Growing Succulents in Rocks: Is it Possible?

Rock gardens are a beautiful feature to add to almost any kind of home. A lovely zen garden is a calming sight, and with a few succulents amongst the stones, it can be wonderful sight. But do they only need some rocks to grow in, or do they need soil too?

Succulents are not able to grow in rocks alone. Like most plants, they also need soil to obtain nutrients and support their roots. Succulents will not last very long without soil despite their hardy nature.

So, how do people achieve that rock garden look if succulents can’t survive there? Well, there is a way to do it, even if it involves more than just rocks. We’ll cover how to make a garden right below, but first, we’ll explain why succulents are grown in rocks.

Why Are They Grown Between Rocks So Often If They Can’t Survive There?

Mostly, succulents are native to semi-desert areas where there isn’t much good quality soil. There are some varieties which grow more in a mountains or rain forests, but either way, the succulents appear to survive on rocks only.

However, that’s not true. There are a couple of things which need to be understood when you see these succulents:

  • A garden can’t be compared to their natural environment. Many things happen in nature which may give the succulents extra nutrients.
  • There is usually soil under the rocks they leave on – either in a layer below the succulents, or within the cracks

There is also many gardening or home magazines which show the aesthetics of succulents growing in the rocks, but this is not a long-term solution and only for show. 

Unless you want to keep hopping over to the garden center to buy new succulents between every few weeks or every few months, then you will need more than just rocks under the succulents. 

How To Take Care Of Succulents

They Are Not Epiphytes

A mistake that people make with succulents is thinking that they don’t need soil and try to treat them like a type of plant called Epiphytes. 

Epiphytes are a kind of plants which do not use their roots to absorb nutrients, but only to anchor themselves to an object in order to grow. They only get their nutrition from the air, which is why can be called ‘Air Plants’. 

Some examples of Air Plants include:

  • Urn Plants
  • Orchids
  • Mosses
  • Some varieties of ferns

Because they are often seen growing on rocks, such as mosses do, some have thought that succulents are epiphytes as well, but they get their nutrients from water and soil as well, like most plants do. 

They Need A Special Kind Of Soil

Ironically, despite some people thinking that succulents do not need soil to grow, succulents need special soil in order to grow.

Succulents need very loose, loamy soil, that does not retain water for too much. It does not need to be the most nutritional but needs to be compact. The recommended kinds of planting conditions for succulents are:

  • Rocky
  • Sandy
  • Gravelly
  • Well-draining

It is recommended that you mix in some commercial succulent and cactus mixes, as this soil is designed for these kinds of plants. 

They Do Not Need A Lot Of Watering

Succulents are desert plants, and like cacti, they store water within themselves. Succulents hold water in their own leaves, which is why they look so large and juicy. 

Because they store water within themselves, it means that they do not need a lot of watering – in fact, overwatering causes a lot of issues. Too much water in the soil will make the roots rot.

A few tips for watering are:

  • Don’t pour water into the pot – use a sprayer bottle to mist the plants with water
  • Check to see if there are draining holes in the pot; it’s easy to overwater them without them
  • If the leaves are wilted or shrivelled, then you need to water it more
  • If the leaves are soft and squishy, then you need to water it less

Make Sure They Have Lots Of Sunlight

Again, being desert plants, succulents are used to a huge amount of sunlight. Make sure that they are in a place in which they get a lot of sunlight. It is thought that they need about six hours of sunlight a day.

Give Extra Nutrients If In Rocks 

If the plants are in rocks or gravel, it might not provide all the nutrients for the plants to be healthy. But with a combination of organic and inorganic materials, they can thrive. A simple way to do this is, using a 3-5 inch pot as an example: 

  • Fill the pot with an inch layer of gravel
  • Evenly distribute some powdered activated charcoal over the top of the rock layer
  • Put some potting soil over the top of it – perhaps commercial cacti or succulent soils, or else with two thirds peat and one third compost
  • Gently water – keep in mind to water it less if there aren’t drainage holes
  • Plant your succulents.

Tips For Prolonging The Life Of Succulents In Rocks Without Soil

So, say you have a beautiful rock garden, and you don’t want to dig it all up to layer soil inside it and ruin its aesthetic. How do you try to keep succulents alive with them only growing in rocks?

Well, there are a couple of things you can do to add to the chances of success of your succulents surviving in your rock garden without adding dirt to your garden’s aesthetic.

Add Some Organic Materials To The Rock Garden

This is a good way to add nutrients to gravel or rock buried succulents and may help replace the lack of nutrients which would usually be supplied by the soil.

Some of the most preferred materials by succulents:

  • Coco Fiber
  • Coir
  • Sphagnum Moss

Add Some Fertilizer

If you’re not willing to add some soil, and some fertilizer to the soil, then why not add it to the water? 

You can mix fertilizer in with the water which you use to have water the succulents and this will give it the nutrients it needs that the soil would give it.

Be sure to read the label, and make sure the fertilizer is meant for succulents and not other kinds of plants, as desert plants have different needs to regular plants.


Succulents are often seen growing on rocks in nature, which makes people think that succulents can survive in rock gardens without soil, but in truth, there is often layers of soil underneath the plants, or in the cracks in the rocks. If you want to grow succulents in a rock garden, then you need to supply it with a fast-draining soil with adequate nutrients in it, a lot of sunlight and not a lot of watering. If you choose not to ruin the aesthetic of your rock garden with extra soil, then you need to continue to give them nutrients, either through implanting extra organic and inorganic matter, or by mixing fertilizer in with the water. 


I enjoy all things outdoors and I love plants! I've never considered myself to be one with a green thumb, but it's my mission to learn, so I figured I would bring you along for the ride. :) Happy planting!

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