Sonora Desert Dirt Finally Arrived!

Hello everyone! I hope this post finds you well! The Sonora Desert Dirt finally arrived. The seller on Ebay, candacelcolburn, shipped the dirt which was processed through the USPS facility in Mesa, Arizona on January 6. Then it went to Phoenix and was processed through the USPS facility there on the 6th and 7th… That’s where everything stopped, or so it appeared, until January 24 when it arrived at the USPS facility in Kansas City… Normally, once packages arrive in KC, they come on to Windsor but this time it went to Columbia then to Windsor which took another 2 days. Well, I am not going to complain because the USPS is having their own issues… I am thankful the dirt arrived safe and sound.

You may be wondering why I bought dirt on Ebay when I have 40 acres of dirt… Well, this is no ordinary dirt. The listing on Ebay says…

“You will receive 20 pounds of organic sifted cactus soil. This is real Sonoran desert soil. It is sifted to remove medium and large rocks, sticks, leaves, and any other natural occurring objects. This is the soil that cactus have evolved to grow in. Any other cactus soil is an imitation and an inferior soil. Get the best for your plants. This is the gold standard when planting desert plants. There may be a very minor weight variation due to this item being a natural product.”

You can get 20 or 40 pounds but I decided 20 would be enough to check it out…

I opened the box and found an envelope on top…


Seeds and instructions… Hmmmm… Must be a free gift. 🙂


Looks like rocky dirt, huh? I could fill the same size box with dirt from the garden and it would not weigh 20 pounds. This stuff is heavy!


I have not been to the desert but I have no reason to believe it is not authentic. It looks pretty much as I expected. Now I am wondering how to use it in pots… This could get interesting…


Hmmm… The package of seeds has a slip of paper that says “100+ Saguaro”…


The paper with it says “How to grow a Saguaro (Sa-wah-roe).” It is from the National Park Service…


The information on the front is about the Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) and growing instructions…


The back of the paper is about the life cycle of the Saguaro Cactus… It says, “Saguaro Cactus normally live for 150-200 years. Death may come from freezing, lightning, wind, old age or vandalism.”

While I was writing this post, I went back to the box of dirt several times. Some of my thoughts were, “GEEZ! I bought a box of dirt.” I laughed a little but the cactus on the shelf are smiling. They are saying, “I want some of that.”

When you buy cactus plants from a retail garden center or even online, they come in ordinary commercial potting soil that is not exactly suitable for cactus and succulents. I don’t know what the watering schedule is during the winter months with commercial growers but that is a question I may bring up with Nico Britsch (since he is the third generation of cactus and succulent growers).

The issue is using potting soil that is peat-based and how it absorbs water just fine when you first open the bag. There are several other ingredients in the bags that are great for ordinary plants, and even cactus and succulents during the growing period when plants are getting rain and supplemental water. BUT, when the peat dries out, it can be difficult to get it to reabsorb water. “Most plants” I grow in pots need to dry out between watering so when you water again one might think they are getting enough when the water runs out of the bottom of the pot. BUT, if you notice, sometimes when the potting soil dries, it pulls away from the sides of the pot. So, the water you put in may just be running down around the potting soil and out the bottom instead of absorbing into the mix… During periods of rain, the soil the cactus are in will absorb water because they get a good soaking. Sometimes I wonder if they are getting too much water but they are always fine. I have never lost a cactus due to too much rain. Then during the fall and winter months, the cactus are inside and their water is restricted. It is then when their potting soil gets as hard as a brick…

Cactus and succulent enthusiasts recommend using a “loam-based” mix. I cannot find a “loam-based” potting soil at any garden center, or even online. The topsoil around here is loam and I have wondered about using it as an experiment. Actually, when I lived in Mississippi there was an old goldfish pool in the back yard that was full cracks. I used to fill it with leaves and the HUGE earthworms would decompose it. I used the composted soil with a little potting soil and sand that was under the brick floor of the old covered patio. Well, that was quite a few years ago and I was a cactus newbie at the time… The topsoil here is very fine, as most “dirt” is, so I figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to use it, even mixed with pumice or perlite, as a substitute for peat. But you know what? This desert dirt is very fine with a few pebbles… Where cactus grow in deserts, there is a wide variety of plant life that dies and decomposes just like everywhere else. But, everything decomposes more rapidly in the desert so, and from what I glean, most desert soil doesn’t have much nutritional value… So, I am going to experiment with the desert dirt and topsoil in my back yard. Many years ago, one of the favorite sources of dirt for pots was from molehills. As the moles tunnel down, they bring up soil that doesn’t have any weed or grass seed. Ever noticed how long it takes grass to grow on a molehill?

So, I guess I have some experimenting to do. You can’t just plant in regular dirt in pots, or even this desert dirt, without adding pumice, perlite, or something. Anyway…

I better stop or I will be writing down all my thoughts about the situation or this post may get quite long.

Until next time, be safe, stay positive, stay well, and always be thankful. As always, get dirty if you can…


9 comments on “Sonora Desert Dirt Finally Arrived!

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Okay, I laughed too. A box of dirt. Well, I suppose that if I ever get a second home in the Mojave Desert, I would like to bring a few buckets of soil from the Santa Clara Valley there, just because I enjoy working with it so much. My grandparents used to bring buckets of soil from their summer house in the Sierra Nevada to their garden in Santa Clara, because they thought it was somehow better. (Actually, the soil in the Santa Clara Valley is the best in the entire Universe.)
    My concern with the soil from Mesa is that it is not necessarily comparable to the soil that any of your cactus are naturally adapted to. I mean, unless some of your cacti are native to Mesa or the region, they may be no more experienced with the soil there than they would be with the soil in your region of Missouri. The climate is more of a limiting factor then the origin of the soil is. I mean, although they prefer certain soil textures, they do not care where the soil comes from.
    Epiphyllums are a type of cacti, but because they are epiphytic and tropical, they prefer richer soil than what other cacti want. Saguaro are rad, but can be difficult to grow. Of course, if you grow other desert cacti, saguaro are no more difficult to grow while young.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Tony! I mainly purchased the soil out of curiosity. I have never been to the desert and have read different stories about desert dirt where cacti grow. Some say it is rich in minerals while others say it is highly alkaline and devoid of any nutrients and gets hard as a brick (which is why some Native American tribes used it to make adobe bricks). I am not sure what is in this stuff, or even where the seller dug it from. It could have been dug from her back yard.

      I posted about it on a Facebook group and it was almost like I got on a chat roll. I never had so much response so fast before and it lasted for a good half hour. Some people commented and said they actually use it for their cactus and others said they wouldn’t use it at all. One guy said how bad it was for someone to sell it and for me to buy it and it could even be illegal. He said a lot of other stuff about environmental issues. Then he got a lot of bad replies from several other people.

      I personally don’t see why I can’t mix topsoil from my yard (which is loam) with potting soil pumice for the cactus and succulents. This desert dirt is very fine with a few pebbles. I am sure my topsoil has much better nutritional value.

      Well, I am going to do some experimenting… Take care and thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tonytomeo says:

        Better nutritional value may not necessarily be a good thing for plants that are not accustomed to it. That is where desert soil might make sense. Pathogens, including those associated with rot, may proliferate in soil with better nutritional value. There are so many variables involved. You know, for years a colleague tried to grow a native orchid from the Santa Cruz Mountains. (They are not as common here as they are in other regions.) It never survived, . . . until he took some of the soil that it was growing in. The species had a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium that lived in the soil. Apparently, we had not been taking enough of the soil on the roots to adequately inoculate the growing medium. Perhaps the bacterium could not proliferate fast enough to sustain the orchid. We will never know; but the point is that it made sense.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true. There are many variables involved. My grandmother always had a lot of plants on the enclosed back porch. The only thing she used was ordinary soil from the yard. It would of course get fairly hard, but it still worked and they thrived. As I mentioned, people used to use soil from mole hills because the dirt came from below the surface where there were no weed seeds. Some people say you should sterilize the soil in an oven before you use it. But, would doing that ruin the nutrients in the soil? I am sure it would kill the bugs. 🙂

          Cactus and succulents, although considered desert plant, come from different types of desert areas as you well know. Most don’t live out in the middle of nowhere in a bunch of sand. They grow in areas that support plant life that die and decay and add some type of nutrition to the soil. Most of the soil is fairly alkaline so dead plants decay more rapidly. So, basically, desert-type soil may not have many nutrients. But, when we put them in pots, we use cactus mix (ETC.) and think they need fertilizer… The plants we grow didn’t come from the desert and have been grown in a greenhouse in a peat-based commercial soil before we get them. Likely, their ancestors haven’t seen a desert for many generations. SO, have they adapted to need more nutrients? Hmmm… If they don’t need fertilizer, why don’t we just grow them in coarse sand?

          Liked by 1 person

          • tonytomeo says:

            Baking soil seems like overkill to me. I suspect that it was popularized because medium that is used for germinating seed used to get baked. Nowadays, medium that is purchased is sterilized before it is baled, so is reasonably clean when it is fresh out of the bale. What it picks up in transit is no worse than what it gets in the greenhouse. Anyway, a long time ago, such medium did not get sterilized before packaging, so got baked, which was probably a goo thing back then. Somehow, people thought that baking potting soil would be good for houseplants too. However, it also kills good bacteria.
            Cacti or any other plant will not adapt to become dependent on fertilizer after only a few generations. It takes a much longer time, and many more generations for natural selection to be effective. The dependency on nutrients is more likely because the roots are confined. Plants from arid regions otherwise disperse their roots very extensively. It is necessary where moisture is scarce. I know that the native plants that survive all summer without any water are very reliant on irrigation while contained, just because they can not disperse their roots as extensively as they naturally would. Plants from less arid ecosystems are actually ‘more’ tolerant of lapses of irrigation, just because they are not accustomed to extensively dispersed root systems.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds like something I would do…lol I can’t wait to see if the seeds grow and what they look like in 150 years! OK maybe not. Lol

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rmkinder says:

    Great post! I lived in Tucson for 20 years and am fond of cacti. Good for you choosing to get the right soil. My only similar act was taking a baggy of soil from my mother’s property along with some apple seeds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Rose Marie! I have never been to a desert but I think it would be interesting to see. Well, there are many places I would like to visit. I will give this dirt a try. I might purchase a few new cactus to use for the experiment… I have mixed feelings about putting any of the cactus in my current collection in something new. 🙂 So, what happened with the apple seeds? I hope you are well. Take care and thanks for the comment!


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