Potting Soil. Does it really matter what you use?

 Potting Soil

For many, a raised bed or in ground bed isn't an option where they live so they turn to container gardening.

If you find yourself looking into container gardening you'll find a lot of different potting soils or potting mixes. 

These potting soils will be different brands and varying prices, which can be overwhelming for some.

So does it really matter what you buy and if so why? The answer to that question is yes, yes it DOES matter what you buy and I'll break down why it matters.

For starters avoid buying any bag of soil that is labeled as top soil, as that's just for back filling holes or leveling ground and has no benefit to your plants. If you open a bag of top soil you can find chunks of wood, grains of sand, rocks, and even plastic or glass. The reason being is that the companies don't screen this soil before bagging it for sale. Another product you'll come across is garden soil which shouldn't be used for containers. Garden soil does have slow release fertilizer in it and is a lot more loose than top soil but it's main use is to level or top dress in ground beds or raised beds. Garden soil is about the same price as potting soil mix. Some other products you'll find are manures, peat humus and mushroom soil. All 3 of these products are wonderful for garden beds or to mix with a potting soil. So now that we've covered some of the common products you'll find let's break down potting soils. You will find potting soils or mixes (they are the same thing just labeled differently) at every store that sells plants or seeds in the spring. All different brands and prices to go along with it, so what should you buy? Truly, buy what you can afford. If you are on a tight budget than buy what fits that budget. You do need to know though that if you buy cheaper there’s cons to it. When it comes to potting soils the cheaper branded bags will have more filler in it. For example, instead of using perlite for better drainage, companies will use sand as a cheaper alternative. If sand is being used, this can cause the potting soil to dry out faster than perlite as perlite retains some moisture. Compaction is also another issue with using sand. Perlite aerates the mixture allowing it to stay fluffy unlike sand which will compacted over the season. Compacted soil restricts root development which causes the plant to become stunted and lessens fruit production. You can tell the difference just by smell. A cheaper mix will have a more processed smell where as the more expensive ones have a more soil like smell. You’ll realize once you open the bags the lower priced options will have a lot more heavy debris in it like larger sticks and pieces of wood which seems nice as it in theory retains moisture but since you run into compaction problems already, having bigger stuff in your mix like that can further restrict root development. 

At the end of the day what you save on your potting soil you may end up spending more on your water bill. It’s unfortunate but due to it being made cheaper you’ll find it drying out faster and having to water more frequently. Depending on how hands off you want to be with your gardening the expensive option may be the way to go as you’ll be watering less and therefore will have more time to be doing other things.  

In a time where money is tight and we all have to make our dollar go further it’s normal for us to grab whatever is cheapest. The whole idea of growing our own food is to save money or maybe even for pure enjoyment, either mentality is great. So when it comes to picking out a potting mix we may just grab whatever fits our budget and that’s perfectly fine but like I’ve stated there’s cons to those alternatives. The options are plentiful but don’t stress over it, just have fun with it. Gardening is a great way to save money and relieve stress so get growing! 



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