants with varied water needs – meaning some species are overwatered, and others underwatered.
In general, your succulents will need more water than your cacti plants. While both are prone to overwatering, cacti in particular will do poorly if given too much water – whereas your succulents may become limp or drop leaves if given too little.
How do we solve this dilemma?
Luckily, there are some work-arounds for this that don’t require you to match each species water need in order to be able to companion them. We’ll discuss these in the below step by step guide to planting your succulent and cacti arrangement.
How to plant succulents and cacti together – a step by step guide
1) Select the correct pot for your succulent and cacti arrangement
There is one simple rule here team.
Your container or pot MUST have good drainage. I don’t care how pretty it is – no drainage holes, no deal. All succulents (including cacti) will die a miserable death in soil that stays moist for too long. A moist, sad death.
For those in love with a particular container which no drainage holes – there is a work around – which we will discuss in the watering section.
2) Select the appropriate soil for your succulent and cacti arrangement
This is absolute key. You must pick the right soil for your succulents and cacti to thrive in.
These plants require soil that is porous and drains freely.
Succulents and cacti absorb water from the air around them, so soil that isn’t porous and holds too much water leads to over absorption, cell rupture and root death.
Luckily, most garden stores sell succulent/cacti planting mixes which are designed to reflect this quality.
Just read the label and ensure that they aren’t “water saving”, and that they have some sort of coarse sand or grit material present to make them porous.
Or, simply make your own like I do.
To make a potting mix for my succulents, I mix the following
- 1/3 regular potting mix
- 1/3 coarse particle (choices here including coarse sand, turface, crushed granite, composted bark – something with a particle size of at least 5mm)
- 1/3 perlite or pumice
This mix is total boss. The potting mix ads organic material, the coarse particles (I use coarse propagation sand or composted bark) and perlite or pumice form a great porous structure with added organic structure. Perfecto.
3) Decide on a confined or aggregrate planting strategy
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that one of the reasons most planters with succulents and cacti mixed in together do poorly is that the cacti generally need less water than their non cacti counterparts, leading to overwatering and death.
There are two ways to deal with this.
- Aggregate planting method
In a traditional aggregate planter, you’ll arrange and plant your succulent and cacti species all together in the one pot, using a potting mix as discussed above.
The obvious issue here is in trying to provide tailored water quantities to your plants, given that they are all planted in the same soil in the same pot.
The workaround with the aggregate planting method is to use a syringe feeding system.
It’s a simple system. Grab yourelf any type of plastic syringe between 10-50mls, and use this to slowly hand deliver water directly to the base of each plant. In this way you can control the quantity and location of water delivered.
For example, you might decide to water your succulents with 100mls of water once every 7-10 days, and your cacti with 100mls once every three weeks.
On succulent day, you use your syringe to gentle and slowly drip water directly to the base of your succulents – don’t water too fast or you’ll get lateral spill over to your cacti.
Then when it comes time to water the cacti, you can either water the whole pot as usual (if the succulents are due also), or you can repeat the same process for the cacti – if the watering schedules are staggered.
This isn’t foolproof, but it generally works pretty well in preventing your cacti from getting overwatered.
2. Contained planting method
In this method, you keep each species separately in their original plastic containers with drainage holes, and arrange these pots inside of a larger decorative container.
A good trick to avoid dead space that looks unsightly is to fill any gaps between containers with your chosen planting mix – then place pebbles or gravel around your plants, effectively hiding their separate containers beneath.
When its time for watering, you simply water each plant slowly, close to its root base – lateral seepage is prevented by the container hidden below. In this way you can effectively care for each succulent and cacti in your container as separate plants.
TIP: Make sure your individual pots sit on some grough gravel or stones, as you don’t want water pooling beneath and being drawn on by surrounding plants.
4) Maintain your arrangement
By now, you should have selected compatible plants, potted them correctly with excellent drainage and appropriate soil – particulate mix, and placed them in a location that matches your chosen sunlight requirement.
You’re also watering your succulents and cacti by a container or drip feed method, according to their water requirement.
In order to maintain your arrangement, you’ll need to fertilise with a liquid fertiliser as often as each species requires (you’ll have to look this up). Use the same method as for watering.
Lastly, ensure you prune back any plants which are encroaching on others, or looking too dominant – I like to do a early spring prune back each year.
And finally, I report my arrangements every 2 years. Seems to be a sweet spot.
And thats it folks!
Hope this was helpful
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Miss Pot Plant xoxo