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When it comes to growing healthy plants, it is all about the soil. Potting soil contains the nutrients, air space, and water retention plants need to grow in your containers and raised bed gardens. "Plants, like us, have preferred nutrients and conditions that the ideal soil blend can provide,” says Sarah Barlett, Soil Expert from Foxfarm Soils.
We evaluated the many products from numerous manufacturers for their ingredients, added nutrients, ease of application, and overall value. Our top choice was Black Gold Organic All Purpose Potting Soil for its unique blend of slow-release organic nutrients and flexibility to use, outdoors as well as in.
Here are our recommendations for choosing the best potting soil for your needs.
Best Overall: Black Gold Organic All Purpose Potting Soil
OMRI organic certified
Can be used indoors and outdoors
Good for aeration
Expensive to ship
A recognizable name in the organic market, Black Gold has a long history of successfully producing plants in commercial facilities worldwide. The product is listed in the directory of the Organic Materials Review Institute, which serves as a clearinghouse for organic materials of all sorts. You can also reap these benefits by using their smaller-size bags (16 quarts) in your raised beds and containers.
Black Gold adds components, such as earthworm castings, to help make soil nutrient rich. They balance it out by adding lightweight materials, such as perlite, for needed air space and room for roots to stretch out; as well as pumice, which loosens heavy soil, such as after heavy rains, to improve aeration.
You can use Black Gold in hanging baskets, container gardens, or even as organic potting soil for vegetable gardens. It also contains added organic fertilizers to help your newly planted herbs, vegetables, and flowers take off.
Price at time of publish: $20.61
Best Indoor: Wonder Soil Organic Potting Soil
Expanding nature of coconut coir means you can do more with less
Easy to use
Since it is organic, can grow mold if it gets too moist
Wonder Soil Premium Organic Potting Mix contains coco coir, in addition to earthworm castings, kelp, and perlite, to provide indoor plants with the nutrients they need to grow their best. Coco coir expands, keeping plants moist longer, meaning you need to water less frequently. Wonder Soil can be used with about any plant.
The bag is resealable. That’s great because coir fibers expand, and a little goes a long way. This mix also doubles as a seed starter.
Price at time of publish: $31.99
Best Organic : Espoma Organic Seed Starter Potting Mix
Increases root surface area
Flexibility in use
Reduced watering needs
Difficult to find large sizes
Espoma Organic Potting Mix improves the soil’s overall structure and slowly feeds plants as it breaks down, rewarding you with healthy plants all season long. Thanks to the inclusion of root symbiotic mycorrhizae fungi in the mix, it requires up to 30 percent less water than ordinary soils, helping reduce the amount of time you spend watering your containers. The improved moisture retention also helps ensure that your plants better tolerate periods of drought or extreme weather.
Espoma Organic also is an excellent choice for hobby plant propagators because it improves plant cuttings and transplants. It is also a good soil mix for those who like to grow vegetables and herbs indoors. Use Espoma Organic in any planting container, whether starting a new plant or transplanting.
Price at time of publish: $24.66
Best Budget: Burpee Premium Organic Potting Mix
Can be used for seeds or seedlings
Coconut coir retains moisture
Contains plant food
Can grow mold easily
Attracts fungus gnats
Burpee Organic Premium Potting Mix has plant food and coconut coir to help your flowers, herbs, and vegetables get off to great starts at an affordable price. The soil feeds plants instantly and follows up with slow-release plant food, good for 3 months. Seeds and seedlings can be planted in this mix, increasing the number of uses for this product.
The coconut coir in its base allows the expanding fibers to aid in moisture retention, meaning less watering for you. Burpee also stands behind a 100 percent satisfaction money-back guarantee, which makes the tiny investment even more of a win.
Price at time of publish: $13.95
Best for Flowers: Black Gold All Purpose
Great for hanging baskets
Consistent quality and texture
Slow-release plant food
Can attract fungus gnats
Black Gold All Purpose is a staple fertilizer of container garden designers and hanging basket aficionados for a reason: the consistency of the soil ensures your flowers have the best access to air, water, and space. This organic soil has a complete fertilizer, which feeds the plant over several months, providing a running start early in the season. It also contains sphagnum moss, worm castings, humus, and perlite, creating a rich yet light blend perfect for flowers.
The aerated soil reduces watering error, as it is easy to tell with a simple touch if your plants need a drink. And you can use Black Gold All Purpose with house plants in pots or hanging baskets, as well as outdoors in patio containers.
Price at time of publish: $17.43
Best For Vegetables: FoxFarm Happy Frog Potting Soil
Not meant for seeds
Expensive to ship
This organic potting soil from FoxFarm can be used indoors and outdoors and is designed for those looking to get the most from their fruiting and flowering plants, whether in raised beds or containers. Foxfarm adds plenty of nutrients, including bat guano, that benefits your homegrown produce. Included beneficial bacteria and fungi help break down nutrients into an easier form for plants to take up.
Foxfarm understands that plants prefer a certain pH, especially vegetables, and have adjusted the pH of Happy Frog to reflect the plant favorite range of 6.8. It is the perfect incubator for newly developing plants to live their best lives.
Price at time of publish: $32.00
Best for Cacti and Succulents: Hoffman Cacti and Succulent Mix
Easy to use
Some succulents might need a richer blend
This product has long been a favorite of cacti growers nationwide. The professional formula can be used for traditional desert cacti and jungle cacti. This important distinction means succulents, which cannot stand to have “wet feet,” are able to be kept dry. The organic mix contains plenty of perlite to keep the soil light and airy, just how cacti like it. This aeration also provides exceptional drainage, helping to prevent root rot, common to succulents and cacti.
This product is also pH balanced, which is important, as cacti and succulents prefer neutral soil environments. Hoffman also features clear, easy-to-follow directions for getting the most out of their mix. The 4-quart size might seem small at first, but a little goes a long way here.
Price at time of publish: $11.97
The best potting soil we recommend is Foxfarm Ocean Forest, which can be used indoors and out, and delivers rich nutrition to plants all season long. Happy Frog, also from Foxfarm, is a smart choice for vegetable gardeners, as it includes additional beneficial microbes to assist the roots in achieving nutrient uptake. Those on a budget should enjoy the versatility of Burpee Organic, with added plant fertilizer.
What to Look For in Potting Soil
The kind of potting soil you need depends on what you are growing. Many of our recommended blends are all-purpose, and for many projects, these are your best bets, as they serve a variety of plant types. If you have a patio full of cacti or succulents, select something tailored to them because they have different moisture retention needs than typical flowers. Indoor plants may require an extra kick of nutrition that they miss from not being outdoors. In that case, consider one of the suggested blends that contain additional plant food. Sarah Barlett of the Foxfarm company mentions that “Not all plants are the same so knowing what you’re growing is the first important step.”
Ingredients vary across the potting soil spectrum, with some being exceptionally light on the variety, and others packed. Organic ingredients break down slowly, creating longer-lasting plant growth and nutrition. Rich ingredients, such as bat guano, sea minerals, humus, and earthworm castings, are ideal for heavy feeders that include flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Cacti and succulents do not pull as many nutrients from the soil and prefer a lighter mix.
All soil adds some nutrition as it slowly breaks down, releasing nutrients plants can use. But some plant potting mixes double as additional fertilizers. The benefit here is they are available for plants to use when they need them, instead of synthetically. Additional plant food included in soil blends is in tiny amounts and is slow-release, carefully balanced to ensure plants do not end up burned from over-fertilization. If using fertilizer makes you nervous, starting with quality soil helps reduce or eliminate the need for it.
Organic or Not?
Organic soil mimics what you would find if you dug around in your backyard. That magic topsoil layer, which contains decomposing leaves and other material, is what creates that rich, nutrient dense soil plants love. For that reason, you often see packaged organic potting soil enhanced with ingredients such as earthworm castings and humic. Organic potting mix breaks down slowly, and those nutrients are available for the plant when it needs it. This creates a complete ecosystem in a container, allowing you to do less but gain more.
What is the difference between potting mix and soil?
Potting mix and potting soil can contain ingredients such as moss, coconut coir, or perlite. But there are several key differences between the products:
Potting mix contains no sand or topsoil. As a result, it is usually much lighter and completely sterile of bacteria or fungi. Potting mix is more likely to come with an added fertilizer. There are some plants you would want potting mix for, especially cacti and for seed starting.
Potting soil can contain said or topsoil. It is heavier than potting mix and less likely to be sterile of bacteria or fungi. Potting soil relies on natural composted items to be the fertilizing component.
Can you use soil in plant beds?
The short answer is yes, but there are limitations. While you can use potting soil anywhere you want, it becomes exceedingly expensive to do so, even for a small space. Instead of using it to amend your existing soil, try using compost or a soil conditioner. Not only are those more cost effective but they provide additional nutrition for your backyard. Topsoil is often mistaken for potting soil, and it is designed to be used directly in the ground and it costs less.
Can you reuse potting soil?
If the plants you grew from last season were healthy, there is no downside of reusing your potting soil from last season. However, your new plants may not flourish as well, since the prior plants may have zapped much of the nutrition from the soil. An effective way to reuse your soil is to mix it in with some new potting soil or add in additional compost, earthworm castings, or soil conditioner.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was researched and written by Amanda Rose Newton, a freelance writer and garden reviewer for The Spruce. As a horticulture professor, business owner, and entomologist, she delighted in personally testing out the products above to provide advice to those with unique needs, yards, and values when it comes to all things soil. To make this list, Amanda Rose tested each product in 3-gallon-size container gardens featuring flowers, herbs, and hot peppers. Over a month, she monitored their growth, soil moisture retention, and overall condition of the plants. For expert insight, she also consulted Sarah Barlett, Soil Expert from Foxfarm Soils.