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A Basic Potting Soil Recipe

Simple ingredients make this adaptable mix easy and affordable

Fine Gardening - Issue 125

Just as creating a healthy soil environment is crucial for your in-ground plants, providing a suitable growing medium for your container plants is a key factor to success. Most gardeners do fine with bagged container mixes available at the nursery, but these one-size-fits-all options might not be the best options, especially if you are growing plants with specific soil needs.

Making your own container soil might sound like a lot of unnecessary work, but it can improve your plants’ performance. And because these mixes have the optimal amount of nutrients and proper drainage, they reduce the amount of time you spend feeding and caring for your containers. And in the end, your container designs are only as good as the soil you fill your pots with. Insufficient soil, with too little drainage or too little nutrients will cause your plants to suffer and decline, never reaching  their full potential. Ask any nursery owner what the key to raising gorgeous plants is and they will tell you it’s all about the quality of the soil.

The following recipe can be mixed in a wheelbarrow or garden cart and tweaked based on your needs or what is available to you. You can also save time and money by purchasing the items in bulk and making large batches to set aside for a later date or to share with your gardening friends.


1 part peat moss
1 part perlite
1 part compost
1 part good garden soil

Optional ingredients

A handful each of:

Garden lime
Soybean meal
Rock phosphate
Kelp meal

Moisten the ingredients to make mixing easier. Place a ½-inch mesh screen over a garden cart or other large container, and sift all ingredients to remove any large particles. Mix thoroughly.

The handfuls of garden lime, soybean meal, rock phosphate, and kelp meal (any of which can be omitted) provide extra nutrients that enable this mix to feed plants for a year or two without additional fertilization.


—Lee Reich is a soil scientist in New Paltz, New York.

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