Potting Soil Buying Guide

Help your plants thrive by planting and rooting them in succulent soil

Quality potting soil delivers nutrients to your plants and helps drain water to help prevent overwatering. This guide will discuss the different types of potting soil so that you can determine which variety is best for your plants.

Ingredients

Variations in the quantity potting soil’s key ingredients -- sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite or perlite, and aged compost products – determine the different types.

Tip: Potting mixes are sometimes referred to as "soilless," meaning they do not contain the type of dirt you would find in your yard or garden.

Sphagnum peat moss holds water in the soil.

Perlite separates the fibers in the peat moss so the soil is more porous. Look for potting mixes that contain 10 percent to 15 percent perlite. Vermiculite has the same function but holds more water than perlite.

Compost adds nutrients to the soil. Look for "aged forest products" as lower-quality mixes can contain yard waste or sewage sludge.

  • Some potting soils also include lime to balance the pH, if needed.
  • Some soils contain wetting agents that help retain water to prevent drying out. These are best for hanging baskets and window boxes.
  • Sand is found in some mixes but doesn't hold water well and can hinder drainage.
  • Whenever possible, open the bag and look for potting soil that is even in texture. Avoid soil that has large dirt clumps or contains large chunks of wood, or bark.

Types

There are four types of potting soils: all-purpose, premium, professional and plant-specific.

Soil Mixing Chart

Acid-Loving Plant Mix --for plants that need acidic soil to grow

  • 4 parts organic matter
  • 1 part sand, perlite or vermiculite

All-Purpose Mix --for use with most types of plants

  • 3 parts organic matter, such as peat,
    humus or sawdust
  • 1 part sand, perlite, vermiculite or a
    combination of all three
  • 1 part sphagnum peat moss

Cactus and Succulent Mix -- for cactus, succulents and other plants requiring good drainage

  • 3 parts organic matter
  • 2 parts sand, perlite or vermiculite

Seed Starting Mix -- for starting seeds in flats

  • 1 part sphagnum peat moss
  • 1 part vermiculite

Seedling Mix --for seedlings that have developed their first set of leaves

  • 2 parts organic matter
  • 1 part vermiculite
  • 1 part sphagnum peat moss



  • All-purpose potting soil: Premixed soil for potting new houseplants or repotting plants that need larger containers. You can use all-purpose potting soil for potted vegetables, herbs and outside container gardens.
  • Potting soil plus fertilizer: Premixed potting soil with a time-release fertilizer that feeds plants for several months to promote strong root development. Like all-purpose fertilizer, it works well for houseplants and garden plants in containers, and contains a blend of sphagnum peat moss and perlite. Works especially well for container plants and hanging baskets.
  • Seed-starting mix: A seed-starting mix is specially formulated for seed germination and growth. This mix also works well for leaf, stem and root cuttings. This mix contains sphagnum peat moss and higher levels of vermiculite than other mixes, and provides the proper medium for growing seeds and cuttings quickly.
  • African violet potting mix: African violet potting mix contains lime with a pH adjusted for the acidic type of environment these flowers prefer. Contains a mixture of sphagnum peat moss and perlite for improved soil aeration and drainage for optimal growth.
  • Cactus potting mix: Cactus potting mix works well for cactus and succulents because it contains a special blend of organic materials, sand and perlite to promote drainage. These mixes also contain bone meal for phosphorus to promote blooming and root development.