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The Perfect Potting Mix Recipe

Learn how to make your own soils for container gardens ... and save BIG money!

Potting MixAs with any garden, soil preparation is what really counts when it comes to being successful growing in containers. It’s the foundation. It’s the staff of life. Pick your life-giving metaphor and you get the idea.

In other words, select the right potting mix recipe for your plants and they will thrive. Skimp on the soil and you’ll get weak, non-productive plants that require more work to maintain and are susceptible to all kinds of pest problems.

What is the perfect mix? That depends. Every professional gardener has his own “secret” recipe just like every Italian grandmother has her own way of making tomato sauce. However, most experts agree that a good container medium should be lightweight and drain well, yet contain enough organic matter to hold moisture and nutrients even through hot, dry weather. You can purchase a quality organic potting soil or you can make your own.

Note: Ordinary garden soil is not recommended as a potting mix. It’s usually too heavy and may contain weed seeds, diseases, and insect pests.

Commercial Potting Mixes

Most commercial potting mixes are the seller’s best attempt to provide for aeration, water retention and nutrients. Of course, not all commercial soils are the same. The old adage “you get what you pay for” can really come into play here. Avoid inexpensive soils that just say “topsoil” or “compost” on the label. That mysterious topsoil may be anything and could very well be old, tired soil that comes from land that’s been farmed to death. Poor topsoil can be completely depleted of nutrients, but rich in nasty chemical pesticides and herbicides, another leftover from life down on the farm. Something merely labeled “compost” could very well be made from toxic sludge (often called biosolids) or just ground up wood chips and nothing else. Play it safe and buy quality organic potting soil.

Made from quality ingredients, Roots Organics® Original Potting Soil is one of the best. It’s a ready-to-use mix created with a balanced air to water ratio of porosity and water retention to allow for frequent feeding of fast growing, heavy feeding plants. Available in a 1.5 cu ft bag.

So what should you look for? “Certified Organic,” that’s what. Beyond that, look for specific ingredients. Don’t buy mystery soil. Remember the old sci/fi classic, Soylent Green? It pays to know the contents of your food or the food of your plants.

Tip: Store leftover potting soil in a tightly sealed bag to keep out soil-dwelling pests, like fungus gnats. Read our article Contaminated Potting Soil and Compost to learn more.

Make Your Own

Of course, you don’t have to purchase potting soil. You can make your own. Sure, it’s more work, but it can be more gratifying, plus you’ll know the exact contents of the soil since you’re the one who has mixed it up. A good potting mix recipe contains sterile garden loam, sand, peat moss (or coconut coir) and other additives as needed.

Classic Soil-Based Mix:

The organic material in the above mix provides structure and the sand will improve drainage. A balanced, slow-release organic fertilizer may also be added to the mix.

Not just a grow medium… FoxFarm® Light Warrior is packed with beneficial microbes (mycorrhizae) to stimulate root growth, humic acid to promote seed germination and earthworm castings to help plants thrive. It’s the perfect fast-draining, lightweight seed starter for your indoor/ outdoor gardens. Available in a 1.0 cu ft bag.

Cornell Soilless Mix (adapted for organic growers*):

  • 1/2 cubic yard peat moss or coconut coir
  • 1/2 cubic yard perlite
  • 10 lbs. bone meal
  • 5 lbs. ground limestone
  • 5 lbs. blood meal

* This soilless mix was developed at Cornell University for commercial growers, but is easily adapted for home use. I have substituted select organic fertilizers in place of synthetic fertilizers.

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3 Responses to “The Perfect Potting Mix Recipe”

  1. Nancy Garrett on May 7th, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    Wonderful information! We’re starting our first organic garden. Have learned so much!

  2. Paul Regal on March 21st, 2016 at 4:43 am #

    Thanks for the great info. I think the coconut coir is much better than peat for moisture and drainage qualities. Your recipe seems like the base ingredients in world famous “Super Soil”. I just mixed up a batch and it will be done cooking in three weeks.

  3. Excellent recipe on April 30th, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    I’ve been gardening for over 60 years. Gone through various stages. Now doing container gardening, almost exclusively. I have about 30 plants surrounded by chips and used mix, all in raised bed. Gets very hot here. Still don’t have the yield I had when I first planted in dg and knew very little. We had a 4 yr drought in ca. I also plant in planter box w/h2o reservoir. Needs soilless mix does pretty. Now after over 30 yrs planting lm chasing the sun. I love trees and planted many. I’m thinking of using outside grow lights, my family thinks that’s crazy. Jackie

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