Last Updated on October 31, 2021 by Phil
Are you looking for easy DIY potting soil recipes? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
I love soil gardening. But, one thing I enjoy more is growing plants in containers. I’m not sure what it is, maybe it’s the ability to be more creative. Or, you can decorate them as you wish.
But, one thing’s for sure.
When growing plants in containers, whether they are for outdoors or as houseplants, creating your own potting soil mix goes a long way.
In fact, I’ve noticed my costs for container plant drop nearly 70% since I started making my own potting soil. In addition to the savings, I also feel the accomplishment of being able to create my own mixes or learn from others’ potting soil recipes.
What Is Potting Soil?
One of the most important things to know in gardening is that potting soil is not actual soil. In fact, it is very different from garden soil.
In most cases, it is actually a soilless blend. That is, it is not made from actual soil. Instead, it is a mix of different growing media or substrates.
The goal of potting soil is to replace regular garden soil. Thus, potting soil’s main function is to provide an environment where your plants can optimally grow.
One of the biggest benefits of being able to mix (and match) different ingredients to create your own “potting soil” is it gives you the flexibility to adjust the soil to the plant’s needs.
This lets you customize the soil in each container for a specific plant. As such, you can actually have 10 houseplants, each of which grows on a different potting soil mix or recipe.
That said, the best potting soils often have the same qualities. These include:
- Good drainage that allows them to remove excess moisture that garden soil often does not
- They are lightweight, loose and airy making it easy for oxygen to get to the roots
- Easy to use and handle
The reason for this is that most houseplants are tropical plants. As such, they enjoy a balance of water and air. And, they do not like being waterlogged.
However, if you look in stores, you’ll see dozens of different kinds of pre-made potting mixes. These come in different densities, water retention ability, nutrient content and texture.
Thus, allowing you to choose which one is best suited for the plants you have.
Alternatively, many gardeners will create their own potting mixes. The benefit here is lower cost and you get to personally adjust the ingredients as needed to your home’s environment (and not just the plant).
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A Word About Commercial Mixes
As I mentioned, pre-made potting mixes or commercial mixes are available in your local nursery or garden center.
You’ll see many different brands, each one carrying a whole lineup of potting mixes made for different types of plants.
Commercial potting mixes are no doubt the simplest and fastest way to get started, assuming you know which type you need.
However, it is important to understand that there are similar to other packaged products. That means:
- You get what you pay for (at least in most cases)
- You’ll want to avoid cheap products
- You’re not going to be sure what the exact ingredients are for each.
- You want to stay away from those with toxic ingredients.
The reason why high quality products (albeit more expensive) are better is because:
- They’re likely to be more consistent (although a study showed this isn’t always the case). However, lower quality, cheaper products can have varying qualities and quantities of ingredients
- Many will not tell you what’s inside. Seldom will the label tell you all the ingredients.
That said, the positive side of commercial products is that:
- They’re ready to go, just open the bag and follow the instructions
- The potting mix has been sterilized and therefore is disease free
Benefits of Making Your Own Potting Mix
An alternative to buying commercial potting mixes, you can create your own.
I’ll admit this is daunting especially when you’re starting out. I remember my hesitancy when I was a beginner.
And, I’ll admit it does take some experience and a lot of reading to figure things out.
On the downside, the wrong mix can mess up your plants. So, make sure not to test potting mixes on rare or expensive plants like monstera unless you have some experience under your belt.
The good news is, it is just like any new thing you try. All it takes it trial and error. Then learning from your mistakes.
I also found that starting with cheaper plants and those that are more resilient lets you get away with beginner mistakes.
That said, the biggest benefits of making your own potting mix include:
- Cheaper – buying the individual substrates them mixing them yourself is much cheaper than the products. That’s because you don’t need to account for extra overhead costs like employees, research, facilities, rent, delivery and others.
- You know what’s in the soil – by buying the ingredients independently, you can ensure that everything is up to your standards. For example if you want certified organic, it is easier to make sure each item makes the grade. Just as importantly, you avoid any additives and chemicals that companies often add, some of which can be fillings while others can be toxic and harmful.
- Customization – this is probably the biggest reason experience growers make their own potting mixes. It allows them to personally customize a mix for different plants. And, if needed, easily adjust as they go. That’s not something you can do with commercial potting mixes since you can’t reduce any of its components.
- Convenient – it saves time and gives you the flexibility to change and adjust as needed. It also gives you the confidence to know that you don’t need to rely of any specific pre-made mix. As such, you’re confident you can create the ideal potting mix no matter what plant you want to grow.
- Longevity – when you pick your own ingredients, you’ll naturally choose higher quality items. This is not always the case with commercial mixes that can skimp of certain more expensive ingredients to turn a profit. Since you’re saving money by making your own mix, you don’t have to resort to using cheap components.
- You’re self-reliant – by creating your own mixes, you understand your plant and their needs better. You also learn and become a better gardener. Best of all if the brand suddenly decides to discontinue a specific products, you’re not left out in the cold since you make your own mix anyway.
DIY Potting Soil Ingredients
In order to create your own potting mix, you’ll need to understand the different ingredients available along with their properties. This will let you create different mixes as needed.
Since different plants will have different preferences, the potting soil you’ll be using for each ultimately depends on what that specific plants needs.
That said, in most cases, a good potting mix:
- Retains moisture – plants need water to survive. Water retention also reduces the amount of times you need to water the plants by increasing the number of days needed between waterings.
- Drains excess moisture – too much water is the #1 cause of plant death. And, while this may sound ironic because you want water retentive soil, it actually isn’t. Ideally, potting mix should hold enough moisture to keep the plant well-hydrated. But, drain the excess moisture so the roots don’t end up drowning in too much water. Thus, the balance.
- Is loose and airy – in addition to water, roots also need to breathe. This is why light, airy soil is very important as it allows oxygen to easily penetrate the soil to reach the roots.
- Contains some nutrients – nutrients will help with plant growth and reduce deficiencies. It also reduces the need for fertilizer.
- Does not get compacted or breaks down over time – soil that gets compacted or breaks down causes problems with the water and air balance. It reduces the ability of one or both of these to reach the rots.
The difference between various DIY potting mix recipes often comes in how much or how little water is held or drained.
For example, water-loving plants will want more moisture retention while tropical plants, cacti and succulents will prefer fast draining soils.
By using the right ingredients and mixing in the proper proportions, you’ll be able to adjust each potting soil mix to a certain plant’s needs.
Sphagnum Peat Moss
Sphagnum peat moss is one of the most common ingredients in potting mixes. It is valuable because of its ability to retain moisture. Plus, it is inexpensive and does not break down easily.
That said, it is low in nutrients and is acidic in nature with pH often between 3.5 to 4.5. As such, it is often mixed with other ingredients to supplement the nutrients and level out the pH to get it to neurtral.
Perlite is another well-known potting mix ingredient. And, it is best known for its ability to drain moisture. It also helps with water retention.
Like peat moss, it is lightweight and sterile making it easy to use without having to worry about potential pathogens.
Unlike peat moss, it has a neutral pH.
Coir Fiber (Coconut Fiber)
Coco Coir comes from the husks of coconuts. They have become a popular growing medium, especially for hydroponic gardening.
When it comes to soil gardening, coco coir is often used as a substitute to sphagnum peat moss because it is more environmentally friendly.
It also container more nutrients and will last longer than peat moss. However, it is also more costly which is why many gardeners still use peat moss.
Vermiculite has similar characteristics with perlite. But, perlite is better at draining moisture while vermiculite at retaining it.
Additionally, vermiculite contains calcium and magnesium.
Coarse sand is best known for its ability to increase draining. Adding it to adding it to soil allows you to use water retentive soil on plants that like quickly drying conditions including cacti and succulents. In doing so, you prevent the soil from waterlogging or retaining too much moisture.
Limestone is often added to peat based potting soils in order to neutralize pH. It works by increase soil pH which makes it useful for any substrate that’s on the acidic end.
Since substrates like peat moss don’t contain nutrients, growers often add fertilizer to potting soils in order to supplement them with the needed nutrients.
Good potting soil includes natural fertilizer in order to help plants grow optimally.
Compost is the end result of composting. And, it is a valuable addition to potting soil thanks to its high organic matter content, nutrients and water holding ability.
It also improves the structure of soil making it lighter and airier.
Composted Wood Chips
For plants that like more air circulation, composted wood chips gives you chunkiness and porousness. This allows oxygen to easily get to the roots of the plant.
How To Make Your Own Homemade Potting Soil
Now that you know the value of making your own DIY potting soil and the basic ingredients you can mix to create them, it is time for the recipes.
Since different kinds of plants have different needs, you’ll see a number of different potting soil recipes below that are well-suited for the kind of plant you have.
Basic Potting Mix Recipe
This potting mix recipe is an all-purpose soil you can use for many kinds of plants.
- 1 part peat moss or coco coir
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part garden soil
- 1 part compost
Potting Soil Recipe for Tropical Plants and Flowers
For tropical plants and flowers, here’s a simple mix you can use.
- 6 parts of peat moss or coco coir
- 5 parts perlite
- 6 parts compost
- If you’re using peat moss, add garden lime to bring the pH to neutral
To add nutrients, you can go add an all-purpose fertilizer. Alternatively, you can make your own by mixing bone meal, kelp meal, greensand and rock phosphate.
Potting Soil Recipe for Houseplants
Since most houseplants are tropical plants, you can use the same mix above. But, if you want something simpler, you can go with just 3 ingredients.
- 2 parts Peat moss or coco coir
- 1 part Perlite or pumice
- 1/2 part Vermiculite
Potting Soil Recipe for Cacti and Succulents
Since cacti and succulents prefer drier conditions, here’s a faster draining medium for them.
- 5 parts perlite or pumice
- 4 parts potting soil
- 1 part coarse sand
Another option you can go with is to mix:
- 3 parts peat moss or coco coir
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
- 2 parts coarse sand
- If you are using peat moss, add garden lime to balance out the pH
Potting Soil Recipe for Vegetables
For vegetables you can use this mix. It contains nutrients as well.
- 3 parts compost
- 2 parts peat moss
- ½ part perlite
- 1 part sand
Add the following for nutrients
- 1/8 part kelp meal
- 1/8 part worm castings
- 1/8 part garden lime
- 1/8 part blood meal
- 8 part bone meal
Potting Soil Recipe for Herbs
This mix is perfect for growing herbs indoors or outdoors in containers.
- 3 parts peat moss or coco coir
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part compost
- 1 part worm castings
So, there you have it, 6 different DIY potting soil recipes you can make yourself with simple ingredients. Use them for depending on the plant you have to save money and so you can easily adjust if needed as you go along.