A Deeper Look at Potting Soil and Options

A comprehensive exploration of potting soil options in a nearby garden center.
Written by David S.
Have you ever been to the nursery to buy potting soil only to wander around the stacks of bagged dirt and wonder which is the best option for your garden project? Many shoppers do just that, and it is no fault of their own. The options for potting soil are vast, but let’s slow down a bit. Potting soil is just one type of soil. Even though many of us use “potting soil,” it may not be the correct term. Inside, we go through the different types of potting soil and other types of soil options, including amendments. 
There are four general types of Potting Soil.
When you shop for potting soil, keep this tip in mind:
Always match the soil type to the plant. 
Some plants are generalists in that they grow in a variety of soils. Most plants have a “type” of soil in which they grow the best. An excellent example of this is the vast family of succulents. Most want soil that drains quickly but also holds some water. In Southern California, the evolution of native plants means dry soil that is usually sandy. That type of soil can be a problem when you try to grow other plants that like the climate here, but not the soil. A few tips for shopping for soil:
  1.  Always look at your garden project with the plants in mind and match the potting soil to their preference. The reward is plants that thrive. 
  2.  Amend the soil to accommodate specific plants, especially if you are planting in-ground. 
  3. Calendar recommended amendment dates, so the soil is always “fresh.”

Types of Potting Soil 

1. Seed Starting Soil Mixes – These soils begin with seeds and seedlings in mind. The big difference is a reduced amount of fertilizers (in general.) too much fertilizer can kill seedlings and prevent seeds from germinating while promoting weed growth. 
2. General Potting Soil – This is a mix that meets the requirements of most plants, but maybe not specialty plants. Citrus trees would be an excellent example of plants that need a specialized soil mix. Some gardeners start with generalized soil and then amend it to meet their needs. It is much easier to buy the correct type of specialty soil for your plants. 
3. Enhanced Potting Soil – This is an amended, general potting soil with fertilizer additives. This type of potting soil is best for repotting projects. The plant is already well established, but the soil is losing potency. 
4. Specialized Potting Soil – Ideal for plants that have specific soil requirements. Cactus and succulents are a good example, as are African Violets. Specialized potting soils are not ideal for most plants and are engineered to meet the particular growing conditions of specific plants and plants within that family. 
Know your Plants 
Plants have a lot of demands if they are to thrive. One of the things that plants need is the right soil pH. Some plants like acidic soil while others prefer alkaline soil. Considerations when buying potting soil:
  1. 1. Soil pH
  2. Drainage – Some plants like dry soil, while others like it damp to wet. 
  3.  Age of plants – Seedlings need different soil than adult plants. 
  4.  Impact of Soil on plants – An example is a hydrangea. The blooms are blue if the soil is acidic or pink in alkaline soil
  5.  How/Where you plant the plants. A hanging basket versus a pot or garden bed is an example. 

What is in Potting Soil? 

Most bagged potting soil mixes have just three ingredients – Peat moss, aggregate (vermiculite or perlite,) and organic materials. From those three ingredients, the soil changes. If you need soil that is dryer, then opt for a soil that has 15-20% perlite. The job of both vermiculite and perlite is to help the soil to drain. Of the two, vermiculite is better at holding water than perlite is. The peat moss is there to absorb water and to decompose. The compost is the source of nutrients for the plants. The more compost, the more fertile the soil, and that can be good or bad for plants. 
Added Ingredients in potting soil may include compounds such as lime, which is there only to address pH issues. Another popular additive in some soils are materials that hold water. We refer to this as wetting agents, and they can be very beneficial to plants that like heat, but not dry soil.
The goal is to create the best possible environment for each plant. A pot or hanging basket is almost an artificial environment for plants, and the choice of potting soil types gives each gardener the power to create an environment in which a plant can thrive. 

Planting Soil Recommendations 

Salamander Soil is an organic soil by FoxFarm Soils. Salamander soil contains ingredients that hold water. This type of soil is excellent for hanging baskets or containers where the plant needs more water. For hanging baskets, a water-holding potting soil is ideal because the soil in the baskets tends to dry out quicker. 

Black & Gold Soil 

Black & Gold brand of potting soil offers a complete line of soil for most types of plants. Their organic selections are perfect for generalized growing where you want a lot of organics and some water-saving features. Black & Gold is ideal for pots or as a soil supplement in the ground. They also offer some specialty potting soil mixes and segregate soil by projects, such as flowering plants or vegetables. Ask one of our garden experts for recommendations for Black and Gold Potting Soils

FoxFarm Soils

FoxFarm offers a complete line of soil and soil supplements. Their Salamander Soil is ideal for hanging baskets and planting projects where you want the plants to have more water, especially on hot days. Their amendments range from dry fertilizers to soluble fertilizer and products that control bugs and garden pests naturally. Green Thumb Nursery carries a wide array of FoxFarm Products, ask one of our garden experts for recommendations, or browse the FoxFarm products. 

EB Stone Soil Amendments

EB Stone is a brand of high-quality soil supplements. They also produce, and we recommend their specialty potting soils. If you love succulents and cacti, it is hard to beat their Cactus & Succulent mix. Their boxed fertilizers and soil amendments are lovely and come with specialty applications from tomato care to citrus care. There is almost always an EB Stone product for your garden project. 
If you are looking for a specific product, you are welcome to call ahead and check on availability. The products at each nursery change daily. Due to the popularity of some products, we might be out of stock. You can also shop online, by phone, or drop by to shop. Be sure to ask our garden experts if you have questions or if you need recommendations for plants, tools, or soil.  

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