Growing Medium (Soil)

written on Dec 26, 2016 and last revised on Feb 09, 2020

Haworthias grow best a growing medium that is well-drained yet moisture-retentive, and these properties are mainly determined by its particle size and components. Choosing the right growing medium should be largely based on the local climate and also taken the development phase of individual plants into consideration.

Sifted and washed pumice
Sifted and washed pumice

Particle Size

When water moves downwards under gravity, a portion of it is held in the pores of the growing medium by capillary action. A given volume of growing medium with smaller particles has a bigger surface area than those with larger particles, and therefore holds more water.

The optimum drainage is achieved through ~4 mm particles. Any larger particles increase very little to drainage and become mere obstructions to root growth. And when the particle size is under ~2.5 mm, water will form a perched water table (PWT) at the container bottom, or above any layer of more coarse-textured, where capillary action overcomes gravity. Perch water can only evaporate but will not drain. It occupies air spaces and can cause root rot. The smaller the particle size, the greater the PWT height, regardless of the sizes and shapes of containers.

Do NOT Add Coarse Drainage Layer

Adding a layer of coarse materials (for example, large gravels) at the container bottom does not improve drainage, but actually moves possible PWT higher and closer to roots and increases the risk of root rot.

In general, seedlings and plants being rooted need smaller particles than mature plants with healthy roots, because such particles hold more moisture and allows new roots to better elongate. It is recommended to first use sieves to removing the particles out of the desired size range and then wash the growing medium in running water to remove fine dust.

Components

Since Haworthias are perennial, a good growing medium should be physically stable and not decompose within a few years. Therefore many common organic materials like coir and peat, and some inorganic materials like vermiculite, should not be used as the main component of a growing medium.

A growing medium can be composed of just a single component or a combination of components. The baseline is that it should approach dryness 1~2 weeks after watering under the local average weather condition. The table below compares the water retention properties of some common materials with the same particle size.

MaterialsWater Retention
  • Calcined clay
  • Calcined diatomaceous
  • Coir
  • Peat
  • Vermiculite
Very High
  • Bark
High
  • Scoria
  • Perlite
  • Pumice
Medium
  • Granite
  • Sand
Very Low

In Northern California, for mature plants, I use a mix of 80% 2~6 mm pumice and 20% 1~3 mm coir. For seedlings and planted being rooted, I use 100% 1~3 mm pumice. These choices allow the growing medium to retain moisture longer in the local dry climate.