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A Guide to Potting Soil: Tips for Planting and Growing

Man has been growing crops since forever, but indoor plant growth and gardening isn’t exactly a practice as old as time. Throughout the years, many new types of potting soil have emerged because plants have different requirements in order to grow and thrive in the medium they’re planted in.

best potting soil

Today, we’re going to explore the world of potting soil, check out what it’s made from, how to use it properly, and what products are currently considered “the best”.

Our Top Picks for the Best Potting Soil

Best overall: FoxFarm Ocean Forest FX14000 Organic Potting Soil

Even if it’s slightly more expensive compared to its competition, the Ocean Forest potting soil is the perfect choice because of its rich organic ingredients.

Best for container gardening: Fox Farm Happy Frog Organic Potting Soil Mix

“I was looking for “live” soil to boost organic growth and this was reasonably priced. You see plants thrive, just add water!” (Customer review)

Customer’s choice: Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil

“I read a lot about soil and how to care for my succulents and the two plants I have and they’re all doing well. Great product in my opinion.” (Customer review)

How to Choose Potting Soil

Choosing potting soil for gardening may be problematic if you have never done this before or if you don’t have enough botanical knowledge to know what different plants need. Potting soil is what makes or breaks the health of your plant, so it’s really important to match the plant with the soil it’s planted in if you want to get the best ever results. When shopping for potting soil, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The main property of potting soil needs to be that of retaining moisture and nutrients for your plant to feel on. However, a good potting mix will do more than that. It has to allow the air to circulate and let the roots of your plants breathe. It also needs to be light and fluffy, otherwise, it might smother the roots. This is a property that potting soil should have even after getting wet because otherwise, plants won’t be able to expand their roots.
  • The location of your plant is also going to influence the type of potting soil you need. If the plant needs to be kept in the shade or in indirect light, you want a lighter potting mix because the plants won’t lose water as fast as those that require placing in direct sunlight. Alternatively, a plant placed in full sun is going to need a potting mix that can retain moisture well.
  • Knowing the ingredients and what each of them does will also help you pick the best potting mix. Good potting mixes will have a way to absorb water, nutrients, and proper drainage. For instance, vermiculite is an ingredient that retains more water, so it’s commonly found in medium and heavy mixes. For nutrients, you want mixes that contain composted organic ingredients. Calcined clay and sphagnum peat moss help absorb water in the soil.
  • Another important choice will be between organic and non-organic mixes. The latter category will only provide enough fertilizer for one season, while organic options are better because their ingredients break down slower and are suitable for multi-season growth.
  • Aeration is something really important as part of healthy plant growth. This will tell you that the soil in question allows water to penetrate the mix while permitting healthy exchange between the atmosphere and the roots of your plant. Good aeration is also provided by a number of decay-resistant ingredients found in the soil, such as high-quality peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite.

Soil & Plant Compatibility

Naturally, not all types of soil are created alike and, as you might have already figured, it’s important to know which plants are compatible with what type of soil mixture, so here are the main categories you’ll encounter, with a deeper understanding about the applicable scenarios for each:

  • All-purpose potting soils are designed to balance the capacity of providing proper drainage with moisture retention, making them suitable for container gardens as well as potted plants. They are suitable for multiple settings, but are often chosen by those who only want to buy one type of potting soil. All-purpose potting soil can be used to grow multiple plants, but note that, depending on where you place the pots, the water can drain too fast or not fast enough. They usually have conventional fertilizer with release that triggers as soon as you water the plant. Some of these soils are sterilized to eliminate living organisms. This type of soil works best with vegetable and herb gardens.
  • Organic potting soil is similar to all-purpose soil but it also contains organic ingredients. It’s another common choice amongst vegetable and herb gardeners. Instead of being sterilized, organic soil mixes use composting to kill diseases and pests.
  • Seed starting mix is a type of potting soil that’s mostly used whenever you want to plant something to transplant. They are used in highly-controlled environments and typically contain perlite and peat moss. They don’t usually have any fertilizer as they are designed for short-term use. In this stage, seedlings can take the nutrients they need from their seed coating.
  • Plant-specific mixes have been developed for plants that require something more than the general growing conditions. These mixes bring forth unique characteristics that have been adapted to the needs of individual plants. For example, succulents and cacti like a type of soil that can dry out fast but without too much compacting. Orchids have their own special mix composed of bark or a mixture that contains bark, peat moss, and perlite.

How to Make Your Own Potting Soil

Before you make your own potting soil, there are a few things that we’d like to mention. The very first thing to keep in mind is that DIY potting soil is a cheaper alternative to store-bought products only if you need large quantities of it. For those of you that require only a few containers of potting soil, store-bought options are still the best choice.

If you want to make your own potting soil mix, you are going to need:

  • 1 bucket of coconut coir
  • ½ bucket of vermiculite
  • ½ bucket of perlite
  • ½ bucket of screened compost (you can also use composted cow manure)
  • 2 cups of pelleted time-release fertilizer
  • 2 cups of fine sand

When you have all of these ingredients, simply mix them together and you should have enough potting soil to fill two 14-inch tubs.

Potting Soil for Succulents

Potting Soil for Succulents

Succulents are considered some of the easiest plants to grow indoors. They are a group of plants that are usually brought together by one common trait: they store water in their leaves, which leads them to have a full and fleshy appearance. They can look quite different from one species to another, but they do have a lot of traits that make them easy to recognize.

Since they can be different from one another, different succulent varieties require special potting soil to grow, so let’s take a look at some very common potting soil options for succulents.

Best for cactus – Professional Grower Potting Soil Mix

Best for cactus - Professional Grower Potting Soil MixView in gallery

 

Imported from Denmark and using a formula that works really well with cacti, this is one option worth remembering if you ever plant on growing your own thorny green friend. It works with a lot of cacti varieties and is available in multiple bag sizes, depending on how much soil you need. Optimized for a 5.5 pH and offering a well-drained medium for your succulents, this mix contains organic ingredients and nutrients for your cactus plant.

Best for aloe vera – Kenzoplants Store Soil Mix

Best for aloe vera - Kenzoplants Store Soil MixView in gallery

 

With plenty of health benefits, the practice of growing aloe vera indoors is a habit that has spread all across the world, with plenty of people now having at least one aloe vera plant at home. This succulent thrives with a potting mix such as this one from Kenzoplants. It offers fast draining and has a lightweight texture, being capable of proper aeration without causing the roots of your aloe plant to over-soak. You have multiple size options and a bag that can be zip-locked to protect the qualities of the soil in a controlled medium.

Best for tropical perennials – Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil

Best for tropical perennials - Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent SoilView in gallery

 

If you’re interested in growing your own tropical perennials, here is a mix that works really well for the beginner gardening enthusiast. It comes with organic ingredients and sand, perlite, peat moss, and many others. With its lightweight and airy texture, this is a soil mic that works with cacti, succulents, and other tropical perennials. You will also receive a pair of rubber garden gloves with your purchase, which is pretty neat.

Best Overall Potting Soil

FoxFarm Ocean Forest FX14000

FoxFarm Ocean Forest FX14000View in gallery

The Fox Farm potting soil is one of the best products in its category, and as we go through the specification, you will understand more about what this product can do for you. First of all, this is a product that’s ready to use straight from the bag. That makes it an excellent choice for beginners who are still not sure how much fertilizer goes into the soil just yet. Fox Farm potting soil comes with its own natural fertilizers, so that’s one less thing to worry about if you don’t know your way around these products just yet.

As you go through the product description, you’ll read about the fact that it contains stuff like moss, forest humus, crab meal, bat guano, and earthworm casting. Of course, you might not be sure what all of that means, so let’s give you the TL;DR. With a perfect balance between the nutrients that most plants need and a soil type that provides proper drainage and good moisture retention, the Fox Farm potting soil seems to check off all the right boxes when it comes to the qualities you want in your potting soil.

With its light texture, the soil has a sandy loam and doesn’t contain any perlite (note that there are some scenarios where you might be required to add your own perlite to prevent root rot, especially if you tend to over water the plants or not stick with the appropriate watering schedule).

Fox Farm potting soil is, what experts like to call, an “organic powerhouse”, especially because of the large number of nutrients it contains. The richness of the mixture doesn’t require adding any fertilizer for one month, which makes it an excellent choice for growing seeds. Even if it’s slightly more expensive compared to some of the other potting soils you could find on the market, it has properly-adjusted pH, comes with a bunch of natural nutrients, and is ready to use the minute you open the bag.

Fox Farm Happy Frog Organic Potting Soil Mix

Fox Farm Happy Frog Organic Potting Soil MixView in gallery

Fox Farm potting soil is back it, this time with a little something called Happy Frog potting soil mix. But does this product manage to live up to the hype? We’ll let you be the judge of that as soon as we go over what the different product benefits they claim actually mean for you as a gardening enthusiast.

The Happy Frog potting soil is designed for container gardening, being compatible with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, but also proper for growing some flowers, if that’s what you want. It comes with ingredients that include soil microbes which are meant to feed the roots of your plant in a more efficient manner.

Also known as beneficial microbes, these are naturally found in the soil and they are useful for breaking down organic matter. Basically, the Happy Frog potting soil is designed to mimic the environment that container plants don’t get to enjoy simply because they are not grown in the natural medium.

This potting mix also comes with dolomitic lime and oyster shells, which have been added to maintain pH balance (this is really important for plants like squash and tomatoes). Unlike the Fox Farm potting soil, Happy Frog does contain perlite, which provides great soil aeration.

Miracle-Gro Potting Mix

Miracle-Gro Potting MixView in gallery

When you’re ready to start growing your own flowers indoors, the Miracle-Gro potting mix is an option worth taking into consideration. It comes with the ingredients needed to offer your plants nutrients for about six months, offering all the necessary growth conditions for a bunch of different flowers. The manufacturer recommended annual reppotting and using the same potting mix each time.

Black Gold Potting Soil Plus Fertilizer

Black Gold SUGRBG16QT Potting soil Plus fertilizerView in gallery

The Black Gold organic potting soil is another viable option for those looking to grow plants in containers. It has a rich and loamy mix, being suitable for all kinds of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. It features a series of quality-tested organic ingredients that feed your plants with the nutrients needed for them to thrive without having to worry too much about adding fertilizer. With the current offer, you end up paying less per item the more bags you buy, so it’s definitely a good deal.

Espoma AP8 8-Quart Organic Potting Mix

Espoma AP8 8-Quart Organic Potting MixView in gallery

Available in differently-sized bags, the Espoma organic potting mix is an option worth considering if you want to grow plants in indoor and outdoor containers. The formula is designed to maintain soil moisture up to a point where you actually end up saving water when caring for your plants. Unless you completely forget to water them for a longer time, this organic potting mix will make sure to prevent drought and create a suitable environment for your plants to thrive.

Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil Mix

Hoffman 10404 Organic Cactus and Succulent Soil MixView in gallery

When you’re thinking about growing your personal little succulent indoor garden, this Hoffman mix is just what you need. The formula is designed to be compatible with desert and jungle cacti alike, offering proper drainage regardless of what you’re thinking of planting. The mixture includes limestone, perlite, sand, reed sedge peat, and Canadian sphagnum peat moss.

Michigan Peat 5720 Garden Magic Potting Soil

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This Michigan Peat potting soil mix is another great option for indoor and outdoor planting. It is formulated to allow water to properly drain, preventing root rot (unless you add way too much water, of course). You can choose between multiple pack offers, with the price becoming more and more convenient the more bags you buy.

Burpee Premium Organic Potting Mix

Burpee Premium Organic Potting MixView in gallery

Burpee is one of the leading brands when it comes to all things gardening, so it makes sense that one of the best potting soil mixes comes from this brand. The option that we wanted to talk about is an organic potting soil mix that comes with all the ingredients needed to help you grow flowers, herbs, and vegetables. With a coconut coir base and plenty of organic ingredients, the formula is enriched with Burpee plant food for more nutrients for your plant to enjoy.

FAQ

What is the difference between potting soil and potting mix?

There is more than just one difference between potting soil and potting mix, and it ultimately comes down to the ingredients. Potting soil contains garden soil, isn’t sterile, has organic matter and minerals, compost, and is heavy. Potting mix, on the other hand, doesn’t contain any soil, is sterile, comes with both organic and non-organic components, and is lightweight and fluffy.

What is the best soil for potted plants?

The answer to this question depends on what you’re trying to grow. When choosing the best soil for potted plants, you want to consider the plant type, the ingredients of the soil, nutrients, aeration, moisture control, and the type of fertilizer that comes with the purchase.

What is standard potting soil?

Standard potting soil is made with peat moss or coconut coir. It can include some other ingredients meant to improve drainage or increase water retention.

Conclusion

Now you know what it means to choose the perfect potting soil for your plants. Checking the ingredients of the potting soil or the mix you’re thinking of purchasing is one of the most important things to keep in mind, especially since certain plants have adapted up to a point where they have very specific soil-related needs for proper growth. Remember that one must not take their choice of potting soil lightly, as this can make a difference between a plant that’s thriving and one that’s slowly dying.