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How Do I Choose the Best Potting Mix?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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To choose the best potting mix for your potted plants, you can mix up a homemade batch with several ingredients, or buy a bag at your local gardening center. A do-it-yourself (DIY) potting mix is a good idea, as you can control which ingredients will be used. This can be done using a mixture of soil or by making a mix that contains no soil. The type of mix you select should meet the requirements for the seeds or plants that are to be potted. If you buy a commercial potting mix, ask for a mix that provides proper drainage.

Your potting mix must provide the drainage for your seeds to germinate and for your plants to thrive. At the same time, you'll want to choose a potting mix that will not dry out. It must provide a proper balance of moisture and drainage.

If you are planting seeds, the seed package should state any necessary requirements for potting mixtures or soil. If you have various seeds to plant, you may need to purchase different types of mixes. Whichever potting mix you choose, be sure it is not too tight or firmly packed in the pot.

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Your pot will need space for air to circulate, and some potted mixtures will not allow adequate airspace. Make sure the potting mix you use is not compressed. Next, check the pH level of your potting mix. For the plants to receive the proper nutrients, a acidic pH of 5.8 should be adequate. If you purchase your potting mixture from a store, be sure to ask if it is organic. This would help to ensure the mix does not contain harmful microbes or other contaminants that could destroy your plants.

If you prefer a homemade mix rather than a pre-made potting mixture, you might buy some peat moss to use as a base. Peat moss is good for water absorption, so it may be preferred for those who don't have the time for frequent watering. To ensure proper drainage, however, adding a mineral such as perlite should work well.

Compost is important too, as it will help nourish your plants. A little bit of limestone is also good for a soil-less potting mixture. If you are going the organic route, manure and topsoil may be added to peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite.

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browncoat
Post 4

@Fa5t3r - I think it's also important to remember that potting soil won't last forever without being maintained. It is contained in a single pot so there isn't an ecosystem attached to it, refreshing it the way even a garden can be without interference.

So even the best potting soil will either need to be changed out or will need nutrients added to it periodically. You also have to be careful because it's all too easy to add too many nutrients and burn your plants.

If you've got growing plants it's easier to just add new potting mix when you change pots to give them more room for their roots. But if the plant is relatively stable, look up how often they will need a bit of a spritz of fertilizer so they don't end up dying of malnutrition.

Fa5t3r
Post 3

@irontoenail - Alternatively, you can have a worm farm or a seaweed station and use that as a means of providing nutrition. The worms tend to be higher maintenance but provide a much less smelly by-product.

But you can get organic potting soil mixes these days. Be aware some of them might not be suitable to have indoors, but as a filling for pots and things in your courtyard they work fantastically.

irontoenail
Post 2

If you make your own potting soil you might not have to worry so much about bacterial contamination, which can be an issue with store bought mixes. I wouldn't handle any of it without gloves though and be careful not to breathe it in either.

The problem is that most plants are going to do much better in a mix with organic matter and unless you've got a compost heap that has been in place for a while, most home potting soil mixes are going to be sterile and will need added fertilizer. This can work OK for indoor plants but if you're hoping to grow something like tomatoes or chilies, or even herbs in a pot you will want

them to have the best possible growing conditions so they will grow vigorously and that means giving them a lot of nutrition. I tend to think that a decent scoop of well aged compost is the most superior way of providing that.

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