The very reason why people (including myself) ask this question is that they see many commercially sold succulents planted in sand or pebbles. It creates an assumption that succulents can grow in just rocks or sand, with no real soil inside. Is it truth though?
Well, the quick answer is, yes. But they can do it only in a short run. Succulents need nutrients that are present in the soil. Without soil, succulents can survive, sometimes for a few weeks or even few months (depending on the succulent variety and the maturity of the plant), but they will eventually die due to lack of nutrients.
The gorgeous commercial succulent arrangements we often see in shops are not designed to stay that way for a long time. It is a good short term project but not something you can keep that way back at home for long, unless you want to see running back to the store, having to buy new succulents over and over again.
Surviving on sand and in rocks
Succulents are native to semi-desert areas where the temperature is usually high with less moist and water around the plant. Some other varieties though are native to rain forests and mountainous places, and these are the plants that seem to survive on rocks only. What you do not know though are a few things:
- There is often some soil in-between the cracks in the rock. You may not see it with your eyes, but the succulent can get nutrients from it.
- Nature environment cannot be compared with the garden. You know, lot of things happen in the nature–rain, animals pooping and marking territory, huge variety of plants around, etc. On a rock on some beautiful mountain the succulent can get nutrients from sources it cannot get in your garden…
Related Article: Can Succulents Grow in Sand?
So do succulents really need soil to survive for a long time?
The answer is yes. As I already mentioned, most succulents are not epiphytes. They cannot survive without soil. But unlike other plants, succulents need special soil that does not retain too much water. That said, compact soil is not good for these plants.
Succulents do not demand soil that’s rich in nutrients. But they demand a fast-draining soil. Commercial succulent and cactus soil mixes (click here to check my favorite soil on Amazon) are perfect for these plants. Soil like this comes with organic and inorganic materials that provide succulents drainage and nutrients. If you don’t want to buy the commercial soil for succulents, however, you can make your own. You can read my guide on how to make the best soil succulents in pots.
Can succulents grow in gravel?
Although some growers suggest that succulents grow in gravel, I don’t recommend planting succulents in pure gravel. Gravel does not provide all nutrients a plant needs to grow healthily. But you can grow succulents in gravel that has a mixture of some organic and inorganic materials. This means that you need to add something to the gravel in order for the succulents to grow and thrive. Let me show you a simple guide on how to do this:
Step #1: The first thing you need to do is to fill a 3-5-inch-deep succulent pot with an inch layer of gravel. Some growers recommend using pots without drainage holes. My practice though is always to use a dish or pot with drainage holes. This will keep the plants safe from over-watering. If you use the pot with drainage holes indoor, make sure that the pot has a tray beneath. This will capture the excess water during watering.
Step #2: The next step is to pour and evenly distribute some powdered activated charcoal over the gravel layer. The powdered activated charcoal helps neutralize odors that could possibly develop and contained in the layer of the gravel.
Step #3: Next, add a peat-based potting soil mix on top of the gravel. You can make your own soil mix. You just need to combine two parts of the peat and one part of the compost. This is a great potting soil for succulents.
Step #4: Now, it is time to sprinkle the soil with water. If you are using the pot without drainage holes, it is very important that you don’t give too much water. If you do, the succulents will only rot and eventually die. To determine the level of moisture, you can poke your finger in the soil. If the soil sticks on your finger, it is already wet. The water is enough.
Step #5: Now you are ready to plant. Get the baby succulents and plant them in the pot. I love to start with small-sized succulents. It gives me an opportunity to make some amazing arrangements. But whatever you do, do not forget to give space between plants. They need it to breathe. A 2-4-inch spacing can be sufficient for the plants to thrive healthily.
Can we prolong the life of succulents that grow in rocks?
Suppose that you are really into trying to grow succulents in rocks. And you wonder how to make your plants survive without soil. Fortunately, you can do a few things to improve your chances of succeeding. It only involves some materials and little extra effort on your part.
Add fertilizer as a first step. During watering, mix the fertilizer with the water you are going to sprinkle on your plants. This will give the plants a source of nutrients. Estimate the amount of fertilizer you want to mix. Read the guide on the label, but make sure this is meant for succulents and not for other plants.
What you can do is to add some organic materials that will allow the succulents to get nutrients from. Some of the organic materials that succulents love are the Coir (check this material on Amazon) or Coco Fiber and Sphagnum Moss (check this material on Amazon).
Having said all of this, if you take care of succulents that grow in wild nature, such as on some nice rocky hill in your neighborhood, you should not interfere with the cycles of nature. Nature is always smarter than we are. If a succulent grows in a certain spot, it is there for a reason, regardless of how unfitting the spot looks to our eye. So just enjoy in its beauty and do not waste time trying to improve something that doesn’t really need any improvement…
Succulents can grow in rocks, as we can witness many times in the mountains. Without additional organic and organic material, however, you’ll struggle to grow these plants on rocks at home.
In order for the succulents to thrive in rocks, you need to give them something they can hold on to, and also a decent source of nutrients. Some of the great materials are Coir or Coco Fiber and Sphagnum Moss. Adding fertilizer to the water you mist the plants with is also a good idea. I hope this article helps you in growing your own succulents in rocks. For more information, feel free to visit my complete guide on succulent growing. Thank you!