Potting soil is for potting, but what if you don’t have potting soil with you? At least 20 people asked me, “Can I use garden soil for potting?”, and I decided to give you the answer today. I am going to include all the important things that you should know about garden soil and potting. This is to ensure that nothing is missing and you will be able to do your gardening correctly.
What Is Garden Soil?
Garden soil is the soil that is enriched with compost and many other organic matters, making it nutritious for plants. It features a combination of natural topsoil or sand blended which makes its price very inexpensive. The most common ingredients for garden soil are composted bark, composted chicken or cow manure, or used mushroom compost. Usually, garden soil has a heavier texture and it can hold can water longer than potting mix.
Gardeners may choose to mix garden soil with other organic materials like compost, peat moss, or soilless potting mixes. Doing so will add nutrients to the garden beds, making them even more beneficial for the plants. Plus, with coarse organic matter, garden soil is great for better root development in garden beds.
What Is Garden Soil For?
You use garden soil for maintaining flower beds or for planting because it is the cheapest way to enrich garden soil. Things are the same when you use it with flower beds; very convenient and nutritious for the plants. Garden soil is for in the ground outdoors, especially when you start a new garden bed. Mostly, gardeners add garden soil to the existing soil in a flower bed or a garden. Another thing to remember is that garden soil is an amendment that you can mix with native soil. Most new gardens don’t have perfect growing conditions, and garden soil helps to improve the texture of natural soil.
While being so useful, garden soil is not ideal for using in containers because it does not have perlite, pumice, or vermiculite. That simply means it lacks drainage property, so plant roots in the containers will not be able to breathe properly.
What Is Potting Mix?
Potting mix, aka potting soil, is a mixture of various materials in one, like bark, compost, moss, perlite, sphagnum, and vermiculite. The organic materials like compost or moss in the blend feed the plants, while perlite and vermiculite make it well-drained. More than that, the mixture of various matters makes potting soil highly acidic. To balance the pH in this case, you will need to add limestone to it. And in order to keep it from drying out, you will need to add a wetting agent into the mixture.
Opposite the garden soil, a potting mix contains no natural soil, and it is ideal for plants in containers. Mainly because it is fungus-free and sterile, making this type of soil safer for potted plants out there.
What Is Potting Mix For?
Potting mix is used when you are growing plants in a container or when you want to start seeds. You can simply use potting mix alone for container gardens like potted houseplants and window containers. Avoid using potting mixes for flower beds or raised beds because they don’t have enough nutrients to feed many plants. On top of that, it is very expensive, so you don’t want to make it rain in large garden beds.
Can I Use Garden Soil For Potting?
Both garden soil and potting soil promise to grow strong and healthy plant roots for you. At the same time, they both provide plants with excellent growing conditions. However, these two are not interchangeable, meaning you cannot use garden soil for potting or potting soil for the gardens. Just because your tomatoes love garden soil does not mean your succulents have the same feelings. Simply put, garden soil won’t work in your pots, and potting soil won’t work in your garden. So the answer is no.
Another thing to know is that you can mix potting soil with garden soil for raised bed gardens. On the other hand, you cannot use the same mixture for your container plants. Don’t forget that potting soil does not contain soil at all; it is a man-made mixture of natural substances. This is why its sole purpose is for containers and pots because it is lightweight, loose-texture, and well-drainage.
Garden Soil Benefits
Ideal for in-ground plants, there is quite a number of benefits that garden soil has. However, putting garden soil in pots is not a decision that I highly recommend. Overall, there are some nice benefits that garden soil provides for your gardens and plants. So let’s see what they are below with me.
- Garden soil is inexpensive, so you can use it in a large amount for large gardening projects. It is also very easy to renew, which is a total plus.
- While allowing for great air circulation, garden soil also packs really well around plant roots. This simply offers the roots the opportunity to develop robust and thick root systems for strong growth.
- The formulas of garden soil allow it to have the average pH level that the plant needs. This helps with the health and growth of the plants while allowing them to reach their growth potential.
- It is fortified with kelp meal and worm castings that offer organic nutrients. These substances will not only feed but also nurture the plants, making them an ideal option for the growing season.
- Garden soil usually comes with basic nutrients, and adding them to the existing soil can improve many things. It simply enhances the quality of the composition, nutrient density, and texture of the soil.
Potting Soil Benefits
When you have a good potting mix, it will provide a number of benefits for your plants. So what defines good potting soil, then? A good potting soil retains moisture and nutrients around the roots of your plants. This is why it is ideal to have potting soil in pots, especially for a container garden. Another factor that makes a potting mix good is that it provides enough air for growing roots. It allows the roots to breathe so that they won’t clamp together and suffocate. When your potting mix is good, then it will provide the benefits below.
Aeration & Drainage
In potting soil, components like coarse sand, crushed rock, and perlite help to loosen the soil structure. They simply create air pockets that allow your plant roots to breathe while allowing easy water access. This will lead to proper water drainage so that your plants won’t experience root rots or other similar diseases. Just another reason why potting soil is more ideal as soil in pots, it is breathable and well-drainage.
When you buy a commercial potting mix, you know how convenient it is when it comes to use. All you need to do is open the bag and you can put them into the containers right away. Another awesome thing about potting soil is that there are different formulas that make them suitable for various plants. Not to mention that you can mix your own potting soil within minutes; it is absolutely convenient to work with.
On top of that, you can also customize your mix by choosing the ingredients that you prefer. The awesome part is that potting mixes are available for all types of specific plants that most home gardeners grow. Because there is something for every plant, you can trust that the plant you grow will have the most suitable soil.
The active or main ingredients of potting soil include a number of various substrates. Some of the common ones are black peat, blond peat, organic matter, perlite, and plant material. All these together make the mix’s pH slightly higher than 7, making it ideal for various plants. The best part is that these ingredients absorb large volumes of water, then slowly release that water as the potting mix dries. That way, your plants will always have enough moisture to grow in. More than that, these ingredients are not difficult to find, so you can make your own potting soil easily.
If the potting soil that you purchase includes fertilizers, it is even better because it contains more nutrients. You should buy a potting mix that has as many nutrients as possible for your plant growth. Just read the ingredients, and your plants will benefit a lot of good stuff from the mix. Along with nutrients, moisture is also another great thing that potting mix provides. It absorbs and retains moisture really well. This part is very important for the roots because plants can suffer damage due to hydration if they remain dry for too long. Plus, with the well-drainage property, this type of mix is very useful for your plants.
Go for organic potting soil, and you can trust that it is safe for your plants. The organic type is natural and pesticide-free, so it does not affect the health of your plants at all. At the same time, it also improves fertility while allowing useful bugs to take care of the plants. That is not all; the produce will taste better when you use non-organic potting soil to grow it. Not to mention that it is healthier than non-organic soil; this is a huge bonus.
Soil Types To Use In A Garden
You will come across a number of garden soil types, but we are only going to discuss the most common ones. Most of them are great for home gardens, and you should know about the differences that they have. All the soil types below are bagged garden soil, and you can find them pretty much anywhere. Every component that it has is to enhance the medium to improve the growth and health of your plants. When you buy bagged garden soil, go for the organic ones that have many natural ingredients. Some of the most common types of garden soil include:
All-Purpose Potting Soil
The unique thing about this type of soil is that it has a general mix of both inorganic and organic components. It allows you to use a wide variety of plants, from small to big, in your garden or lawn. Usually, organic components are bark or peat moss, while inorganic ones are perlite or vermiculite. This type of soil helps create fertile soil that allows good aeration, good drainage, and good water retention.
At the same time, all-purpose potting mixes are free of diseases, insects, and weeds, which is safe for your plants. Even better, some mixes now are also less prone to bugs like fungus gnats which is a big plus. You can use this all-purpose potting soil for containers both inside and outside the house.
Cactus & Succulent Soil
The name says it all, this type of soil comes with the purpose of nourishing cacti and succulents. While all-purpose soil is ideal for various plants, it may not be right for cacti and succulents. These plants have different requirements to grow when it comes to soil and other conditions. The first thing that you want to know is that these drought-tolerant plants are native to arid environments. You will need the type of soil that has great drainage so that there won’t be too much water.
When putting this garden soil in pots for cacti and succulents, choose the containers that are well-drained. This is to ensure that excess water will be able to drain quickly to create the best conditions possible. Bear in mind that this type of soil should be completely dry within a day and a half of watering. Then your cacti and succulents will be absolutely happy, giving you beautiful growth for years to come.
Many gardeners know about compost more than many other types of garden soil out there. Compost contains decomposed organic plant and animal materials that give the soil a great boost of fertilizers and nutrients. Along with that, it also contains plenty of main nutrients that are useful for fertilizing plants, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Adding compost to the soil simply helps the plants to grow due to the help of beneficial organisms.
The great thing about compost is that it will release its nutritious properties for a long period of time. It is great because your soil continues to get all the benefits even after weeks or months of adding compost. You can also make your own compost by mixing some simple ingredients together. For more advice regarding composting at home, feel free to check out some tips from EPA here.
Potting Mix / Potting Soil
Just to clarify, potting mix and potting soil are two different things that are used interchangeably. The main purposes of these two are for adding soil to a garden bed, repotting or potting containers, and starting seeds. Both potting mix and potting soil are soilless, but they do have their differences.
A potting mix does not contain any soil, so the label will be either soilless medium or soilless mix. As for potting soil, it might or might not contain garden soil or sand sometimes. Choose a potting mix if you want a sterile option because it does not contain pathogens that cause diseases. Since potting soil is not sterile, it can contain pathogens like fungi, other diseases, or even weed seeds. Another thing is that potting mixes consist of peat moss, sphagnum moss, and more that improve aeration and drainage. Potting soil does not have that; it only contains minerals and organic matter.
(Soilless) potting mixes are ideal for container gardening, indoor and outdoor potted plants, and seed starting. The ingredients of the mix allow it to retain moisture without compacting, which is beneficial to the plants’ tender roots. As for non-container gardening and landscape use, potting soil is the option to go for. It contains soil or sand sometimes; it can be compacted, dense, and water-soaked, which is better for outdoor use.
Seed Starting Mix
As for this one, it has a finer and lighter texture than a regular potting mix. The unique thing about the seed starting mix is that it does not contain true dirt or soil at all. In fact, it features a combination of coconut coir or peat mess with perlite or vermiculite. The purpose of this soil is to create an environment that encourages seed germination. So it has to be sterile so that the seeds will sprout while the roots can stretch as the plants grow.
This type of soil is a good way to start growing plants from seeds for beginners. It is a great method to give your seeds the chance to sprout and grow. Once you have enough gardening experience, rich soil from the garden will do the same good job too.
Not different from potting mix and potting soil, people also interchangeable use garden soil and topsoil. The first thing to know is that topsoil comes from the top 12″ of the utilized ground section. It goes through screening so that it does not have large debris and rocks, and it has a fine and loose consistency. When buying topsoil, don’t forget to check its grades so that it matches your using purposes. For example, the topsoil from the ground is loamy and rich, so it has more nutrients for the plants. This is it is advisable to read the contents of the bag when you buy topsoil.
How To Make Your Own Potting Soil
In case you don’t want to buy potting soil, you can make one of your own. The ingredients in commercial potting mixes on the internet are all available for purchase. You can buy those ingredients and make your own potting mix in no time. With the right ingredients and just a few steps, a potting mix will be ready for you.
What You’ll Need
- Ground Bark / Peat
What To Do
- Mix three parts of moisture-retaining substance like ground bark or peat with one part of aerating substance like perlite.
- If you grow plants that like acidic soil, simply use pine bark with peat instead.
- Add some fertilizers to the mixture for more nutrients so that your plants can grow healthily.
How To Choose A Potting Soil
You will come across many textures and types of potting mix or potting soil. The first thing to have in mind is that the best soil depends on the kind of plants that you have. For example, succulents prefer sandy soil, while many other plants prefer loamy and rich soil. However, there will be a few important factors that you should consider in order to choose the best potting soil.
The best ingredients result in the best potting soil, and that is a crucial thing that you have to look for. Some of the main ingredients in potting mixes or potting soil are either calcined clay or sphagnum peat moss. Either of them absorbs water in the soil, while other organic ingredients provide nutrients for the plants.
At the same time, look for perlite or vermiculite because it helps to improve the drainage of the soil. Perlite can hold water well, but vermiculite holds more water when they are in medium and heavy potting mixes. And if you want to balance pH, you can check the ingredients and see if they add lime or not.
What does location have to do with the decision of choosing a potting soil? The location of your plants also influences the potting soil option that you will buy. For example, plants in indirect light or shade don’t lose water quickly like the ones in full sun. Choose a lighter potting mix if your plants are not in direct sun, and go for medium-weight soil for plants in full sun. And if you are a busy person, choose a potting mix with water-absorbing gel granules. They can hold and release water for the plants, and not being able to water them regularly won’t be an issue.
Remember that you will use potting soil in pots, so drainage is among the primary factor to consider. To get that, you want the properties of the potting soil to contain perlite or other ingredients that help with aeration and drainage. The trick is that some plants prefer dry soil, while others like their roots to be moist. If your plants like nutrient-rich soils, look for ingredients like composted additives, rice hulls, and worm castings.
As for the acid-loving plants, you should find the ones with organic ingredients that increase the acidity of the soil. Along with that, look for the ones that are alkaline, neutral, or pH balanced. Once you know what your plants love in their pots, finding the right option won’t be difficult.
Non-Organic vs Organic
Both non-organic and organic potting mixes are suitable for container gardening, there are only a few differences. Non-organic mixes use fertilizer to provide nutrients for a single season to boost the growth of plants. Organic potting soil is more ideal for long-term use because it contains nutrient-rich organic materials in various decomposition stages. It is great for long-term use because it breaks down over several seasons, and it continues to fertilize the soil.
Can you use garden soil in pots? / Can I use garden soil for potting?
The answer is yes, but not entirely. It is better to use garden soil as the base for a homemade potting mix. However, it is not a good idea to use it as the only soil in pots. So what happens if you use garden soil in pots? As we have discussed above, garden soil is more suitable for outdoor uses. Garden soil does not provide proper aeration or drainage when it is in a pot. Therefore, it can lead to diseases like root rot which is not exactly what you want to see.
Can you mix potting soil with garden soil?
Of course, you can. However, it is for certain purposes like garden beds or garden-raised beds. This mix is only for outdoor use, not for containers.
What can I use instead of potting soil?
You need potting mixes or potting soil to pot your plants; there is nothing that you can use instead of them. So you will need to make one if you don’t have any. All you need to do is to combine individual ingredients that your plants require, and that’s it. PennState Extension does have some great pieces of advice for that, so check them out.
There you have it, to cut things short, you cannot use garden soil for potting. Mainly, because it does not serve the purposes of potting like potting mixes or potting soil do. Using garden soil in pots may affect the growth and health of the plants. So you should stick to the potting mixes or potting soil instead. Since I also include a quick way to make your own potting mix, I hope things will be easier for you.