Types of plant substrate

Just as humans have different nutritional needs, which may be conditioned by age, sex, physical condition and others, plants also have different requirements when it comes to their substrate. Not all plants are suited to the same type of soil, for example, a moisture retentive substrate that would be perfect for a tropical plant could be deadly for a succulent. It sounds complicated, but we will explain everything in detail so that you can become an expert.

Types of substrate

The substrate is nothing more than the solid medium that supports your plant, from which it will take some of the nutrients and moisture it needs to make its own food. Substrates can be classified according to their properties and composition. From these properties we can define which type of substrate suits which type of plant. According to their properties, substrates can be organic and mineral or inorganic.

Organic substrates:

These are of natural origin, produced by biological decomposition such as peat. They can also be by-products of certain foodstuffs, such as rice husks, cereal straw, coconut fibres, tree bark and sawdust or wood shavings.

Mineral or inorganic substrates:

These are of natural origin, but are obtained from rocks and minerals. They often undergo simple treatments to process them, without altering their qualities. They are not bio-degradable, i.e. they do not degrade over time. Examples of these are gravel, sand and volcanic soil. It is also possible to find treated minerals, such as perlite, vermiculite, expanded clay and rock wool. There are also industrial by-products, such as furnace slag, coal, among others.

Characteristics of the most popular substrates

Volcanic gravel: as the name suggests, these are of volcanic origin. They are rich in alumina, silica and iron oxide, and may also contain calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. Its pH is rather acid, it has good aeration and is very stable. It retains little water. There are some very specific ones, such as kanuma and kiryuzuna, which come from Japan and are excellent for bonsai.

Mulch or black soil : It is composed of materials of vegetable origin. It is the natural substrate that we usually find in gardens. Depending on its composition, it will look blacker or browner. It retains moisture very well and has a good nutrient content. Although it is suitable for a good number of plants, it is very likely that at some point it will have to be adapted so that they can develop better.

Peat: This is one of the most popular substrates. It is formed from plant debris from boggy places. There is black peat, which has an acid PH, between 7.5 and 8. Blonde peat is lighter, and has a more alkaline PH of between 3 and 4.

Sand: The most recommended is river sand. It has a medium water retention and although it has good aeration, it can become compacted over time. It is used to prevent water from accumulating and to improve drainage.

Coconut fibre: improves the aeration of the substrate, improves moisture retention and prevents the appearance of fungus.

Vermiculite: This is a mineral that dehydrates when heated. It absorbs moisture very well.

Perlite: a volcanic glass, which absorbs water very well. It looks like white pebbles and is very porous.

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Calathea orbifolia
An exotic Calathea

what substrate should I use?

The type of substrate will depend on the type of plant you have purchased. For example, azaleas, hydrangeas, camellias, gardenias and others require a substrate with a more acidic pH, so your substrate should contain porous materials with a certain degree of humidity. It could contain akadama and black peat, for example.

Palms are beautiful and can be grown indoors. A mixture of compost and perlite would suit it very well. It is advisable to put some gravel at the bottom to facilitate drainage. For tropical plants, you should look for a substrate with a balanced pH, but with materials that help retain moisture without causing waterlogging. A mixture that may work is peat, pine bark, rice hulls and perlite.

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Parlor Palm
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Resistant and for beginners

Succulents and cacti require efficient drainage, to prevent the roots from waterlogging and rotting. You can mix conventional soil with perlite, river sand and always put a layer of gravel at the bottom of the pot. Flowering and fruiting plants do not require too much preparation, so a mixture of black peat, perlite and a little mulch will do very well.

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Carassula ovata
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Snake Plant
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Knowing about the types of substrate is important, but you don't have to worry too much as it is possible to find specific mixes on the market already prepared for each type of plant.

If you have purchased your plant from a reputable place, such as Be Green, you can be sure that your new plant is in the best possible substrate for its species and when you need to transplant it, we can help you find the ideal mix.
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About the author
Ame Rodríguez

Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.

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