How to choose the right substrate mix for your plants?

When it comes to growing healthy plants, there are four main parts of the formula that you need to consider.

Light + Water + Substrate + Pest control

Today, we will talk about the substrate mix for your plants and how to make sure you have the right ones. The substrate mix is very important as it is the growing home for plants, which provide necessary NPK (N – Nitrogen, P = Phospohorus, K = Potassium) nutrients. They also provide water retention or aeration as necessary, for the plant.

Step 1: Determine your Plant’s Needs

Different plants have different requirements for their substrate mix. Some plants prefer a substrate mix that retains water, while others prefer well-aerated substrates. Some plants require a nutrient-rich substrate mix, while others thrive in low-nutrient substrates. The first step in making the right substrate mix for your plants is to determine their needs.

To determine your plant’s needs, research their native habitat and growing conditions. This information will give you an idea of the substrate mix that will work best for your plant. For example, cacti and succulents prefer a well-draining substrate mix, while tropical plants prefer a substrate mix that retains water.

Step 2: Choose the Right Ingredients

The top ingredients for making a right substrate mix, depending on whether you need aeration or moisture retention are as follows:


  1. Perlite – Perlite improves aeration, modifies the substructure of the soil and keeps it well drained.
  2. Charcoal
  3. Arlite
  4. Sand provides drainage and improves soil structure.

Moisture retention:

  1. Coco coir – Sustainable alternative to peat moss. Plants will need much less watering. Good for keeping insects and other pests away.
  2. Vermiculite – Good for retaining moisture.
  3. Pine bark

Additionally, compost/earthworm humus is a source of organic matter and nutrients.

Other methods of cultivation include:

  1. Sphagnum moss
  2. Hydroponics
  3. Aquaponics
  4. Lechuza pon

Step 3: Mix the Ingredients

Once you have the right ingredients, based on the plant, a good rule of thumb to follow is:

  1. Tropical plants require moisture retaining mix (but making sure the water drains easily)
  2. Succulents and cactus need well drained soil.

The ideal substrate mix should be well-draining, have good water retention, and provide aeration to the roots. A good starting point is a mix of one-third perlite, one-third coco coir, and one-third sand or compost. You can adjust the proportions of the ingredients based on your plant’s needs. For example, if your plant prefers a substrate mix that retains water, you can increase the proportion of coco coir.

Now, it’s time to use the substrate mix. Fill the pot or container with the substrate mix, and make sure to water the plant thoroughly soon after repotting. Ensure the water drains completely.

For more tips and tricks, and a repotting exercise, we have our propagation and repotting workshop coming up soon at PlantekaFest. Get hands on and know how to make the right mix for your plants.

If you have any questions, please feel free to write to our community at Planteka too.

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