Potting soil 101 for container gardens

The very best potting combine for container gardening

Soil, water and daylight are the three major elements vegetation have to develop and thrive. And container backyard vegetation have particular wants contemplating their restricted area. So let’s take a while to speak about potting soil!

Vegetation spend their total little plant lives rooted and rising in soil. It’s the place they get their water and vitamins. It’s how they get the help their roots want.

So evidently, the standard and elements of your soil are essential to rising vegetation which can be robust, wholesome and productive.

Container gardens are totally different environments than in-ground gardens, in order that they want particular soil concerns.

Do not forget that you can’t merely use dust from the yard or seize a bag of topsoil from the shop. Rising and sustaining wholesome vegetation takes planning from the beginning, earlier than even planting any seeds.

Be sure you have learn all about moisture, aeration, pH and different soil amendments under to present your vegetation the most effective probability to succeed.

It may be very rewarding to take what you may have discovered to create your personal potting combine to domesticate vegetation that may produce the very best herbs and veggies!

Learn on for all the small print about elements, DIY potting combine and my suggestions for the most effective varieties.

This publish could include affiliate hyperlinks. In the event you purchase one thing by these hyperlinks, we could earn a small fee for free of charge to you.

Hand scooping potting soil in a trowel in a black container

What’s the distinction between potting soil and potting combine?

Potting combine vs potting soil

Typically individuals will use potting combine and potting soil interchangeably in dialog. It’s completely comprehensible!

Nonetheless, there are some key variations, as potting MIX doesn’t really include any soil.

Potting combine (additionally known as soilless combine):

  • Normally made from peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, aged bark, slow-release fertilizer, and coconut coir or different light-weight natural materials.
  • Comprises aeration and drainage elements like peat moss, which is why it’s so gentle and fluffy in comparison with potting soil.
  • Sterile and freed from weeds and illnesses.
  • Comprises fertilizer to maintain your vegetation completely happy.

Potting soil:

  • Normally made from a mixture of the potting soil elements above, together with backyard soil and compost.
  • Not sterile and will include weeds and illnesses.

Compost might be added to all kinds of soil and is a good way to maintain the planet and your vegetation wholesome.

Compost vs potting soil

Compost is decomposed natural materials that’s used to complement soil. Elements range based mostly on supply, however generally compost can embrace a mixture of vegetable scraps, grass clippings, dried leaves and animal merchandise reminiscent of manure.

Potting soil, as I described above, is a mixture of elements that encourage root progress and moisture regulation.

Compost is commonly added to potting soil or potting combine to extend its nutrient ranges. If you wish to reuse potting soil from final season, including compost can assist restore vitamins and pH ranges.

Potting combine vs seed-starting mix

Seed-starting combine is designed to have the feel and moisture retention essential to encourage seeds to sprout and child roots to develop.

Basil seedlings growing in potting soil - best potting soil for container gardens
Seedlings in coconut coir

Some seed-starting combine doesn’t include vitamins, because the seedling utilizing vitamins and vitality from the seed itself to sprout. Fairly cool!

Nonetheless, I like to recommend utilizing a combination with some fertilizer included, like top-rated Espoma Natural Seed-Starter Premium Potting Combine or The Gardener Seed Beginning Potting Combine.

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I’ve began seeds in each fertilized potting combine and fertilizer-free coconut coir, and in my expertise the fertilized possibility typically produces stronger seedlings.

Have in mind your seedlings will should be transplanted into potting soil as soon as true leaves begin to emerge.

I’ve made the error earlier than of leaving seedlings in a seed-starting tray for too lengthy! After the primary or second set of true leaves emerge, they want vitamins. In the event you don’t present them by potting soil or a bit fertilizer within the beginning container, they received’t thrive.

Peat moss vs. perlite

Peat moss and perlite are each key elements in potting combine. So what’s the distinction?

  • Peat moss can assist your potting combine retain water (it acts like a sponge) whereas on the identical time promote drainage, as it’s ethereal and open. This implies you may under- or overwater your vegetation a bit and they’ll doubtless nonetheless be high-quality. The draw back to peat moss is it isn’t very sustainable because it takes a very long time to develop and has a big carbon footprint to reap.
  • Perlite is a really porous volcanic glass that absorbs moisture on the outside, making it excellent for transferring water to roots. It’s a sterile substance and has a impartial pH, so it received’t compete with any soil amendments.
Your plants literally live in their soil, and they get almost all their water and nutrients there. So make sure you understand potting soil vs potting mix, nutrient ratios, DIY potting soil recipes, and the best pH for edible plants. We've got you covered in this 101 post!

Can you employ backyard soil in pots?

Utilizing backyard soil in a pot isn’t a good suggestion, for quite a lot of causes:

  • It isn’t sterile. It brings all types of critters from the bottom, together with bugs, micro organism and fungi.
  • It might probably harbor weed seeds and different undesirable stowaways.
  • Over time it compresses, which impedes drainage and loses aeration. Most vegetation want fluffy soil that provides their roots room to develop.

Are you able to combine potting soil with backyard soil?

Two hands holding dark brown potting soil over a wooden surface
Potting soil is fluffier and has a extra uniform consistency than backyard soil.

To enhance texture, you may combine backyard soil with equal elements peat moss and perlite, possibly including some builder’s sand if it’s nonetheless dense.

It will assist hold issues gentle, however you should still cope with organisms and different undesirable creepy crawlies from the backyard soil.

Backyard soil may make your pots very heavy and troublesome to maneuver, which is likely to be a difficulty for you.

General, it’s best to start out contemporary with both store-bought or DIY potting soil or combine.

Can you employ topsoil in pots?

Topsoil is simply what it feels like: the highest 6-10 inches of soil on the earth’s floor. So mainly … dust!

It sometimes features a mixture of clay, natural matter, minerals, water and air.

Topsoil will not be good for container gardening as a result of it’s dense and never sterile, very like backyard soil.

And whereas backyard soil might be combined with potting soil and different elements to make a usable potting combine, as I described above, it’s not advisable to do the identical with topsoil.

Greatest potting combine for container gardening

There are loads of manufacturers on the market, however listed below are my favorites and most extremely advisable manufacturers from gardeners:

General high-quality

Greatest natural

Are you able to reuse potting soil?

Potting soil can be utilized yr after yr, but it surely’s important so as to add again vitamins.

The nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and different vitamins and minerals in compost might be depleted, and peat moss and different amendments may have damaged down and compacted. Additionally, you will have a lot of roots and an undesirable pH.

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This makes the soil unhealthy to maintain plant progress after a single season — with out at the least some fundamental rejuvenation.

Listed below are some methods to convey used potting soil or combine again to life:

  • Unfold on a tarp, trash bag, wheelbarrow or different floor and filter any roots, useless leaves, and visual bugs.
  • Sterilize by enclosing in a lidded bucket or tightly closed trash bag and setting within the solar for a day or two. This heats up the potting soil or combine sufficient to kill all or many of the illnesses and different undesirable leftover pests.
  • Mix it with equal elements new potting soil and compost, to revive vitamins and construction.
  • Add slow-release fertilizer pellets (my favourite is Jobe’s Organics Sluggish-Launch Plant Meals).
  • If the construction has compacted, add in coco coir or peat moss till it reaches the specified consistency. Keep in mind these supplies don’t include vitamins, so for those who add loads of them, additionally add some further fertilizer pellets.
  • Verify the pH. Most greens do greatest round 6-7. See under for extra pH particulars.
Two hands planting a seedling in a small pot with four other small pots full of potting soil nearby, with tools and gloves on the table

DIY potting soil

In the event you’re solely doing a handful of pots, chances are you’ll wish to stick to the merchandise linked above on this publish. However for those who’re going to make use of a big quantity of potting soil, mixing it your self could be very economical.


You will need to understand how every soil modification works so you employ the correct ones for the kinds of vegetation you want to develop. The very best potting combine for container gardens has a mixture of supplies designed to greatest help your edible vegetation:

Construction for aeration and moisture regulation

  • Peat moss: Fibrous materials moss harvested from boggy areas. It’s sterile and naturally resists some fungi and illnesses. Most peat moss bought within the U.S. comes from sphagnum peat moss bogs in Canada. The usage of peat moss in gardening is considerably controversial, because it takes tens of hundreds of years to develop and isn’t sustainable.
  • Coconut coir: One other nice possibility as a result of it’s simpler to reap than peat moss and regarded to be extra sustainable; gradual to decompose so it lasts longer; sterile; and has a decrease pH than peat moss.
  • Perlite: Absorbs moisture on the skin of the cells to wick moisture to plant roots; sterile; and has a impartial pH so it received’t compete with different elements.
  • Vermiculite: Retains much more moisture than perlite, making it ideally suited for seed beginning and different functions the place you don’t need the soil to dry out. It is usually sterile and pH impartial. Take note of ratio under when including to the combo, as an excessive amount of can let mildew or micro organism multiply or roots rot. Too little moisture and your vegetation received’t thrive.
  • Builder’s sand: Helps construct air pockets and enhance aeration and texture. Use builder’s sand, which is courser than playground sand or seashore sand and higher for moisture retention.

Vitamins to encourage robust root, foliage and fruit/vegetable/herb progress

  • Compost: Provides vitamins and natural matter to your soil.
  • Sluggish-release fertilizer pellets add vitamins for as much as 3 months. I swear by Jobe’s Organics Sluggish-Launch Plant Meals. It’s superb, particularly as an added enhance for heavy feeders like pumpkins and zucchini.

Do you have to use sand in potting soil?

It is a widespread query. As I mentioned above, sand allows you to add air area to your combination. This additionally improves drainage so that you aren’t retaining an excessive amount of water in your containers.

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One factor to notice: An excessive amount of sand will make your pots very heavy, so be conscious of that.

Closeup of brown potting soil mix

DIY potting combine ratio

An excellent all-purpose recipe:

  • 2 elements peat moss or coco coir
  • 1 half perlite
  • 1 half vermiculite
  • 1 half compost
  • .25 half builder’s sand
  • .25 half time-release fertilizer

DIY potting soil ratio

  • 1 half backyard soil
  • 1 half peat moss or coco coir
  • 1 half perlite or vermiculite

In each instances, it’s essential to create unfastened soil that may enable water to empty simply. In case your home made soil or combine feels heavy or dense, add sand, peat moss and/or coco coir. If it’s too high-quality and sandy, add fiber from peat moss or coco coir.

Over time and with a bit experimentation, you’ll study what works greatest for you and your vegetation!

pH stability

Most house gardeners (myself included!) pay closest consideration to the fundamentals about potting combine: elements, nutrient ratios, moisture regulation, consistency.

Nonetheless, one other essential issue to remember is the pH stage of the potting medium.

Most herbs and greens do greatest with impartial to barely alkaline soil, between 6-7.

  • If pH dips under about 5.5, add lime, or change to wooden ash if rising tomatoes or capsicums – they don’t do nicely with lime.
  • If pH is excessive, add aluminum sulfate or sulfur. You’ll find these elements (and directions for learn how to apply) in most backyard shops.

Whereas that’s a protected strategy to go, take into account that not all vegetation have the identical pH preferences. In the event you’re getting severe about container gardening and wish to study extra, the Farmer’s Almanac has a complete information to the perfect pH ranges for a protracted record of greens and different vegetation.

This Soil pH Meter is a well-liked strategy to observe not solely pH but in addition moisture and light-weight ranges.

Green pumpkin seedlings growing in potting soil - potting soil 101 for container gardens

Tips on how to retailer potting soil over winter

Chances are you’ll wish to sterilize it first by placing it in clear, lidded buckets, in a sunny space. It will warmth it simply sufficient to kill off any dangerous micro organism. You’ll be able to then retailer it in clear, lidded plastic rubbish cans or totes.

Don’t retailer soil within the pots you used for the rising season. Particularly in case you have ceramic or clay pots, they may retain moisture from the soil and in case you have frigid temperatures this could trigger the pots to crack. Plus, having your soil able to go, together with clear pots, means your spring planting season will come that a lot faster!

Keep in mind so as to add again vitamins with compost and slow-release fertilizer earlier than reusing.

Now that all about potting soil, you’re able to put that data to good use! Listed below are some ideas:

And broaden your gardening know-how even additional!

The vegetation in your container backyard get vitamins, water and help from the soil they’re planted in. It’s essential to their well being and progress. While you perceive the distinction between potting combine and potting soil – and know the elements generally utilized in them – you can also make knowledgeable choices about the most effective potting combine in your container backyard! What’s your favourite potting soil? Share within the feedback!