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  • Mike Roberts

Potting Soil or Garden Soil — Which is Right For Your Plants?


When you buy plants at a garden center, you can also buy soil in which to plant them. Maybe you’ve wondered whether to get potting soil or garden soil. What’s the difference? Here’s what you need to know to make the best choice for your plants.

What is potting soil?

As its name implies, potting soil or mix is primarily for planting potted plants. Potting soil does not actually contain topsoil from the earth. Potting soil comes in several varieties, but the most common mixture contains coir, compost, vermiculite, perlite, bark, and sphagnum moss. These ingredients aren’t normally found together in natural soil. The compost provides natural nutrition and the vermiculite and perlite keep the soil light for easy draining. Some potting soils contain water-retaining crystals to keep plants from drying out between waterings. Potting soil provides good drainage, which earthy soils usually do not.

When to use potting soil

Use potting soil for potted plants. Because potting soil is light, it drains excess water away from roots confined in pots. Potting soil, which contains no living microbes such as bacteria or fungi, is good for outdoor garden use if your local soil is infested with harmful microbes. In such cases, grow vegetables or outdoor flowering plants in pots using potting soil to avoid the harmful elements in your local soil.

What is garden soil?

Garden soil is topsoil from the earth, enhanced with nutrient-dense compost and other organic matter. It is a rich food source for your plants and retains more water than common topsoil alone. Garden soil is a living medium full of beneficial microbes that potting soil does not have. Garden soil is heavier and a better medium for vegetable gardens and other plants that require soil depth for robust root systems.

When to use garden soil

Garden soil is preferred for planting outdoor gardens. It is nutrient-packed, retains water better and insulates roots, which makes it capable of sustaining plants in harsher outdoor temperatures.

The price difference

Potting soil is more expensive than garden soil. Since outdoor gardens use much more soil than plants in pots, garden soil is by far the more economical choice for outside gardens.

Related – Starting New Plants from Cuttings

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