Choosing suitable potting soil for your container plants is essential for their growth. You might be wondering why you can’t just use the same soil from your garden in your container.
Well, there are several reasons why that’s not really a good idea, but the most significant one is that garden soil is too dense to allow for adequate water drainage in a container.
If you’re not sure which potting soil would be suitable for your plants, we're here to help.
Quick glance at the best potting soils:
- Black Gold 1310102 16-quart All Purpose Potting Soil - Best Overall
- Foxfarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil - Budget Pick
- Espoma Ap16 16-Quart Organic Potting Mix - Organic Choice
- Miracle-Gro Seed-Starting Potting Mix - Best For Seed Starting
- Espoma AP2 Organic Potting Mix - Best For Indoor Plants
- Best Potting Soil Right Now
- How to Choose Potting Soil
- Moisture Control
- Fungal Growth
- Fertilizer Starter Charge vs. Slow Release
Frequently Asked Questions
- Which Is Better: Potting Soil or Potting Mix?
- Can I Mix Garden Soil and Potting Mix?
- What Do You Put in the Bottom of a Planter for Drainage?
- Should You Put Rocks at the Bottom of a Planter?
- What Soil Should I Put in a Planter Box?
- Should I Mix Sand With My Potting Soil?
- Can You Put Styrofoam in the Bottom of a Planter?
- How Do You Make Old Potting Soil Good Again?
Best Potting Soil Right Now
Without further ado, let’s explore some of the best potting soils you can find on the market, what makes them stand out, and why you should or shouldn’t buy each one of them.
From organic to indoor-specific and seed-starting soils, our list leaves nothing to be desired!
Black Gold 1310102 16-quart All Purpose Potting Soil - Best Overall
The Black Gold All Purpose Potting Soil is an excellent, all-around potting soil that’s made up of a nutritious mix that your plants will definitely benefit from. The ingredients include Canadian sphagnum peat moss with worm castings, pumice, and forest humus.
The icing on top is that this mix integrates a slow-release complete fertilizer to give your plants a faster headstart.
This soil is offered in packs of 2, 3, or 4. The more you buy, the better deal you get. Whether you have house plants, hanging baskets, or patio containers, there’s nothing out there that comes close to this soil.
Includes a MultiCote controlled slow-release complete fertilizer
Available in packs of 2, 3, and 4
May cause a gnats problem in the house
Foxfarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil - Budget Pick
If you’re on a tight budget, the Foxfarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil should definitely be at the top of your list.
For starters, this soil creates the perfect environment for young seedlings and cuttings to grow and flourish. Thanks to its lightweight and well-aerated structure, the Foxfarm potting soil will provide your indoor and outdoor plants with all the micronutrients they need without hindering drainage.
We also like the fact that this soil comes with free Pearsons protective gloves, so you don’t have to worry about having to buy them separately. It’s also worth noting that this soil is pH-adjusted.
Lightweight and well-aerated
Comes with free Pearsons protective gloves
Soil pH adjusted at 6.3 - 6.8
Can be used for indoor and outdoor plants
May attract bugs
Espoma Ap16 16-Quart Organic Potting Mix - Organic Choice
Organic potting mixes are always a good option for your container plants, and the Espoma Ap16 Organic Potting Mix might just be the best one of them.
Suitable for both indoor and outdoor plants, the organic potting mix features an all-natural ingredient list, providing your plants with all the nutrients they need to grow. The mix is further enhanced with myco-tone for maximum benefits.
In addition, the soil mix can drastically improve water retention and minimize drought stress, ensuring that your plants’ growth is never interrupted. It also encourages root growth.
The mix is available in two size options: 8-quart and 16-quart.
Enhanced with myco-tone
Promotes root growth
Improves water retention
Great for both indoor and outdoor plants
May cause a gnat infestation if not taken care of
Miracle-Gro Seed-Starting Potting Mix - Best For Seed Starting
Are your plants still in their initial phase? Then the Miracle-Gro Seed-Starting Potting Mix can definitely help move things faster.
This lightweight, premium potting mix induces fast root development, thanks to Miracle-Gro’s signature plant food. Plants starting from seeds, rooting leaf, stem, and root cuttings, and ending with germinating herbs, vegetables, and flowers, would definitely benefit from the miraculous potting mix.
This seed-starting potting mix is available in one size, but you can always opt for a two-pack order to save. Also, keep in mind that this potting mix is only meant to be used in container plants.
Great for starting cuttings
Speeds up root growth
Includes Miracle-Gro’s nutrient-rich plant food
May encourage mold growth
Espoma AP2 Organic Potting Mix - Best For Indoor Plants
If you exclusively grow indoor plants, the Espoma AP2 Organic Potting Mix is worth checking out. It boasts a nutrient-rich mix of some of the finest natural ingredients in the industry for your indoor plant to thrive. It doesn’t contain any synthetic chemicals or plant foods, a big concern for many plant owners.
Additionally, this potting mix is improved with the myco-tone formula that saves water, making it more eco-friendly. It also improves moisture retention, reduces drought stress, and induces root growth.
Whether you have annual or perennial plants, this organic potting mix is here to save the day.
Fully organic; doesn’t contain any synthetic ingredients
Perfect for annuals and perennials alike
Watering-saving myco-tone formula
Comes at a reasonable price
Fungus gnats are inevitable
How to Choose Potting Soil
Here are some insights that can help you choose a good potting soil or mix for your plants:
Types of Potting Soil
There’s a common belief that all potting soils are more or less the same, but that’s simply not true. There are multiple varieties of potting soils that you can pick from, and we’re going to explore each of them in the following sections:
An all-purpose potting soil can be used indoors and outdoors. It provides the perfect balance between moisture retention and drainage.
It’s also worth noting that many types of all-purpose potting soils integrate a fertilizer that provides your plants with essential nutrients.
There’s a catch, though; all-purpose potting soils may dry out faster than other types of soils, especially when used outdoors.
Nevertheless, all-purpose potting soils are great for gardeners who have various types of houseplants inside and outside the house. Just make sure that you use the soil once the package is opened for maximum benefits.
Do you have vegetable or herb plants? An organic soil mix would be ideal for you. An organic potting soil mix is pretty much the same as an all-purpose mix, with the exception of its ingredients being fully natural.
Organic potting soils don’t need to be sterilized; composting would do the trick. It doesn’t only kill pests and weeds but also maintains beneficial bacteria and fungi.
Also, keep in mind that microbes are responsible for breaking down the food portion of the plant in organic soils.
On a side note, organic mixes are usually more expensive than other types of potting soils.
As its name implies, a seed-starting potting mix is made for plants coming out of seeds or cuttings. Seed-starting mixes usually don’t include a fertilizer since they’re not used for prolonged periods.
However, in some cases, you might need to add liquid fertilizer to the mix in the final stages if the process took longer than expected.
Moreover, seed-starting mixes have sterile moss and perlite, creating the perfect environment for young seedlings to thrive.
Outdoor potting mixes are usually denser than indoor mixes. They’re characterized by large particle sizes and long fibers, enhancing their water holding capacity.
And because they’re heavier than indoor mixes, outdoor blends do a better job at keeping the plant in its place in case of strong winds.
Outdoor mixes also provide plants with moisture on hot summer days to help them resist drought.
Plant-specific mixes are usually intended for certain types of plants only. They’re your best bet if you own one or two plant types at most. Any more than that, and the costs will add up pretty quickly.
Plant-specific mixes may include higher concentrations of certain nutrients that certain types of plants need in high quantities.
Your plant type can be a significant deciding factor when it comes to choosing the right potting soil. For example, some plants thrive in organic potting soils, while all-purpose soils could hinder their growth.
Some plants also need potting soils that drain quickly. Not to mention, you may need to get plant-specific types of potting mixes if you have plants like succulents and orchids.
Generally speaking, almost all potting soils contain textured perlite. Thanks to its open structure, water can easily circulate in it.
Many potting soils also have peat moss, an organic matter that’s very absorbent and resistant to decay. Other natural products that are usually added to potting mixes include bark and coco coir. Both of them enhance the soil’s water retention capabilities.
The nutrients of a potting mix or soil should greatly shape up your decision on whether it’d be suitable for growing plants at home. Depending on what type of plants you have, you might need potting soil that includes certain concentrations of some nutrients for your plants to grow and stay healthy.
Soil aeration is crucial because it induces gas exchange between the atmosphere and the roots of your plants. Choosing a potting soil with a high aeration rate is usually preferable.
Some of the open structure ingredients that improve the aeration of potting soils include peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite.
Some ingredients used in potting soils, like coconut coir and peat moss, can absorb multiples of their weight in water. However, too much moisture may result in mold growth and other undesirable effects.
That’s why it’s preferable to get potting soil that includes water-holding polymers, which protect your plants from drought on hot days. These polymers absorb high quantities of water, then slowly release them once the soil is dry enough.
Fungal growth can be lethal to your plants, and your job is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
A new bag of potting soil won’t contain any fungus, but that doesn’t mean it’s not vulnerable to fungal infections. Whenever you notice that fungus has started growing in your potting soil, remove it immediately.
Did you know that potting soils contain beneficial fungi and bacteria that act as a medium between the soil’s nutrients and the plants?
That’s right; not all types of fungi or bacteria are a cause of alarm. In fact, without these beneficial fungi and bacteria, your plants won’t grow to their full potential.
Fertilizer Starter Charge vs. Slow Release
No matter how great your potting soil is, it won’t be a sufficient source of nutrients for your plants. You’ll definitely need to introduce fertilizer to your pots.
There are two types of fertilizer: starter charge and slow release. Starter-charge fertilizers provide a small number of nutrients for your plants for a limited period, usually weeks.
On the other side of the coin, slow-release fertilizers can last for months.
Pro tip: Introduce a starter-charge fertilizer, then add some slow-release granules after the starter-charge one is fully consumed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are most common questions that people have.
Which Is Better: Potting Soil or Potting Mix?
Generally speaking, potting mix is safer for your plants because it’s sterile and doesn’t contain fungus or other harmful diseases that could impact the health of your plants. Also, keep in mind that potting soil may not always contain soil; on the other hand, a potting mix never includes any soil.
Can I Mix Garden Soil and Potting Mix?
It depends. If you grow your plants in raised beds, mixing garden soil and potting mix can be a good idea. On the flip side, it’s not recommended to mix them in containers.
What Do You Put in the Bottom of a Planter for Drainage?
There’s really nothing you can put at the bottom of the planter to improve drainage. Some people use gravel, but it won’t really make much of a difference. Your best bet is to use high-quality potting soil that allows for adequate drainage. Just make sure that you avoid using garden soil since it’s too dense for containers.
Should You Put Rocks at the Bottom of a Planter?
Putting rocks at the bottom of a planter is a debatable topic in the world of container gardening. It was commonly believed that adding rocks or gravel at the bottom of a planter is a good way to improve drainage.
However, this has proven to be false. When water passes through the soil and reaches the rocks, it’ll simply stop moving, which defeats the purpose. In fact, rocks will create soggy soil.
What Soil Should I Put in a Planter Box?
You should put potting soil or potting mix in a planter box. Just avoid using garden soil because it’s too dense for containers. Potting soil is lightweight, making it suitable for planter boxes. On a side note, if you have raised beds, you’ll probably need to use denser soil.
Should I Mix Sand With My Potting Soil?
It’s not really necessary to use sandy soil in your containers. Many people just add sand to the soil as a filler because it’s cheap. Nevertheless, adding a small amount of sand to your containers can be beneficial if you live in a region where strong wind is a common occurrence since it helps keep the containers in place.
Can You Put Styrofoam in the Bottom of a Planter?
Yes, you can definitely add some styrofoam to the bottom of your planters. Many people use styrofoam or other materials like foam peanuts as a filler in large planters. Most of the time, you don’t really need to fill the whole planter with indoor or outdoor soil. This is simply a waste of money.
How Do You Make Old Potting Soil Good Again?
Here’s how you can make your old potting soil come back to life:
- Add some new ingredients like coconut husk fiber
- Sterilize the soil to get rid of pests
- Clean it with water
- Add compost to the soil
- Mix it with some new potting soil
- Add a slow-release fertilizer
- Adjust the pH (plus or minus 6.4 would be good)
Here’s a quick recap for you to make a decision:
- The Black Gold 1310102 16-quart All Purpose Potting Soil includes just the right mix of nutrients for your plants to thrive. The added fertilizer is a welcome addition, too. This is the best potting soil for any potted plant, period.
- For budget-minded consumers, the Foxfarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil would be an excellent deal, especially when bought in large quantities.
- If you prefer organic soils, the Espoma Ap16 16-quart Organic Potting Mix is definitely worth checking out.