Potting Soil Vs. Potting Mix. What’s The Difference?


Depending on your experience level, you may have come across words such as potting mix and potting soil. It might be a bit confusing to hear at first. Both potting soil and potting mix are helpful when growing plants in containers.

There is a difference between potting soil and potting mix, even though these two 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 clear up this confusion and discuss the differences between potting mix and potting 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.

Potting soil offers steady nutrition for plants 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 in the production of potting mixes. A potting mix will turn into the 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 found to be cheaper than potting mixes; even though the soil can be rich with nutrients, its density can be a disadvantage, making it a less ideal choice for gardening within a container.

Is Potting Soil Harmful 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 take the restricted amount of area within a container or pot into consideration.

To put it 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 plants’ 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. When it comes to providing the essential nutrients needed by plants, potting soil can be limited.

Potting Soil Pros

Potting soil is cheaper to purchase 

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

Can Be Fully Organic. 

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

Rich in Nutrients. 

Dirt naturally provides plants the nutrients that plants 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 that it will last for a long time. Potting soil will always be usable; however, a potting mix will break down over a period of time and become unstable. From time to time, all soil might need a little bit of an amendment with fertilizer or organic manure.

Potting Soil Cons

Easily Compacted and Water-logged. 

When it comes to natural soil and container gardening, this is the main issue. 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 and will lead 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. 

Because it is easily compacted inside of a container, potting soil allows much less air movement within it.

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, moisture and to manage drainage, pine bark, or any other organic matter that is compostable, plus peat moss for retaining 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 also lighter weight.

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 cactus’ or orchids.

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 allows the water to properly drain. These features are absolutely essential 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 mean extra costs, 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 out in a sterile environment with plenty of drainages, container plants and seedlings will thrive. Therefore, a great medium for potting 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 a potting soil, but what’s within the bag really counts.

Great mediums for potting (no matter what they happen to be called on the bag) are designed to not 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 resistant to compacting. The medium can not be too dense and allow the roots to have access to 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 instead is ideal for raised beds or filling low spots on a lawn.

There are products that try to call themselves “potting soil,” and they do contain a few of the same materials, but they won’t be ideal if they also contain soil. We suggest finding a product that is a sterile mix and has no soil at all.

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

However, you can save yourself a lot of time by just staying away from bags with no ingredients. There might be a reason for a manufacturer not to put the ingredients on their product bags.

Amendments

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 are trying 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.

In order to create a less dense and airier environment, perlite and vermiculite are ingredients that are frequently found in potting mixes. 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 that is struggling to survive will come down to choosing the right potting mix with all the right features that are needed for gardening in a container.

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

The only way to be sure to distinguish between the two is to always 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 definitely going to be your best choice; however, if you are going to consider gardening on a larger scale, filling in low spots in your garden, or raised bed gardening, then it is best if you probably used potting soil.

Conclusion

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

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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