Potting Mix vs Soil: Which is Better for Your Plants?

You may have encountered terms such as potting mix and soil, depending on your experience level. These terms may initially appear a bit confusing. It should be noted that both potting soil and potting mix play an essential role in successfully growing plants in containers.

There is a difference between potting soil and potting mix, even though these terms are used interchangeably. Potting mix is a strictly soilless medium, whereas potting soil may or may not have soil. Because it does not include soil, it cannot harbor fungus or other diseases; for this reason, potting mix is safer for plants.

It is important to categorize and identify the difference between the two, although both are regarded as a medium for potting. Below, we will help clarify this confusion and discuss the differences between potting mix and soil.

What is Potting Soil?

In the simplest terms, potting soil is any container gardening medium that has dirt in it. The potting soil could be made entirely of dirt, or the first could be mixed with other soilless materials.

Two clay pots with different ingredient of a potting soil

Potting soil offers ongoing plant nutrition because it is often nutrient-rich, decaying matter and minerals. There are pros and cons, but there is also an option for growing plants without soil.

Potting soil can be prepared using earth from a garden and one or more components commonly used to produce potting mixes. A potting mix will turn into soil when mixed with dirt.

A problem with containers will arise with ordinary soil or dirt. It is a less ideal growth medium because it can compact very easily; this will block air circulation and become water-logged.

However, potting soil is usually cheaper than potting mixes; even though the soil can be rich in nutrients, its density can be a disadvantage, making it a less ideal choice for gardening within a container.

Is Potting Soil Harmful to Potted Plants?

Irrespective of its medium for growing, the same type of plant will still require the same nutrients. However, healthy garden soil may not be ideal for growing plants if you consider the restricted area within a container or pot.

Put another way, you can’t just take garden soil and make it into good potting soil and expect good plant development.

In indoor plants or potted plants, the pots or containers won’t have enough space for the plant’s roots to spread if there is an artificial growing environment. Potting soil can become compacted with regular watering.

Even after creating drainage holes, the water can accumulate easily and cause the plant to drown. Potting soil can be limited when providing the essential nutrients needed by plants.

Potting Soil Pros

Potting soil is cheaper to purchase 

Potting soil is generally cheaper than potting mixes, which is the best thing. You can also use the soil from the garden or mix the soil with other minerals and create your potting soil.

It can Be Fully Organic. 

They can easily be 100% organic. Pure garden soil can be organic, although you’ll have to look closely at the label of the potting mix. This is something to keep in mind if you are eco-friendly.

Rich in Nutrients. 

Dirt naturally provides plants with the nutrients they need because it is rich in organic matter and materials, Unlike a potting mix, which is usually enriched with organic matter.

Long-Lasting. 

Soil is natural, so it will last for a long time. Potting soil will always be usable; however, a potting mix will break down over some time and become unstable. From time to time, all soil might need some amendment with fertilizer or organic manure.

Clay pots and a potting soil mix

Potting Soil Cons

Easily Compacted and Water-logged. 

This is the main issue when it comes to natural soil and container gardening. Problems can develop with soil once you pack it within a container, even though it might do well outside in the open.

When the soil compacts, it disrupts the water drainage in the container, leading to problems for your plant.

Not “Fluffy” Enough. 

A good medium for container gardening should be light and fluffy. This allows the free movement of air and provides enough space for the roots to grow easily.

It is essential and ideal for a gardening medium to be fluffy within a container.

Low aeration. 

Potting soil allows much less air movement because it is easily compacted inside a container.

Not Very Ideal For Seed Starting. 

Seeds always have a harder time germinating and growing inside soil since it is dense and the particles are tough and heavy, unlike a potting mix.

What Is Potting Mix?

Potting mix was designed specifically for container gardening and is a soilless medium for growing. It also maximizes the growth of plants because it is made up of all the right materials.

A good potting mix will contain vermiculite and perlite for nutrients and moisture to manage drainage, pine bark or other compostable organic matter, and peat moss to retain water.

Potting mix offers better aeration due to the larger size of particles compared to what is found in soil particles. Roots can also find their way around easier since the particles are lighter.

Potting mixes can be customized for certain plants or plants in a specific stage of growth, for example, a seed starting mix. You can also find a potting mix that will mimic the natural environment of cacti or orchids.

Person's hand digging to a potting soil mix with his hands

Why Should A Potting Mix Be Used?

The particles of potting mix are larger and will have a combination of different elements. This very essential within a container and protects it from compacting. Air will easily pass through and allow the water to drain properly. These features are necessary to have a healthy root system for your plants, 

Potting Mix Pros

Fluffy Texture. 

Potting mix provides the best-growing and easiest medium for roots with its lightweight and fluffy texture that is easy to penetrate.

Good Drainage and Aeration. 

Unlike potting soils, they usually end up becoming compacted. Potting mix has better airflow and water drainage.

Good Retention of Water.

Potting mix is ideal for most plants because it contains vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss, which provides excellent water drainage, airflow, and water retention.

The Right Mix of Nutrients. 

Nutrients are available in the right combination within a potting mix; also, unlike potting soil, there is no need for amendments or pH testing.

Potting Mix Cons

More Expensive. 

Potting mixes are costlier than soils since they need specific materials. Although, the extra costs are usually worth it.

Lightweight. 

Potting mixes can have problems in windy locations due to their lightweight. Even though it will cost extra, a solution to the wind would be to use a heavier container.

Breaks Down Over Time. 

The mix will become unusable as a medium for growing since parts of a potting mix will break down eventually over time.

Ideal Growing Conditions

When starting in a sterile environment with plenty of drainages, container plants and seedlings will thrive. Therefore, a great pottery medium is a soilless combination of vermiculite or perlite, pine bark, and pet or coir; none of these components provide plants with any nutrition.

This would suggest a potting mix instead of potting soil, but what’s within the bag counts.

Great mediums for potting (no matter what they happen to be called on the bag) are designed not to be compacted too much and stay “fluffy” within the challenging environment of a container.

A good medium for potting will allow the plant roots to take up water and moisture from their surroundings while not drying out too quickly and being resistant to compacting. The medium can not be too dense, allowing the roots to access oxygen.

There are also different types of potting mixes and potting soils. Specific mixtures are available for roses, orchids, succulents, and seed starting.

Buying Tips

If it is listed, be sure to read the bag’s ingredients. If the bag says the mixture contains soil, it is not intended for containers but is ideal for raised beds or filling low spots on a lawn.

Some products try to call themselves “potting soil,” They contain a few of the same materials, but they won’t be ideal if they also have soil. We suggest finding a product that is a sterile mix with no soil.

Here is a tip: If no ingredients are listed on the product, you can consider the bag’s weight. A good indication that soil is the main ingredient is a heavy bag, so keep an eye out for lightweight bags.

However, avoiding bags with no ingredients can save a lot of time. There might be a reason for a manufacturer not to put the ingredients in their product bags.

Amendments

Potting soil mix inside a sack beside a garden

Some mediums for potting contain amendments, including additives that help to retain moisture, such as water-retaining crystals or fertilizers. You will probably want to avoid those that list chemical fertilizers as amendments if you’re going to grow organically.

However, a mix might have organic materials such as lime, blood meal, or bonemeal. Remember that it is not intended to make the plant last through a growing season just because a mix has added fertilizer to it; to ensure the long-lasting health of your plants within a container, you will still need to water and fertilize your plants regularly.

Perlite and vermiculite are frequently found in potting mixes to create a less dense and airier environment. Even though it is not obvious from their names, both are naturally occurring.

Making The Right Choice

The difference between a thriving plant and one struggling to survive will come down to choosing the right potting mix with all the features needed for gardening in a container.

Potting soil and potting mix have their types of advantages and disadvantages.

The only way to be sure to distinguish between the two is always to read the label to see what the potting soil or potting mix contains. It might be a good idea to leave the product alone if it doesn’t have an ingredient list.

For gardening in a container, potting mix is your best choice; however, if you consider gardening on a larger scale, filling in low spots in your garden, or raised bed gardening, then it is best if you probably use potting soil.

Conclusion

So although people think that potting soil and mix are the same, you can see they are different. Both have other characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks. But having read this post, you are now in a much better place to understand when to use each.

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