woman holding small plants
ECO gardener

Soil quality is a critical part of growing crops successfully. Regardless if you're gardening for fun or profit, you should always check the quality of your garden soil before planting different crops.

Unfortunately, garden soils aren't entirely suitable for growing crops. Some soils can be too heavy or loose. Some garden soils are nutrient deficient. Testing is critical to determining your garden soil's nutrient profile and structure. By testing the soil, you'll know what issues to solve and what soil-amending materials to use.

If you want to grow crops on raised beds or grow various plants quickly, consider using potting soils or mixes. In this guide, we are outlining the seven best potting soils for growing vegetables, herbs, and other crops.

Read: Perfect Soil Recipe for Raised Bed Gardening

Difference Between Potting Soil and Potting Mixes

pot mixes

Sometimes potting soils and mixes are used interchangeably, but these are two different products. While potting soil and potting mixes contain ingredients like coconut coir, peat moss, or perlite, the similarity ends there.

Potting soil contains sand or topsoil. It is heavy and requires composted organic matter to boost fertility. Because potting soil is exposed to the elements, it's not sterile. Fungi or bacteria are present in the ground.

On the other hand, potting mixes do not contain topsoil or sand. The texture is light, completely sterile, and enriched with fertilizers to boost soil nutrients. Potting mixes are often used for seed starting.

Both products are ideal for use in small areas, not an entire garden, because potting soils and mixes are expensive. If you want to improve the soil quality of your garden, try using compost or soil conditioners instead of covering the entire site with potting soil or mixes. That's more cost-effective.

Buying Guide: What to Look for in Potting Soil

Before buying potting soil for your garden, here are some factors to keep in mind:

Application: The kind of potting soil to use will depend on the crops you plan to grow. Ideally, choose potting soils that suit different plant types. Plants have different nutrient requirements. There are potting soils formulated specifically for indoor plants, succulents, or herbs. Heavy feeders like flowering and/or fruit-bearing plants and vegetables will require nutrient-dense potting soil.

Ingredients: In general, potting soil comprises three ingredients - peat moss for nutrients, pine bark for anchorage, and perlite or vermiculite for fluffiness. But special mixes are available to address different growing needs and preferences.

For example, if you don't want to use peat moss because it's not sustainable, you can opt for potting soil made with coconut coir. Some potting soils are formulated with rich ingredients like worm castings, sea minerals, or humus. Choose a potting soil product that suits the kinds of plants you want to plant.

Nutrient Release: Soil blends contain fertilizers to release nutrients plants absorb to grow healthy. Most of these products release nutrients slowly and in tiny amounts to avoid over-fertilization, which can kill plants.

Sustainability and Eco-Friendliness: Potting soils formulated with peat moss must be more sustainable and eco-friendly. Harvesting peat moss in peatlands accelerates climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the air.

In addition, collecting peat moss affects the biodiversity of bogs and peatlands. Ecosystems are destroyed as microorganisms, and small animals die from harvesting peat moss.

Thankfully, there are eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives to peat moss, such as coconut coir, pine needles, leaf moss, or composted organic matter.

6 Types of Potting Soil Mixes

woman planting small pots

Below are the different types of soil mixes sold at gardening supplies store:

Basic Vegetable Potting Mix: This product is formulated for growing most types of vegetables. It contains peat moss, pearlite, and pine bark. Unlike garden soil, basic potting soil mix is 100% sterile and doesn't require sterilization before application.

Compost Vegetable Potting Mix: As the name implies, this potting soil mix is enriched with aged compost. The texture is coarse, the color is dark brown, and it drains quickly. This product is recommended for growing organic vegetables.

Coconut Coir Potting Mix: This product contains coconut coir instead of peat moss. It's the best choice for sustainable farming. That said, coconut coir contains salts, so most growers rinse the soil mix before application.

Sand Potting Soil Mix: This product is formulated for plants that hate standing water. The sand base is fast-draining with excellent air circulation. However, note that sand contains salts, so rinse it before using the mix.

Manure Vegetable Potting Soil Mix: This product is an alternative to compost vegetable potting mix. It is formulated with aged animal manure to bring nutrients into the soil. Perlite or vermiculite boosts drainage and aeration.

Limestone Potting Soil Mix: This product is enriched with powdered limestone to re-balance the pH of very acidic soils. Limestone is typically added to peat moss-based soil mixes.

Types of Potting Soil

woman planting on a steel pots

Potting soils are available in different formulations; each one is meant to address very specific growing requirements:

All-Purpose Potting Soil: The most basic formula, all-purpose potting soil, is designed for most indoor or outdoor plants. This is a great product to use for container gardens too.

Organic Potting Soil: This product is made from natural, organic plant and animal-based ingredients such as food compost, well-rotted manure, animal bones, decayed plants, and worm castings. Incredibly fertile, organic potting soil is best used for organic farming and applied to heavy feeders.

Seed Starting Soil Mix: This product is formulated to accelerate germination. It is low in nutrients with a fine, balanced mixture of ingredients to help seedlings sprout and develop leaves quickly.

Orchid Potting Soil: Orchids can be pretty sensitive to particular growing conditions, so these are best grown using well-draining orchid potting soil. The formula will differ, but ingredients for orchid soil mixes could be charcoal, fire bark, lava rocks, or sphagnum moss.

Cacti/Citrus Potting Soil: Cacti and citrus plants have similar requirements as far as growing mediums go. Cacti and citrus potting mixes are typically well-draining with a looser texture. Sand is often added into the mix to improve drainage.

Moisture Control Potting Soil: This potting soil product contains moisture-controlling pellets. The pellets soak up moisture so the soil doesn't dry out completely after watering. This product is formulated for thirsty plants.

When your garden soil won't do, you can use potting soils and mixes to provide an ideal growing environment for various crops. You can also use all-natural soil conditioners like the ECOgardener humic acid or seaweed extract to bring nutrients back to the soil.

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