Potting soil is the lifeblood of any container plant, but buying it from the gardening supply store can be expensive.
Thankfully, there are cheaper ways to get nutrient-rich potting soil for your plants, and all it takes is an afternoon and a DIY project to do it.
How do you make DIY potting soil? A DIY potting soil mix is a soilless formula that includes ingredients like peat moss, perlite, sand, compost, and fertilizers.
You can create any type of mixture to suit your plants’ requirements, as long as it has the right mixture of nutrients and the texture that the plants need to thrive.
If you’ve always wanted to create a potting soil of your own, this guide will walk you through it.
We’ll show you the best ingredients to add to potting soil, why they’re so beneficial to make yourself, and a few easy recipes you can whip up that will please your potted plants.
The Benefits of DIY Potting Soil
All potted plants need the right soil to thrive, and there’s no better way to give them what they need than making it yourself.
Here are a few benefits that DIY potting soil has to offer compared to the kind you buy ready-made at the gardening supply store.
- It’s cheap: Potting soil is one of the most expensive types of soil you can buy and if you have a lot of potted plants, the costs can be astronomical. Making your own potting mix will save lots of money each year when it comes time to replace the soil in your containers.
- It’s precise: You can create a potting soil mixture that has the exact combination of nutrients that your plants need. Potting soil can be created for each plant variety to give them everything they need to thrive, rather than just using a one-size-fits-all all product.
- It’s eco-friendly: There are lots of things at home you can use for DIY potting soil that prevent waste and promote eco-friendliness. Better still, the potting soil won’t’ be packaged in plastic when you make it yourself, so it’s a win-win.
The Best Ingredients for Potting Soil
Good potting soil is one that suits the plants it’s housing, so you need to think about the water holding capacities, nutritional content, texture, and density that yours require.
These are just some of the ingredients you can mix together to get the exact thing your plants need with a DIY potting soil.
Sphagnum peat moss
This is the most common ingredient you’ll find in potting soil but surprisingly one without many nutrients. The benefits of adding sphagnum peat moss to soil are that it takes a long time to break down and is stable, so you won’t have to replace it often.
Peat moss is lightweight and airy, retains moisture effectively, and is aerated, so it ticks all of the boxes. If using peat moss, you’ll usually have to add limestone to it so that it can balance the pH, otherwise, it’s too acidic on its own.
Those wanting to skip the peat moss and limestone will probably prefer to use coir fiber, more commonly known as coconut fiber. This natural ingredient does many similar things to peat moss but it costs a lot more, which is why not everyone uses it.
However, the benefits include more nutrients and a longer lifespan, plus a pH-neutral balance that means nothing else has to be added to counteract it. You can purchase coir fiber in compressed blocks and it tears apart easily to be mixed through the soil.
This is classed as a hydrous phyllosilicate mineral commonly found in potting and other types of soils. The addition of vermiculite to potting soil brings benefits like better porosity and the ability to hold water more efficiently.
As this material contains calcium and magnesium which are also beneficial for your plants. Although more costly, it’s best to choose organic vermiculite if using it in a potting mix.
There are all kinds of sand you can use in a potting soil mix, so it depends on why you’re adding it. Coarse sand types are the most popular as they assist with drainage and prevent the soil from compacting, but there are finer sands available as well.
Adding sand to the mixture gives it weight that helps it to firm up and keep the plant secure, so it should all even out with the other ingredients.
Limestone is usually added to potting mixtures that contain peat moss, as they help to lower the acidity levels. However, it can be beneficial on its own as well, as long as you get the balance right.
Adding limestone to your garden or a potted plant will help spread good bacteria thanks to nutrients like zinc and phosphorus, so it’s worth considering adding to the mix.
The best types of fertilizers to add to a DIY potting mix are granular ones, as they break down slowly and can assist with creating a better soil texture.
The obvious advantage to having a fertilizer already mixed into the soil is that you don’t have to add it yourself until these break down and are no longer delivering nutrients.
Depending on your gardening style, you might prefer to use organic fertilizer, but it can be more expensive.
Composted wood chips
A few composted wood chips tossed through your potting soil will bring lots of benefits to the plants growing in it. they create a rough texture and increase the pore size of the soil so it’s not compacted, letting air and water move through it freely.
Adding composted wood chips may mess with the nitrogen balance of the soil though, so if you include them, counteract this with some blood meal. You can find readily composted woodchips at landscaping supply stores, or compost your own if you have wood available.
Keep in mind though, that it takes at least a year for wood chips to compost and the pile must be turned once a month.
If you have a compost heap at home, this free ingredient can work wonders in your potting soil. Compost is loaded with so many good things including microbes and nutrients, and it helps with drainage and moisture retention.
If you’re creating a seed starter potting mix, be wary about adding compost as it can be heavy, and at this stage of growth, they need the lightest mix possible.
Before using compost from your backyard, it’s best to screen it and remove chunky items first.
Top soil/garden loam
If you want to add some soil to the mix, the best options are either garden loam or top soil, which should be readily available from your native soil.
Some people prefer using soil to a soilless mix as it suits the plants they’re growing and lets them spread some of their new potting mix to outdoor garden beds as well.
How to Make Potting Soil
With so many great ingredients to choose from, you have free reign to create just about any type of potting soil you like.
If you’re unsure what formula you want to use, we’ve hand-picked a few recipes that are popular among fellow gardeners who prefer to make their own potting soil.
Tools and Equipment
- Wheelbarrow or large bucket
- Shovel or spade
- Chosen ingredients
Recipe #1: Potting Soil for Succulents
Succulents and cacti need sandy soil to grow happily, and this can be hard to come by if you’re using garden soil.
This mixture will give them a good dose of sand but also the nutrients of coir fiber, and you can swap this ingredient with peat moss if you’d prefer. Mix up as much as needed and adjust the ingredients as directed.
- 3 parts coir fiber
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
- 2 parts sand
Recipe #2: Potting Soil for Common Houseplants
Your average houseplant can benefit greatly from a homemade potting mix, and this recipe will cover most varieties, creating around 3.5 gallons in total.
It offers a good dose of nutrients and a moistness that helps it retain water without becoming too drenched, and it’s light and airy with no compactness.
- 2 gallons of sphagnum peat moss
- 1.5 gallons perlite
- 2 tbs granular fertilizer
- 3 tbs limestone
- 2 cups sand
Recipe #3: Potting Soil for New Seedlings
If you’re transferring new seedlings to a pot, you need soil that’s going to nourish them gently.
This mixture is loaded with nutrients and is lightweight, so it’s the perfect environment for growing seedlings, and it makes a hefty dose of around 5 gallons so adjust the quantities if needed.
- 2 gallons of sphagnum peat moss
- 1-gallon fine compost
- 2 gallons vermiculite
- 2bs granular fertilizer
- 3tbs limestone
Recipe #4: Standard Soil Based Potting Mix
If you prefer to use soil within your potting mix, this recipe is easy to create and far better than anything you’ll buy in the store.
You can adjust the ingredients as needed to make a soil that has efficient drainage and solid structure, with an added fertilizer for good measure.
- 1 part perlite or coarse sand
- 1 part peat moss or compost
- 1 part top soil or garden loam
Taking Care When Using DIY Potting Soil
Although the natural ingredient list of these DIY potting soils might make them appear gentle, you still need to exercise caution when making your own.
It’s possible to add too many of a certain nutrient or create a mixture that doesn’t suit the plant it’s being potted with, so don’t assume that you can throw any ingredients together and have them work.
As with store-bought potting soil, you must wear protective gear when mixing and adding the potting soil to its container.
Numerous contaminants occur within soil mixtures like this, and inhaling them or ingesting them can pose a serious health risk. Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching, work in a ventilated area, and protect any exposed skin while you work.
The Perfect Potting Soil For Your Plants
A fully customized potting soil that has everything your plants need is the best way to treat them, and who better to make it than you?
With our recipe ideas and the key ingredients that every good potting soil needs, you can whip up some for the perfect foundation for your plants.
The importance of healthy soil is sometimes overlooked when it comes to gardening, but this critical foundation has a lot bigger impact than people realize.
To find out more about soil and our answers to common questions that other beginner gardeners have, check out these FAQs.
Can You Mix Potting Soil With Garden Soil?
Potting soil should only be used for container plants, so you should never mix it with garden soil for this purpose alone. However, with applications like raised garden beds outdoors, using garden soil and potting soil mixture may be beneficial.
What is the Best Soil for a Vegetable Garden?
A vegetable garden requires a lot of nutrients to feed the plants, so you’ll need soil that’s rich in organic materials.
If the native soil isn’t as nutrient-rich, you can add products like aged bark or compost and mix them through that will amend it to the right texture and nutrient level.
Does Sandy Soil Drain Well?
Sandy soil drains efficiently because it’s a lot looser than clay-type soil, however, it struggles with holding onto moisture and nutrients.
This can be beneficial for certain plant varieties that need well-draining soil and suffer from root rot, but for others, it can dry them out.