Can I Use Garden Soil in a Pot?
The first thing you should know is that garden soil and potting soil are not the same. Potting soil is a commercial product formulated to supply plants with the proper amount of water and nutrients.
Garden soil is a combination of natural soil and other additives that are typically dug up in the yard or bought from the garden center. It does not provide the right environment for container gardening and is prone to fungus, disease, or pest problems.
What is garden soil?
Soil is made of a mixture of mineral particles, air, water, organic matter, and living organisms. It provides the structural base for plants but also supports plant growth by making key plant inputs like water and oxygen available to plant roots.
To get an idea of your garden soil’s characteristics, it’s a good idea to dig a test pit in the backyard and look at it for yourself. Soil’s texture is a crucial factor in determining how well your gardens will grow.
Ideally, good garden soil has a combination of sand, silt, and clay, although each type has its benefits for specific plants or crops. Generally speaking, loamy soil is the most productive since it has a mix of sand, silt, and clay.
For this reason, loamy soil requires careful management and can become depleted if not managed correctly. This can include rotational planting, mulching, and adding green manure crops as well as compost and other fertilizers.
Once you’ve identified your garden’s soil, it will make the job of growing healthy crops much easier. You can then adjust your gardening practices accordingly, creating ideal conditions for each of your crops.
You can check your garden soil’s texture by dipping a finger in it and seeing how quickly the water drains out when you squeeze it. If the water dries quickly, it’s probably sandy or gravelly soil; if it takes more time to drain out of your fingertip, it’s likely clay soil.
You can also grab a handful of your garden soil and compress it in your fist. If it feels smooth, like talcum powder, it’s silty; if it is harsh when dry and sticky to the touch when wet, it’s heavy clay.
What is potting soil?
There are several things you need to know about potting soil, especially when it comes to choosing a potting mix for your pots. You need to make sure that the potting soil you buy is good quality and contains ingredients that will encourage growth and moisture regulation for your plants.
Generally, a good potting mix will contain about 50% solid materials (45% mineral particles like sand, silt, and clay and 5% organic matter/compost), 25% water, and 25% air. This makes it possible to create a mixture that will allow water to drain away from plant roots.
Garden soil is a very dense and heavy mixture of organic material and mineral aggregates. This density limits aeration, which is necessary for root growth and proper drainage in container gardens. It also tends to block airways, which can suffocate plant roots and lead to diseases such as root rot.
This is why many potting mixes are composed of peat moss, sphagnum moss, or coco coir to hold moisture and keep air from escaping. They also contain a variety of additives that help improve aeration and drainage, such as perlite or vermiculite.
Some gardeners prefer to use a homemade mixture of sand and perlite instead of a commercial potting mix for their pots. It may be more expensive, but it can give your plants the nutrients they need and provide a more balanced environment.
Some gardeners even try to mix their potting soil by mixing garden soil with equal parts of sphagnum moss and perlite, and adding builder’s sand if it’s too dense. Over time and with some experimentation, you’ll find a combination of ingredients that works for your plants.
What is soil-based media?
Soil-based media is composed of ingredients that have been mixed to produce the right growing medium for your pots. Some common ingredients include peat moss, compost, tree bark, coconut coir, sawdust, and perlite.
Soils can be categorized as either clays, loams, or sandy soils. Each type of soil has unique properties, which can impact the quality and quantity of water held in the media and the availability of minerals for plant uptake.
For example, soil that is rich in clay adsorbs some nutrients very strongly and makes them unavailable for plant uptake (Landis 1995). On the other hand, sandy soils hold relatively little of these nutrients.
These soils also shrink and swell when they are wet or dry, which can damage the root system of plants. In addition, heavy soils tend to accumulate at the bottom of containers, preventing water from draining freely out of the container and creating airless places that are inhospitable for root growth.
If a soil-based media must be used, it should contain no more than 10 to 30 percent of the total mix and should be amended with organic materials that promote drainage and aeration while maintaining the high available water-holding capacity of the media. Some of these organic ingredients may be composts, bark, rice hulls, or other materials that have been screened for debris and other large particles before being added to the medium (Landis 1995).
In addition, the pH of the media should be adjusted if it is too acidic (generally below 6.0). Some growers choose to add ground calcitic limestone or agricultural lime, which raises the pH, increases calcium availability, and provides other nutrients for the plants.
What is perlite?
Perlite is a white, lightweight granule that is often used in potting soil and seed-starting mixes to lighten the soil, allow more air around the roots of plants, and both help retains water and improve drainage. It’s a natural product made from transformed volcanic glass that is mined and heated until it ‘pops’ to form the white, small balls we know and love.
This process creates a porous structure that allows water to move more freely through the soil. It also promotes aeration, which helps root development and supports earthworms and other beneficial nematodes.
Aeration is critical for healthy root development because it increases the amount of oxygen that plants can absorb from the soil. Without adequate aeration, your plants will suffer from water logging and other plant diseases, like root rot.
The particles in perlite are extremely porous, so they allow rainwater and irrigation to pass through them more easily than other potting media. They can also drain excess water more quickly, reducing the likelihood of root rot and fungal diseases.
You can buy perlite in bags at home improvement centers, but professional growers purchase larger bulkier bags that are a little heavier. These are usually 2 cubic feet or 4 cubic feet in size and can weigh up to 8 pounds dry.
Use it as a soil additive – Mix a mixture of loam and peat moss with perlite to fortify your soil mix, enhancing the drainage and aeration of your soil. You can also scatter loose perlite over your garden beds, where it will gradually work into the soil as it wicks water away from the roots.
Perlite is one of the most commonly used soil additives in gardening because it offers a wide variety of benefits at a low cost. It’s lightweight, non-toxic, and pH neutral, and doesn’t break down or decompose.
What is vermiculite?
Vermiculite is a type of exfoliated mineral that is used in gardening. It is a lightweight soil additive that improves aeration and moisture retention in garden soil.
It can be added to poor-quality soil to improve it before planting and also can be used as a top dressing on potted plants that need to hold on to extra moisture. It also helps to prevent the growth of fungi, mold, and mildew on the roots of plants.
You can buy it in small bags or larger bulk blocks. The blocks range in size from a few millimeters to 1.5 cm (0.5 inches).
Unlike perlite, vermiculite is sterile and non-toxic. This makes it a good choice for germinating seeds and propagating stem cuttings.
Seeds require an abundance of water to grow, so they need a medium that will retain and distribute this essential liquid. Since vermiculite holds water for a long time, it is the ideal choice to ensure that seeds have access to enough water during germination and early stages of root development.
If you are planting indoors, vermiculite can be mixed in with your garden soil or with a soilless potting mix. You can use up to 25% of it in a potting mix, but be sure not to fill the pot to the brim, or you will run the risk of your plants rotting from excess water.
It is best to avoid using it in areas where it might be exposed to the elements, such as on the roof of a house or in a garage. If it is in a house, you should check with your local health authority to ensure that it does not contain asbestos, which can be dangerous to your health.