Potting soil in garden

Potting Soil vs. Potting Mix: What’s the Difference?

Potting mix and potting soil are 2 phrases that are generally used interchangeably to refer to any medium through which a plant can grow inside a container.

When you get specific though, potting soil refers to any growth media which contains dirt, either partially or completely, and which is used to grow plants in a container. Potting mix, however, is any soil-less media which was specifically developed to produce better gardening better results inside containers.

You’ll always find garden center products labeled as both potting mix and potting soil, so it’s better to know which one you are dealing with, as well as what their differences are. Following is a side by side look at both types.

Potting Soil

In simple terms, potting soil is any container gardening media which has dirt in it. The dirt could be mixed in with other soil-less materials, or it could entirely make up the potting soil.

Potting soil is often nutrient rich because it has decaying organic matter and minerals, which offer steady nutrition to plants.

The potting soil can consist of dirt from the garden and one or more of the materials which are usually employed in the making of potting mixes. A potting mix can also be mixed with dirt, and it will, therefore, turn into potting soil.

Dirt or ordinary soil has a problem with containers. It will compact easily, blocking off air circulation and becoming water-logged, which make it less ideal as a growth medium.

On the other hand, potting soil is usually cheaper than potting mixes, and although the soil may be rich with nutrients, its density is a disadvantage and it makes it less ideal than potting mixes when it comes to container gardening.

Potting soil is very effective for container gardening. Another method is compost; you can get organic compost fertilizer from human using a good composting toilet. Organic composting waste is great for potting soil.

Pros of Potting Soil

  • Cheap. The first and best thing about potting soils is that they are generally cheaper than potting mixes. You can also create your own potting soil easily, either by using only soil from the garden or by mixing the soil with other materials.
  • Can be fully organic. Potting soils can easily be 100% organic. You’ll have to look closely at a potting mix’s label to see what it’s made from, but pure garden soil can be totally organic. If you are eco-friendly, then this is definitely worth keeping in mind.
  • Nutrient-rich. Unlike a potting mix that is usually enriched with organic matter, dirt is naturally rich in organic matter and minerals, which provides the nutrient needs of most plants.
  • Long lasting. The soil is natural and so, it’ll last for a long time. Unlike a potting mix that’ll break down over time and become unusable, a potting soil will always be usable. All it might need from time to time is a little amending with fertilizer or organic manure.


  • Easily compacts and gets water-logged. This is the main issue with natural soil and container gardening. While it might do well outside in the open, problems develop with soil once you pack it into a container. This disrupts the drainage of water in the container, leading to problems for your plant.
  • Not fluffy enough. A good container gardening medium should be light and fluffy. This provides enough space for the roots to easily grow, as well as the free movement of air. A fluffy medium is very important and the ideal medium for container gardening.
  • Low aeration. Potting soil allows much less air movement because it easily gets compacted inside a container.
  • Not ideal for seed starting. Since natural soil is dense and its particles are tough and heavy, seeds always have a harder time germinating and growing inside it, than in a potting mix.

Potting Mix

Potting mix in a strict sense is a soil-less growing medium, which got designed specifically for container gardening. It’s additionally made up of all the right materials to maximize the growth of plants.

A good potting mix includes pine bark or any other compostable organic matter, peat moss for water retention, plus perlite and vermiculite for nutrient, moisture, and drainage management.

The particles are usually larger in size than soil particles to offer the potting mix with better aeration. These particles are also lighter in weight, making it easier for roots to find their way.

Potting mixes can be custom mixed for particular plants or plants in particular stages of growth, such as a seed starting mix for seed starting. You can also get a cactus and an orchid mix, which both offer features to mimic either the cactus’ or the orchid’s natural environments.

Pros of Potting Mix

  • Fluffy texture. By featuring a lightweight, fluffy, and easy to penetrate texture, potting mixes provide the easiest and best-growing media for roots.
  • Good aeration and drainage. Potting mixes additionally have a better air-flow and water drainage than potting soils, which usually and eventually, become compacted.
  • Good water retention. The addition of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite, provide excellent water drainage, retention, and airflow properties, which is ideal for most plants.
  • The right nutrient mix. With a potting mix, nutrients are available in the right combination, and unlike natural soil, there is no pH testing or amendments necessary.


  • More costly. Since they need specific materials, potting mixes are generally costlier than potting soils, although the extra costs are often worth it.
  • Lightweight. Potting mix is also lightweight and this can lead to problems in windy locations. The solution is of course to use heavier containers, but this often means extra costs as well.
  • Breaks down over time. The organic parts of a potting mix will eventually break down over time and make the entire mix unusable as a growing medium.

Making the Right Choice

Choosing the right potting mix with all the right features for container gardening can mean the difference between a plant which is just struggling to survive, and one which is thriving. Following are the major features once more.

Potting mix and potting soil are two different types of growing media, with each one providing advantages as well as disadvantages.

It’s important that you always read the label to see what the potting mix or potting soil contains because that’s the only way you’ll be sure. And if the product offers no content list, then it might be a good idea to leave it alone.

A potting mix is definitely your best bet for container gardening, but if you are considering large-scale gardening, raised bed gardening, or filling in low spots in your garden, then you should probably use potting soil.

Potting Soil vs. Potting Mix: What’s the Difference? was last modified: October 16th, 2019 by Admin

Using Soil In Gardens: Difference Between Topsoil And Potting Soil

When it comes to growing plants, you may think that dirt is dirt. But if you’d like your plants to have the best chance to grow and thrive, you’ll need to choose the right type of soil depending on where your flowers and vegetables are growing. Just like in real estate, when it comes to topsoil vs potting soil, it’s all about location, location, location. The difference between topsoil and potting soil is in the ingredients, and each one is designed for a different use.

Topsoil vs Potting Soil

When looking into what is potting soil and what is topsoil, you’ll find out that they have very little in common. In fact, potting soil may have no actual soil in it at all. It needs to drain well while staying aerated, and each manufacturer has its own special blend. Ingredients such as sphagnum moss, coir or coconut husks, bark, and vermiculite are mixed together to give a texture that holds growing roots, delivering food and moisture while allowing the proper drainage required for potted plants.

Topsoil, on the other hand, has no specific ingredients and can be the scraped top from weedy fields or other natural spaces mixed with sand, compost, manure, and a number of other ingredients. It doesn’t work well by itself, and is meant to be more of a soil conditioner than an actual planting medium.

Best Soil for Containers and Gardens

Potting soil is the best soil for containers as it gives the right texture and moisture retention for growing plants in a small space. Some potting soils are specially formulated for specific plants such as African violets or orchids, but every container plant should be grown in some form of potting soil. It’s sterilized, which eliminates any chances of fungus or other organisms being spread to the plants, as well as free of weed seeds and other impurities. It also will not compact like topsoil or plain garden soil in container, which allows for better root growth of container plants.

When looking at soil in gardens, your best option is to improve the soil you have rather than to remove and replace the existing dirt. Topsoil should be mixed in a 50/50 mixture with the dirt that’s already sitting on your land. Each type of soil allows water to drain at a different rate, and mixing the two soils allows moisture to drain through both layers instead of pooling between the two. Use topsoil to condition your garden plot, adding drainage and some organic matter to improve the garden’s general growing condition.

Best Potting Soil for Your Plants

There are four types of potting soils: all-purpose, premium, professional and plant-specific.

  • All-purpose potting soil: Premixed soil for potting new houseplants or repotting plants that need larger containers. You can use all-purpose potting soil for potted vegetables, herbs and outside container gardens.
  • Potting soil plus fertilizer: Premixed potting soil with a time-release fertilizer that feeds plants for several months to promote strong root development. Like all-purpose fertilizer, it works well for houseplants and garden plants in containers, and contains a blend of sphagnum peat moss and perlite. Works especially well for container plants and hanging baskets.
  • Seed-starting mix: A seed-starting mix is specially formulated for seed germination and growth. This mix also works well for leaf, stem and root cuttings. This mix contains sphagnum peat moss and higher levels of vermiculite than other mixes, and provides the proper medium for growing seeds and cuttings quickly.
  • African violet potting mix: African violet potting mix contains lime with a pH adjusted for the acidic type of environment these flowers prefer. Contains a mixture of sphagnum peat moss and perlite for improved soil aeration and drainage for optimal growth.
  • Cactus potting mix: Cactus potting mix works well for cactus and succulents because it contains a special blend of organic materials, sand and perlite to promote drainage. These mixes also contain bone meal for phosphorus to promote blooming and root development.

Potting Soil vs Garden Soil – Most Common Differences

Newbie gardeners always ask these question; what’s the difference between garden soil and potting soil? When is it appropriate to use garden soil? Can I use gardening soil indoors?

Hopefully, after you have read and digested this guide the answer to those questions will stare you at the face.

First, let’s understand what we mean by the phase garden soil and potting soil.

What is Garden Soil?

Garden soil unlike regular topsoil is a bagged product sold in garden shops that contains premixed soil products in ratios. Ideally, this premixed soil is added to the soil in the garden or flower bed to enrich the topsoil with the right nutrients.

There are different types of garden soils out there and the one you buy depends on what you intend to use them for.

Do not confuse topsoil with garden soils, they are not the same. Topsoils are harvested from the first two feet of the earth while garden soils come in ratio mixes.

Big time companies screen and refine topsoil to remove large particles and heavy stones before selling them in bulk.

Depending on the area where you get topsoil, it may contain sand, clay or slits that might not be appropriate for planting. Because of this, companies and gardeners who specialize in gardening products create a mix of topsoil with other nutrients and materials for gardening purposes.

It is this mix of materials with topsoil that is called garden soil. The mixture within a garden soil determines its usage, this is why they have them packaged and labeled differently.

It’s a common practice to find labels like “garden soil for trees”, “garden soil for green vegetables” or “garden soil for shrubs”.

What is Potting Soil?

Potting soils like garden soils is a medium into which you can grow plants, vegetables and herbs. The marked feature of potting soils is that they are designed to be used indoors in a durable container.

Potting soils formulated for maximum results are specific to a plant and its environment. Popular products used for potting soils are peat moss, mushroom compost, vermiculite and a host of others in varying proportions for maximum yield.

Potting soils are commercially available in specialized shops in various composite combinations specific for optimal growth of plants. Notable examples of plants that require potting soils are African violets that will perform optimally in a potting mix with lots of peat moss.

What are the Differences Between Garden Soil and Potting soil?

There are many differences between potting soil and garden soil too numerous to mention all. For starters, a very wide range of acidity, fertility and salt content is present in garden soils but potting soils are more specific to a particular plant’s need.

Here are some notable differences between the two soil types:


  • The first striking difference is in the name itself. Garden soils consist of naturally occurring soils found in gardens and flower beds while potting soils are formulated for containers.
  • In varying amounts, garden soils contain sand, silt, loam, rocks and other minerals while potting soil contains natural rocks, moss, composite and plant matter.
  • You can categorize garden soils based on which particular component is dominant. Clay garden soils mainly contain clay soil, loam garden soil will have lots of loamy soil in it. Potting soils on the other hand is classified based on the materials used in making it.
  • Garden soils are normally referred to as living medium because it is a conducive environment for different microbes like bacteria, fungi and nematodes. Potting soil is void of microbes.
  • Potting soils are better at retaining water from watering can, and thus can remain moist for longer periods Garden soils on the other hand drain water easily and are better suited for outdoor use. Garden hoses such as metal hose, rubber hose or expandable hoses are used for watering them.
  • Regarding textures, potting soils are different from gardening soils. Soil texture is directly proportional to constituent ingredients and as such garden soils are a lot heavier than potting soils. Potting soils are light and generally less cumbersome to work on.
  • One major advantage of using sterile potting soil is that it reduces the risk of introducing pathogens into the house. The soil biota of garden soils contains pathogenic organisms that are harmful to humans. Using potting soils indoors becomes more important if you have kids running around the house.
  • Potting soils are more expensive to purchase. Since you probably will be buying several bags, expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $25 per potting bag.

When to Use Garden soil?

Garden soils are at their best when mixed with existing soils in flower or garden beds. For best results you can mix them up with organic matter such as peat moss or compost.

The main purpose of garden soil is to support vegetation and provide an enabling environment for microbes to break down organic matter.

When to Use Potting Soil?

Like gardening soil, potting soils are used to support plant life and vegetation but in a more specific manner suited for plants. Garden soils easily get compact if placed in a container and might not be ideal for the roots of plants. Potting soils retain water for longer periods and do not shrink in containers.

Regular garden soils can quickly get compact within the walls of a container limiting the growth of roots. Insects and diseases can easily find their way indoors if you use garden soils in place of potting soils indoors.

Final Words

Potting soils and gardening soils differ in many aspects. The main rule of thumb is to use garden soils for outdoor garden and flower planting beds while you strive to maintain potted plants with potting soil.

Hopefully, this article has answered most of the questions you have about garden soils vs potting soils.

Now that you know what each of them is and how they are made up, go about using them properly to grow very healthy and problem free plants and vegetation.

Growing healthy plants is not just a matter of placing them in the ground or container and watering them. It all begins with understanding and choosing the right soil. What most people don’t understand is that there is a significant difference between garden soil and potting soil. Kurtz Bros in Westerville, Groveport, Dublin, and Alexandria Ohio stock several varieties to provide what you need. Knowing how they work is the key in using the correct type for your plants.

Gardening Soil Defined

Gardening soil, also known as topsoil, is a natural soil. It is found in the ground and can be mixed with other ingredients to promote healthy plant growth. Common mixtures to topsoil include manure and compost. These mixtures are meant to be “conditioners” to the topsoil because topsoil in and of itself is typically not quite sufficient in making plants grow. It is generally for outdoor plant use due to its natural properties that enable healthy roots and ultimately,enable healthy plants.

The Wonders of Potting Soil

On the other hand, there is potting soil. This soil, as the name suggests, is generally used with potted plants in indoor settings. Because potted plants lack natural nutrients found in topsoil and due to the plant growth environment; potting soil is required to be different from topsoil in terms of composition. Unlike topsoil, potting soil may have little to no natural soil content because it is manufactured from natural and man-created elements. Often, it is made out of different ingredients such as moss, sphagnum, bark, coconut husks, vermiculite, and coir.

These ingredients are used in the soil in order to allow enough air to the roots, while still keeping a soil-like texture that promotes moisture retention and adequate drainage as needed in potted plants. Potting soil is sterilized, which helps in eliminating any growth of harmful substances to the plant such as weeds and fungus. For potted plants, this is critical for they are in a moist environment and hence quite vulnerable to harmful substances.

Topsoil vs. potting mix: Choosing the right soil for your plants | The Kansas City Star

Soil is the basis of all gardening. Growing healthy plants always starts with good soil for strong root development.

All soils are not created equal. They have different components, and success depends on making sure you have the right variety.

Soil is not dirt. Soil is what plants grow in. Dirt is what collects on the furniture or under your nails. Soil is simply a mixture of sand, silt and organic matter that supports plant growth. In the gardening world, various mixes have been engineered to achieve greater success. This is where we get down and dirty to fully understand soils.


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Topsoil is the natural layer that has formed at the surface over millions of years from rock decomposition, wind and water movement.

Topsoil in the Kansas City area is mainly heavy clay soil, which, while nutritious, doesn’t always have the ideal properties for growing healthy plants. It can hold excess moisture during rainy periods or be brick hard during droughts, affecting root development.

For practical purposes, topsoil is what you already have in your yard.

Enriched topsoil

Enriched topsoil is a mix of local topsoil and organic matter. The organic matter improves the quality of soil for better growth.

Here is the important point: If you are filling a low spot and don’t need better quality than what’s already there, purchase topsoil. But if you want to grow plants, go with the enriched topsoil. It’s superior to topsoil.

Potting (soil-less) mix

Potting mix is used in container gardening. The best quality potting soils do not contain soil (dirt); they are called soil because we grow plants in the material. Potting or soil-less mix is actually a mixture of peat moss, pine bark and organic materials. It is specially blended to have the right mix of air- and water-holding pores to promote good growth.

Adding topsoil or enriched topsoil to a container creates a heavy mix that often lacks proper drainage because of the clay. The formulated particle balance of a soil-less mix is ideal when used in small volumes because it provides the best environment for good root development.

Unfortunately, these mixes tend to be more expensive than topsoil. Potting soil comes in bags at the garden center right alongside the less costly topsoil or enriched topsoil. Remember your purpose when purchasing soil. If you are filling a hole, purchase topsoil. If you are improving your local soil or a bed, purchase enriched topsoil or compost. Select potting mix when planting a container garden.

Once you know the inside dirt on soil, you will avoid costly mistakes and be on the path to success.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to [email protected] or visit KCGardens.KansasCity.com

Can You Re-Use Potting Soil From Your Containers?

Q. Mike: My wife likes to plant flowers and vegetables in large pots. Come winter, we empty the pots. The used potting soil usually contains an extensive root structure and often is beginning to sprout weeds. What is the best way to store and recondition the potting soil for reuse the following year? Thanks!

    —Dr. Mitch; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Both my wife and I thoroughly enjoy your programme for the sound, useful advice and the humorous and boisterous tone in which it is delivered. Would you please settle a long-standing disagreement between us: Can one re-use potting soil after having grown plants/flowers in it for one season? The husband says: “Yes! You bet-your-potting-soil!” The dear wife (who, admittedly has spent 100 hours gardening for every hour the husband has dabbled) claims that such soil is spent after one growing season and may now harbour insects and/or disease. Who is right? Please do let us know…

    —Michael (the husband) in Spokane, Washington

Q. An excellent question, and one that deserves an intelligent discussion. But instead of that, I’ll tell you what I do with mine.

First, let’s review the basics of container contents. Because you are going to trap these poor plants in a finite space, as opposed to the great outdoors where they can send their roots out much further in search of help, you have to supply them with a light growing mediumthat drains exceptionally well. That means no garden soil in the mix. Instead, the ideal medium for containers is three-quarters soil-free mix and one-quarter compost.

“Soil-free mix” is the term I use for high-quality potting soil; it may also be called professional mix, seed-starting mix, sterile growing medium or some other synonym. It’s generally composed of milled peat moss (with a little lime to adjust the pH), perlite and/or vermiculite (naturally occurring minerals that are ‘popped’ in big ovens) and some compost or {quote} “composted forest products”. Some packagers substitute coir (shredded coconut fiber) for the peat; and some companies add nutrients to the mix (which is bad if the nutrients are man-made chemicals, but wonderful if they’re natural things like worm castings).

Mix one of those mixes up with some high-quality compost, and you’ll have a growing medium that retains moisture and drains well, contains a nice amount of organic matter, and is light enough for you to move the containers around fairly easily.

So—what do you then do with this wonderful stuff at the end of its first season? Because the soil will expand and contract greatly over a harsh winter, those who grow where the ground freezes hard should empty out plastic, ceramic and clay pots to protect them from cracking. Or you can just bring the whole schmageggie inside to a place that will remain above freezing. (If you do empty them out in the fall, remove any roots or weeds and add them to your compost pile. If you store the pots full, plan to remove this debris when you freshen up the mix the following Spring.)

In my opinion and physical reality, the only hard-core issue of re-use here is The Tomato Rule. Potting soil that was used to grow tomatoes should not be used to grow tomatoes the following two years. BUT that soil can be used to grow flowers, bush beans, peppers, salad greens—whatever you want, as long as it’s not tamatas. Conversely (like the sneakers), soil that hasn’t ever been used for tomatoes (or that hasn’t seen their roots for a few seasons) can be used to grow this year’s love apples.

One way to achieve this noble end is to have two big galvanized or hard plastic trash cans, label one with a T and one without, and use these to store your soils over winter. Don’t worry about otherwise mixing the soil from different pots; I actually prefer to combine mine to mitigate any potential nutrient imbalances and such.

The following season, buy some fresh soil-free mix and use it to freshen up every pot that gets filled with old soil. How much? Up to a third new mix if your old soil is really old or if it seems to be bulking up on you; less if your old stuff is still light and fluffy. Always add fresh compost to the tune of one-quarter of the container.

Now the risks. Insect carry-over is fairly remote, as is the risk of keeping a disease alive other than the soil-borne wilts that attack tomatoes. Weeds could be an issue, especially if you don’t mulch the tops of your containers with shredded leaves (which I highly recommend as the leaves also retain moisture, a very important consideration for pots in direct sun or during an especially hot dry summer).

But those weeds (and any tricky diseases) will still be much less of an issue than in outdoor gardens, and the weeds can be even further avoided by layering the new season’s compost a couple of inches thick on top of the old soil-free mix instead of mixing it in.

And if, like me, you garden in ground and in containers, it’s a wonderful idea to give one or two of your containers a completely fresh set of clothes every few years and mix their old potting soil into your garden, where its mix of lightweight ingredients will be welcomed by the roots of your plants—especially if those poor rooties have to try and fight their way through the misery of clay.

Read these Previous Questions of the Week on CONTAINER GROWING BASICS and GROWING TOMATOES IN CONTAINERS for more info on those important topics.

Ask Mike A Question Mike’s YBYG Archives Find YBYG Show

When repotting a houseplant or transplanting seedlings to a window box, the urban gardener has to answer a basic container-gardening question: Is it OK to reuse potting soil? Or should I start fresh?

The basic answer is yes, it’s possible to reuse potting soil. But first do a few things to perk it up–and replace its nutrients. Here’s how:

Photography by Erin Boyle.

1. Remove old plant matter (roots, twigs, leaves).

Above: I transplant spring bulbs from their nursery pots to my window box, where they will bloom.

I plucked from the window box the dried-up winter greens I had used to decorate it in January.

2. Fluff the soil.

Above: Soil remediation under way.

OK. ready to begin the soil remediation. Basic science tells us that plants use the nutrients in soil to grow. Over time, reusing the same potting soil in container gardening can deplete the nutrient stores in the soil and result in lackluster plants. Luckily, there’s no need to do a wholesale soil dump each spring.

To prep the box, I used a trowel to turn my soil. Turning the soil had the dual purpose of making sure that it wasn’t invested with bugs–in which case a dump might be worth it—and making sure that the soil is light and fluffy. Hard and compacted soil doesn’t leave enough room for roots to grow, so this step is crucial. Use a sturdy trowel; a Transplant Trowel from DeWit, similar to mine, is $35.50 from Garrett Wade.

3. Add nutrients to the soil.

Above: To amend the soil, you can also add compost that you blend yourself at home or purchase from a farmer friend.

After I “tilled” my window box soil, I added a soil amendment. From a local shop, I bought a small bag of Plant-Tone Organic Plant Food (a four-pound bag is $9.84 from Amazon). The mixture is an organic blend of bone meal, feather meal, poultry manure, and other stuff that smells a little funny but will return to the soil the nutrients that it might have lost.

4. Blend well.

Above: I added about a cup and half of plant food to my soil and mix it well. This is definitely an occasion for breaking out the garden gloves: mine are Gardener’s Goat Skin Work Gloves, $40 from Womanswork. I knew that I’d be adding potted plants with fresh soil already attached to their roots, so at this stage I scooped out some of the old soil to make room.

5. Make room for plants.

Above: I worked on a layer of brown paper bags, opened up so that after I finished I could dump any leftover soil into a storage bag (and not leave too much of a mess behind).

I gently separated some of the root bulbs from the mass to be able to fit them into my narrow box. Daffodil bulbs are hardy, so a little wriggling shouldn’t do any lasting damage.

So many flowering bulbs, so many ways to use them effectively in a flower bed or container garden. Get started with Everything You Need to Know About Bulbs & Tubers and see our curated Garden Design 101 guides to Daffodils, Tulips, and Lily of the Valley. And read more at:

  • Expert Advice from Old House Gardens: 10 Ideas for Planning a Spring Bulb Garden
  • DIY: An Instant Carpet of Snowdrops
  • Gardening 101: How to Plant a Bulb
  • 5 Quick Fixes: The Rarified Daffodil

Garden Soil Vs. Potting Soil: Pros And Cons

The soil you choose for your plants can impact their health and the rate at which they grow. Not all soils are created equal. Should you use potting soil or gardening soil, and why would it make a difference? The answer lies in the purpose for which the soil is intended. Plants in ground have different needs than container plants. There can be many reasons to use potting soil instead of garden soil when you’re growing plants in containers.

For the most part, potting soil will keep container-grown plants healthier. But there are some situations where potting mix is too expensive and garden soil, which is usually free, will work just as well. With outdoor container plants, you have the option of using either a potting mix or a homemade mix of garden soil plus amendments. Finding out when to use garden soil and what its benefits are against potting soil is important for this reason.

Garden Soil Pros and Cons

Bonnie’s viewpoint: Garden soils are developed primarily for in-ground plants. Most garden soil is free but will need annual amendments to replace nutrients that were used up and keep the site from compacting. Those are just two of the garden soil pros and cons, but there are many more. Deciding whether to use garden or potting soil is an individual choice. That said, you will likely have better luck if you use amended soil or purchased garden soil outdoors. Let’s walk through some garden soil pros/cons to see why.

Benefits of garden soil. Potting soils are formulated to have average plant pH needs, provide drainage and usually have basic nutrients. Garden soils vary by location and how much amendment the gardener has put into the soil, unless you use a purchased product which can be expensive in large areas. These usually have a high amount of organic matter in the form of compost. One of the advantages of garden soil is that it is easily renewable. Simply saving kitchen scraps and incorporating them into the soil can improve the texture, composition and nutrient density. Another of the benefits of garden soil is that it packs well around plant roots, allowing them to develop a thick root base.

When to use garden soil. Garden soils are ideally suited to outdoor plants. Most garden soils are either clay, sand or loam but their composition can be changed by adding natural amendments like compost. You can use them in containers but some perlite and peat moss needs to be added to increase porosity. Do not use garden soil in containers that will be brought indoors, as they may have insect eggs that could hatch. The pH of unaltered garden soil is best suited for native plants. That is because plants indigenous to the area are adapted to that type of soil and pH. Starting veggies outdoors or building a flower bed are excellent uses for garden soil.

Adjusting garden soil. There are very inexpensive soil tests available at most nursery centers. You can use these to determine the pH of your soil and any nutrient deficiencies. The pH for veggies is between 6.0 and 8.0. This range is also perfect for fruit trees and most ornamentals. A few plants, like hydrangea, prefer a slightly more acidic soil which can be made by adding sulfur or gypsum. If your soil is too acidic, you can sweeten it with lime. Adding several layers of compost or well-rotted manure to the garden bed will enhance the nutrient content, porosity, and improve soil structure naturally.

Potting Soil Pros and Cons

Ilana’s viewpoint: Using garden soil is all well and good for outdoor garden beds and the like, but it’s just as important to learn about potting soil pros and cons and when to use potting soil for gardening.

Potting soil is better for containers. Potting mixes are typically composed of ingredients that hold onto water and nutrients, and others that promote good drainage and aeration. For example, they may contain peat, vermiculite (an expanded clay material), perlite, coconut coir, compost, or bark. Quality potting mixes are much less compactible than garden soil. These qualities help potted plants deal with the difficulties of life in a container.

Potting soil may be identical to potting mix, or it may contain actual soil as one of the ingredients. Read the label to know what you are getting. If soil is on the ingredient mix, the product is good for adding to outdoor raised beds or outdoor containers, but it’s not ideal for indoor container use. Soil-free potting mixes are best for most indoor plants, but they’re usually too light and fluffy for garden bed use.

Potting soil better fits specific plants. Many varieties of potting soil are available at gardening stores, hardware stores, and other outlets. These may be designed for different types of plants and situations. You’ll find cactus and succulent soil, mixes for acid-loving plants, African violet mixes, and water-holding mixes designed for people who frequently forget to water their plants.

Potting soils are easier overall. If you use garden soil for outdoor containers or raised beds, you’ll have to add a source of nutrients, and you may have to increase the percentage of organic matter, improve the drainage, or change the pH. To do that, you’ll probably have to buy several different amendments to mix in. On the other hand, potting soil and potting mixes are usually designed to be used right out of the bag. You can simply fill up the container and add the plant. Some potting soil mixes also include fertilizers, compost, worm castings, bone meal, or other ingredients that provide nutrients or improve the qualities of soil.

Fresh potting mix lessens chance of disease. Another of the top potting soil benefits is a lower chance of disease. This is especially true if the bag is labeled “sterile mix.” Sterile potting mix is great for starting seeds, since seedlings are especially vulnerable to disease. Look for mixes labeled specifically for seed starting.

Potting soil cons. The main disadvantage of potting soils is that it can be expensive, while soil from your own garden is free. Some plants can be harmed by a potting mix intended for another type of plant. Also, some potting mixes are not suitable for organic gardening because of synthetic ingredients they contain.

How Do Potting Soil Benefits Hold Up Compared to Garden Soil?

Potting and garden soils have very different compositions and, therefore, very different purposes. In most cases, garden soil is good for every outdoor application, while potting soil is best for indoor purposes like seed starting and growing houseplants. While potting soil has many benefits for container plants, the expense is probably not worth it if you’re potting outdoor plants on a large scale. Economically, garden soil may be fixed for very little money and is best for large garden spaces. Overall, both have their place in the gardener’s world and should be used in the correct application for best results.

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