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DIY Potting Soil Recipe

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When to comes to filling pots and raised garden beds, there are a large variety of choices at the local garden center. Many of us gardeners have type form of container gardens, and if you’ve been in the market for potting soil lately, then you know that it certainly is NOT cheap. Making your own DIY potting soil at home is good idea because it saves money and allows you to know exactly what’s in your own healthy soil.

easy garden soil recipe
garden soil recipe

To add insult to injury, many of the bags of pre-made soil are also only 1-2 cubic feet, may contain weed seeds or large wood chips. The small bag size won’t fill a garden bed or too many large pots, so here’s a quick recipe for homemade potting soil for you DIY gardeners out there!

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Elements in good potting soil

Certainly not all potting soils are alike. You can see at your local store some blends are made for indoor plants, garden beds, and even succulents and cacti. But no matter what type of soil you need, there are some elements that each of these soils have in common.

  • Proper drainage: No soil should claim to water log your plants. Good drainage is important for all kinds of garden plants. If soil doesn’t drain and holds on to too much water, your plants run the risk of developing root rot and other complications that will eventually kill the entire plant.
  • Organic matter: The soil outside in your yard or in-ground garden is literally alive with bacteria, and this is crucial for the needs of your plants. Having plenty of organic matter in your homemade potting soil is important for this reason.
  • Fertilizer: Many brands claim to already include fertilizer to make gardening easier for you, and while this does seem like a good idea, you may want to be cautious about what commercial mixes consider “good quality fertilizer.” These are usually a synthetic mix of nitrogen and ammonium sulfate, which in the long run can have harmful effects on your garden and the larger environment. (Epic Gardening has a wonderful article on this topic.)

Homemade Potting Mix Recipe

I’ve been mixing up my own potting soil recipe before each growing season for use in my vegetable garden for the past five years or so, and DIY potting soil isn’t nearly as intimidating as it sounds. In fact, there are plenty of ways to do it.

I first began using the potting soil recipe from Mel Bartholemew’s book The New Square Foot Gardening. His recipe is very simple, and this helped me to get my footing. Now that I know a little more about available ingredients, I’ve branched out a bit.

  • If you’re interested in only using sustainable, local, and/or organic materials for your DIY potting soil recipe, then see my tips at the bottom of the post.

Before the recipe for your own potting soil, let’s learn what are in typical bags of soil mixes from stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot (or your local garden store).

For many of the potting mixes found at the store, even the popular green bag offering “miracles,” they include a mix of traditional potting mix ingredients: perlite, sphagnum moss, compost, fertilizer, and sometimes sand. But the unknown elements listed, such as “wetting agents” and “forest products” make me wary, and some cheaper varieties may even have larger chunk of pine bark.

While I won’t say that all of these bagged mixes aren’t good soil, when you make your own mix, you can choose the best ingredients that will allow you to make a large quantity and also be specific to your gardening needs. If you need to grab a bag of potting soil from the store in a pinch, check my recommendations at the bottom of this post for good potting mix.

Materials You’ll Need for DIY Garden Soil

Mixing up your own potting soil mixture is simple and easy, I’ll skip the mystery ingredients and stick to the basics. Here are the primary components of my potting soil recipe.

Sphagnum Peat Moss /Coconut Coir Peat moss comes from peat bogs (primarily found in Canada) where moss and other materials decompose. This decomposed moss is then harvested and packaged for use by gardeners all over the US and Canada.

I have recently read articles about the environmental impact of peat moss harvesting being called into question. Because of this, some gardeners have been making the switch from peat moss to coconut coir. Coconut coir is a product produced from the coarse fibers on the outside of coconut shells. The coir comes in dense blocks that once moistened will expand. Both peat and coco coir are soil amendments that retain moisture, so they’re excellent for use in gardens and potting mixes.

peat moss bag
peat moss

Perlite/Vermiculite: The names sound a little intimidating, but if you’ve ever purchased pre-made potting mix then you’ve probably seen the white perlite chunks in the mix. Perlite is volcanic glass heated to an extremely high temperature. Once heated, it expands and pops into smaller pieces upon cooling.

The small pieces are incredibly lightweight and help to retain moisture and nutrients for plants to use. Vermiculite forms from a group of minerals that, like perlite, are heated to high temperatures. The high heat creates long strands that are then broken up into various granular degrees (coarse, fine). And like perlite, it works well for water retention, so it’s commonly used by gardeners.

Which to use? Perlite drains more effectively than vermiculite, so if you live in an area that gets plenty of rain, especially in the summer, this would be the choice for you. You can also opt to use both, which I do if I happen to have both on hand!

Compost is pretty self explanatory, and it can come from homemade compost or from bags purchased at the store. I like to have a variety of composted materials, so I typically use some of my own compost and a bag or two of Black Kow compost. (Learn how to start composting!)

You could also use worm castings as an organic fertilizer added to your garden soil mix. Decomposed organic matter, compost gives plants a rich nutrient source. What many gardeners compost will primarily contain broken down veggies, lawn clippings, and paper. What can be purchased at the store may include composted manure, and since we don’t have cows or chickens, I’ll purchase a bit to throw in my potting soil recipe.

Decomposed organic matter, compost gives your plants a rich nutrient source. What many gardeners compost will primarily contain broken down veggies, lawn clippings, and paper. What can be purchased at the store may include composted manure, and since we don’t have cows or chickens, I’ll purchase a bit to throw in my potting soil recipe.

cropped-compost-419261_640-1.jpg
compost bin system

Coarse sand: If I have some sand on hand, then I will add this component to my own potting mix. This element does help aerate the mix, and if you don’t have coarse sand, fine sand can easily be substituted.

How to Mix Your Own Potting Soil

First determine how large of a batch of potting soil you will need. Are you going to use this for a few container plants, or will you be filling garden beds? Once you’ve assessed how much you’ll need, you can proceed with gathering materials and putting together your perfect soil!

I typically use the ratio of equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and compost for DIY garden soil. There are lots of variations out there that use these same three ingredients but in different ratios. I can also tell you there is grace in how much of each ingredient to use. You certainly won’t kill your plants if you use more peat moss than compost, etc.

For best results if you’re creating a small batch of potting soil, use a large rubber tub (with a lid) or a gallon bucket if you only need a pot’s worth. Place all of your ingredients in the bin and mix well. If your peat or coir fiber is dry and dusty, use a spray or two of water to keep the dust to a minimum. Your potting soil will then be ready for use whenever you need it if you keep the lid on tight.

For filling an entire raised bed, I simply place all of my ingredients in the raised bed itself, or mix the components on a large tarp. Then using a garden hoe or bow rake, I’ll mix the potting soil recipe right in the bed, or lift the corners of the tarp and mix. (Want to make your own Raised Bed? Check out my full post with instructions!)

potting soil recipe
Potting soil being mixed directly in a raised bed

If you make a large batch of potting soil, using the above method, you can use a plastic tub with an airtight lid to store any extra. Then you’ll easily have soil on hand for using throughout the season. Consider making a batch in early spring to use as you replenish containers and pots for the spring and summer. This will save you trips to the garden center and lots of money as well!

Whether in a container or in a raised bed, this potting mix should last for years. I may add in more compost each spring to give it a nutrient boost, and/or I toward the end of the fall to keep the soil rich. If your soil is going into a raised bed, consider having the soil tested the following year, so you’ll know exactly how to amend it to keep your plant growth consistent and your garden thriving.

Homemade potting soil ideas

If you’re looking to create your own potting soil at home, and you want your materials to all be locally sourced (i.e. not from Canadian peat bogs or from volcanic rock… no volcanoes near you), then here are some ideas:

  • Use a mix of local top soil and compost. Check out a local landscape supply store to purchase these items in bulk.
  • Find a local manufacturer of potting soil and ask them what’s in their soil. (We have a local company, Daddy Pete’s, that produces a great product.)
  • Consider adding a bit of sand to your soil mix for better drainage. Use topsoil from your own yard and mix in rich compost and a bit of sand.

Not sure how to store extra homemade potting soil? Check out my full post on How to Store Potting Soil for helpful ideas!

Fertilizers for your diy garden soil

If you’d like to add a non-synthetic fertilizer to your potting soil to make it more like a bagged mix (but of better quality of course!), then consider these quality options:

  • Espoma Plant Food: I love this brand of fertilizer and you can choose the food that’s appropriate for the types of plants you’re growing. For example, there’s a specific fertilizer for flowers, tomatoes, and trees and bushes.
  • Down to Earth Fertilizer: While I haven’t used this brand myself, I’ve heard from other gardeners how much they enjoy it.

Have you tried mixing your own potting soil? Are there any additions you think give great results in your garden and containers? I’d love to know what you’ve tried and what has worked for you. Have a great week and happy gardening!

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Komal

Monday 17th of May 2021

I’m new at container gardening and I bought cow manure compost for my pots instead of potting soil. Do you think it should be fine? The soil is not as heavy as garden soil and it seems fast draining

Courtney

Monday 17th of May 2021

Hi Komal! Great question. I wouldn't advise planting in pure cow manure compost. What you can do is buy some cheaper bagged soil and mix it with your compost about 50/50. Or even better, add a little sand into the soil/compost mix as well if you have some on hand. I hope this helps!

Barbara in Texas

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

We save tea leaves, coffee grounds, eggs shells (grind them into almost a powder), I chop mushroom stems into small pieces and dry them in the dehydrator then grind them in the spice grinder. I then dump all into a small bag of seed starting soil and top soil. I mix egg shell powder into the top few inches in the garden where I will plant my tomatoes. Sometimes I buy some worm waste to add to the mixture. I start my seeds indoors using this mixture and after I have planted all the seeds indoors, I add a handful of the mixture into the hole where I plant the direct sow seeds.

Courtney

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

What a great idea, Barbara! Thank you for sharing!

Sasha

Sunday 17th of May 2020

Hi, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience! I’m in Anchorage, AK, trying my best at vegetable gardening. Question: How can I reuse Costco’s organic garden/potting soil year after year that are in my flower containers? Can I add that to my homemade dirt mixture you outlined above?

Courtney

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

Hi Sasha! What a great question. For my old potting soil, I usually put it in with the compost. Container soil can be very depleted, but if you added it into homemade potting soil, that might work; I would just be sure to add in some worm castings or natural fertilizer to give it a boost. Hope that helps!

Elizabeth Huyser Fitzharris

Tuesday 12th of February 2019

When you use equal amounts of these ingredients is it my weight or volume?

Courtney

Tuesday 12th of February 2019

Great question, Elizabeth! I believe it's by volume. And in all honesty... I usually eyeball it as I add it all together. :)

Abigail Serna

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

I used top soil peat moss and petite. My veggies were dying until I did this mix and re planted them in it. They are thriving so beautifuly. I couldn’t find vermiculite at my local Walmart and I knew a should’ve bought it at another Walmart when I finally found it but I didn’t have my wallet with me. I would’ve added that the the mix but there’s always next year. That and some other stuff I’ve learned about. Rock powder, coco cior, and fish poop water. Also I don’t know if anyone else does this but i throw worms in my garden bed when I find any. I’m planning on building worm towers too.

Courtney

Tuesday 10th of April 2018

Absolutely, there's always next year! I didn't have vermiculite or perlite for several years. And I love tossing worms in my garden beds when I find them in the yard. You can also direct compost into your garden beds to keep them nutrient rich. Thanks for stopping by!