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.