The Dirt on Potting Soil: Common Gardening Questions Answered

Whether you’re a novice gardener or are simply trying to challenge your green thumb, there may come a time where you’ll want to pick up some soil for potted plants in your home or outside as part of your landscape design. Potting soil plays an immensely important role in plant health, but you may feel a little lost when it comes to picking one out. In today’s post, we’ll answer some of the most common questions about soil for potted plants. With this information, you’ll soon be on your way to growing all kinds of healthy specimens.

What is Potting Soil?

First, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and discuss what potting soil actually is. In general, soil is what helps to make plants grow. In nature, it stores approximately 0.01% of the total water on Earth within its pores. There are several different types of soil you might find in your garden. But potting soil is a bit different. It’s really a mix of different components and it serves a few different functions. It’s meant to provide nutrients to plant roots and hold in moisture, facilitate proper oxygen flow, and offer a way for the plant’s roots to anchor the plant for growth. Therefore, it’s a completely necessary part of the planting process, particularly when plants are being placed into containers.

Is There a Difference Between Potting Soil and Potting Mix?

You may hear these two terms used interchangeably. Usually, potting soil and potting mix refer to the same thing. You might hear either one used at your local garden store. However, there are some products on the market that are called “potting soil” that do not contain the same components as potting mix. Instead, these potting soils are meant for filling raised plant beds or bare spots on a lawn. They actually do contain natural soil, which isn’t an ideal choice for your needs. What’s more, a lot of different types of products can bear the label of potting soil, so you’ll need to read the ingredients to be sure. The term “potting soil” is actually a bit of a misnomer, as potting mix really contains no soil at all!

Does Price Really Matter When Choosing Soil for Potted Plants?

When choosing any type of soil for gardening (and especially soil for potted plants), you’ll probably find that price does come into play. Although you might be tempted to save a bit of money by buying an off-brand potting soil, it’s typically better to stick with a well-respected product. After all, you do get what you pay for. A superior gardening product can help your plants to thrive, while a cheap potting soil may not produce the results you’re after.

What Does Potting Mix Generally Contain?

As we mentioned earlier, soil for potted plants actually doesn’t contain true soil. It does contain a lot of other elements, however. Ingredients will vary by the brand, but most potting mixes include peat, perlite, sand, bark or wood chips, compost, and vermiculite. Some lower-cost brands might also add rocks, which isn’t ideal. Take a close look at the ingredient list before determining which type of soil for potted plants you’ll bring home.

How Do You Choose the Right Potting Soil?

There are a few different factors to keep in mind when evaluating a potting mix. One is the quality of ingredients, as we’ve outlined above. A good potting mix should contain something like sphagnum peat moss and composted pine bark with perlite. Make sure that the ingredient list contains elements that will help to retain water (like peat moss), as this is essential for proper moisture. Aside from the ingredients, you should also evaluate the weight of the mix. Potting soil should be on the light side; if it’s heavy, that usually indicates the presence of rocks or that there won’t be enough air space available for plant roots to take hold. You may also want to look for a potting mix that contains a slow-release plant food, as this will provide the nutrients required to grow a healthy potted plant.

Now that you know the real dirt on potting soil, you’ll be in a great position to start potting flowers, herbs, and other plants that you can enjoy year-round.