Should you use regular potting soil or plant-specific soil?


What’s the deal with soil?

Most plants need soil to survive. That is the location of their roots and the source of their water. But, you may be surprised to hear that not all dirt is soil. That is, even if we observe indoor plants planted in what seems to be brown, soily earth, they might be potted in something different. Generally known in the horticulturist community as “potting mixes” or “artificial potting media”, this 1960’s invention has been in wide use since then for it’s lightweight, weed-free properties and its ability to sustain seemingly any plant.

“Why not simply utilize outside soil for my indoor plants?” you may be wondering. The truth is there are issues with that (see next paragraph), making artificial potting media superior. Please allow us to explain.

When soil is taken from outdoors to indoors, you’re taking in all the critters that live in that soil too — critters that would love to eat your plants. You also risk bringing in a soil-borne illness that might destroy your plant. On top of all that, outdoor soil is primarily composed of clay, sand, and silt which are not only quite heavy but also prone to congealing and hardening when they dry out completely. Doesn’t sound good for your houseplant, does it?

Who came up with potting media/mix?

We don’t know the first, but we know the finest. The creation of Cornell Mix in the 1960s by James Boodley and his colleagues at Cornell University ushered in the houseplant business. Nowadays, most horticultural mixes are based on the Cornell Mix recipe. It delivers lightweight, weed-free medium that enables large-scale cultivation of any crop, not only food crops. Plant propagation on a vast scale became suddenly conceivable. Soon after, ornamental tropical foliage became fashionable.

What’s in potting media/mix?

Most general potting mixes contain mostly peat, along with perlite and compost. Vermiculite, wood chips, sand, and other materials may be added to various combinations.

Breakdown by component:

Peat — the basis of most mixes and used in high proportions. Spongy and absorbent.

Perlite — white, light, pebbles formed from superheated volcanic glass. Helps in water control and aeration.

Sand — silicon dioxide. Aids in water drainage.

Vermiculite It aids in water retention and offers a slow leak of micronutrients as well as a home for fungi/microbes to assist in plant development.

Wood chips/Bark — decaying organic matter that provides a slow release of macronutrients and is a “denser sponge” than peat. When sliced coarsely, it may help with drainage.

Compost — nutrient-rich and microbe rich matter that aids in plant growth. It has an earthy scent.

Glass/Rocks — a cheap filler included in mediocre mixes. Although the rocks could provide a trickle of micronutrients, their weight is enough to make them a lousy ingredient.

What media should you use?

The medium you use is mostly determined by where you grow your plants. For example, if you wish to grow plants, herbs, and vegetables inside, you need use potting soil. All outside planting in your herb or vegetable garden should be done in soil. Why? Since soil is heavier than potting mix, it will provide extra weight to your pots. It could even be detrimental to your plants health; indoor plants need good air circulation in their roots system and using soil in a planter that is often too heavy and compact makes it virtually impossible for plant roots to spread and blocks moisture from penetrating the soil. As a consequence, illnesses and bacteria may readily infiltrate and attack your plant, causing it to perish.

Also, various plants may prefer different potting mix compositions. For example, a succulent, snake plant or aloe will like a media that is more porous, such as perlite, that water can run through quickly and not hold as much water. (We all know how they want to stay dry, right?) On the other hand, ferns and mini terrarium plants will prefer a media with more peat, since it helps the soil to stay uniformly moist, which is what most tropical plants prefer.

Customized blends have been designed for various plant types. Succulent mix, for example, was created with more sand and coarser ingredients to help in drainage for succulent growth. The orchid mix consists mostly of Douglas fir bark, perlite, and sphagnum moss. Although succulents can be planted in general potting mix without much fuss, orchids are epiphytes and must be planted in orchid mix, which resembles the trees that they grow on in the wild — they’re a little more high maintenance.

Bottom Line

Outside soil is not the same as potting mix. Any indoor plants should be grown in potting soil. Use one that gives your plant roots the preferred air, moisture and nutrition balance it needs. Soil from the outdoors is heavy and is best used for outdoor gardening.

Related Questions

  • Does it matter what potting soil you use?

    Plants like succulents need different soil than ferns, much as in nature. To meet such requirements, several potting mixes were developed. Understanding what’s in your potting soil will help you to provide your plants with the nutrients they need to thrive.

  • Can I use planting soil instead of potting soil?

    Garden soil may be used to make potting mix, but it should never be used directly in outdoor pots. Therefore, using any soil in a potting mix is not optimal. To ensure that you have the proper combination of aeration, drainage, moisture retention, and nutrition, you should use potting mix.

  • Is potting soil the same as regular soil?

    The wording of this sentence is: Topsoil is used for ground gardening. Potting soil is used for container gardening. Topsoil is sand or clay (ground-up rocks) mixed with organic materials such as compost. Potting soil is made up of peat moss and other organic components like decomposed sawdust.

  • Can you use any type of soil for a potted plant?

    We now know that you should not use any outdoor soil mix for your houseplants, even if it is for potted plants. If you really want to use it for your plants, you’ll need to add extra ingredients to improve the structure and drainage of your soil.

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