Beginner gardening guide to potting soil

When it comes to gardening, the soil is one of the most critical factors for a productive and thriving garden.  As a beginning gardener, when you walk into a garden center or nursery, the soil options can be overwhelming or intimidating.  Garden Soil, Topsoil, Potting soil, soilless mix all of these options could leave you confused.  What is the right choice? Which will lead me down the right path?  The answer is all of them, it depends on your application and preferences

If you talk to any gardener and ask them which type of bagged soil do you like, they will all give you a different answer.  What you find out is that whichever bagged soil people recommend comes down to preference.  Let us first identify the types of bagged soil you will find in a garden center


Potting Soil/Potting Mix

This is the ideal choice for container gardening.  There are two varieties of potting soil: a soil-based or a soilless variety.  Regardless of which you choose high quality-potting mixes will contain the same 4 base ingredients just in different quantities; perlite, vermiculites, peat moss or coco coir and garden soil.  Other than these core ingredients, different brands will add other things: synthetic fertilizer, organic fertilizer, and organic amendments.  The quality and quantity of the amendments are directly correlated to the price of the soil.  Companies will alter the ratio of these ingredients to create different mixes specific for plants, such as a succulent mix, fruit tree mix, or an orchid mix.

SOIL BASED Potting mix

 Potting mix is one that starts with garden soil.  The catch is that this garden soil has been sterilized to ensure it is disease and weed-free.  Peat moss, coarse sand, compost, perlite, and vermiculite are added to improve the texture and density of the mix. Organic amendments and slow-release fertilizers are used to add a steady supply of nutrients to the mix

Soilless Potting Mix

 Is another type of potting mix found in garden centers.  Majority of the ingredients in soilless and soil-based are the same except for the base ingredient.  Instead of the base of this mix beginning with sterilized garden soil, it is Starts with a soilless mix, of peat moss or coco coir as the base.  It will include perlite and vermiculite to improve the drainage and help keep the potting mix light and fluffy.  It will also have organic amendments and/or slow-release fertilizer similar to soil-based mixes.

In-Ground Soil

This is a more basic mix than potting soil/mix.  It will usually contain more organic ingredients than potting soil or mix.  It will also have a lot more compost than you will find in any potting soil or mix.  As the name suggests, this is the preferred soil if you are starting a traditional row garden or in-ground beds.  You would till or mix this into the ground where you plan to start your garden bed.  Since it lacks some of the key ingredients found in potting mixes, such as perlite, vermiculite, peat moss or compost, this is not an ideal choice for containers.  Lacking these key ingredients causes the soil to be denser than potting mix.  This is the opposite of what we are looking for in a potting mix.  The denser consistency causes the in-ground soil to retain more moisture than potting soil.  While it is not an ideal candidate for use in containers, mixing some into your containers can help with water retention.


This is the most basic soil.  It is not suitable for container gardening.  It is really a soil conditioner.  This topsoil can be sourced from anywhere.  Fields that once contained weeds or a similar place.  Big-time companies have been known to mix in sand, compost, manure, and other ingredients.  This is not actually a planting medium.  By that I mean you do not buy topsoil to fill raised beds, inground beds or containers.  You use topsoil at a 50/50 ratio to amend the existing garden soil.


Soil Conditioner

This is not a potting mix.  This is an amendment for the garden.  Soil conditioner is mixed into the soil to improve its qualities.  Soil conditioner improves aeration, moisture retention, consistency, and fertility of the land.  It is often used to enhance the quality of the soil or to help rebuild destroyed areas.  Many organic ingredients contain soil condition properties; Compost, compost tea, bone meal, blood meal, coco coir, straw, manure, and other amendments.



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