Some of us have difficulty growing potted plants or tasty vegetables in our indoor gardens, whether it is a lack of outdoor space or a disagreeable climate. The great news is that you can grow a large variety of plants successfully when you use high quality potting mixes.
Vegetables grown in garden soil and those grown in a container have different needs! Containers offer limited growing space, and regular potting soil is often insufficient. Potting mix is looser and promotes good drainage and healthy root growth.
Keep reading through this buying guide to learn everything a gardener needs to know about picking the best potting mix to give your container garden the best chance for a healthy and fruitful life.
6 Top Potting Mix Reviewed
Here are the best potting mixes indoor gardeners can buy in 2023:
1. The Best of All: FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix
If you are unsure what your houseplants need, FoxFarm Ocean Forest Potting Soil Mix is a safe option. It’s full of nutrients and beneficial soil microbes to feed hungry plants and maintain a PH balance of 6.3 to 6.8.
Because FoxFarm’s mix is soil, it may require a little added material to keep it better aerated. Many reviewers say that a few perlite particles will increase this potting soil’s drainage and airspace.
FoxFarm provides many nutrients in clean soil, like earthworm castings, bat guano, sea-going fish & crab meal, forest humus, and moss. It will not attract bugs or microorganisms, but it will give plenty of food for plants that need to produce fruit, like vegetables.
If you are worried about adequately fertilizing your growing plants, start with a rich option like FoxFarm’s Ocean Forest comes with excellent natural ingredients that act as fertilizer.
This is one of the best plant soil you can find, which is undoubtedly better than the potting soil you can get from your local store, but many people buy it online because it can be hard to find.
2. Best for Large Containers: Miracle-Gro Expand’ n Gro
If you have some large pots to fill, buying enough potting mix can become expensive, and if you want to grow vegetables, you typically need bigger pots. This Expand’n Gro Concentrated Planting Mix is a great planting mix ideal for filling up large spaces.
This expandable planting mix uses soil and coir, a substance like peat generally sourced from peat bogs. The coir is compressed extensively and expands 3x times when you add water. It also comes packed with nutrients to feed your plants. Although for vegetables, you may need to add some form of additional plant food for maximum growth.
This mix requires a little more work than simply pouring it into a growing medium, but don’t worry, it also comes with clear instructions.
The first thing you want to do is to expand the soil mix before using it. If you don’t, the first time you water your plants, your soil will expand and probably come out of the pot!
To expand it, add some water and stir it a bit. It is a bit more work, but it certainly is not complicated.
Its lightweight makes this mix cheaper to ship and easier to handle. You can get great value for money if you need quite a quality potting filler for their pots. It also works in garden beds! It actually covers an area of 4 sq. ft.
Because this is more like soil than some other potting mixes, be careful when using patio containers that you do not overwater and cause the soil to compact.
3. Burpee Organic Potting Mix
The Burpee Organic Potting Soil is a potting mix that contains compost and coir. It also contains Burpee’s slow-release fertilizer or starter charge, which will feed your plants at initial planting and for around 3 months afterward.
The coconut coir in this organic potting soil also helps its moisture retention, which can be very helpful if you occasionally forget to water your plants. This mix comes in different types of potting soil bag sizes for a variety of needs.
The Burpee Potting Mix is great for your plants, but a few customers have complained about gnat infestations with this product. If you are concerned about gnats, baking the soil in the oven before use is a great and easy way to sterilize it to ensure no organisms can hurt your plant!
Do not let the gnats scare you! Most reviewers absolutely love Burpee’s Best Potting Mix! The majority of customers do not suffer from gnats. The slow release fertilizer is a significant bonus when trying to grow vegetables.
Vegetables need a lot of extra nutrients not only at the start of life but especially when it is time to make fruit. Burpee’s slow-release or starter-charge plant food can thus be an ideal solution to give your plants a great start and help them produce bigger and better veggies.
4. Espoma AP8 8-Quart Organic Potting Mix
Espoma’s Organic Mix is a top-line mix. Epsoma makes high quality potting mixes and excellent organic soil mixes, and this mix is no different. It includes earthworm castings, sphagnum peat moss, peat humus, perlite, and Epsoma’s own Myco-tone blend to adjust the PH level.
The Myco-tone blend is unique to Epsoma and works as a water saving formula to increase your plant’s roots’ water retention. This means you have to water them less often, which can help prevent soil compaction. You may, however, need to adjust your regular watering routine.
The overall reviews for Epsoma’s organic mix were great! Many people saw their plants sprout faster and grow more significantly with this mix. The only downside is that its top quality is reflected in the price, which can be a downside for heavy use.
5. Organic Potting Mix by Perfect Plants
Perfect Plants’ Potting Mix is a textbook case of all the organic potting soil ingredients that make a great potting mix. Their mix contains mycorrhizae, worm castings, coco coir, pine bark, sphagnum peat moss, and perlite.
If you want a mix that has simple but significant components and is open about what they put in Perfect Plants may be for you.
Because this mix is all about keeping things simple, you may need to add some additional fertilizer to keep your vegetables growing big. However, this does give you much more control over your plant, which can allow you to specifically tailor your fertilizing to what specific vegetables need.
Another bonus to this mix is that it comes in a heavy-duty resealable bag. So you can protect the mix from pests, which can be a big problem even with the best potting soil mix.
Perfect Plants is a much smaller brand than the others on our list, so if you have problems, you are much more likely to get timely assistance.
6. Miracle-Gro Performance Organics
For the budget-conscious, Miracle-Gro potting products are affordable. They can be easily found at local nurseries and gardening centers. The Performance Organics Container Mix is an organic potting soil from one of the most well-known potting soil brands.
The Organics Container Mix is made with the products we expect to find in a good potting mix: sphagnum peat moss, perlite, and instead of bark, yucca is used to improve the water retention of the mix. The mixture also contains compost to give the mix nutrients, which is essential for growing vegetables.
Most customers are satisfied with this organic product. This mix is an ideal option for vegetable growing. Vegetables usually require more space, and this mix may be the best way to affordably plant your veggies in an organic mix.
What Is A Potting Mix?
A potting mix may look like soil in a bag, but it is pretty different from what you will find in garden soils. It is typically made of materials such as peat moss, compost, bark, and perlite that help plants, vegetables, and herbs grow in containers, pots and peat pots.
These materials combined make a lightweight mix that promotes drainage and air circulation. You may be surprised that none of these common potting mix materials are soil! In truth, most potting mixes are soilless.
Is There A Difference Between Potting Soil and Potting Mix?
Potting soil and potting mix are two different things, though they are commonly confused and treated as synonymous. Potting soil is a mixture designed for containers that contain soil, while the mix is also designed for containers but is soilless.
Not all potting soil brands label these things consistently, so it is best to check ingredient labels or look for the word soilless to ensure what you are getting. Potting mixtures (without soil) are much lighter and better for large containers you may need to move around.
In most cases, a good potting mix is preferred over potting soils for containers and garden beds. A mix is made out of substances with larger particles, meaning it does not compact as quickly as potting soils. This allows water and air to flow better to prevent drowning your growing plants.
What Is a Good Potting Soil Mix Made Of?
If you want to know how to find the best ones or thinking of making your own potting mix, there are three main ingredients a gardener should look for: peat moss, pine bark, and perlite or vermiculite.
- Peat Moss: Peat moss is used in potting mixtures because its nutrients and moisture retention work well while providing a lot of room for air circulation for the plant roots. Peat moss is typically only part of a mix because, when used by itself, it tends to be too acidic and retains too much moisture. Coconut coir is an alternative to peat moss that is more sustainable.
- Pine Bark: Pine bark by itself does not do much. Its primary purpose in the potting mixture is to improve the mix’s ability to hold onto things like moisture and added nutrients from fertilizer. It also helps create air space to prevent compacting.
- Perlite and Vermiculite: These two substances are volcanic in nature. They are incredibly light and used to make potting mixture denser without adding much weight. Perlite and vermiculite are the particles that add the most space to potting mix, which lessens compaction for a better container environment.
Besides the essential three ingredients that make up most of the potting mix, many mixes also add nutrients. Potted plants do not have access to many of the nutrients typically found in the soil. In fact, most mixes are sterilized to eliminate any harmful microbes.
This means something must be added to the mix to encourage plant growth. Some mixes already add something, but many simply require the planter to add some chemical or organic fertilizer. If you want your houseplants to grow successfully in containers, you must add nutrients in some form.
Added nutrients are especially important when trying to grow vegetables. For a plant to produce large and healthy plants, it needs enough nutrients to keep the plant alive and devote extra energy to growing fruit. You must pick a potting mix with added nutrients to grow vegetables quickly.
Some potting mixes are designed for specific uses and include ingredients beneficial to particular plant types. If you want to grow tomatoes or carrots, it is a good idea to check for potting mixes suited for such plants.
What types of potting mixes are there?
Potting mixes generally come in two kinds: ready-to-use and expandable.
Ready to Use
When using a ready-to-use potting mix, there are two different types of planting you may be doing: seedlings and transplanting. When the seed starts, you should fill your container until the potting soil level is about an inch from the top. Then place your seeds and cover with mix according to the instructions on the seed packet. You should constantly water immediately after planting.
When transplanting with specialty potting mix, like the cactus mix, or orchid mix, you will fill your container about 1/3 of the way with potting soil. Then you will take your transplant after loosening the root ball and place it gently in the container. You then fill in around the plant with potting mix and water well.
While this general procedure works for most ready-to-use potting mixes, reading the instructions with your bag is always advisable.
Expandable mixes are tightly compressed and expand with water. Before planting anything with these types of potting soil mixes, you need to ensure they are fully expanded before planting. For containers, this usually means placing your expandable mix in the container and then adding water and stirring. After they are expanded, you plant them like you would with ready-to-use mixes.
Always carefully read the instructions with expandable mixes to know how much water to use and how much expansion to expect.
How to Stretch Your Mix?
When planting vegetables, you generally need larger and deeper pots, but buying enough potting mix to fill those can be a problem. For large pots, you can use potting soil fillers on the bottom of the container to cut down on the amount of soil you need to use.
When using fillers, ensure that your plant’s root system still has plenty of room. Typical fillers are small foam pieces, plastic water bottles, plastic milk jugs, crushed cans, and even natural materials like leaves and sticks (though these are only for seasonal use). If for some reason, you need heavier materials, you can use large particles, pieces of wood products, or bricks.
After adding your potting soil filler to the pot, place a piece of landscaping fabric on top before adding your mix surface. This will keep everything steady and prevent soil from slipping into the potting soil filler. By using fillers in your large pots, you can make one bag of potting mix go a long way!
How Do You Make a Potting Mix for Your Container Gardening Needs?
Whether you want to save money or want complete control over what your plants are growing in, you can go with making your own potting mix. Homemade potting mix often includes similar ingredients to the store-bought kind. Here are some things you might include in your DIY potting mix.
- Peat Moss: For most homemade mixtures, peat moss is the most significant quantity ingredient. It has excellent moisture retention and leaves air space.
- Coir: Coir is harvested from coconuts and is a more sustainable alternative to peat moss.
- Limestone: Peat moss is naturally acidic, so limestone is often added to peat moss mixtures to get the PH levels back to a neutral level.
- Sand: Sand has two benefits. It helps keep your mix loose so that the plant root systems can easily grow and improves drainage so that your plants do not become waterlogged.
- Perlite or Vermiculite: You should always include at least one of these two volcanic ingredients in your mix. They improve the air flow, which is vital for healthy container plants.
- Wood Chips/Bark: Adding wood chips to your mix allows for better water retention capacity and nutrients.
- Compost: All of the above ingredients are sterile, which is both a good and a bad thing. They will not expose your potted plants to plant diseases, but they also will not bring nutrients. Adding quality compost is essential to give your plants organic matter from which to feed.
- Fertilizer: Even if you add compost, most homemade potting mixes, especially when you are trying to grow vegetables, are going to need an added boost. You can use various fertilizers, from banana peels and coffee grounds to pre-made plant food. You can pick a fertilizer option with a homemade mix that will work for your specific plant’s needs.
With this long list of ingredients, making your own mix may seem like a lot of work, but for people who need large quantities of mix or prefer total control over their gardening, making your own mix is often more cost-effective and allows for finer adjustments.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Long Does a Potting Mix Last?
You will not find an expiration date on some of the best potting soil products, but does that mean it works just as well as when you bought it three or four years ago? No. The potting mix does go bad. Several potting mix ingredients, such as organic matter and peat moss, will break down over time, leaving the mix without as many nutrients and finer.
After you open a potting mix bag, it stays at its original quality for around six months. You should wrap the product in a plastic bag. An unopened bag will last much longer, approximately 2 to 3 years. If you have bags that are past these periods, it may be best to toss them. They will not provide your plants with ideal growing conditions.
Used potting mixes are another matter. If you have potting soil that you used last growing season that is currently empty, you should toss it. Used potting soil has gathered many potential diseases, such as mold and fungus. It has been contaminated through use, so the best course is to use fresh potting mix for new plants.
2. Can You Use Outdoor Potting Soil for Indoor Plants?
In most cases, potting soil is suitable for indoor and outdoor plants. However, If you try to use outdoor gardening soil in an indoor pot, you will likely run into issues because it will be greatly compact.
What matters more than whether indoor or outdoor is whether the mix is designed specifically for containers. As long as the potting soils are fluffy with plenty of air space for root growth and good drainage, it should work for indoor and outdoor container plants.
3. What Can I Use Instead of a Potting Mix?
If you do not want to use a premade potting mix, you will need to make a mix of your own. Do not simply use garden soil for your backyard in your flower pots! Regular garden soil is not suitable for containers because it is too dense. It will compact and kill your plants with too much water and too little airflow.
You can also choose to buy potting soils rather than a potting mix (which is soilless). Potting soils tend to be heavier and also a bit cheaper. However, potting mixes tend to work better than the best potting soil for most container plantings.
To grow big and healthy vegetables is way more straightforward than you think with the best potting mix! Your potting mix should be light and fluffy for good drainage and air space. Choose the right potting mix with lots of added nutrients to help your veggies grow and produce, and soon you will be enjoying tasty homegrown vegetables!