Potting Soil vs. Garden Soil: What’s the Difference?

As they say, ‘the choices you make have consequences.’ Consequently, the soil you choose for your plants determines their growth rate and health. To be successful in your gardening, you ought to have a proper understanding about your plants, how they grow and what techniques you have to apply to help them flourish.

So, what’s the right definition of soil?

This may sound simple but trust me; there are some people who think soil is ‘dirt.’ To clear things from the outset, soil is a medium of life for plants.  It’s the means through which plants spread their roots and intake nutrients needed for growth. As a gardener, you ought to pay keen attention in the properties and composition of the soil you use.

composition of the soil you use

Soils are different. For healthy plants, ensure you match the right soil to its respective right plant. It’s that simple. So, which is the best, potting soil or gardening soil? 

As a matter of fact, both have organic materials and will grow plant roots. Yet as potting soil and garden soil provide necessary growth conditions, they are not interchangeable. Choosing the wrong one might result to moisture build-up and root damage thus inhabiting plant growth. 

Soil vs Potting mix

Reasons for differentiating potting soil vs. garden soil

  • It helps reduce wastage of time in cultivating unrewarding grounds.
  • Different soils have different soil moisture and nutrient contents thus different ability to produce a vibrant and healthy garden.
  • They have different compositions and used for different purposes.

Hereunder, we look at their differences-potting soil vs. garden soil- to help you choose the one that best suits your plants. Let’s start with:

Potting Soil/Potting Mix

This is not the technical soil you know. Potting soil isn’t really soil but a manufactured type of ‘soil.’ It doesn’t contain much natural organic matter. It helps keep container-grown plants well thrived and healthy.

Potting Soil

Key aspects of potting soil

  • Ability to retain moisture in a container that has plants. With time, it can become dry and start to repel water. To control this, add some organic matter in order for the potted plants to thrive.
  • It’s meant for container-grown plants. Interestingly, it doesn’t have soil. This is because soil normally contains pathogens, fungus and some micro-organisms that can infect and cause diseases to your plants.
  • It is sterilized to get rid of fungus thus being safe for potted plants.
  • It contains organic content to feed the plants and perlite that facilitates proper drainage thus proper air circulation.
  • Contains chemical fertilizers and crystals for enhanced water-retention.

Potting soil Contains chemical fertilizers and crystals

Advantages of Potting Soil

  • They are easier to use: While garden soil may need raised beds or additional of nutrients to improve their drainage or pH, for potting soils you simply fill the container and plant. They have the required nutrients. 
  • It’s better for containers: Potting soil contain ingredients that enhance water and nutrients retention thus promoting proper drainage and aeration. This helps potted plants thrive in a container.
  • They suits specific plants: There are cactus and succulent soils meant for plants that thrive in acidic conditions and water-holding varieties for those who seldom water their plants.
  • Less chances of diseases. If it’s a ‘sterile mix,’ there are very little chances of plant disease for the vulnerable seedlings. More info on how to steralize potting soil

Disadvantages of potting soil

  • Expensive: It is costly yet you can have free soil from your garden.
  • Wrong plant-soil matching can harm unintended type of plant.
  • Some varieties are harmful for some organic gardening thanks to their synthetic ingredients composition.

Secret Sauce: Use it for starting seeds or when growing plants in a container.

It’s not appropriate for raised beds. It doesn’t have sufficient nutrients to feed plants one season after another.

growing plants in a container

Garden Soil

These are the soils that are primarily developed for in-ground plants. Basically, garden soil is top soil that’s enriched with organic matter that’s nutritious for plants.

Key aspects of garden soil

  • It has heavier texture.
  • Higher water retention rate than potting soil.
  • It’s cheaper than potting soil. This is because of its lack of pricey ingredients like moss and perlite.
  • It’s normally free but needs frequent amendments that were used up after planting thus keeping the soil compact.
  • They have average pH needs and basic nutrients.
  • They vary by location and the amount of changes the garden makes into the soil.

Garden soil

Pros of garden soil

  • It is can be renewed: Simple act of taking the kitchen scraps and adding them to the soil will go a long way in improving its composition, texture and nutrients density.  
  • Helps plants have a thick root base: Garden soil packs well around plant roots thus helping them develop thick bases.
  • They are inexpensive compared to the potting soil.

Disadvantages of garden soil

  • Heavy.
  • Poor water drainage.
  • Poorly aerated. Can easily suffocate plants.

Garden soil vs Potting soil

Do’s and don’ts when using garden soil

  • Use them for outdoor plants. 
  • Never use garden soil in containers that ends up indoors. This is because since garden soils are not sterilized, they might bring irritating insects into the house. Its lack of perlite and vermiculite may also not let the plant roots breathe.
  • Use it for planting flower beds.

Summary of key differences between potting soil and garden soil

Potting Soil Garden Soil
1 Light and fluffy Dense and heavy
2 Poor water retention-Drains easily High water retention-Poor drainage
3 Well aerated-lots of air. Poor aeration
4 Its sterilized and therefore no microorganisms. It’s not sterilized. May contain fungus, pests and disease causing microorganisms.
5 Expensive Cheap-Mostly free.
6 No natural soil Is basically natural soil
7 Highly acidic Less acidic
8 Lighter texture Heavier texture
9 Contains perlite, peat moss and pebbles Pure topsoil.
10 Rough and Coarse A bit Powderly
11 Dark in color Ranges from light to dark brown

Potting Mix

Parting Shot…

As noted earlier, chances are using either potting soil or garden soil will work for most plants. Honestly, there’s no wrong answer on matters pertaining which soil to use for your garden. It all depends on your set and the types of plants you intend to grow.

About Jennifer Igra

Growing up in Brooklyn, New York City known for it’s green gardens. Jennifer, a 30 year old gardener and green living fanatic started Igra World to share her gardening journey and increase gardening awareness among masses. Follow Igra World to improve your gardening skills.

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