Good drainage is the key feature that must possess the succulents substrate. A compacted soil is lifeless: it holds too much water and prevents the delicate roots of succulents to breathe. These then, in these conditions, die and rot: in short time the mold affect inside the whole plant (See Last-minute rescue Last-minute rescue) and if nothing is done soon in a few days you just have a soft mass and smelly.
To improve the drainage of any soil is essential to remove dust. So we need to obtain a fine meshed strainer and sift the soil, which must be dry and comminuted so that the operation is effective.
To start as a base substrate for succulent you can use half of the common universal soil (basically peat) readily available in garden shops, you will have sifted, and half of river sand. The substrate used by me is almost completely mineral and is composed by a third of sifted peat, one third of pumice and a third of red lava with particle size between 4 and 5 mm (see the photo below). The pumice and lava in bags of this size are unfortunately available only in certain specialized nurseries.
The drainage of this substrate is perfect: it is no longer afraid of being watered too much. During the transplant is also very easy to completely clear the roots of this compound coarse. Unfortunately, the downside is that in a well-ventilated substrate is also easier for the insects to reach the roots of plants. To this it can be remedied with a systemic insecticide mixed with water for watering.
The proportion of peat can be increased or completely eliminated according to the need of water of a plant. For some non-cacti succulent, which in summer tend to rot easily, just use pumice and red lava in equal parts.
In the field of soils, however, each has its say: in fact, in the literature you can find complicated recipes for preparing the soil for every species of cactus; such mixtures in my opinion certainly discourage the neophyte and are of dubious effectiveness.
What matters in the end is that the characteristics of the substrate marry the needs of the plant, the climatic characteristics of the environment in which it lives and habits of watering and fertilization of the grower.

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