Quick Buyers’ Guide: Buying Potting Soil

Things to look for when buying the best quality potting soil.

Gorgeous plants and flowers all begin with the same key element: good potting soil. The right soil is essential for the nourishment and health of your plants. However, with so many factors to consider, making the right choice can be a daunting task.

The wrong conditions will cause your plant’s roots to under-develop. The ideal soil environment will provide plants with nutrients and water and enough space for the roots to thrive and air to circulate. Different types of plants have different needs, however, in general there are three important things to consider when buying potting soil:

  1. Soil density
  2. Soil composition
  3. The needs of each plant

This article will now take a look at each of these elements, why they are important and what to look out for when purchasing the best potting soil for your plants.

1. Soil Density

The best potting soil will be fluffy and light when you first open the bag. If the soil is too dense it can smother the roots. Very dense potting soil provides less drainage, which can lead to mould and rotten roots.

The easiest way to determine the density of potting soil is to simply lift the bag. The heavier the soil is when dry, the more dense it is. Be cautious, though, of bags which feel too light for their size. It may be filled with too much lightweight filler material and may lack nutritional requirements.

2. Soil Composition

The composition of your potting soil is very important to your plants’ health. The ingredients of the potting soil should be listed, so, have a read of the bag.

There are several non-organic soil options, which contain slow-release chemical fertiliser pellets. These types of soils use up their nutritional benefits over time, therefore need replacing or additional fertilising.  For a good potting environment, an organic potting soil has a longer lifespan and will continue to provide nutrients to your plant’s roots for years. There are many types to choose from, such as compost, seaweed, bat guano, manure, soybean or bone meal, worm casings, soft rock phosphate, and many more.

Better quality soil will also include something to increase drainage, such as perlite, wood chips, vermiculite, rice hulls and/or sand. As mentioned earlier, this should be balanced so that your soil is not too heavy or too light.

Garden soil is not recommended for potted plants as it often contains high levels of manure. When left to sit in pots, this nitrogen-heavy soil will burn the roots of your potted plant rather than fertilise them.

3. Understand Plant’s Needs

Different plants have different requirements. Certain plants and flowers need a more specialised potting soil. For example, plant-specific potting soils are available for the likes of orchids, cacti and succulents. These types of plants require far more drainage than a standard potting soil can provide.

Where the plant is positioned will also have a bearing on your choice of potting soil. Plants in direct sunlight will lose water more quickly than plants in the shade. To prevent plants in indirect light from becoming prone to mould, a lighter potting soil should be chosen. A medium-weight potting soil that holds water well should be selected for plants in direct sunlight.

When planting seeds, you can encourage germination by using choosing a lighter, airier potting soil. This will allow more sunlight and warmth to reach them. Young plants can then be repotted accordingly, if required.

When in doubt, talk to someone. A great way to get advice on your planting projects is to speak with the staff in your local garden centre. They often have a wealth of knowledge and can provide you with tailored advice based on your potting plans. If there is a farmer’s market near you, take advantage of their planting passion and strike up a conversation. Another option is to make your own potting soil, fully tailored to your plants’ needs. Whatever you decide, there will be an ideal solution to your own specific requirements.