The soil you use is important to make sure that your plants thrive well.
Your choice of soil is what will allow your plants to get the nutrients that they need.
If you’re thinking of what the differences between potting soil vs garden soil are, it may be a bit confusing.
Add to that, not knowing when to use which with planting your plants.
Read on to find out the differences and similarities between potting soil and garden soil.
Table of Contents
- 1 Comparison of Garden and Potting Soil
- 2 What’s a gardening soil?
- 3 What is potting soil?
- 4 can i use garden soil in pots?
- 5 How to Make Your Own Soil Mix
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 References
Comparison of Garden and Potting Soil
Here is a table of how we can compare the characteristics of both potting and garden soil.
|Characteristic||Garden Soil||Potting Soil|
|Texture||Can be a bit powdery||Rough or coarse|
|Color||Ranges from light to dark brown||Typically dark in color|
|Ingredients||Pure topsoil||Sand, perlite, peat moss, vermiculite, pebbles|
|Water Capacity||Can hold water for a long time||Doesn’t stay moist for a long time|
differences between topsoil and potting soil
Garden soil and potting mix may sound like the same thing to you, but you should know the difference.
Knowing more about these two can help you decide which one will work best with your gardening setup and the types of plants you’re growing.
The main difference between the two is that garden soil is what’s ideal to use when you have an outdoor garden.
Meanwhile, potting soil is the best type of soil to use in containers or pots.
You can also use potting soil outdoors, but be sure to mix it with topsoil and other organic ingredients and fertilizers.
Generally, using either garden soil or potting soil could work for most plants.
However, in this post, I’ll let you know more about these two types of soil.
This should let you know when it’s best to use either of them and what exactly they are.
What’s a gardening soil?
Garden soil is what you typically use when growing plants outdoors.
This is the soil that you probably first think of when you’re asked about gardening.
It’s also known as the topsoil or the soil that you can find on land.
This type of soil is usually made up of compost and manure.
It’s naturally organic, but this is also the soil that you can mix with other ingredients.
This is why you can also find commercially available and mixed garden soil in the market.
Commercial garden soils are usually mixed with products that can be helpful with what you’re trying to grow.
A lot of commercial garden soils are specifically concocted for specific plants.
However, garden soil is generally heavy, dense, and a bit clumpy.
What is potting soil?
True to its name, potting soil or mix is specifically made for containers.
If you’re thinking of growing crops or plants in pots or containers, then this is the soil you should use.
This is preferred if you’ll be growing plants indoors.
This is very different from garden soil because it usually does not have any soil or topsoil at all.
Some mixes may still have this but it’s typical for potting soil to be rough and well-draining because of its ingredients.
Most of the time, potting soils are made of peat moss, bark, perlites, sand, and other ingredients that can allow the mix to drain water easily.
It’s also typical for commercially available potting soils to be sterilized to avoid the growth of microorganisms that can negatively affect your plants.
If you want to be technical about this, potting soil isn’t really soil.
It doesn’t have the humus and minerals that you can find in actual soil found in nature.
However, potting soil can still be full of nutrients, especially if you use this with fertilizers.
- Best Potting Soils to Use in Your Garden
- Best Seed Starting Mix to Grow Your Seedlings
- Potting Soils to Use in Raised Garden Beds
can i use garden soil in pots?
It’s still best to use potting soil if you’ll be growing plants in containers or pots.
However, when left with no other choice, you can still work with your garden soil and a few ingredients.
This is as long as you use commercially available garden soil or topsoil.
As you already know, garden soil holds moisture or water longer than potting soil.
If you’ll be growing plants that don’t require frequent watering like succulents, then you’ll need to get a few more materials to make it work.
Avoid using garden soil as your base when using it in a pot.
Potted plants require quick drainage for you to avoid root rot.
Make sure that you use pots or containers with drainage holes. Topsoil alone won’t work in containers.
How to Make Your Own Soil Mix
Ideally, if you’ll be making your own potting mix with the use of commercial topsoil, you just really need to mix it with organic compost or peat moss.
Related post: Learn How to Make Compost
If you do make your own potting soil, you can control the pH level to your liking.
Related post: Best Soil Test Kits To Measure pH Levels
However, if you’ll start from scratch, here are the ingredients you should get to create your own potting mix.
Soil Additives to Add to Your DIY Potting Soil
Peat moss has a rough texture that allows good drainage. However, this can still give you a good enough time to let your soil stay moist.
What you just really need to make sure of is that you don’t put too much peat moss in your mix to avoid letting it hold too much water.
You can use any sand as long as it’s coarse and sharp. Builder sand would work well for this as it’s usually a primary ingredient for potting mixes.
It is similar to peat moss, and can also improve the drainage of your soil. Keep in mind that sand shouldn’t be mixed with clay-based topsoil.
Perlite is a fluoride-based volcanic rock that’s expanded. This can also promote smooth drainage.
However, this is usually more expensive than sand and peat moss. This also doesn’t have the ability to hold water.
Vermiculite is an ingredient that can be used to substitute perlite. However, unlike perlites, vermiculites have the capability to hold air and water.
Fertilized loam soil
It’s best to use fertilized soil to avoid any microorganisms harming your plants. It can help you avoid pest and weed problems.
Steps for Making Your DIY Potting Soil
Once you have gathered the materials you need, here are the steps you can follow to create a homemade potting mix for your plants.
Gather Sterilized Potting Soil
Get one gallon of sterilized soil (or topsoil) and put it in a big container. You can use a big bowl or a basket for this.
Related Post: How to Sterilize Your Potting Soil
Add Soil Additives to the Potting soil
Add a gallon of peat moss or sphagnum peat moss that’s coarse and another gallon of sand, perlite, or vermiculite.
Mix Potting Soil and Soil Additives
You’ll have to use bare hands while mixing the ingredients so that you can get a feel of how coarse and loose your mixture is.
It’s important that your mix feels rough or gritty so that it can promote good drainage when you finally use it for your plants.
Adjust the Amount of Soil Additives
Adjust the amount of soil, perlite, sand, peat moss, or vermiculite as needed. You can keep doing this until you have your desired texture.
How To Make A Soilless Potting Mix
If you’ve already made your soil mix before, then you shouldn’t have any problems with this anymore.
You can use the same ingredients that I mentioned above.
The only difference is that you won’t need sterilized topsoil or garden mix for this.
You can simply start with getting a gallon of peat moss and placing it in a bowl or basket.
Then you can also add another gallon of perlites or vermiculite, depending on your preference.
It’s important that you moisten this mix before using it on your plants.
There really is no wrong answer when it comes to which kind of soil you can use in your garden.
The answer will really depend on your setup or whether you’ll be growing your plants outdoors or indoors or in a soil bed or container.
In the end, I wouldn’t really recommend using just the garden soil or topsoil alone when growing plants in a container.
It’s not also advisable to not use sterilized soil and other ingredients to create your potting mix.
You should also consider the type of plant you are growing.
There are plants that can’t thrive on moist soil, while there are plants that need to be in moist soil to be able to survive.
Remember that both soils can help your plants thrive healthily.
Lastly, you can use a potting mix outdoors too. It’s not highly recommended but the nutrients in a potting mix can help outdoor plants grow healthy.
Just make sure that you use the potting mix outdoors with organic compost ingredients too.
- Hodges, J. (2014). Garden soil has its place, but not in pots. Domain.com website.
- Smith, T. & Cox, D. (2015). Bagged Potting Mixes and Garden Soils for Home Gardeners. The University of Massachusetts Amherst, Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment.
Lindsey Hyland grew up in Arizona where she studied at the University of Arizona’s Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. She continued her gardening education by working on organic farms in both rural and urban settings. She started UrbanOrganicYield.com to share gardening tips and tactics. She’s happy to talk about succulents and houseplants or vegetables and herbs – or just about anything in a backyard garden or hydroponics garden.