in , ,

Potting Soil Buyer’s Guide

Potting soil

Sharing is caring!

Potting soil is a vital component for successful gardening. Choosing the right potting soil can significantly impact the growth and health of your plants. In this potting soil buyer’s guide, we will explore the basics of potting soil to help you make an informed decision.

First, it is important to understand that potting soil is different from garden soil. Potting soil is specifically designed for growing plants in containers or pots. It is formulated to provide optimal drainage, aeration, and nutrition for potted plants. Garden soil, on the other hand, is meant for outdoor gardening and may not contain the same necessary properties for container plants.

When choosing potting soil, it is important to pay attention to its ingredients. A well-balanced potting soil usually contains a mix of organic and inorganic components. Organic materials like peat moss, compost, and coconut coir help retain moisture, provide essential nutrients, and promote healthy root development. Inorganic materials like vermiculite or perlite aid in drainage and prevent the soil from compacting.

It is also important to consider the pH level of the potting soil. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH range. It is important to choose a potting soil with a pH level that aligns with your plant’s requirements. Additionally, some potting soils also come with added nutrients, such as slow-release fertilizers, which can provide an extra boost to your plants.

When selecting a potting soil, consider the moisture requirements of your plants. Certain varieties prefer drier conditions, while others need more moisture. Some potting soils are specifically formulated for moisture control, helping to prevent overwatering or drainage issues.

It is important to choose a potting soil that is free from pests, diseases, and weed seeds. Look for brands that sterilize their potting soil to ensure optimum plant health. You can also opt for organic potting soil, which is free from synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

By considering factors like ingredients, pH level, moisture requirements, and pest control, you can select the perfect potting soil for your plants. Remember, healthy soil leads to healthy plants, so invest in good quality potting soil to achieve the best results in your garden.

Potting soil
Potting soil

What to look for in a potting soil

Here are important considerations when selecting a potting soil:

Formulation for plant type

The right potting soil not only provides necessary nutrients and moisture for your plants, but it also ensures proper drainage and aeration. Different plants have different soil requirements, so be sure to choose a potting soil that is suitable for the types of plants you are cultivating. For example, succulents and cacti prefer well-draining soil with low moisture content, while tropical plants thrive in soil with higher organic matter and moisture retention. Some plants may require specific nutrients or organic matter in the soil. Research the specific growing medium needs of the plants you are growing.

Overall contents

A good potting soil should consist of a mixture of organic matter, such as compost, peat moss or coconut coir, and minerals like perlite or vermiculite. These ingredients provide the necessary nutrients and help retain moisture while allowing for good drainage.

Moisture retention

The moisture retention capacity of the potting soil is important. The soil should be able to hold moisture without becoming waterlogged, as excessive water can lead to root rot and other plant diseases. Look for a potting soil that contains organic materials such as peat moss or coconut coir, as these materials help retain moisture while still allowing for proper drainage. Some plants require more moisture, while others prefer a drier environment. Choose a potting soil that matches the moisture needs of your plants. Look for soil that is well-draining but also retains enough moisture to keep the plants hydrated. This balance is essential for healthy root development and overall plant growth.

Organic contents

A good potting soil should also provide adequate nutrition for your plants. Look for a soil that is enriched with organic matter, such as compost or worm castings, as they provide essential nutrients and microorganisms that promote healthy root development. Some soils are formulated with added beneficial microbes or mycorrhizal fungi, which can further enhance plant growth and overall soil health. Some potting soils may also contain slow-release fertilizers, which can provide a steady supply of nutrients to your plants over time. Avoid potting soils that contain synthetic fertilizers, as they can harm your plants over time.


Choosing potting soil with added fertilizers ensures that your plants receive the necessary nutrition right from the start. They provide a head start for young seedlings or transplants, giving them the nutrients they need to establish themselves and flourish. These fertilizers are typically slow-release, meaning that they gradually release nutrients over time, ensuring a steady supply of essential elements for continuous plant growth. Fertilizers play a vital role in promoting plant growth and health. They contain essential elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are necessary for robust root development, strong stems, vibrant foliage, and abundant flowering. These nutrients are essential for plants to perform vital functions, including photosynthesis and the production of enzymes and proteins. Over time, plants deplete the nutrients in the soil, especially in container gardening where the soil volume is limited. Potting soil with added fertilizers can help replenish these depleted nutrients, ensuring a fertile and productive growing environment for your plants.

pH level

Consider is the pH level of the potting soil. Different plants have different pH preferences, and matching the soil pH with the plant’s preference is crucial for their growth and health. Most plants prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH range, so look for potting soil that falls within this range. You can easily test the pH level of the soil using a pH testing kit.


Consider the overall quality and texture of the potting soil. The soil should be loose and crumbly, allowing for good air circulation and root penetration. Avoid soil that is heavy and compacted, as it can restrict root growth and inhibit the absorption of nutrients.

Pest and disease free

Quality potting soil should also be free from pests, weed seeds, and diseases, ensuring a clean and healthy environment for your plants.

Peat moss
Peat moss

Potting soil amendments

Potting soil should help provide the optimal environment for plants to thrive and grow. Potting soil quality can be enhanced by incorporating amendments. Amendments are additives that improve the soil’s fertility, drainage, and overall nutrient content. By understanding the benefits of amendments, gardeners can make informed decisions to create the best potting soil for their plants.

Here are important potting soil amendments:


Compost is a rich, organic material that adds nutrients to the soil and improves its structure. It increases water retention and aeration, allowing plants to absorb moisture and oxygen efficiently. Incorporating compost into potting soil creates a nutrient-rich environment that contributes to the overall health and growth of plants. Additionally, compost helps to reduce waste and promote sustainability by recycling organic matter.


Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral that is heated and expanded to create a lightweight and porous material. It improves soil drainage and aeration, preventing waterlogged conditions that can lead to root rot. Vermiculite also increases the soil’s ability to retain nutrients, providing a steady supply for plant uptake. This amendment is particularly useful for plants that require well-drained soil, such as succulents or herbs.

Peat moss

Peat moss is another commonly used amendment for potting soil. It is derived from decomposed sphagnum moss and is known for its high water-holding capacity. Peat moss improves soil structure by loosening compacted soil and enhancing drainage. It also adds organic matter to the soil, increasing its nutrient content. Incorporating peat moss into potting soil promotes healthy root growth and helps plants establish themselves.

Organic potting soil
Organic potting soil

Types of potting soil

Both organic and non-organic potting soils have their own set of benefits and considerations, and it ultimately comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of your plants.

Organic potting soil

Organic potting soil is made from natural ingredients without the use of any synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. It is typically rich in organic matter, such as compost, peat moss, and aged bark, which provide essential nutrients and improve soil structure. One of the main advantages of organic potting soil is that it promotes long-term soil health and sustainability. It is also believed to be more environmentally friendly and safe for beneficial soil organisms.

Non-organic potting soil

Non-organic potting soil contains a blend of synthetic materials, such as vermiculite, perlite, and synthetic fertilizers. These materials are carefully selected to provide optimal water retention, aeration, and nutrient availability for plants. Non-organic potting soil is known for its consistency and predictable performance, making it a popular choice among gardeners. It is also less prone to pest and weed infestations compared to organic soil.

When deciding between organic and non-organic potting soil, it is crucial to assess your gardening goals, environmental concerns, and the specific needs of your plants. If you prioritize sustainability, natural ingredients, and long-term soil health, organic potting soil might be the right choice for you. However, if you prefer a consistent performance, convenience, and a reduced risk of pest issues, non-organic potting soil might be a better fit.

Potting soil storage

Once you have chosen the perfect potting soil for your gardening needs, it’s important to know how to store it properly. Proper storage will help maintain the soil’s quality and ensure that it remains effective for future use.

Store potting soil in a cool and dry place. Exposure to extreme heat or moisture can deteriorate the quality of the soil, leading to mold growth or nutrient loss. A garage or a basement can be suitable options, as long as they are free from direct sunlight and excess humidity.

Keep potting soil in its original packaging, as it is specifically designed to protect the contents from degradation. If you need to transfer the soil to a different container, ensure it is airtight and moisture-proof. You can also consider adding a desiccant or moisture-absorbing agent to further protect the soil.

Avoid storing potting soil for an extended period. Over time, the organic matter in the soil decomposes, causing a decline in its nutrient content. It is advisable to use the soil within a year or two of purchase to maximize its effectiveness.

Commonly available brands

One of the best known brands in the potting soil industry is Miracle-Gro. Known for their quality and reliability, Miracle-Gro offers a range of potting soil products suitable for various plants and gardening needs. Their potting soils are enriched with essential nutrients and have excellent water retention properties, ensuring optimal growth for your plants. Miracle-Gro’s potting soils also come with added features such as moisture control, which helps prevent over-watering, making it ideal for busy gardeners.

Another reputable brand in the potting soil market is FoxFarm. FoxFarm potting soils are known for their exceptional quality and organic formulation. Made from natural and sustainable ingredients, their potting soils provide a rich and nutrient-packed growing environment for plants. FoxFarm’s potting soils are pH balanced, ensuring the right acidity levels for different types of plants. Additionally, their products contain beneficial microorganisms that promote healthy root growth and disease resistance.

If you’re looking for an eco-friendly option, Black Gold offers an exceptional line of potting soil products. Black Gold potting soils are made from 100% organic and sustainably harvested ingredients. Their products are designed to provide optimal aeration and drainage, allowing plants to thrive in container gardens. Furthermore, Black Gold’s potting soils contain coconut coir, which enhances water retention while reducing the risk of root rot. With their commitment to environmental stewardship, Black Gold is a popular choice among eco-conscious gardeners.

Potting soils we like

Potting soils for vegetables

Burpee, 9 Quarts | Premium Organic Potting Natural Soil Mix Food Ideal for Container Garden-Vegetable, Flower & Herb Use for Indoor Outdoor Plant. About $13.

Organic Potting Mix by Perfect Plants for All Plant Types – 8qts for Indoor and Outdoor Use, Great for Veggies, Spices, and Holistic Herbs. About $16.

WONDER SOIL Organic Potting Soil | Ready to Plant Coco Coir Fully Loaded with Nutrients | 3 LBS Bag Expands to 12 Quarts of Indoor Outdoor Soil for Gardens & Plants | Incl Worm Castings, Perlite. About $35.

Seed starting potting soil

Window Garden Expanding Organic Fiber Soil 12qt and Hydrating Bag, Potting Soil for Planting Indoors or Outdoors, Plant Soil for Any Seed Starting Kit, Microgreens or Succulent, Easy-to-Store Soil. About $14.

Burpee Organic Coconut Coir Concentrated Seed Starting Mix, 16 Quart. About $12.

Outdoor plant potting soils

FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix Indoor Outdoor for Garden and Plants | Plant Fertilizer | 12 Quarts. About $24.

Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix – All Natural Potting Mix For All Indoor & Outdoor Containers Including Herbs & Vegetables. For Organic Gardening, 8qt. bag. About $17.

Miracle-Gro Moisture Control Potting Mix 8 qt., Protects Against Over and Under Watering Container Plants. About $14.

Indoor and tropical plant potting soils

Miracle-Gro Indoor Potting Mix – Blended for a Wide Variety of Container Plants, 16 qt. (2-Pack), About $13.

Miracle-Gro Houseplant Potting Mix: Fertilized, Perlite Soil for Indoor Gardening, Designed to Be Less Prone to Gnats. About $15.

Potting soil for succulents

Miracle-Gro Succulent Potting Mix: Fertilized Soil with Premium Nutrition for Indoor Cactus Plants, Aloe Vera and More. About $15.

Sun Gro Horticulture 1410602.Q08P Black Gold Cactus Mix (8 qt). About $19.

Related articles:

Seed Starting Guide

Vegetable Seed Starting Indoors and Out

How to Thin Vegetable Seedlings

More Buyer’s Guides

Peat Pot Buyer’s Guide

Seed Starting Tray Buyer’s Guide

Seedling Heat Mat Buyer’s Guide

Grow Light Buyer’s Guide

Row Cover Buyer’s Guide

Garden Cloche and Hot Cap Buyer’s Guide

Hoop Tunnel Buyer’s Guide

Cold Frame Buyer’s Guide


Chipper Shredder

Hedge Trimmer

Lawn Mower

Leaf Blower


String Trimmer


Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

How To Grow Tips

How To Grow Tomatoes

How To Grow Peppers

How To Grow Broccoli

How To Grow Carrots

How To Grow Beans

How To Grow Corn

How To Grow Peas

How To Grow Lettuce

How To Grow Cucumbers

How To Grow Zucchini and Summer Squash

How To Grow Onions

How To Grow Potatoes

How to Grow Bluebells — Hyancinthoides

How to Grow Hyacinth — Hyacinthus